(Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico

« Someone at Dell Comics decided it’d be swell to turn famous monsters into superheroes — an idea whose time never came. And just to make sure there were bad, they hired Tony Tallarico to draw them. » — — James Schumeister, with the sort of brickbat typically lobbed at Mr. Tallarico.

Last week, we lost, at the venerable age of eighty-eight, the controversial, much-maligned Tony Tallarico (Sept. 20, 1933 – Jan. 7, 2022). The case of Mr. Tallarico’s reputation is typical of mainstream US cartoonists who generally eschewed the superhero genre. His mistake, I suppose, is that he drew a handful of them, and in his own distinctive fashion to boot, thus sealing his doom in Fanboy court.

Yet there’s far more depth and variety to Tallarico’s career, and that’s should be remembered. Besides, those superhero comics were just light-hearted, unpretentious fun. Obviously not what the continuity-addicted True Believers craved.

Let’s take a tour of some of the highlights!

A page from Crazy Quilt, one of three stories Tallarico illustrated for my personal candidate for greatest horror comic book of all time, the unlikely one-shot Tales From the Tomb (Oct. 1962, Dell). Script and storyboard by John Stanley. Read the rest (complete with, fittingly, its analysis) of Crazy Quilt here.
Arguably, if Tallarico’s going to be remembered in comics and general history, it may be for this once-obscure but significant mid-60s creation. This is Lobo no. 1 (Dec. 1965, Dell Comics). Tallarico and writer D.J. Arneson hold different views as to the character’s genesis, as Canadian researcher Jamie Coville discovered in 2016. To his credit, Coville simply let the former collaborators present their respective side of the story. Read the resulting interviews here! And do check out the début issue itself, along with Tom Brevoort’s analysis… right here.

As reported in Alter Ego no. 106 (Dec. 2011, TwoMorrows): « On May 20, 2005, Tony Tallarico received the Pioneer Award, given for his co-creation of the first African-American comic book hero, Lobo, a post-Civil War cowboy who appeared in two issues of his own Dell/Western title. The honor was given at a ceremony held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. »

A Tallarico ad from Eerie no. 20 (March 1969, Warren); given Tony’s propensity to keep it in the family, ten-to-one that “Danny Smith” is actually Anthony Tallarico, Jr.
Cryptozoologists take note! Creepy no. 26 (April 1969, Warren); script by editor Bill Parente. I just adore Uncle Creepy’s pose (great use of props!), not to mention the question mark mullet. Should be the hit of the next tonsorial season!
Joe Gill and Tallarico took over the handlebars of one of Charlton’s established hot-rodders, Ken King. Following the direction blazed by their predecessor, Jack Keller, King had become “the Most Hated Man on Wheels!” (in Drag-Strip Hotrodders no. 13, Jan. 1967, Charlton) after being unjustly accused of wrecking his best friend, Jerry Gerard, aka “The Nicest Guy in Racing” during a meet. The series’ unremittingly bleak portrayal of the racing scene is fascinating, and Gill and Tallarico wisely kept the pace. This is World of Wheels no. 26 (June 1969, Charlton); cover by Tallarico.
An in-house ad from Eerie no. 23 (September 1969, Warren), technically Vampirella’s first published appearance. Art by “Tony Williamsune”, the collective nom de plume adopted by frequent collaborators Tallarico and William ‘Bill’ Fraccio. According to Tallarico, their collaboration was quite fluid: both contributed to layout, pencils and inks, but Tony was the extroverted go-getter, while Bill was the quiet one.
A “Williamsune” splash from Creepy no. 31 (February 1970, Warren). Tallarico on his association with Fraccio: « I would pencil some, he would ink some, visa versa y’know one of those things. I was really the guy that went out and got the work. Bill never liked to do that. It would depend. If he was working on something else I would start a project too and do pencils. It was a fun time. » [ source ]
This is Abbott & Costello no. 14 (April 1970, Charlton), featuring the beloved veteran comedians’ crossover with the aforementioned Ken King. The look of the series is based upon Hanna-Barbera‘s 1967-68 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show rather than on the duo’s classic movies and routines. Besides, Lou Costello having passed away in 1959, his part was voiced by Stan Irwin (with Bud Abbott as… Abbott).
Preceding the advent of Jonah Hex by some months* in the Weird Western stakes, Geronimo Jones was a truly oddball oater series, in the best sense of the term. Created by Tallarico (script and inks) and José Delbo (pencils), Geronimo’s adventures ran for 9 issues (plus one that remains unpublished), from September, 1971 to January, 1973. Geronimo himself was essentially a young pacifist seeking his quiet place in the Old West, in the finest tradition. However, strange encounters and occurrences keep thwarting his noble goal. And none is more outlandish and shocking than what he comes up against in this issue, cover warning and all. This is Geronimo Jones no. 6 (June 1972, Charlton). The GCD credits the cover to Delbo alone, but the use of collage and halftone wash are telltale Tallarico trademarks… not to mention his distinctive lettering. My guess therefore is: pencils by Delbo, layout, inks and collage by Tallarico.
Tallarico and Fraccio did only a handful of stories in this wild, swirly style, including four for Charlton: The Curse of the Vampire in The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves no. 44 (Jan. 1974, Charlton);
this one, Come See Our Ghost… in Haunted no. 16 (June 1974, Charlton); The Reuger Formula in Haunted no. 24 (Nov. 1975) and A Solemn Oath! in Ghostly Tales no. 118 (Nov. 1975). Let me assure you that the sort of bold inking on display here, while deceptively simple in appearance, takes unerring confidence and skill to achieve. Bravissimo!

