« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach
As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).
After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…
For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.
*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.
**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.
JLA’s roster has rotated throughout the years, but for the sake of this post, only the seven original members will get cephalopod tussling privileges! Here they are, with the conspicuous absence of Batman and Superman who are no doubt rushing behind the scenes to rescue everybody (but don’t worry, we’ll get to them as well):
I’ll start with Superman, otherwise he’ll get offended – you know how susceptible he can be. Rather, a double whammy of Superman and Flash, who stumble upon some rather adorable (aside from their propensity to eating people) tentacled aliens. Of course our superheroes decide to make a race out of it, because concentrating on saving some planet or other is clearly not exciting enough – and Batman just happened to be hanging around to give the starting signal. Some afternoons are just that quiet. Race to Save the Universe!, scripted by Denny O’Neil, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Joe Giella, was published in World’s Finest Comics no. 198 (November 1970, DC).
Nevertheless, this dynamic duo does allow itself to get distracted from its marathon, just long enough to defeat this green cutie:
Incidentally, Superman already has a Tentacle Tuesday all to himself (Tentacle Tuesday: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Tentacle!) Still, here he is collaborating (more like ‘rescuing’) Jimmy Olsen from an intriguing green (why must they always be green?) monstrosity with worm-like tentacles. Ugh, not the most appealing. These pages are from The Voyage of the Mary Celeste II!, scripted by Jerry Siegel, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein and published in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen no. 75 (March 1964, DC).
The cover story is The Alien Who Doomed Robin, scripted by Jerry Coleman and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
Our next JLA member is the Martian Manhunter, whom I have a strange soft spot for. It’s well known that girls just can’t resist green skin! In honour of this bias, here are not one, but two excerpts from stories featuring tentacles front and centre.
First, two pages from The Beings in the Color Rings, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 148 (January 1965, DC).
And for dessert, a page from The Supernatural Masterpieces!, scripted by Dave Wood and illustrated by Joe Certa, published in House of Mystery no. 150 (April 1965, DC).
Naturally, Aquaman has encountered more than a handful of octopuses in his long undersea career – I went on about that in some length in Tentacle Tuesday: Aquaman and his Octopus Sidekicks. I have plenty more where that came from, so there surely be a part II to that particular tale… in the meantime, here is a rather striking cover that didn’t make it into that post.
The cover story is Glag the Destroyer, scripted by Bob Haney, pencilled by Howard Purcell and inked by Sal Trapani.
Last… and maybe least, because I could never warm up to him… is Green Lantern. The following pages are from a story pencilled by Gil Kane, who doesn’t generally get glowing reviews from WOT. Nevertheless co-admin RG wrote an ingenious post combining our common dubiousness about Kane and percolated it through specifically Green Lantern covers – the result is Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern, which impressed, if not quite convinced, me.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the Justice League of America as filtered through the rather eccentric lens of tentacles.
« Suffering sea snakes! Can this really be happening, Aquaman? » — Aqualad has a query.
I just realised, a few days ago, that I’d left something hanging for too long: nearly two years ago, I turned the spotlight on a series of Aquaman covers, casually (in my debonair way) letting it be known that there existed another, earlier, and even longer (well, by one) run of exemplary Aquaman covers. The time has come to see whether I was talking through my hat… or not.
Now, at the risk of repeating myself, it must be stated that, since we’re dealing with DC’s late Silver Age, there’s more to any given cover than a signature. DC’s recently-ascended art director, Carmine Infantino, had a hand in designing virtually every DC cover between late 1966 and early 1976. How strong a hand varied from cover to cover, of course. A good designer sometimes knows when to hold back and be invisible, or just about.
Infantino always strove to improve himself and update and hone his skills. Well into his career (he’d started in 1940 at Timely), he pulled an unexpected (and very smart) move. As he recalled it in The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (2000, Vanguard Productions):
« Around 1960, I went back to school again, this time to study under a gentleman named Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts. What Jack taught me about design was monumental, and I went through a metamorphosis working with him. I’d sit there confused and he’d tear the work apart. But then it was a light bulb going off – bam! – and I’d understand everything he was getting at.
After studying with Potter at the SVA, my work started to grow by leaps and bounds. I was achieving individuality in my work that wasn’t there before.
I threw all the basics of cartooning out the window and focused on pure design. Everything I did was design-oriented. That was quite the challenging task. But that’s where Potter’s teaching took me.
… I started putting hands in captions, that was decorative. He taught us to do everything decoratively. I’d always found captions very dull. So I thought I’d break the captions into smaller paragraphs and use hands to get people to read them. I regularly pushed design and perspective to the extreme. »
And speaking of reinvention, I must also salute Nick Cardy’s own mid-career creative burst. Prior to the mid-60s, Cardy had always been one of those genteel, tasteful but entirely unexciting journeymen, the way most DC editors liked ’em. I can think of precious few long-timers that managed to convincingly reinvent themselves and greatly raise their game, well into their career, without utterly misplacing their original identity (that disqualifies you, Keith Giffen) in the process. Alex Toth, Jerry Grandenetti and perhaps Sheldon Mayer come to mind…
At any rate, when Infantino got together with Cardy on those covers, all hell broke loose, in the best possible way.
