Our heatwave is nowhere as bad as the one afflicting Europe right now, but it’s a heatwave nevertheless, and to cool off I felt like traipsing down the icy corridors of horror. Evan Dorkin‘s series Beasts of Burden, the tale of a (predominantly) canine crew who fight the supernatural to keep their small town community safe, fits the bill: though including elements of adventure, mystery, and humour, it’s genuinely tense in places (and features enough blood and grue to keep the average gorehound satisfied). One expects a comic in which all protagonists are animals to evoke baby-talk sounds of endearment, not send chills down the spine of the more sensitive reader, and yet…
However, I’ll warn you that a fondness for animals is a prerequisite for enjoying this comic, lest you miss the emotional punch to the gut of moments like a dog searching for her lost puppies, or animals mourning the loss of their friend. Despite the paranormal threats these pooches (and cat!) have to deal with, I would say that it’s that emotional horror that makes these stories memorable, especially to a modern reader well-versed in zombies, werewolves, and witchcraft (yawn, how cliché…) I am quite allergic to animals getting hurt in stories, but Beasts of Burden never feels manipulative in that regard: shit definitely happens, but is overcome through teamwork and courage.
This comic also features loving watercolours by Jill Thompson (according to the DC Comics website, ‘most well-known female comic book artist‘… not sure how they measured that), who’s not only great at evocative woodsy landscapes in all seasons, but also a deft hand at convincing portraits of animals. I have seen too many comic artists who cannot draw a convincing cat or dog (let alone a horse, a true test of artistry…) to take that for granted. This post only spotlights material from the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010, Dark Horse), as Thompson was later on replaced by Benjamin Dewey, whose art I suppose I could bear… if only the standard desaturated colouring job wasn’t the final nail in that coffin. It’s a bitter pill to swallow after Thompson’s bright, organic art.
All stories featured in this post are written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson.
Beasts of Burden is still ongoing, with the latest installment, Occupied Territory (illustrated by Benjamin Dewey, alas), published in July 2021.
Dark Horse seems to publish more mini-series heavily dependent on tentacles that you could shake a stick at, and enough spin-offs of spin-offs to make one’s head spin. Still, I have been dutifully saving the… shall we say, less ugly… tentacle-heavy DH covers I have come across, and since there is clearly little point in hoarding them, the time has come for a part III. Visit the previous instalments here: Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 1 and Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 2. Your mileage may vary!
I have to include at least a couple of things I actually somewhat like per post, whatever pleasure I may get from mocking the rest.
The first is the back cover of Madman Comics no. 4 (October 1994), with art by Dave Stevens, with well-defined, slimy tentacles and plenty of boobage. That’s Madman (created by Mike Allred) in the middle, but he surely ends up ending up in the background of his own adventure, courtesy of the cephalopod and skin-tight costumes of the damsels.
Continuing with the 90s, here are two Star Wars covers by Mark Schultz who’s, err, distinctly not at his best – though bringing one’s best to Star Wars would be a waste, anyway.
Continuing with the 90s…
This one I like far more:
Finally, we have three Black Hammer-related covers, which made me look up this series since I didn’t even know of its existence before spotting these tentacles. Created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston, it’s apparently doing quite well (given that it started in 2016, and is still ongoing with many spin-offs, awards received, and a possible TV show).
No Dark Horse post about tentacles can avoid the elephant in the room, namely Hellboy and Mignola. If that’s what floats your boat, I covered that ground in Tentacle Tuesday Masters : Mike Mignola.
« Michael is, simply put, Japan’s version of Garfield, Heathcliff and Krazy Kat all rolled into one. » — Wizard: The Guide to Comics*
* I actually disagree with all three comparisons, aside from the fact that the first two comics are also about orange cats, but this is the review Dark Horse used to promote the series.
What’s Michael? (ホワッツマイケル? in Japanese) is a comic series by Makoto Kobayashi about a cat named Michael who goes about his cat life in a pretty standard way. He spends most of the day snoozing, has distinct food preferences, and likes to meow loudly at night while courting his favourite cat lady. One would not be entirely unjustified in thinking that cat lovers will read any old comic that prominently features felines (I have occasionally been guilty of that myself!), but I am convinced that there’s something special about this series.
One of the things that makes it so endearing is that Kobayashi has a very good grip on feline body language, making it fun to follow even the poorest excuse for a plot, like for instance Michael contemplating which cozy enough spot to select for a nap. That being said, he doesn’t limit himself to realistic cat situations, often featuring cats acting like (very goofy) people, parodying human and feline at the same time.