By the mid-70s, with his main comics accounts defunct or dormant (Dell, Treasure Chest, Charlton), Tallarico, ever the astute and tireless businessman (another rare trait among cartoonists) simply stepped up and diversified his efforts, branching out and creating a market for himself. « In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. »

Here’s a lovely one: Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Monsters (1977, Grosset & Dunlap). From the author’s introduction: « My sincere thanks to the many motion picture studios who produced these great monster films. They have kept many a generation of fans ‘monsterized‘. My thanks to my parents, who did not forbid me to see these films when I was a boy. Instead, they brought out in me many of the questions that appear in this volume. They always stressed that monsters are another form of fictional entertainment. My thanks to my wife Elvira, and my daughter Nina**, who stood by while my son and I made a mess of the living room as we selected the many pictures that appear here. »

I should point out that I haven’t forgotten one of my favourite Tallarico projects, namely his charming work on the Bobby ShermanGetting Together” comic book (7 issues, Feb.-Oct. 1972, Charlton)… it’s just that I’ve already addressed the topic: check out Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

And what of his 1965 collaboration with The Shadow’s Walter Gibson, Monsters? Got you covered on that one as well!

I don’t know whether I’ll change anyone’s mind about Mr. Tallarico’s work, but I believe I can rest assured I gave it my best shot.

-RG

*Hex was introduced in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.-Mar. 1972, DC).

**My closest brush with the Tallaricos came in 2015 when I helped his daughter Nina identify and source some artwork she was selling on eBay for her dad. In my experience, a very nice lady. My sincere condolences to the bereaved family.

Treasured Stories: “Any Port in a Storm” (1974)

« I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve. » — George Bernard Shaw

Today, let’s spread a little romance around. This much-maligned genre certainly deserves more affection and respect. From what I’ve observed, even social media groups nominally dedicated to romance comics mostly exist to mock and denigrate them. Honestly, are they truly sillier and more formulaic than superhero comics?

Anyway, while recently visiting a local comic shop with the intent of buying some supplies, I also discovered a fine trove of late 60s to mid-70s romance titles, affordably-priced to boot. Having spent a month or so leisurely reading through the pile, here’s a favourite tale. My co-conspirator and romantic partner ds spotted this one first, and I agreed with her assessment that this was something special. Let us, then, cast off into the briny blue… just don’t forget to bring the oars.

Jack Abel (1927-1996) was one of those efficient and reliably solid artists of the sort that held the comics industry together through the years. I honestly can’t think of any other artist who, more than once, worked concurrently for DC (mostly inking, but occasionally pencilling) Marvel (inking and editorial), Charlton (pencils and inks) and Gold Key (pencils and inks). Add to that tally Atlas-Seaboard (in its sole year of existence, 1975) and Skywald, and you have a mighty ubiquitous fellow. It is worth specifying that, unlike most of comics’ other utility players and pinch hitters, his work never seemed rushed or botched.

For what it’s worth, Abel was twice the hapless victim of fine artiste Roy Lichtenstein, both in 1963, with: Torpedo…Los! and Crak!

