Yet what had he to fear if this place were evil – was he not an upright and godly man who held no traffic with evil? If wicked spirits had power over such men as he, there would be no justice in it.
“That’s true,”said a voice behind him, “there isn’t.” — The Gibsons*
I must confess I had something else planned for today’s post, but I learned, at the last minute, of the existence of material that would vastly augment my intended post — and I wouldn’t want to drop the ball on that topic. One less piece to plan for the next Countdown, then!
I suppose I had thus far refrained from touching upon DC’s long-running Ghosts (1971-82) — too obvious? Well, here we are. Ghosts, like its presumed model, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories (1965-80, Gold Key), was always tame and rather formulaic, but frequently boasted wonderful artwork, and definitely great covers.
Within its pages lurks this gorgeous three-pager written by Carl Wessler, pencilled by the mysterious (how appropriate!) J. Noriega, and embellished by the peerless Alfredo Alcala.
*« A couple called ‘The Gibsons’ won a New Statesman competition in Britain with a 200-worder about a man who grows increasingly nervous while walking down a winding moonlit road. » — From Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part III, by Kurt Van Helsing, in Twilight Zone Magazine vol. 1 no. 7 (Oct. 1981, TZ Publications).
Greetings all! Today we play whack-a-mole with a few warriors in loincloths – or at least that’s how I felt when looking for material in this post. Every time I found an instance of tentacles in some Conan the barbarian or Kull the destroyer tale, there was yet another one just an issue or a couple down the line. Let’s then consider this the end of a story begun with Tentacle Tuesday: the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword and continued with Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama: after this, I’ll be all Conan-ed out for a few years to come. So drink a shot of some concoction you like (be it coffee or the potent Zombie), and join me for this last foray into the dark, mysterious, predictable world of sword-and-sorcery heroes who run around half-naked (for better freedom of movement, no doubt).
One more Conan before we move on to Kull…
As promised, here’s Kull the destroyer, engaged in battle with an eighties octopus (check out that mohawk!)
Just before you pass out from over-consumption of alcoholic drinks (I’m having a gin and tonic over here!), I’d like to enliven this parade of humdrum tentacles a bit with this Conan pin-up:
« Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life. » (Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat?)
Bats and octopuses, now there’s a combination that doesn’t often occur in nature – while both are admirable, fascinating animals, they’re not linked by lifestyle or environment, and neither is the other’s prey. Batman, on the other hand, has definitely tangled with many tentacled monsters in his time (which proves that he’s not a bat). I’m sure today’s post didn’t unearth *all* the octopuses that Batman has had the pleasure of defeating, especially those of a more modern vintage (with mostly horrible art, which is why I’m not too worried)… but today’s selection, you will have to admit, is quite fair.
Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk(he must be from Poland, with a name like that), scripted by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 113 (November 1960):
Since they threatened us with the continuation of the story, I followed up, and dug up more tentacles. Deathgrip, scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Don Newton and inked by Dick Giordano, was published (as promised) in Detective Comics no. 524 (March 1983):
Enigma of the Death-Ship!, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Jim Aparo, was published in The Brave and the Bold no. 142 (July-August 1978):
I mentioned modern comics, earlier – I’ve chosen two examples published relatively recently, with passable art.
The pompously titled Leaves of Grass, Part 3: Comedown!, scripted by Alan Grant, pencilled by Dave Taylor and inked Stan Woch, was published in Batman: Shadow of the Bat no. 58 (January 1997):
Knightmares, Part 4, scripted by Tom King and illustrated by Jorge Fornes, was published in Batman no. 66 (May 2019):
To conclude on a more pleasant note…
Tentacled Terror, number 8 in Topps‘ 1966 Batman ‘Red Bat’ trading card set, boasting painted artwork by Norman Saunders.
« Once you’ve lived the inside-out world of espionage, you never shed it. It’s a mentality, a double standard of existence. » — John le Carré (1931-)
Here I go again, featuring yet another 1970s Alfredo Alcala story. This time, Fate, writ large, has forced my hand, and it’s unofficially Contagion Week here on WOT?
