Treasured Stories: “Christmas Dinner” (1979)

« She kept her ears permanently tuned to the chicken voices outside, so knew immediately when a coyote had crept into the yard, and barrelled screaming for the front door before the rest of us had a clue. » ― Barbara Kingsolver

Given how muted the holiday season is likely to be for most of us, and in light of how much our readers appear to enjoy our past Christmas offerings — (all year long!), I’d thought I’d get an early start on the festivities.

Here’s a fine, but truly obscure little Christmas fable. It was buried in the back of an issue of The Unknown Soldier, at a time when the DC war line was well into its final decline.

… as much of a ‘very merry Christmas’ one may possibly enjoy in the midst of war, far from home and loved ones, at any rate. I would have enjoyed seeing more of those two kind-hearted doofuses, Burf and Flaps… and their chicken mascot. I wonder what name they would have given her…

According to editor Paul Levitz, Christmas Dinner‘s script had been purchased six or seven years earlier by his predecessor Archie Goodwin but had lain fallow in the interim. It was written by one Janus Mitchell (his sole credit in comics, but we may be in the presence of pseudonymous shenanigans) and was finally assigned for illustration to Teny Henson (often credited in the US as ‘Tenny Henson, as he is here), one of my favourite creators from the ranks of the Filipino Komiks community. In America, Henson’s work mostly appeared in DC publications for about a decade (1974-83), beginning with the plum commissions of inking a returning Sheldon Mayer (post-cataract surgery) on his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Limited Collectors’ Edition giants, and inking Ramona Fradon‘s pencils on DC’s underrated second revival of Plastic Man for a pair of issues. All in all, Teny flew under the fanboy radar, chiefly providing artwork for mystery and war short stories, and always at a high level of craft and inspiration.

I love the economy and precision of his line, his limpid storytelling, and his mastery of an aesthetic merrily at play in the sweet spot between the cartoonish and the representational. Fittingly, he went on to work in the animation field.

This is The Unknown Soldier no. 237 (Mar. 1980, so on the stands in Dec. 1979, DC), picking up its numbering from the venerable Star-Spangled War Stories; cover, of course, by Mr. Joe Kubert, though by no means among his finer moments — that ‘Nazis in ambush’ formula was getting pretty long in the tooth by then.

Watch for more holiday goodies coming your way!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 27

« No — I’m not alive! But we’ll have time to talk about that later! » — the accident-prone stranger

On the magazine front, Scholastic hit its peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with Dynamite (1974-92) Bananas (1975-84) and sundry periodicals aimed at various reading levels. Always comics-friendly, they struck a fruitful alliance with the fledgling Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, thus granting precious early exposure to some of the institution’s promising early alumni, such as Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben.

This is Weird Worlds no. 4 (1980, Scholastic). Cover by Joe Kubert. By ‘full-length’, they meant ‘four pages long’. Oh well.

Professorial Joe Kubert leads his students into a moody collaboration with the guiding lights of Dynamite, namely the husband-and-wife team of Jane Stine and ‘Jovial’ Bob Stine (of later R.L. Stine fame and fortune).

Could it be?

Well, Laurel could have fared far worse: her ‘Master’ is squarely in the then-fashionable Frank Langella / George Hamilton leading man mould. There was another alternative, of course:

You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.

Weird Worlds didn’t set this world afire, enduring but eight issues. Still, Scholastic would return to mine the teenage affinity for all things spooky and on that occasion (and further ones) strike gold and raise goosebumps.

-RG

Hot Streak: Joe Kubert’s Son of Tomahawk

« Who are these men, Tomahawk? » « My Rangers! We fought against renegades… from Pennsylvania to Kentucky! When the country got too crowded, Moon Fawn and I moved out West… where a man has room to breathe! » — Tom Hawk sums up his change of station.

Tomahawk was created in 1947 by writer Joe Samachson (later co-creator, with Joe Certa, of J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars) and artist Edmund Good. The series was distinguished by its setting, the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and it appeared both as a back-up in Star Spangled Comics (until it switched to an all-bellicose format and became Star Spangled War Stories in 1952) and in World’s Finest (at first intermittently, from 1949, then steadily from 1953 to 1959). And Tomahawk had been spun off into his own book in 1950.