I enjoy Abel’s Charlton work most, because he was often assigned some memorable scripts (an unlikely prospect at Gold Key), chief among them The Lure of the Swamp! (script by Nicola Cuti, Haunted no. 8, Oct. 1972); Mr. Blanque (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 28, Nov. 1972); Like Father, Like Son (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 10, Jan. 1972); Sewer Patrol! (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 31, Apr. 1973); and The Teddy Bear! (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 15, Nov. 1973)…

Any Port in a Storm, however, is clearly the work of Joe Gill, who frequently helped distinguish and elevate Charlton’s romance material by deftly integrating just the right amount of plausible detail of business, engineering, sports or what-have-you matters into his narratives. Presumably, Gill was getting further mileage from all the research he’d conducted in order to write the fifteen-issue Popeye Career Awareness Library, a couple of years earlier.

As you can witness, this is every bit as much of a tale of adventure as it is a romance, and indeed, why split hairs when you can have both?

Any Port in a Storm was rightly picked as the cover feature: this is Love Diary no. 90 (Nov. 1974, Charlton); George Wildman, managing editor.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 29

« It don’t matter if I get a little tired
I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
» — Warren Zevon (1976)

Master stylist Rudy Palais (1912-2004) began his comics career in 1939 with the legendary Harry “A” Chesler shop, where passed such luminaries as Jack and Otto Binder, Mort Meskin, Jack Cole, Charles Biro, Mac Raboy, George Tuska, Edd Ashe

While he worked for just about every New York comics publisher under the sun (and certainly some under a rock), let’s note that he displayed and gleefully indulged his flair for the macabre at Harvey in the 1950s, and his versatility while Illustrating the Classics for Gilberton, tackling for instance Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, Cooper’s The Prairie and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Palais kept a low profile during most of the Sixties, but turned up at Gold Key and Charlton around 1967. For the latter, he crafted his final work in comics. Between 1967 and 1974, he sporadically turned his hand to a handful of short tales in the western, war and mystery genres. As far as I can tell, his comics œuvre respectably concludes with the quite amusing Cry for Tomorrow, in Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves no. 46 and The Last Cruise of the Princess III in Ghostly Haunts no. 39 (both July 1974, Charlton), the latter also featuring some of Mike Vosburg‘s earliest pro work. As one door closes…

Beyond the Grave appeared in Ghostly Tales no. 61 (June 1967, Charlton). Script by Joe Gill, art by Rudy Palais. Mark Evanier called Palais’ Charlton work “very odd, impressionistic short stories“, and concludes, on a personal note: “I never met the man but I followed his work and you could tell that he really cared about doing good comic art.” I’m most inclined to agree.

If you enjoyed this one, here’s another Palais short from Ghostly Tales, from our third Hallowe’en Countdown.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Flash Gordon, Space Opera Saviour

« When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. » Ray Bradbury

We’ve talked about newspaper strip Flash Gordon in Tentacle Tuesday: Lurkers in the Newsprint, and now it’s time for its comic book version! Although I normally have very little interest in FG, this is no second-rate Tentacle Tuesday: there is some prime tentacular material to be enjoyed.

We first concern ourselves with the Flash Gordon Charlton Comics run, which picked up the count where King Comics had left it in 1967. From 1969 until 1970, Charlton published issues 12 to 18, all of which but the first had glorious covers and cover stories by Pat Boyette, an absolute WOT favourite ( you can visit co-admin RG’s Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good* for a deeper exploration of his career).

The cover of issue 14 has an octopus shortage (a serious flaw affecting many, many comic book covers!), but the monster o’nine-tentacled-tails the ’emotionless killers’ encounter is a beauty. The following page is also a good example of Boyette’s imaginative page layouts, in which things are kept dynamic, but never engender confusion about who is doing what and to whom.

Page from Rancor and the Seven Shadows of Flash Gordon, scripted by Bill Pearson and illustrated by Pat Boyette, was published in Flash Gordon no. 14 (June 1969).

Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –

Flash Gordon no. 17 (Charlton, November 1969). Cover by Pat Boyette.

The Creeping Menace, the cover story, is scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette. I am including two pages (and a panel) because it’s too difficult to choose between them – all boast the aforementioned dynamic layouts and striking tentacles.

Isn’t this a lovely, stylish panel? I want it on a t-shirt.

The publishing history of comic-book Flash Gordon was an interesting relay race: Gold Key Comics resumed the run with issue 19 (1978), and kept it up until issue 27 (1979); finally, issues 28 to 37 were published under its Whitman imprint between 1980 and 1982. The latter category offers two tentacled covers, and some inside goodies.

