« He was offered a sloe gin fizz in a pink frosted glass by a young woman who removed her glass eye and sucked on it while discussing the moral imperatives of the sponge boycott in Brooksville, Florida. » — Harlan Ellison, ‘Neon’.
In 1973, Marvel was trying all sorts of things to bolster its market presence. They even dared to tread where even the venerable Weird Tales had never quite succeeded. The Haunt of Horror was a prose fiction digest that strongly showed its comics roots. It offered a mixture of classic material (Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, a piece by Robert E. Howard) and of contemporary genre practitioners: Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell… featuring a score of illustrations slapped together by Marvel’s less superhero-limited alumni, namely Gene Colan, Mike Ploog, Frank Brunner, Walt Simonson and Dan Green. After two issues, Marvel called the whole thing off, licking its wounds, but soon revived the title as a b&w comics magazine, this time eking out five issues (May 1974 – Jan. 1975) plus a 1977 issue of Marvel Preview.
As for me, I picked it up for the rare short story by the nonpareil R. A. Lafferty, Ghost in the Corn Crib.
In the end, you might say that this short-lived publication is best known for a screwup: indeed, the notoriously disorganized Marvel Bullpen messed up the page order of Harlan Ellison‘s contribution to the first issue, Neon. Never one to let such things slide, Harlan made sure that a correct version was printed in the second issue. Score one for the good guys.
It’s difficult to impress me with a magician, unless we’re talking real-life magicians with a strong skeptical streak, like James Randi or Ricky Jay. Given that the concept of a person who has access to ‘mystical’ forces and who can manipulate beings (supernatural or otherwise) has been around for as long as humans have been able to communicate with one another, be it through grunts and squeals, it’s pretty damn difficult to come up with a new wrinkle to this old tired nag. Having no previous experience with the series, I had no high expectations for Steve Ditko‘s Doctor Strange, but I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the earnest, solemn Dr. Strange from the beginning, but it’s Ditko’s mind-boggling, soaring surrealistic landscapes that bloomed over time that really impressed me. It’s not an easy feat to make the reader feel like he’s being transported into another dimension, but Ditko pulled it off beautifully, making us feel Dr. Strange’s disorientation as he gets sucked into yet another psychedelic terrain.
The Dr. Strange stories of the 1960s constructed a cohesive cosmology that would have thrilled any self-respecting theosophist. College students, minds freshly opened by psychedelic experiences and Eastern mysticism, read Ditko’s Dr. Strange stories with the belief of a recent Hare Krishna convert. Meaning was everywhere, and readers analyzed the Dr. Strange stories for their relationship to Egyptian myths, Sumerian gods, and Jungian archetypes.
What does this have to do with the current post? Precious little, actually. I’m a firm believer of not recycling dramatis personae past their due by date (defined, of course, as that time when their creator/author moves on to greener pastures, by design or because he has to). Doctor Strange moulded by other hands loses his raison d’être and becomes just another Joe in a funny cape, uttering ineffable, paranormal gobbledygook. Oh, sure, he’s aided by more mystical artifacts than before. How exciting… if you are excited by gadgets and gimmicks, that is.
He also encounters a lot of tentacles, apparently the most mystical, otherworldly apparitions *this* crew could think of. Welcome to 70’s (for the most part) Doctor Strange!
The Shambler from the Sea is scripted by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Frank Brunner, and inked by Sal Buscema and Ralph Reese:
Through an Orb Darkly is scripted by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, pencilled by Frank Brunner and inked by Dick Giordano:
Mind Trip!, scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Rudy Nebres, was published in Doctor Strange no. 22 (April 1977):
A Gathering of Fear! is scripted by Roger Stern and illustrated by Tom Sutton:
Wizard of the West Village is scripted by Chris Claremont and pencilled/inked… by a whole bunch of people:
I understand that the artist left quite a lot of empty space on purpose – to be filled with pointless text – but still, was it necessary to plaster nearly every inch of the image with captions yellow, red and purple? (I do like how the WEB seems to be made out of plasticine… and likely was.) Here’s the cover without all that wordy fluff:
The Rook couldn’t quite kill the fishy brute’s whole family in #4, so he had to confront its slightly more colourful cousin in issue 7:
Co-admin RG suggested I check Eclipse Magazine‘s tentacular offerings for this post, and he was correct, there was one issue involving an octopus used as a coffee table.
Marvel’s Epic Illustrated, with its 70-odd pages per issue, surely offered something for everyone. The aforementioned offerings were quite hit-or-miss, but the occasional presence of Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Basil Wolverton (in reprints), Berni Wrightson, Ernie Colón, Craig Russell, et al. makes it worthwhile to go through its 34 issues (okay, maybe not all in one sitting, unless you have quite a few thermoses of tea prepared – or something stronger).
Brunner’s painting is rather nice – the mermaid and her friendly octopus both look so serene! – that here it is again. And read an interview with him while you’re at it: Legendary Feathers: Interview with Frank Brunner. (I apologize for linking to a website titled Fanboy Nation, though. Erk.)
Issues 10 to 17 of Epic Illustrated featured Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman, a purported retelling of Moby Dick (although frankly, aside from a vengeful squid, the similarities are not striking). Naturally, tentacles abound. Really freaky, creepy tentacles, much like the rest of the story.
Veitch’s fucked-up (I mean that as a compliment), imaginative tale continues with “Man and Whale (Chapter Eight)”, the final installment. Alongside a plethora of sea-creatures (no longer in the sea), there’s this Devourer of Awareness, Bearer of Tentacles:
Pacific Comics have already been part of our Tentacle Tuesday line-up (see here), but I’d like to finish what I started. Our intrepid team (read: me and husband) has gone through a bunch of PC comics to save you the trouble of looking for tentacles where there’s none to be found (sniff, sniff). The result? (Only) two covers, and a horrifying (in its implications) inside story.