Some readers are more interested in the outlandish stories, of which there are many (ranging from cat parodies of various movies to plain weirdness), some develop a soft spot for the recurring human (or semi-human) characters. Michael himself switches owners like switching gloves, depending on the needs of the story, and there is not much continuity. Kobayashi’s ideas can be a little hiss or miss, but there’s something here for everyone… provided you like felines, of course… adventures of a vampire count who is scared of cats are side-by-side with wacky cat food commercials, depictions of everyday life of various cat-besieged country bumpkins alternate with cat street gang rumbles, and all of that is sprinkled with humans-as-pets interludes. And, naturally, our ordinary yet handsome tabby Michael drinks, sleeps and plays alongside Popo, his wife, their kittens, and a rotating cast of other cats (Catzilla comes to mind!) and the poor, often put-upon dog nicknamed Bear.
The following sequence illustrates one of Kobayashi’s favourite tricks, namely to start off with more-or-less normal cat behaviour and veer off into an unexpected direction:
As you have probably noticed, Kobayashi often opts for exaggeration when it comes to people’s facial expressions, which sometimes leads to results that are more grotesque than funny. He also enjoys drawing pretty women, but that is more obvious elsewhere, for instance in his series Club 9 (Dark Horse has published 3 volumes of that and abandoned the project before the story’s end, much to my annoyance).
In Japan, What’s Michael? was published in the weekly magazine Morning starting in 1984, and it even won the Kodansha Manga Award in 1986. There seems to also have been quite a few collections released.
In 1988, its popularity was also rewarded with a 45-episode anime which was also broadcast in Italy and Spain (at least according to a Russian article I found). The following is the cover of a collection of these episodes, as far as I could ascertain:
In the US, it was published by Dark Horse‘s manga imprint. I am not entirely sold on the translation (the aforementioned country bumpkins, for instance, talk as if they were in a cheesy would-be Western written by somebody who has no understanding of the genre), and it also bothers me that the comics were published in the standard American left-to-right reading direction. I think it is a relatively recent phenomenon to leave manga as it was drawn when translating it into European languages – audiences have become more refined.
Apparently there are stories that have never been translated, as they were deemed unfit for Western audiences (those intrigue me, yet my knowledge of Japanese is nil!), but those that were selected by whomever is in charge of these decisions have been collected in 11 volumes, published between 1997 and 2006. Most of them are quite out of print by now; I managed to gather all eleven over the years, though while writing this post I discovered that Dark Horse has decided to rescue this series out of its out-of-print-darkness and re-publish the works in two 500-page volumes. Am I going to purchase those? Yes, of course, as there is bonus material involved! Though the wrong reading direction remains wrong, alas.
« It’s a lot easier to draw rubble when deadlines hit. » — Guy Davis
Today, on his birthday, we seize the occasion to salute prodigious autodidact Guy Davis and to look upon his works, no despair necessary.
Born in Michigan on November 20, 1966, Guy Davis started out in comics in 1981 with a SF strip, Quonto of the Star Corps, published (he suspects his dad had something to do with it) in local newspaper The Clarkston News.
From there, he delved into sword and sorcery with The Realm (1986-1988, Arrow), then made significant strides toward his mature style with punk saga Baker Street (1989-1991, Caliber).
He then hit the majors, devoting most of the 90s to pencilling and inking the bulk of Sandman Mystery Theatre‘s quite respectable run (70 issues + 1 annual, 1993-1999, DC/Vertigo), Matt Wagner‘s darkly revisionist chronicles of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman… pre-yellow-and-purple togs.
I must confess that I wasn’t, at this point, particularly fond of Davis’ style. His endearingly schlubby, potato-schnozzed characters had yet to work their charm upon me. But the writing was compelling, Davis’ storytelling was strong and clear, so I stuck around.
However, I’m not ambivalent at all when it comes to his subsequent work, wherein he ditched his often awkward cross-hatching, his inking improved by leaps and bounds in expressiveness, and he was at long last paired with a colourist that fully grasped his singular style.
Guy Davis on his collaboration with Dave Stewart:
I was never never happy with my work in color — I hated the idea of it — until [ Dave Stewart ] started coloring me in B.P.R.D. He had this textured brush look that was just perfect for my linework. My linework is not clean, and before Dave, everybody who’d color me would do a standard house style. They wouldn’t adapt for each artist, and that’s what makes Dave so amazing is that he adapts his style for the art as opposed to trying to shoehorn one style of coloring — which a lot of colorists do — into every artist’s style.