Original art (sadly by an unknown artist) for the cover of Flash Gordon no. 29 (Whitman, May 1980).

The cover story The Deadly Depths is scripted by John Warner and illustrated by Carlos Garzón. Oh, this thing is not hostile… just hungry.

The last Whitman issue also is of some interest, though on the cover Flash looks like he’s fighting caterpillars with an martini olive for a head.

Flash Gordon no. 37 (Whitman, March 1982). Cover by Gene Fawcette.

Cover story My Friend, My Killer! is scripted by George Kashdan and illustrated by Gene Fawcette and features cute serpent plants that look like they’re wearing little hula skirts.

And that concludes our tour of Flash Gordon tentacles in the Silver Age (and with some forays into Bronze).

🌱 ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Passive Protoplasm, Active Protoplasm

The thing kept coming.
“Die, die!” Parke screamed, his nerves breaking.
But the thing came on, grinning broadly.
“I like quiet protoplasm,” the thing said as its gigantic mouth converged on Parke.
“But I also like lively protoplasm.”
It gulped once, then drifted out the other side of the field. 
— excerpt from The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley
I Am the Living Ghost!, illustrated by Steve Ditko, was published in Tales of Suspense no. 15 (Mar. 1961, Marvel). I came across a reprint of this story while looking for Draculian tentacles (which you can see in Tentacle Tuesday: Dracula Drops In).

Call it goo, label it as a giant amoeba, christen it ectoplasm or protoplasm, but when it starts crawling your way, do remember to beat a hasty retreat.

Oh, yeah, and keep your fingers away from it, too.

Coo! this page has everything: a prehensile amoeba, tentacled plants, aliens with cephalopod appendages…

Spawn of Venus was scripted by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, and illustrated by the latter. It was published in Weird Science no. 6 (Mar.-Apr. 1951, EC).

… but it’s the amoeba that’s of current interest to us (yes, the one devouring everything in its path, including dawdling professors).

Continuing our literary delusions, a peek at the adventures of a ‘star vampire’, from a (somewhat lackluster) comic book adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story:

The Shambler from the Stars!, based on a story by Robert Bloch, was adapted by Ron Goulart, pencilled by Jim Starlin and inked by Tom Palmer. It was published in Journey into Mystery no. 2 (Feb. 1973, Marvel). An amorphous red blob is not a dog to be ordered around, which explains the poor results.

If a tentacled amoeba is scary, just think of how startling it is to run into an amoeba with a single bloodshot eyeball (that feeds on soap, among other things).

A page from Creator of Life, published in Ghost Manor no. 11 (Apr. 1973, Charlton). This story was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Charles Nicholas and Wayne Howard.
An eyeball in a turtleneck! Scary stuff.
Haunted no. 59 (January 1982), pencilled by Dan Reed and inked by John Beatty.

Not only does this monstrosity go after the scientist, instead of pursuing his absurdly attractive assistant…

The Man Who Played God was scripted by Joe Gill (again), pencilled by Dan Reed and inked by John Beatty.

But she’s also the one who saves the situation. Joe Gill, ladies and gentlemen!

I love his tough-guy stance at the end. He surely would have punched the amoeba out, if only the meddling female hadn’t interfered!

I’ll end this post with a woman with priorities:

Dan Piraro, unquestioned Tentacle Tuesday Master.

℘ ds

Treasured Stories: “Creeping Death” (1960)

« You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. » — Navajo saying (attributed)

I’ve written before of my appreciation of Joe Gill‘s long-running yet consistent ‘good guy with an edge‘ characterization of Billy Bonney, but I had stuck to the book’s exteriors, namely Warren Sattler’s watercolour covers from the final stage of the series’ original run. I’ve also — twice! (first here, then there) drawn attention to John Severin (1921-2012) and his colossal powers as a cover artist. Today, at long last, we dare to peer inside.

Some may wonder at the up-to-date slickness of our current selection. Bear with me. Sure, it’s old, sure, it’s obscure, and the original comic book it saw print in is on the pricey side… but it’s work that’s found some resolute champions in the intervening sixty years.