Inevitably, with the Silver Age and its superhero reascendancy, to the eventual detriment of all other genres, the historical adventure strip’s slow decline set in.

As Don Markstein put it:

« Toward the latter part of the ’50s, practically all DC comics ran aliens, monsters and other goofy sci-fi stuff on the covers, no matter how badly it clashed with the title’s subject matter — even war comics often sported dinosaurs in that position. And so, all through the late 1950s and early to mid ’60s, Tomahawk fought gigantic tree men, miraculously-surviving dinosaurs, mutated salamanders, and other menaces that seem somehow to have escaped the history books. There was even a giant gorilla among them, and putting a gorilla on the cover was also a contemporary trend at DC. »

It all comes down to the editor, and Tomahawk was long edited by Jack Schiff, who just adored that sort of (admittedly fun) claptrap, then by his associate Murray Boltinoff, who at least was more flexible.

To wit, with issue 116 (May-June 1968) came a change and a relative return to the feature’s roots. First, Neal Adams was brought in to provide covers, and the more outré aspects were phased out. With issue 119 (Nov.-Dec. 1968), the book’s final creative team was brought aboard: writer Robert Kanigher and illustrator Frank Thorne (1930-), eventual creator of Moonshine McJugs. Thorne replaced Fred Ray (1920-2001) who, while he wasn’t a Tomahawk originator, had been chronicling the mountain lion’s share of his exploits since 1947. He would draw a handful of short pieces for DC’s war books before leaving the comics field in the early 1970s, writing historical non-fiction and art directing and illustrating for publications Civil War Times Illustrated, American History Illustrated, True Frontier, The West and Yank (despite the title, not a porno mag).

With the heart of the creative team in place, it was a change of editors that prompted Tomahawk’s final mutation, and arguably its most interesting: Joe Kubert took over the editorial reins, and the action was moved four decades or so forward in time. Tom ‘Tomahawk’ Hawk had settled down with a Native woman, Moon Fawn, sired a pair of sons, and was by then a lanky, crotchety old coot, but not quite helpless. His elder son Hawk was the protagonist, and they encountered frontier-style prejudice, greed, corruption, tribalism, paranoia… you guessed it: it was a ‘socially-relevant‘ comic, but hardly the cringe-fest that was the concurrent Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I daresay that Kubert and Kanigher’s respective politics were rather too complex for that.

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This is Tomahawk no. 131 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC). Inside: Hang Him High!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. I like how nonplussed Hawk is at the prospect of doing the Brand New Tennessee Waltz.

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This is Tomahawk no. 132 (Jan.-Feb. 1971, DC). Inside: Small Eagle… Brother Hawk!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 133 (Mar.-Apr. 1971, DC). Inside: Scalp Hunter, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 134 (May-June 1971, DC). Inside: The Rusty Ranger, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 135 (July-Aug. 1971, DC). Inside: Death on Ghost Mountain!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, and the powerful Spoilers, written by Jerry DeFuccio and illustrated by John Severin. This was my admittedly random introduction to the series.

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This is Tomahawk no. 136 (Sept.-Oct. 1971, DC). Inside: A Piece of Sky!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus an extraordinary Firehair tale by Kubert… but then they all are.

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This is Tomahawk no. 137 (Nov.-Dec. 1971, DC). Inside: Night of the Knife!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a selection of fine reprints.

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This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Jan.-Feb. 1972, DC). Inside: Christmas, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, as well as an assortment of worthy reprints boasting artwork by Nick Cardy, Sam Glanzman, Norman Maurer and Mort Drucker.

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This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Mar.-Apr. 1972, DC). Inside: Death Council, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a clutch of reprints illustrated by Fred Ray, Gil Kane, and none other than Frank Frazetta.

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This is Tomahawk no. 140 (May-June 1972). Inside: The Rescue!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. Gaspar Saladino‘s brand new logo, a rare misfire, was unveiled just in time for the book’s cancellation.