(from an interview conducted by Eric Nolen-Weathington and published in Modern Masters Volume 24: Guy Davis, 2010, TwoMorrows)
Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Davis ever received his due in comics; he remained an artist’s artist, reliable and productive, but relatively unsung. On B.P.R.D., he allowed Mr. Mignola to envision events and visions on a far, far grander scale than Hellboy’s creator could have realised by himself. After Davis resigned from the title and exited the comics field for challenges and well-earned success, artistic and financial, in the realms of film and video games, there simply wasn’t anyone able to fill the void he’d left.
Happy birthday, thanks for everything and all the best to you, Mr. Davis!
p.s. In selecting artwork for this essay, I forced myself to exclude any and all instances of tentacles, and trust me, there were plenty. We haven’t made it official yet, but if anyone ever deserved the title of Tentacle Master…
Back in August, I promised to follow Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Horse, Pt. 1 with another instalment of cephalopod material issued by this publisher. The time, as they say, has come! While I’m not always on board with the comics they opt to publish (rarely, I might even say), I do like today’s selections.
Dark Horse obtained the licence to produce James Bond comics in 1992. The result is a number of series and stand-alone comics – Serpent’s Tooth was the first, a three-part miniseries. The following two pages are from Serpent’s Tooth Part III: Mass Extinction, scripted by Doug Moench and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, published in James Bond 007: Serpent’s Tooth no. 3 (February 1993).
In 2007, Dark Horse stepped into a partnership with New Comic Company, who had earlier acquired from Warren the rights to Creepy and Eerie. The result was the gradual publishing of ‘archival’ hardcover collections of all issues of Creepy and Eerie magazines. In 2009, DH launched the ‘new’ Creepy Magazine, which mostly featured new stories, sprinkled with the odd reprint. A revived Eerie soon joined it.
The next story is Tentacle Master Mike Mignola‘s ‘Champion of the Worms‘, which held my lazy interest for a few pages… until I found out that it’s actually quite good. What a pleasant surprise for one who had such low expectations! It also brims over with tentacles. The following three pages are from ZombieWorld: Champion of the Worms (October 1997), scripted by Mignola and illustrated by Pat McEown.
Last but not least… Scarlet Traces is a sort of sequel to Ian Edginton and D’Israeli‘s adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds, with heavy Dan Dare and Doctor Who references. This story wears its Englishness on its sleeve!
« Because sometimes, for whatever reason, you just want to draw an octopus. » — Mike Mignola, June 2019
I would say that this Tentacle Tuesday feature was started for a similar reason – sometimes one just needs to gather tentacled material, to share it more efficiently with like-minded weirdos.
I don’t imagine writer and comics artist Mike Mignola (most notably, creator of Hellboy and its spin-off B.P.R.D.) needs much of an introduction – he’s fairly ubiquitous in mainstream culture, and his style has been aped by many, which according to the proverb is the most sincere form of flattery. I was aware of this already, and yet was staggered by the sheer number of copycats I stumbled across while seeking out materials for this post.
I also started suffering from tentacle fatigue: as much as I love octopuses, seeing dozens upon dozens of fairly similar images made me weary. Mignola draws tentacles well, but he also draws them very, very often, and he also likes to revisit scenes already depicted. The result is a sprawling mess of sketches, variant covers and spin-offs of spin-offs… perhaps not inappropriate, come to think of it. This particular octopus has far more than just eight limbs!
Enjoy this barrage of Mignola tentacles, just make sure you’re in the proper mood for them 😉
No post of this nature would be complete without featuring, in some form or other, H.P. Lovecraft, arguably the father of our modern obsession with tentacles. On that topic, I am linking to an excellent article about Mignola’s relationship with the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos (be warned that it’s in French, sorry!)
Mignola revisited this very scene for his cover of Children of Lovecraft, and anthology of (non-comics) stories ‘inspired’ by Lovecraft (September, 2016). This was also published by Dark Horse.
More Victorian England and Lovecraftian archetypes can be found within the pages of Jenny Finn:
Even Batman, in Mignola’s hands, gets tentaclefied!
As a final note, I’d like to officially make a moue of distaste at people who share art without attribution, or without bothering to ascertain its source. To wit: a pair of images that are widely shared as Mike Mignola artwork… except that it isn’t by him at all, just by someone drawing in a similar style. Instagram and Pinterest are breeding grounds for such deplorable artistic credit robbery.
The following two illustrations are by Malaysian artist Daryl Toh.
