« To prevent enabling oppression, we demand that black people be twice as good. To prevent verifying stereotypes, we pledge to never eat a slice a watermelon in front of white people.* » — Ta-Nehisi Coates
On a scorching day last week, we were at home digging into a particularly tasty watermelon.
As neither of us grew up in the U.S. of A., the simple act of eating juicy pastèque has not been tainted, as it has for many, by racism and stereotypes. We’ve been allowed to appreciate the watermelon for itself, as a healthy, refreshing, tasty treat. A lightbulb came on as I recalled a relevant sequence in one of Spain Rodriguez‘s ‘Fred Toote’ stories, set in the 1950’s Buffalo of his youth — and so here it is:
And that’s not all: a few days later, a friend’s news feed presented me with a most insightful, eye-opening *and* heartbreaking tweet:
Pickaninny. A black child. Thus, from a book that was being sold in 1987 in order to raise money for the state of California’s observance of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. ” If the pickaninnies ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates” (Fred Albert Shannon, essay on slavery, 1934, in The Making of America, W. Clean Skousen, ed., 1985).
Pickaninny arose among slaves in the West Indies, where it was recorded as early as 1653. The original users based the term either on the Portuguese pequenino, little child, or its Spanish equivalent. They employed the term affectionately, of course, and, on the evidence of Captain Frederick Marryat, who was a sensitive recorder of language, applied it to little children generally, regardless of color, e.g. “And den, Mass Easy, you marry wife – hab pickaninny — lib like gentleman” (Mr. Midshipman Easy, 1836).
But no white person can get away with this today. The essential informality of the word makes it seem too condescending, too offensive, to most modern sensibilities. The California Bicentennial Commission, in fact, halted the sale of The Making of America, and issued a formal apology for having authorized it in the first place, after this use of pickaninny was called to their attention (along with other matters, the text also concluding that “slave owners were the worst victims of the system [of slavery].”
Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:
Then, one year on…
More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.
Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.
Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.
As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.
The source of tentacles in Golden Age comics seems inexhaustible – every time I think I have reached the bottom of the well, I find myself awash in cephalopods. That being said, a lot of these octopusoid appearances are one-panel cameos, and even when the tentacles linger for a few pages, the shitty printing, questionable scans or bare-bones art don’t exactly incite me to use this material in a Tentacle Tuesday. Today’s crop is all Golden Age, running the gamut from 1939 to 1952, and composed of pages/covers I can enthusiastically endorse.
George (of Harry J. Tuthill’sThe Bungle Family, ‘one of the most under-rated comic strips in the history of American cartoonery’ according to Art Spiegelman,‘one of the top hundred comics of the 20th century‘, according to The Comics Journal) may be thoroughly bundled up in tentacles, but he still keeps a sort of prosaic calm that I admire.
Just look at the canines the red devil is ready to plunge into Black Hood’s leg! Throw in a fanged octopus, and this cover has as much action as one would possibly want. Sadly, nothing of the sort actually goes on in this issue.
*No, I am not referring to the popular company that lets customers hire favourite ‘stars’ to record personalized videos; a month ago, I didn’t even know this existed, and my life has not been improved by this knowledge.
Sometimes an octopus stays politely in the background, waving hello shyly from behind a rock, or waiting for a dance invitation like a bashful kid at a high-school dance (do they still have these?) I never know where to use these covers; their tentacled nature is undeniable, but their octopuses are so peripheral to the main story that they tend to be overlooked when I am in search of a unifying theme for a post.
a small character part in a play or movie, played by a distinguished actor or a celebrity.
a piece of jewellery, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait in profile carved in relief on a background of a different colour.
Treasure Chest, a long-running catholic publication we mention routinely though not too often (for details, see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 24), runs the gamut from informative to fun, sometimes both at the same time. There are occasional clunkers (like the admittedly rather entertaining multi-part story I am currently reading about Godless Communism), but overall it’s well worth picking up, should some issue catch your eye.
