That SpongeBob would encounter a lot of tentacles in his day-to-day life is not at all surprising – he’s a sea sponge. What still surprises me, however, by is how much fun SpongeBob comics can be. Between 2011 and 2018, a respectable 85 issues were published by Stephen Hillenburg‘s production company, United Plankton Pictures (what a great title) and distributed by Bongo Comics.
The formula was similar to Simpsons Comics spin-off Treehouse of Horror: plenty of famous (and talented!) cartoonists having fun with the characters. Between the roster for the regular comics and the special-themed supersized issues, quite a few artists who participated are WOT favourites, and some are Tentacle Tuesday masters, to boot: Hilary Barta, Tony Millionaire, Al Jaffee, Ramona Fradon, Michael T. Gilbert… in 2017, Stephen R. Bissette even broke up out of retirement to work on a special Hallowe’en issue. I think this post is a decent sampler of the different styles and storytelling techniques involved – I’ve concentrated on prominent tentacles, and ignored all the trimmings (the recurring jellyfish tentacles, pumpkins sprouting grabby vines, etc.)
The tentacle fun starts right off with the first issue! Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy vs. the Octopus King, written by James Kochalka and illustrated by Hilary Barta, was published in SpongeBob Comics No. 1 (February 2011):
A page from Serpents & Sealords, written and illustrated by Corey Barba and published in SpongeBob Comics no. 51 (December 2015).
The following glorious illustration at the tail end of SpongeBob Comics no. 50 (November 2015) is by Jim Woodring:
Given that Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of SpongeBob) was a marine scientist and teacher, it does not come as a surprise that the recurring feature Flotsam and Jetsam was used to talk about all manner of nautical critters and their habits. Here are a few:
Treehouse of Horror episodes are easily my favourite Simpsons material, and not just because Hallowe’en is the most interesting ‘holiday’ of the year (in my hardly humble opinion). Of course, abandoning the pretence of any continuity makes for entertaining, anything-goes storytelling, but what I find especially appealing is that these little gems take the Simpsons’ brand of humour, admittedly already somewhat dark, and kick it up a notch all the way into full-blown black humour and gore.
The comic books series of the same name continued this tradition, offering readers a fun grab bag of horror and science fiction film parodies, literary references and just plain madcap-yet-macabre nonsense. Not all stories are good; plots vary widely in quality, and even a good plot falls flat in the hands of an artist lacking the expertise to pull it off. However, through the years (there are 23 issues of total, published between 1995 and 2017) a number of illustrious comic artists and writers have contributed their talents to this misshapen, haphazardly hammered treehouse.
You will not be too surprised to hear that a number of stories included tentacles, be it in a secondary capacity or featured front and centre. The quotidian presence of aliens Kang and Kodos ensures that, but there are also a number of plant and chest hair tendrils, Homer-as-octopus, Cthulhu guest appearances and god knows what else. The following is by no means an exhaustive list; I have striven to include a bit of everything. Two stories have made it into previous Tentacle Tuesdays (see Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Hilary Barta and Tentacle Tuesday: tentacles, some fresh, some older than time).
The cover of number two features… err, is that Kang or Kodos? with tentacles in full display. You may insert a ‘all aliens look alike’ joke here, to be fair, these two can mostly be told apart by their voice, Kang’s being deeper.
The insides offer us the tentacles of Sideshow Bob, whose transformation into a blob is distinctly cephalopodian in nature.
Skipping over a few tentacle-less issues (for shame!), we arrive at number five, in which Mr Burns and Smithers, having been turned into Rigellians, demonstrate a proficient use of tentacles for their god-intended purpose, namely grabbing and choking.
Leaving Kang and Kodos behind for now, we can play the game ‘option A or option B’: if somebody was forcing you to choose between having a third eye or tentacles instead of hands, which would you go for?
The following, incredibly boring parody of LOTR at least offers one genuine octopus, perhaps supposed to be the Watcher in the Water.
The following cover is Kodos (or Kang? sorry, guys) again, which I’m including because I like it…
… and because one of its stories featured a somewhat original interpretation of tentacles: chest hair!