« I don’t know what’s wrong with him! He’s in hellish torment! » — there’s witchery afoot, clearly
I’ll grant you in a heartbeat that Nick Cardy‘s (and, to a lesser extent, Neal Adams’) earlier The Witching Hour (full original title: It’s 12 O’Clock… The Witching Hour!, hence its twelfth day appearance) covers beat out subsequent entries on the overall quality front, but this particular beauty, in my opinion, takes home the terror tiara as the very creepiest of the bunch. Is it the otherwise-innocuous daytime setting, the tension between the pastoral and the grotesque? In the end, it induces shivers, and that’s what counts.
Though it comes as the tail end of their involvement, Carmine Infantino and Cardy still had a hand in, as publisher and art director, and took an active rôle in the design of each DC cover of the era.
And so — why not? — here’s the full tale, so that you may judge for yourself.
Wilfredo Limbana ‘Fred’ Carrillo (1926–2005) was an underrated Filipino artist who produced some quite fine work for DC Comics’ mystery titles in the 1970s. I was particularly fond of his work on The Phantom Stranger, when he illustrated both the titular feature and its worthy backup, The Black Orchid, at the tail end of the title’s run.
« Challenge Merlin and be a fool! — Challenge a demon — and be destroyed! »
Suddenly having so much time on my hands (courtesy of COVID-19) is an eerie, though by no means unpleasant, experience. While I could crochet mini couches for my cats or enrol my partner’s help to re-create some favourite classic paintings, I prefer to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Case in point: in April, I’ve been joyously absorbing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, reprinted in a handsome 4-tome omnibus (and to which I have easy access, thanks to co-admin RG’s vast library). That ended all too soon, and I moved on to a collection of Etrigan the Demon. It was a somewhat underwhelming experience, especially given the epic scope of Fourth World, but of course still worth a read.
The red-eyed, yellow-skinned creature called Etrigan came into existence in 1972. Mark Evanier, in his introduction to Jack Kirby’s The Demon, explains: « There was, at the time, a feeling around DC that perhaps superheroes were on the way out again. Ghost and mystery comics like House of Mystery and Phantom Stranger seemed to be selling, and some in the office felt the next trend was what Joe Orlando, who edited most of them, dubbed “weird adventure” comics. A few weeks later, [Carmine] Infantino asked Jack to whip up something in that category… »
Kirby accepted the challenge and, despite his lack of interest in horror, created The Demon, patterning his face on a a detail from Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant strip as an inside joke.
As great a storyteller Kirby is, I think being asked to write about a subject he wasn’t particularly into had its repercussions. Although he clearly tried to give Etrigan a stimulating playground of supernatural rogues of varying degrees of viciousness to bat around, the overall result is rather underwhelming by Kirby standards. I’ve seen quite a few people in comic forums expressing their undying love for the Demon – if you’re one of them, I’m open to being convinced!
I actually first encountered Etrigan the Demon in a Swamp Thing issue written by Alan Moore. He first made an appearance in Swamp Thing no. 26 (July 1984) and then came back for the 14-issue storyline American Gothic that ran from June 1985 to July 1986. In Moore’s hands, Etrigan cut a dashing, mysterious figure, and he spoke in rhyme, which was a really nice touch. I admit I was disheartened to find out that he really wasn’t that exciting in his original form.
However, he *did* encounter tentacles, and more than once!
The three pages above are Etrigan’s encounters with actual tentacles, but we have an honorary mention of almost-tentacles-but-not-quite, which I wanted to include in the spirit of thoroughness.
Can the following creature’s beard tentacles be used to grab anything? We never learn if they’re prehensile or not, because the fear-monster doesn’t stick around long enough.
« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »
Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.
Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.
I think the most disappointing scientific discovery of recent years is that there appears to be no octopuses on the moon. Not one teensy-weensy tentacle was spotted by the lunar rovers (that we dispatched to the Moon for that very purpose, of course). But comics had led us to expect otherwise!
The inside offers us even more tentacles:
A bit of comic relief…
And back to our scheduled program of lethal, tentacle-sprouting monsters that attack the moment anyone sets foot on the moon.
Here’s a good instance of the good folks at Marvel getting quite confused. The First Men in the Moon, published in 1901, was written by H. G. Wells. From the Earth to the Moon was written in 1865 by Jules Verne. Which one is this supposed to be an adaptation of, then? I can confirm that the vaguely ant-like creatures with tentacles are H. G. Wells’ creation. His Selenites are described as following: « They are vaguely similar to quasi-humanoid ants, about five feet tall, with a light physical constitution enclosed in an exoskeleton from which slender jointed limbs and whip-like tentacles protrude. »
However, the first page of this comic informs us that…
So I guess whoever laid out the cover screwed up. The insides, scripted by Don McGregor and drawn by Rudy Mesina, are considerably better drawn, and an unqualified tentacular treat.