I originally had in mind happy, frolicking octopuses for this post, so here is one instance of just that. As a matter of fact, his smile is somewhat unnatural and more of a rictus, but I don’t want to be picky…
I’ll quote from Don Markstein’s excellent summary of this hare-brained comic series: « Bunny was aggressively, even obsessively trendy. Even at the time, it seemed to lay on the love beads and “psychedelic” display lettering a bit thick. […] But she owed her painfully discordant Sixties-ness to nobody. […] It’s as if her entire raison d’être was to parody the decade of student activism and radical youth fashions, even while living it. To make matters worse, this teenage girl comic was edited, written and drawn by middle-aged men who were probably, like most middle-aged men, unable to communicate with their own daughters. To vary the dialogue, in which everything that wasn’t “groovy” was “outasight”, they made up their own slang. Things could also be “zoovy” or “zoovers” or even, in extreme cases, “yvoorg” — which was obviously “groovy” spelled backward, but no hint was ever given as to how it might be pronounced. »
The Magic Yarn, published in Mary Marvel no. 2 (June 1946, Fawcett), was scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Binder. This immensely entertaining story about an old bat with dreams of world domination involves an octopus, some bondage (of course!), and lots of knitting. (Read it here)
Moving on to actual (rather than knitted) octopuses, here’s the original art from On the Bottom of the Sea, published in Little Max no. 16 (Harvey, April 1952). The story artist may be uncredited on GCD, but we know that it’s Al Avison 😉
The Little Wise Guys tangle with an ornery cephalopod. Giggles ensue! This is Daredevil Comics no. 111 (June 1954, Lev Gleason), with a cover is by Charles Biro. The cover story is Scarecrow’s Lucky Blunder, scripted by Charles Biro and illustrated by Ralph Mayo.
Finally, making an epic effort to wrench myself away from the tender embrace of the Golden Age, I’ll accelerate a little too much and end up in all the way in 2015. Here’s a page from Scarlett Hart: The Tentacles of Terror by Thomas Taylor and Marcus Sedgwick.
« Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk. » — Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine (1980)
Another week, another heat wave… I had something else in the pipeline for this week, but the canicular conditions brought to mind Hot Stuff The Little Devil (heat rises!) and his creator Warren Kremer‘s monumental parade of beautifully conceived and crafted calefaction variations.
As you may already know, the Harvey Comics stable consists, in the main, of one-note characters erected upon the visual template of licensed 1940s animation properties Casper the Friendly Ghost (Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Spooky) for the boys, and Little Audrey (Little Dot, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Pearl) for the girls.
We’ve already presented cover galleries from Spooky and Little Dot (as well as a Hallowe’en-themed array), and it’s now Hot Stuff’s turn to toast and roast. Though we’ve both been rather dismissive of the contents of Harvey Comics, I must point out that if there is a specific series that burns brighter than its brethren do, it’s Hot Stuff’s… at least during the line’s creative peak, the 1960s. Here’s an example of a good one.
Each cover is the brainchild and handiwork of Harvey’s indefatigable resident genius and art director, Warren Kremer. Obviously, one man does not a company make, and his able colleagues Howie Post, Ernie Colón, Sid Couchey and Sid Jacobson were hardly lightweights or slouches… but Kremer was the cover generator.
That’s it for now! Keep cool, and may your asbestos underwear never chafe!
As Tentacle Tuesday creeps by once again, we found ourselves knee-deep in ghosts and devils – adorable, baby-featured ones. As a matter of fact, if you’re the kind who breaks out in hives when exposed to an overdose of cuteness, I would suggest skipping this week’s installment.
The best-known titles published by Harvey Comics, whether comic book adaptations of an animated cartoon (for instance, Casper the Friendly Ghost or Baby Huey, both adapted from Paramount’s Famous Studios cartoons) or original series, are certainly no passion of mine for the simple reason that the stories are, for the most part, quite boring. Their strained slapstick elicits, at best, a semi-chuckle: each character is so tied to a shtick that the whole thing becomes predictable very quickly. Hot Stuff, the little devil with temperature regulation problems, constantly burns through and/or melts stuff. Little Dot draws polka dots on everything – or hangs out with giraffes. Little Lotta demolishes all food in sight à la Garfield. Richie Rich swims in money, eats money, inhales money. Wendy the Good Little Witch is nauseatingly boring (I disagree with that being a viable definition of “good”).