After the Charlton comics line made the switch to a mostly-reprints mode (circa 1977-78), executive editor (and cartoonist) George Wildman, possibly nudged along by his colleague Bill Pearson, endeavoured to harvest some dusty gems from the vast archives at his disposal. In this case, six consecutive issues (nos. 124-129) of the long-running Billy the Kid were aimed squarely at the discerning fans with a bold ‘All Severin Art‘ label.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago. As the nefarious, multifarious Mort Todd* tells it: « I had the extreme honor of working with John for many years as a writer, penciller and editor. When comics creator Bill Black told me he had a complete run of John’s work on Billy the Kid in the form of Charlton’s original photostats, we decided to recolor the work and release it in two volumes. Since the original artwork is lost to history, these photostats are the closest things to the originals to reproduce from. »

When I approached him, Mr. Todd most graciously granted me permission to showcase an excerpt from his restoration of Messrs Gill and Severin’s efforts. If you enjoy this one, do check out morttodd.com for more goodies!

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Why this particular story? Doesn’t it strike you as ever-so-slightly timely? We all could use a happy ending, though, in these times of contagion and racial strife.

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And here’s the original comic book in which Creeping Death appeared, namely Billy the Kid no. 20 (Jan. 1960, Charlton). Your basic “collage of interior panels” cover. Then again, with John Severin, you’re spoiled for choice… and you do get your dime’s worth.

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Not to be confused with the historical William Bonney, Charlton’s Billy was the legendary bad boy’s first cousin, and he aimed to redress the damage done to the family name by its all-too-infamous black sheep. Read it here! Written by Joe Gill, with art by Pete ‘PAM’ Morisi, this tale appeared in Billy the Kid no. 15 (Feb. 1959, Charlton).

You may have noticed that this Billy the Kid fella displays some awfully progressive attitudes for 1959… and, some might say, even for today. And if you surmised that the story’s writer, Joe Gill, was a card-carrying liberal, you’d be way off the mark. He was, after all, Steve Ditko‘s favourite collaborator**. Gill was, instead, a bonafide conservative, fair-minded, intellectually honest, prudent, sagacious. It would appear that with time and shifting meanings and mores, this once-thriving breed has been overwhelmed by today’s  reactionaries, who arguably went so far as to usurp and absorb its very name.

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An R.J. Reynolds ad from the back cover of Coronet no. 177 (July, 1951). Put that in your T-Zone and smoke it!

By way of contrast, and speaking of cowboys… Marion Morrison*** (1907-79), better known as “Popular, handsome Hollywood Star John Wayne“, despite his renown as a so-called Conservative Icon, was no conservative… he was just another reactionary. I mean, just consider *his* stance towards African-Americans (« I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and  positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people. ») or Native Americans

Meanwhile, Gill’s Billy the Kid, though thoroughly adept at quick marksmanship and fisticuffs, always sought to defuse conflict and avoid bloodshed through wits and compassion. His idea of paradise (just like his real-life cousin, come to think of it) was to head South of the border into México and hang loose among his amigos, who good-naturedly called him El Chivito.

-RG

*whose name basically means “Death Death” in French and German (albeit with an extra D); how cool is that?

**The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.” — Mr. Ditko, from his preface to Steve Ditko’s 160-page Package no.3 (1999).

***And the likely inspiration for Shel Silverstein‘s story-song A Boy Named Sue, (popularized by Johnny Cash)…. or was it rather Jean Shepherd?

Treasured Stories: “The Imitation People” (1968) – Part 2

« Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace and kiss her interface; ’til then, I’ll leave her alone. » — Jeff Lynne, Yours Truly, 2095

Without further tergiversation — here’s the thrilling conclusion of our tale!

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Citizen Glutt swears by the misogynist’s playbook: talk *about* a woman in her presence, not *to* her; objectify her, allude to her sexual prowess, but in no way address the issue she brought up. “How close to a human can you build them, Simms? Hmmm?” Looks like Glutt is ready to place his order.

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Note the reborn Simms’ moment of hesitation: he doesn’t quite know himself the answer to Clarissa’s query. And ‘I know, Clarissa!‘ is a perfectly fitting ending; it perhaps means that he can now sense things the way Clarissa always could. Congratulations, you two; you’ve earned your happiness.

In case anyone’s wondering, why do I treasure this particular tale?

Let me count the ways and means: the cosmic adventures are treated as asides, ceding centre stage to Warren Simms’ and Clarissa’s slow-simmering pas de deux. Whatever surprise comes at the dénouement had been carefully and honestly foreshadowed and backgrounded, respecting the reader’s intelligence. Unsavoury implications of the robot/human relationship are brought up, then coyly cast aside, in a ‘we know, but we’re not going there‘ move.