I’ve always had a soft spot for writer-editor George Kashdan (1928 – 2006). While he wasn’t what you’d term an outstanding writer, he was the most consistent bright spot of DC’s mystery books in the late ’60 to early ’80s. As opposed to the other workhorses in the stable, one still found trace amounts of passion and personal quirks in his work. His recurring themes for simply more fun than his colleagues’: he loved Sinister gentlemen’s clubs, wild conspiracies, strange carnivals, pre-ordained, thematically-twisted deaths (think of those Final Destination movies)…
In a thoughtful obituary, Mark Evanier tells us: « In 1968, as part of a program of editorial restructuring, Kashdan was let go by DC. Several people who worked with him said it was because he was “too nice” and had occasionally clashed with management in arguing that freelancers should be paid and treated better. » Ah, another victim of the anti-union purge of ’68*.
No-one comes off particularly well in this one, really: Croker the spy is an impenitent, petulant slime bucket right to the finish, and the military, for their part, have been conducting sloppy biochemical experiments… for purely defensive purposes, I’m sure.
While the Geneva Protocol has prohibited the use of such barbaric means of warfare since 1925, the US didn’t sign on until… 1975, just before the fall of Saigon, marking the end of the Vietnam War. Let’s not ever forget the US Armed Forces’ generous and indiscriminate dispersion of Napalm and Agent Orange upon troops and civilians during the course of that conflict.
Given the timing, perhaps that bit of news inspired Kashdan to pen this sour little parable.
The guard’s high moral stance, « No one has the right to endanger the whole human race! » may ring a bit hollow and ironic given the circumstances, but he’s still right.
On a smaller, but no less tragic scale, consider the real-life story of what happened when a fan broke quarantine to catch a public appearance of her idol, actress Gene Tierney.
One simply can’t afford to mess around when it comes to quarantines and contagion.
Incidentally, Alcala really seemed to have a yen for those flay-headed mutants of his. To wit, here’s the opening page of The Children of the Bomb, Part 5, from Planet of the Apes no. 10 (July 1975, Marvel), written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Alcala.
* « [In 1968] Fox had joined other comics writers like Otto Binder, John Broome, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger and Bob Haney, signing a petition to ask DC for more financial benefits, particularly regarding health insurance. Since the company regarded writers as expendable people they were all fired without mercy and replaced by more obedient newcomers. » [ source ]
Sometimes I stumble upon a comic with a fight-to-the-death scene in which something-or-other- with-tentacles plays the role of a lethal enemy for our hero – but upon closer inspection, in turns out that the ferocious creature is… gosh-darned cute. I mean, how can you kill anything that has adorable whiskers, or tufted eyebrows like Oscar the Grouch?
When your attackers are carrots with tentacles, and they really get on your nerves (although I think Ann is safer with them than with Dr. Maylor), I’d suggest throwing them into a nice big pot of soup, maybe… but if you please, do consider abstaining from flinging acid at them.
While we’re on that topic: things get delightfully wacky and madcap (not much) later in the story. Namely, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin are summoned for help against the tentacled carrot-horde.
« Apparently he had never learned that a white man’s foot, though it wabble ever so, is given him wherewith to kick natives out of the road. » — John Russell
Welcome to another installment of Treasured Stories! This one’s a bit of a sequel, or rather a companion piece to an earlier entry, August Heat (from just about a year ago) as we’re featuring two of the same creators, namely scripter E. Nelson Bridwell (1931-1987) and penciller-inker Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000).
In this instance, we can surely witness judicious editorial sense at work, in terms of matching material to talent. While Bridwell likely selected the story, and though they’d worked together before, Alcala was a flawless choice to bring it to full visual bloom. A tale of the Pacific Islands illustrated by a Pacific Islander, and a masterful one at that… on both counts. Alcala’s expertly-paced, limpid, deliberate storytelling is a natural fit.