All of these characters have redeeming features – their heart is in the right place and they enthusiastically come to the aid of friends and animals. The Harvey Girls, as they’re called (Little Lotta, Little Dot and Little Audrey) are clever and enterprising, if spoiled and headstrong, which is a pleasant change from females in need of rescuing. I wouldn’t go as far as calling their antics “proto-feminist”, notwithstanding the lofty claim made to that effect in the introduction to the Dark Horse Harvey Girls anthology.
One can hem and haw about it all day, but there is one redeeming and indisputably striking feature, and it’s one to contend with: the covers are beautiful! Lovingly designed, gorgeously coloured, they’re pure eye candy.
« 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.
« It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. » ― H.P. Lovecraft
I’ve actually had a friend tell me that he sees tentacles wherever he goes because of my Tentacle Tuesdays. Hey, I’m not making this up – tentacles *are* everywhere. Whether you’re in a well-lit room, with reassuring noises of the city filtering through the windows, or in a city centre, cushioned from harm by the comforting presence of a crowd… repairing a TV set, kissing a date, heading over to the pub for a well-deserved drink… some cephalopod horror is but a blink away. Fie, fie, foul apparition!
What better beginning to this post than… TERROR VISION!!! (“Aiiieeee!“, to quote the man.)
Things go from bad to worse for our repairman…
Normally I wouldn’t post yet another page from the same story, but I like the art so much that I have to share.
I’ve already mentioned German horror comics in the shape Spuk Geschichten (see Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles). Its mother publication, Gespenster Geschichten, also has its share of tentacles. For now, I will limit myself to this one cover:
One would be justified in thinking that roofs are generally quite octopus-proof, but nope, this one is either a talented climber or just unimaginably huge.
As a bit of an aside, there’s a really fun account of one collector’s quest for John Jacobs stories written for Madison Comics over at Kirby Your Enthusiasm (link: Finding John Jacobs). Far Frontier no. 1 has a few of those, and apparently they’re quite perverse and brain-melting. An excerpt of the essay in question to whet your appetite:
« I first became aware of [John Jacobs] through a review by noted comics writer Jan Strnad in The Comics Journal #94 of Dr Peculiar #1. I read and re-read it dozens of times and marveled at the samples of his primitive pencilled art. My mind tried to absorb a comic that had heavy religious overtones plus a healthy dose of T&A (with a monster rape/cannibal fetish). The reviewer theorized that John Jacobs’ mind must be like a bowl of maggots. »
As an editorial aside, I am inclined to trust Strnad on this, both because I really like his writing and because Kirby Your Enthusiasm‘s summary of Jacobs’ plots confirms the maggots theory.
« Mirrors toins things in revoise! Everything in Mirrorland is opposite! So naturally I’m a tough ghost and you’re a sissy spook! » — Poil in Through the Looking Glass (Spooky no. 121, 1970… read it here)
The Harvey Comics line, in its peak years (from the late Fifties to the mid-seventies, say) was essentially a collection of monomaniacal characters. As Daniel Clowes deemed in his classic lampoon of the Harvey cast, theirs is a Playful Obsession (read it here.)
Richie Rich had his moolah, Little Lotta wolfed down everything in sight, Little Dot found stimulation in… dots, and so on. Casper the Friendly Ghost’s uncouth counterpart, the 30s kid gang-inspired Spooky (complete with Brooklyn accent and « doiby» hat), loved to, well, scare people (and things!) with a hearty « Boo! », Hot Stuff raised the temperature wherever he went. On the other hand, Casper and Little Audrey’s adventures didn’t rely on such gimmicks, possibly from predating the rest of the Harvey gang, originating in animation in Casper’s case, and… folklore in Audrey’s:
« One day, Li’l Audrey was playing with matches. Her mother told her she’d better stop before someone got hurt. But Li’l Audrey was awfully hard-headed and kept playing with matches, and eventually she burned their house down.
“Oh, Li’l Audrey, you are sure gonna catch it when your father comes home!” said her mother.
But Li’l Audrey just laughed and laughed, because she knew her father had come home early to take a nap. »
The Harvey line’s covers were by far its most precious asset: endless riffs on a character’s particular motif, granted, but spun out in well-designed, nimbly-executed and brightly-coloured scenes… virtually the work of a single creative whirlwind, art director-illustrator Warren Kremer (1921-2003).
In all cases, artwork by the legendarily prolific Warren Kremer. As we demonstrated last year, the Harvey house style hardly was the only range he could draw in.