The brain-with-tentacles is curled up at the comfy intersection of two beloved tropes, the Brain Monster and the Tentacled Terror. Through some clever combining, one is guaranteed a truly horrendous creature that’s at least 25% more appalling than either of its step-parents. It’s the favourite of many a filmmaker and comic artist, and the toast of this particular post!
It may be a little too early to wrap yourself around a drink (at least in this part of the world), so you’ll have to enjoy this Tentacle Tuesday sober.
One has to pay one’s dues to the classics: Basil Wolverton‘s The Brain Bats of Venus, originally published in Mister Mystery no. 7 (September 1952), is unquestionably indispensable, so I could hardly turn a blind eye to it. In case you were out that night and missed it, you can read the whole story at The Horrors of It All blog.
The tentacled brain has several means of locomotion at its disposal, and while crawling around spasmodically is a great mood-setter, floating around gives one much better scope of movement. The following is one of those floaters, aided by some mechanical gizmos.
Superboy & the Legion of Super Heroes no. 241 (July 1978). Cover pencilled by James Sherman and inked by Joe Rubinstein.
The cover story, Prologue to Earthwar is scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by James Sherman and inked by Bob McLeod:
As implicitly suggested earlier by that panel from Brain Bats of Venus, some brain-monsters latch onto their victims’ brains, either sucking them out like you’d do with a coconut and a straw, or taking over people’s minds by puncturing some unsavoury holes I’d rather not think about too closely. A character in the following issue of World Below, when it is kindly suggested to her that perhaps it would be a sound idea to sever her ties with the tentacled thing on her head, mentions that « it hurts them to release — terribly. And it’s hard to reconnect, too. Like surgery without anaesthesia.» The implications are… unpleasant.
Zombies!is scripted and pencilled by Paul Chadwick and inked by Ron Randall, with grey tone separations by Jason Hvam:
Moving along to goofier pastures…
This is perhaps getting ever-so-slightly beyond the parameters of today’s brain theme, but the inside of this issue hides a gem in its otherwise dull pages (although I have to be fair: the stuff is much better than I expected). Behold: Spongebob in Monster Canyon, written by Kaz and drawn by Tony Millionaire, both favourites of this blog. With such excellent parentage, one expects something wonderful, and one is not disappointed.
Keep a close eye on your brains, folks, lest they be transformed into mindless mush by brainy aliens with tentacles with a taste for grey matter. I’d also stay away from TV, just in case…
« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius
The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called Sélection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.
Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.
As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!
Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.
*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »
Some content on this page was disabled on June 30, 2022 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Gary Larson. You can learn more about the DMCA here:
« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)
On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.
Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:
What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
« The tentacles of today reach out like an octopus to swallow yesterday. »
That’s a quote from Gladys Taber, columnist for Ladies’ Home Journal in the 19th century, and almost as good as “put your foot down with a firm hand”.
Another thing tentacles of today… or any day… do is reach out for women, preferably ones in skimpy outfits. ’nuff said.
By now, I’m completely confused about who Ms. Marvel is supposed to be, but here is some version of her battling an octopus with a heavy hangover or a bad case of conjunctivitis. This blondie is Carol Danvers, I believe, though, that her usually bare stomach has been wrongly coloured red… but I can’t muster enough interest to care.
The next one is a scene from a fantasy world, though pray note that the tentacle grabs the woman, not the guy who’s right behind her, nor the gorilla (?) who’s right in front of her.
In case anybody is wondering about the plot of this 6-issue series by Bo Hampton, « A wizard, an air force pilot, and a young woman on a mysterious quest, join forces on a “lost planet” accessible only through magic corridors. As Ambrose Bierce, a self-taught wizard who disappeared from Earth in 1914, tells them, when the evil Zorrin family conquered the planet Iriel, they killed off its scientists so it could be dominated by the Zorrins’ magic. Before they can return to Earth, the heroes have to destroy the lotus potion which subjugates the world’s populace to the Zorrins’ will. » (source)
There’s very little science in these Thrilling Science Tales – and would you expect any from a story with a protagonist named Stormy Tempest? (any relation to Joey?) Trying to untangle her hair from the tentacle’s suckers/cilia is going to be horrendously painful, but I suppose she has more serious things to worry about.
The following is not exactly a worthy use of Mark Schultz‘ talents, but at least it’s a nice, intriguing cover. The insides are not drawn by him, in case you’re wondering.
I’ll wrap up with some eye candy – I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually drawn by Bruce Timm and not one of his many imitators. A Timm comic with tentacles and more than a subtle hint of seduction? I’m very pleased, indeed.