It’s easy to underestimate how daunting a challenge, in most cases, is the effective transition of material from medium to medium. In this instance, the source is a much-anthologized short story by John Russell, originally published in Collier’s, May 20, 1916. You can judge for yourself after reading the original text here.
Russell’s stories sharply veer from the usual civilisation vs savages colonialist tripe of the era in that the natives are depicted as oft-complex but subtle beings and the whites, as often as not, as pompously delusional savages; one sees the pattern emerge upon reading a few of Russell’s South Pacific tales (collected in Where the Pavement Ends, 1921); in my own case, I found a trio of these in Dennis Wheatley‘s excellent anthology Shafts of Fear (1964), an update and expansion of his earlier A Century of Horror (1935).
Still, I strongly suspect that Bridwell’s exposure to The Price of the Head came not from books, but rather from a radio play, as all three of his DC short story adaptations (TPOTH, August Heat and The Man and the Snake had received that particular treatment. To his credit, Bridwell went back to the source for his version.
You’ll note that the racism so refreshingly absent from Russell’s story has been painstakingly restored for the radio programmes. Now that’s dedication!
Quite recently, I was delighted to hear that Mr. Bridwell has not entirely been forgotten; indeed, he is to be bestowed, though posthumously of course, the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing on Friday, July 19 2019, during the Eisner Awards ceremony at this summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA. Bravo!
Read all about it on Mark Evanier’s fine blog. And thank you, Mark!
« Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant. »
I had planned to feature quite another tale this week, but seeing as we are in the torrid grip of quite the heat wave, I opted in the end for something more topical I’d been saving on the back burner.
Edward Nelson Bridwell (1931–1987) is one of those scarcely-noticed but greatly accomplished figures of American comics. At DC from the mid-1960s to the end of his life, he edited, wrote, packaged and compiled his heart out. Most impressive, in my view, were his erudition and discerning eye for a fine short story.
There’s always a blessed but mostly-powerless minority of comics creators that endeavours to improve the unwashed readership’s minds… nearly never at Marvel, most often at DC. In the mid-1970s, while working as Joe Orlando‘s editorial assistant, Bridwell adapted three excellent, but highly unconventional vintage spooky tales, as far afield as imaginable from the usual EC-by-homeopathy fare his boss favoured. These were William Fryer Harvey‘s August Heat (Secrets of Sinister House no. 12, July 1973), Ambrose Bierce‘s The Man and the Snake (Secrets of Sinister House 14, October 1973) and John Russell’s The Price of the Head (Weird Mystery Tales no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1974); all three were splendidly brought to visual glory by WOT favourite Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000). All three are moody slow burners, with much introspection and little action.
On this scorching day (currently a sticky 35°F /95°F in Montréal, Canada) you’ll forgive me for not waiting until August to share this dark beauty with you.
As evidence of Mr. Bridwell’s skill as an adapter, feel free to read the full (yet quite brief) text of August Heat. Or listen to one its several fine radio adaptations, the choice is yours:
The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence, grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*
So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)
Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.
I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue,who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery.
Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.
In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces
Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.
Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:
The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:
Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!
I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).
Today’s Tentacle Tuesday honours Filipino artists who laboured in the comics industry in the 70s. To quote from Power of Comics: Filipino Artists (read the essay here),
« The Filipino talent began to arrive in 1970, when immigrant Tony DeZuñiga began to work for National Comics. DeZuñiga began with assignments on various romance, horror, western, and war anthologies—a combination that many Filipino artists coming after him would also follow—but he made a lasting mark when he co-created Western anti-hero Jonah Hex in All-Star Western #10 (1972). By then, DeZuñiga had convinced then National Comics publisher Carmine Infantino that other talented artists were awaiting discovery back in his nation of origin. With a stable of graying veterans working for him, Infantino was faced with a paucity of new talent in the early 1970s and had trouble finding gifted artists who could work for what the going page rate in American comics would pay at the time. DeZuñiga accompanied Infantino on a recruiting trip to the Philippines in 1971.