As for the interior art, I’d say it’s Frank Thorne’s finest work. The notorious Alexander Toth would of course disagreed, far preferring Thorne’s work when Thorne’s style bore a heavy… Toth influence (here’s an example from 1957.) For comparison, here’s a pair of interior pages from Tomahawk no. 131‘s Hang Him High!

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Thanks to their production manager, Jack Adler, DC had the finest, most nuanced colouring in the field in the late 60s and early 70s.

Toth would, in (final) conversation with The Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth, in 1996, froth forth:

« I repeatedly warned Frank: “For Christ’s sake, get the hell away from Kubert. He’s not doing you any good. His influence on you is negative, not positive, so get the hell away from him and stop aping his style and stop putting on all that shit that you lived without for years. You did nice, clean, hard-lined stuff, and it’s been detrimental to your work.” He confessed: “Yes, Joe Kubert and his style are hard to resist.” So, yes he had the influence, and he liked it. Well, good luck. »

DC attempted an update of the character back in 1998. It wasn’t *atrocious*, but basically a rehash of Jeremiah Johnson with a sheen of ‘Magical Native American‘ sprinkles.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Notes on Anatomy

« Their bodies are mainly soft and pliant, with one major exception. In the centre of their web of tentacles lies a hard, sharp and murderous beak that resembles that of a parrot, is a tool for killing and dismembering prey… » (source)

When the story begs for an octopus intervention, artists can go the more-or-less realistic route, or take complete liberties with an octopus’ anatomy. Today I won’t talk about assorted tentacled zoological marvels one finds in comics – insert your choice of description into “… with tentacles”: dinosaurs, sharks, gorillas, robots, old hags, worms, bartenders, and so on. Yes, I can support my claims (email me if you want evidence… or just look through previous editions of Tentacle Tuesday).

Anyway, let’s say you want to draw a somewhat believable octopus – giant, sure, and plenty scary, but somewhat true to life. There’s a problem: frightening brutes generally have some sort of gaping maw, a set of incisors (preferably dripping with some revolting stomach acid), something they can visibly threaten the hero with. The octopus’ mouth is hidden under all that undulating mass of tentacles, pretty much where one would expect a normal creature’s anus to be, and definitely not next to his eyes. For that reason, in most octopuses sightings in comics, their mouths aren’t visible at all. But some artists, well, they want to have their cake and eat it, too. Here is a gallery of octopus mouths – we’ll start off with naturalistic ones, and make out way into that’s not how any of this works territory. I won’t include anything with a lamprey mouth, however.

Here’s the only clean attempt: the beast has a beak, there are no teeth in it, and the eyes are on the other sides of the octopus, where they’re supposed to be. Walter Simonson, you win this one!

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Sword of Sorcery no. 5 (Nov-Dec 1973, DC), cover by Walter Simonson. Fafhrd, is that you?

In the next image, an attempt is made at something vaguely beak-like, but that dentition is definitely wrong. The octopus has some tiny teeth on its tongue which it uses to drill holes or scrape things out, and some razor-sharp hooks/teeth on its suckers, but nothing like normal teeth, which is why no octopus has ever needed dentures.

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Doomsday In The Depths, scripted by Garder Fox and illustrated by Gil Kane, was published in Undersea Agent no. 6 (March 1967, Tower).

The other approach one could take is drawing something that looks like an especially irate parrot, but with tentacles. It is not entirely illogical, as the octopus’ mouth has been described as “similar to a parrot’s beak” by several people in the know.

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Tentacles of Terror was published in Front Page Comic Book no. 1 (1945, Harvey). This page is drawn by Joe Kubert, at at least the signature attests to this – I admit I would have never guessed. There are much nicer Kubert tentacles over at Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Joe Kubert.

Batman recently had a whole Tentacle Tuesday to himself – here he is again, fighting a squid with very unsquid-like features. At first, he looks normal, but glance at the bottom of the left corner – how did he suddenly develop a beak where there was none to be seen several panels prior?