Have you ever seen a Rhunk? That’s the friendly (*too* friendly, as we’ll see later) creature with a snout and a full set of tentacles you see below.
“Pride of the Fleet” (written by Bruce Jones, pencilled by Frank Brunner and inked by Mike Mignola), published in this issue, is a chilling story, but not because of the alien creature that threatens the swordmistress and her highly impractical costume. Have I already mentioned that Bruce Jones can get seriously nasty?
“Methodically, as if confident of the helplessness of its prey, it advanced on her, muscles riding in sensuous rhythm along its shoulders, tentacles twitching in anticipation. Sheffield felt her blood turn to ice…”
This is the story of a highly intelligent but “funny-looking” man who wanted Dejah Thoris (our heroine) so badly that he transformed himself into a rhunk (and tricked her into doing the same) just so he could rape her. To which I’ll add that she trusted and admired him, and considered him a (platonic) friend. Talk about a horror story about one of those prototypical “nice” guys. Ouch.
I really hope she’ll have the satisfaction of dismembering him at some point, but it seems unlikely. You can read the story here.
I realize that it’s anticlimactic – some straightforward spiky plant tentacles after the previous mindfuckery – but to get PC over with, one more cover:
Some people would shudder at the idea of having « literary » and horror and / or science-fiction within the same sentence, but I firmly believe that some of this oft-despised « genre » oeuvre is worthy of that (somewhat pompous, anyway) moniker.
To open the proceedings, here’s a page from a graphic adaptation of « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », written by the venerable Harlan Ellison in 1968 (and first published in 1975, in Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods.) One of the showier pieces featured in the anthology The Illustrated Harlan Ellison(1978), it is drawn by William Stout, who does a great job translating the story into no-longer-just-mental images – and sneaking in a tentacle or two in the process (if you think that’s just a tail, shhh, don’t ruin it for the rest of us). People who dislike a vivid palette, beware: the bright, vivid colours just emphasize the terror felt by the main character (and the readers, if said readers have any imagination to speak of).
Apparently, poor high-school kids are often forced to analyze « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », because upon Googling it to check the year of its creation, I stumbled upon a bevy of study resources that explain what the story is about and what techniques Ellison used to make this point. Yawn, and yuck. There’s nothing that ruins a good time like having to dissect it.
Now we come to Marvel’s short-lived Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction series, which often published adaptations of short stories and novels by well-known writers into a comic format (Mostly with lacklustre results, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’ve always preferred to stick with the original medium of things.)
Since I’m talking about tentacles and literature, I am contractually obliged to include something Lovecraftian as part of this post.
My colleague R.G. has already talked about the H.P. Lovecraft edition of the anthology Graphic Classics (head over here to check it out ), but I’d like to share two illustrations from the inside. Both are by Allen Koszowski, whose work is a feast of tentacled beasts and Lovecraftian horrors.
Koszowski got the similarity down pat: Lovecraft was mighty weird-looking (in a stately kind of way) – which seems quite appropriate. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he certainly looks like he’s just seen something terrible just behind his interlocutor’s back, but he was half-expecting it, so he’s not too startled, even though someone’s probably about to get gobbled up.
(Cats have that look periodically, too, down to the dilated pupils.)
Incidentally, I said that Koszowski’s art was full of tentacles, so here’s one more taste of his proclivities:
It’s birthday number one hundred and twelve for pulp wordsmith Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) who, in his tragically short lifespan, yet found time to unleash upon the world Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, Kull of Atlantis and, more significantly for this reader, the chilling classic Pigeons From Hell, a short story posthumously published in Weird Tales’ May, 1938 issue.
Howard’s The Horror From the Mound, originally published in the May, 1932 issue of Weird Tales Magazine, presumably had its title sanitized here because the H-word was still verboten in the early 1970s. Hailing from the second issue of Marvel’s Chamber of Chills (January, 1973), it was reprinted in glorious black and white in 1975’s Masters of Terror no. 1 (original title restored, hurrah!)
Gardner Fox and Brunner give it their all, but the story could have used more pages to truly do justice to Howard’s moody proto-weird western.
Welcome to Tentacle Tuesday! We now have an official logo for T.T., courtesy of my husband and fellow blogger. It’s brand-spanking new, so here it is in a fairly high resolution.
Give him a round of applause… oh, what’s that, it’s hard to applaud with tentacles? Okay, a round of « squish, squish », then.
Let’s begin (proper) with « The Thing on the Roof », adapted by Roy Thomas from a story by Robert E. Howard. The latter was a member of the renowned Lovecraft circle, so the Chthulian vibe of this is no accident. It’s illustrated by Frank Brunner, who does a bang-up job – the man was asked to draw the love child of a dragon and an octopus, and he did not disappoint!
Continuing in a similar vein (but fast-forwarding 40 years), here’s a terrific story from Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #19 (September 25th, 2013) which is so chock-full of tentacles that it could be a post all by itself. Written by Lovecraftian Len Wein and illustrated by Demonic Dan Brereton, it ranks as one of the top Treehouse comic stories as far as I’m concerned… but then I might be slightly biased. Or possessed by Chthulhu, whichever.
I couldn’t help but post at least three pages of this story – hell, I was tempted to post it in its entirety – but I’ll let you do the work. Go read the whole thing here.
And to wrap up, let’s go back half a century or so, to the Miss Horrible Entity 1954.
What I want to know is who, upon being startled by a cephalopod cyclops with vampire fangs and one very bloodshot eye, describes it as an “entity”? “Monster”, sure, even “beast” or “demon” or “creature”, but “entity” (defined as “a thing with distinct and independent existence” by Webster’s)? If you’re going to be *that* stuffy, maybe you deserve to get eaten.