As noted, first among the Filipino artists to make a move were Redondo and Alcala. Among his works, Redondo turned in a memorable run on Swamp Thing, and the prolific Alcala picked up a considerable fan following for his work on series like Batman and Arak. Other Filipinos followed. Alex Niño brought a distinct style to Warren Publishing’s 1984 and 1994 series. Ernie Chan’s talent for composition led to his becoming National’s principal cover artist between 1975 and 1977. Gerry Talaoc enjoyed an extended run on The Unknown Soldier. »
Without further ado, let’s have a look at some of the tentacles the artists mentioned above have dreamed up. In no particular order…
I like the styles of all the artists mentioned in this post, but a couple of these names will make me do a little dance of joy when I encounter their art. Alfredo Alcala (b. 1925, d. 2000) is a definite favourite. He could draw anything he wanted, convincingly… at an amazing speed, and with the sort of detail that other artists would kill for.
Alcala drew for all genres in the early portion of his career, and developed the speed and work ethic for which he later become known amongst his fellow professionals. His fastest page rate was 12 pages in a nine-hour sitting, while in one 96-hour marathon he produced 18 pages, three wrap-around covers and several color guides. During the portion of his career where he worked solely for Filipino publishers, Alcala worked without assistants and did his own inking and lettering. “I somehow always felt that the minute you let someone else have a hand in your work, no matter what, it’s not you anymore. It’s like riding a bicycle built for two…” (source)
Here’s a gorgeous sequence from « The Night of the Nebish! », scripted by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, published in House of Secrets #107 (April 1973).
Ruben Yandoc (also known as Rubeny, 1927-1992) isn’t nearly as well-known as Alcala, yet he has a beautiful, half-decorative, half-sketchy style. He excelled at horror stories (published in DC’s Witching Hour, House of Mystery, Ghosts, House of Secrets..), and was a master at creating mood. His perfect grasp of architecture and anatomy enabled him to draw believable characters in incredible settings – none of this “figures floating about aimlessly” shit that you sometimes get from artists who can’t imbue their objects and subjects with mass. When Stefan gets grabbed by tentacles, you can feel their weight on his torso and feel the heat and painful brightness of the torch he’s holding, dammit!
Alex Niño’s art doesn’t give me butterflies. His stuff is quite weird, sometimes far too detailed, but his talent is nevertheless undeniable. For a good appreciation of his style (and more examples of it), go to this entry from Wizard’s Keep. As for me, I’ll limit myself to this humble, one-panel mass of tentacles, eyes, teeth, spikes, and god knows what else.
Redondo’s “memorable run on Swamp Thing” was mentioned at the beginning of this post. Well, we’ve already featured the tentacled robot who tries to finish Alec Holland off here, but rest assured – there’s more tentacles than just that in the career of Nestor Purugganan Redondo (1928-1995)! For example, this:
By the way, he’s most assuredly another favourite in this household. His women are believably sexy, his monsters inventive and scary, his animals pitch-perfect… His style is realistic but lush, his nature almost prettier than in real life. And I like him much, much better than Bernie Wrightson, as far as Swamp Thing is concerned 😉
A perfect fit for any Tentacle Tuesday, here’s the requisite damsel-in-distress-with-tentacles:
We shouldn’t forget Tony DeZuñiga (1932-2012), who after all started all this. Among other accomplishments, he co-created Jonah Hex and Black Orchid, two pretty damn cool characters.
I hope you enjoyed this (non-exhaustive) romp through Filipino-American tentacles! As historian Chris Knowles (1999) has noted about Filipino artists, « Here was a group of immensely talented and hard-working draftsmen who could draw absolutely anything and draw it well. They set a standard that the younger artists would have to live up to and that the older ones would have to compete with. » Amen to that!