For me, it’s mostly about Joe Gill’s sober, understated writing, though I can hardly envision anyone turning in more lushly complementary visuals than did Mr. Aparo. I’d be over the moon to say that The Imitation People was one bead on a long string of commensurate efforts, but nope, it’s just about a one-off. It was only preceded by Denny O’Neil and Pat Boyette‘s classic Children of Doom (read it here).

Thoughtful science-fiction* in American comics as always been poorly served: with meagre exceptions, it’s been a numbing, near-constant diet of space opera.

There was the anomaly of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy… DC’s long-running, Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space were fun, but trifling in the end (the short length did not help), and while Warren Magazines came through on occasion, they vastly underperformed on that front. Western Publishing’s Starstream tackled some classic adaptations, but the results were a bit staid. Grandmasters Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, of course, could handily pull off the feat: the former’s OMAC was a wonder of anticipation (with an honourable mention to his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the latter’s tense serial Life on Another Planet (also collected as Signal From Space) kept its focus on the human drama.

The 1980s saw things progress somewhat, thanks to Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake‘s efforts on Dalgoda, then Retief (adapting Keith Laumer), Don Simpson‘s Border Worlds and Matt Howarth‘s stellar Keif Llama Xenotech (a Keith Laumer homage… I sense a pattern), but this foothold was a precarious and marginal one. The mainstream evidently sees non-franchise, progressive science-fiction as a commercial non-starter… and who’s to say it’s wrong? It’s not as if it’s irrelevant, as the downloading of human consciousness is a long-running wet dream of our beloved technocrats.

Maybe we need a film version to get the ball rolling.

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« The perfect touch is cold and clean / she steals your soul / when kissing the machine » — Andy McCluskey

-RG

*I’ve always preferred the more encompassing alternate French term for science-fiction, ‘Anticipation’… but what can you do?

Treasured Stories: “The Imitation People” (1968) – Part 1

« You are not as strong as the Robots. You are not as skillful as the Robots. The Robots can do anything. You only give orders. You do nothing but talk. » — Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921)

From the Department of Promises Kept: nearly a year ago, while featuring the late 60s run of DC’s Aquaman, I happened to posit that « Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road, but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration. » One reader disagreed. Another clamoured for some Aparo art, presumably his better stuff.

In the spirit of Anton Chekhov‘s* « show, don’t tell » principle, here’s my pick for Jim Aparo‘s finest hour. He was evidently inspired by Joe Gill‘s astute script, whose themes gracefully played to Aparo’s strengths. Here we go!

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This is Space Adventures no. 4 (Nov. 1968, Charlton); edited by Sal Gentile.

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Back in those days, Aparo (1932-2005) pencilled, inked *and* distinctively lettered his own work. Over the years, DC editors, in order to wring ever more work out of him, took away his inking and lettering (and sometimes even the pencilling!) duties. Inevitably, diminishing returns ensued.

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Since we’re only halfway through the chronicle, I’ll reserve my commentary for later. Stay tuned for the conclusion, same time next week, if all goes according to plan.

-RG

*Not to be confused with the celebrated author of Chekov’s Enterprise and Chekov’s Federation Cookbook. « Chekhov, you baboon! Chekhov! »

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« 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.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.

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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.

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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]

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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.

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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.

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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.

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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!

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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled nearly every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus two: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta and number 16‘s that of Jack Sparling.

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.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
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.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “The Locked Door!” (1973)

« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne

For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy  the Kid acolyte Warren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.

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Despite the mere six pages allotted, The Locked Room! features a lot of story. Joe Gill typically wrote pages comprising five panels, which would translate to 30 panels for a six-pager. Sattler breaks down the script into 43 panels, so it could have been far longer. A jewel of elegant compression!

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Tom Sutton’s humdinger of a cover gives away the plot, but no matter — it’s a striking, beautifully-coloured image. The rest of the issue’s nothing special: Joe Gill, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia’s The Truth in the Fire is yet another spin of the stale greedy-explorer-versus-native-god plot; Gill and Wayne Howard‘s Bury Me Deep! is saved by its light tone; Gill and Steve Ditko‘s Let the Buyer Beware, despite featuring Ditko in full-on goofy mode, is more-or-less standard voodoo stuff; but the humdrum outing is largely redeemed, in the end, by the cover tale. This is Ghost Manor no. 17 (January 1974, Charlton).

I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?

-RG