One of my favourite tropes, octopus-in-the-library (wait… it’s not actually a trope, but it should be!), is aptly used in number thirteen:
Mutants with tentacles traipse on in number sixteen…
… and plant tentacles rear their acquisitive little tendrils again in number eighteen.
Finally, the last (alas!) cover of this series feature tentacles a’plenty! What a great note to end this on.
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas makes me happy I love Christmas cold and grey, I love it sweet and sappy Says crazy kissin’ Cousin Flo: ‘Let’s break out the mistletoe’ »
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas out the waz Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas up the schnozz Come all ye faithful, don’t be slow It’s Christmas time, you can’t say no»
« Momma wants a kitchen sink And daddy wants a stiffer drink Grandma wants us to cut the crap Grandpa wants a nice long nap »
« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas everywhere Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas pullin’ out my hair Shoppers lined up out the door Traffic backed up miles and more It’s Christmas time, so what the heck Let’s go spend the whole paycheck »
« Deck the halls, it is the season We don’t need no rhyme or reason It’s Christmas time, go spread the cheer Pretty soon gonna be next year»
There are few things more satisfying than hitting two birds with one stone. Today’s Tentacle Tuesday almost, but not quite, coincides with the birthday of Hilary Barta, who was born on June 17th, 1957. As it happens, he is delightfully adept at depicting tentacles, and quite enthusiastic about it, too…. so it is my pleasure to combine tentacle festivities with a (hopefully) tantalizing sampling of a great artist’s work.
There’s no mentioning Barta without perusing some of his Simpsons’ work, especially under the umbrella of that tentacle-rich (my favourite!) manifestation of the Simpsons, the Treehouse of Horror.
« What kind of people are these? Where do they come from, what do they do? What’s in a name? »
Coming out of nowhere (well, “From off the streets of Cleveland“, as it happens) in 1976, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was one of comics’ truest and most bracing alternatives. It wasn’t part of the Underground Comix movement, despite the participation of Pekar’s old friend and fellow record collector Robert Crumb, and it wasn’t like anything pushed out by the mainstream comics industry.
Crumb’s introduction to Doubleday/Dolphin’s 1986 anthology of early AS strips describes Pekar’s appeal better than anyone else is likely to:
« Yeah, Harvey is an ego-maniac; a classic case… a driven, compulsive, mad Jew… it’s something to see. But how else could he have gotten all those comics published, with almost no money; in total isolation from any comic-publishing ‘scene’ such as exists here in California, or in New York; constantly brow-beating artists to illustrate his stories; handling the distribution himself… only an ego-maniac would persist in the face of such odds. »
« The subject matter of these stories is so staggeringly mundane, it verges on the exotic! It is very disorienting at first, but after awhile you get with it. Myself, I love it… Pekar has proven once and for all that even the most seemingly dreary and monotonous of lives is filled with poignancy and heroic struggle. All it takes is someone with an eye to see, an ear to hear, and a demented, desperate Jewish mind to get it down on paper… there is drama in the most ordinary and routine of days, but it’s a subtle thing that gets lost in the shuffle… our personal struggles seem dull and drab compared with the thrilling, suspense-filled, action-packed lives of the characters who are pushed on us all the time in movies, tv shows, adventure novels and… those *other* comicbooks.
What Pekar does is certainly new to the comicbook medium. There’s never been anything even approaching this kind of stark realism. It’s hard enough to find it in literature, impossible in the movies and tv. It takes chutspah to tell it exactly the way it happened, with no adornment, no great wrap-up, no bizarre twist, nothing. Pekar’s genius is that he pulls this off, and does it with humor, pathos, all the drama you could ever want… and in a comic book yet! »
And here’s an atypical example of Mr. Pekar’s storytelling art, a rare but eloquent pantomime vignette. It originally saw print in DC Comics’ run of American Splendor comic books (no. 1, Nov. 2006, published under the Vertigo imprint and edited by Jonathan Vankin.) The symbiosis at play here between writer and artist makes ‘Delicacy’ my very favourite story by Hilary Barta, who somehow never gets matched with a script worthy of his tremendous talent, even when he’s working with Alan Moore (Moore can be very funny, but superhero parodies, even his, seldom are… and Splash Brannigan wasn’t exactly side-splitting). This is a wonderful oddity, one of two times that Barta and Pekar collaborated. Bon appétit!