Did this adaptation succeed in being faithful to and respectful of Wells’ influential novel? Well, not really, although an honest attempt was made. But I found that it focused far too much on the fight scenes, and left out quite a few complex nuances as well as skewing the philosophical underpinnings of The First Men in the Moon. That being said, if you like tentacles, I heartily recommend reading this issue. I cringe at the very idea of recommending something from the Marvel Classics line, but honestly must prevail. Really, it’s good fun. Take a look —
Did the artist go into tentacle overdrive? Oh boy, did he ever!
« Who’s Aquaman? I never heard of him! »
« He’s one of the super-beings from the place called Earth! He lives at the bottom of the ocean! » — Steev & Jimm, rubberneckin’ in Aquaman no. 51
Some may have wondered at the deep, abiding affection held, by a certain savvy contingent of comics aficionados, for sea king Aquaman. After all, he’s a bit of a second-stringer, and he’s had a pretty spotty record for decades. Well, I’d say one has to have encountered the erstwhile Arthur Curry at his peak, in the hands of the Stephen Skeates, (writer) Jim Aparo (penciller-inker-letterer), Dick Giordano (editor-poacher), Nick Cardy (cover artist), Carmine Infantino (editor-in-chief/art director), Jack Adler (colourist) and Gaspar Saladino (cover letterer) set.
Fond as I am of Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon‘s work, the series’ Skeates-Aparo period is more my speed. I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s a whiff of the end of the world, something ominous and immediate about it, despite the fanciful settings. I guess it was « relevance », but with a lighter touch and without the cringe-inducing bathos of the concurrent Green Lantern-Green Arrow series. Because of Aquaman’s aquatic nature, environmental doom seldom seems far. The Skeates-Aparo rampage lasted from issue 40 (June 1968) to number 56 (April 1971). Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road (Adventure Comics no. 441, Sept. 1975), but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration.
But back to the covers: this represents, in my view, Cardy’s second hot streak on this title. From the beginning of his career (in 1940 with the Iger/Eisner shop!) Cardy had always been a reliably competent artist, but rarely a very exciting one. That all changed in the mid-Sixties when newly minted art director/editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino made him his right-hand man and co-designer of DC’s covers. This greater latitude gave Cardy wings. Cardy’s first Aquaman hot streak opens on issue 37 (Jan.-Feb. 1968) and closes with issue 45 (May-June 1969). Issues 46 to 48 are nice enough, but short of transcendence… beyond that bump in the road, we’re set for a smooth run of splendid covers.
Under normal circumstances, this run of covers would have turned out quite differently for, as Steve Skeates told me a few years ago, « The only reason Jim [Aparo] didn’t do the covers was that he lived out of town, couldn’t come in for cover conferences! »
« Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. » — Denis Charles Pratt (1908-1999)
Longtime companions Bruce and Alex, who spend their days tracking down and investigating “queer events”, presumably for a guide they’re putting together, happen to drive near Oakville, where a gleeful oldster is on a tear.
Alex has a plan, and Bruce grasps instantly what Bruce has in mind. It’s like they’ve done this before. Somehow, Alex’s brainstorms always involve Bruce disrobing, and, judging from his expression, he’s unfailingly eager to comply.
« In YOUNG LOVE, how can people talk when they kiss? My mom can’t talk when she’s kissing. Can you? I am nine years old. » — Mary K, an astute young reader
It’s recently occurred to me that, in a year-and-a-half of posting, I’ve utterly neglected to feature one of my favourite artists, Nick Cardy (1920-2013); I suppose he’s been easy to take for granted, as he was DC’s main cover artist during most of Carmine Infantino‘s management years (1967-1976).
Much has been made, in various forums, of Cardy’s covers for Aquaman, the Superman titles, The Teen Titans, the Mystery books, and so on. I figured I’d have to dig a bit deeper. Cardy, ex aequo with the even more underappreciated Bob Oksner, was arguably DC’s primo portrayer of feminine pulchritude, and what I’d seen of his artwork for DC’s romance line was pretty stunning. It just turned out that there was far less of it than I had assumed.
DC’s romance books were sadly treated as the proverbial Siberia of the company’s roster. How else might one explain calling upon top illustrative talent, the likes of Jay Scott Pike, John Rosenberger, Ric Estrada, Werner Roth … then taking these fine men’s work and slathering it with wall-to-wall Vince Colletta… finishes. We’ll return to this topic, naturally. This time around, we’ll showcase the sentimental side of Mr. Cardy. He seems to have produced fewer than thirty covers for the romance line (not counting a handful of gothics he did), of which I’ve retained an even dozen. I’m reserving a handful for an eventual thematic post, plus one that Colletta “fixed” (in the criminal, rather than useful, sense.)