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An excerpt from Four Birds of a Feather, Batman no. 11 (June-July 1942, DC), script by Bill Finger, pencils by Bob Kane (take that particular credit with a grain of salt), inks by Jerry Robinson, backgrounds and lettering by George Roussos.

Continuing the beak-and-parrot theme…

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The Phoenix no. 279 (May 2017). Can anyone identify the cover artist?

A final note to this conversation about octopuses’ mouths – should you locate an octopus, please don’t put it on your face (or any other body parts).

∼ ds

Hot Streak: Joe Kubert’s The Atom and Hawkman

« Calm down, Harris… this is no teleportational phenomenon we’re dealing with… » — Hawkman, “Yo-Yo Hangup in the Sky!”.

In 1968, though DC was still handily outselling Marvel, the industry leader was beginning to feel the heat. Now, to be fair, not nearly as much as revisionists would surmise: Marvel’s top-seller, The Amazing Spider-Man, was only in twelfth place. Of course, Marvel was hobbled by distribution issues, but that problem would come to an end that very year.

Anyway, as neither of DC’s solo titles The Atom (38 issues, June-July 1962 – Aug.-Sept. 1968) nor Hawkman (27 issues, Apr.-May 1964 – Aug.-Sept. 1968) were doing all that well (both of them missed the top sixty in 1968), it was decided to attempt to merge the books in order to perhaps save them. Well, it didn’t work, but some splendid covers were created, and that’s what brings us here.

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The Atom and Hawkman no. 39 (numbering continued from Atom’s book, not Hawkman’s), November 1968. Insides by Robert Kanigher, Murphy Anderson and Joe Giella. Which one’s the Titan and which the Fury? They take turns. Check it out here.

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The Atom and Hawkman no. 40 (Jan. 1969) holds a rare treat: a highly unusual pairing, one that was only repeated once to my knowledge (in the following issue): Joe Kubert on pencils and Murphy Anderson on inks. The tale is The Man With an Inbuilt Panic Button, scripted by Gardner Fox. Peruse it here while you can.

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My candidate for the slightest cover of the Atom/Hawkman combo title, but only since the competition is so fierce, and well, it’s kind of busy. This is The Atom & Hawkman no. 41 (Feb.-Mar. 1969), edited by Julius Schwartz and featuring Return of the Seven-Year-Dead Man, written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sid Greene, and Yo-Yo Hangup in the Sky!, written by Fox, illustrated by Kubert and Anderson. Feast your eyes here.

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This is The Atom and Hawkman no. 42 (Apr.-May 1969). Read it here!

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Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert’s Gentleman Ghost, first appeared (so to speak) in Flash Comics no. 88 (Oct. 1947) had not been seen (hee hee) since the Golden Age, and he returned to pester Hawkgirl and Hawkman in Come to My Hanging, scripted by Kanigher and illustrated by Murphy Anderson. Meanwhile, The Atom stars in Buzzin’, Buzzin’ — Who’s Got the Buzzin’?, scripted by Dennis O’Neil, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sid Greene. This is The Atom and Hawkman no. 43 (June-July 1969). Read it here!

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Kubert clearly relished delineating his Gentleman Ghost, and who could blame him? That sticky-fingered filcher is one snazzy-looking felon. This is The Atom and Hawkman no. 44 (Aug.-Sept. 1969). Read it here!

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This is The Atom and Hawkman no. 45 (Oct.-Nov. 1969), featuring Queen Jean, Why Must We Die?, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin and Sid Greene, whereas our heroes are enslaved by Ray “The Atom” Palmer’s girlfriend, Jean Loring. It was a common theme in DC Comics, just ask Superman and Green Lantern, for starters. Anyway, read the whacked-out tale here.

As a bonus, one could consider the final issue of Hawkman (no. 27, Aug.-Sept. 1968), the first entry in Kubert’s streak. Well, I do, and that’s that.

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It is said that late each year, Thanagarians mark the winter solstice by taking to the snowy skies to join cuddly flying Yeti in frolic. Look at them cute lil’ buggers. When the Snow-Fiend Strikes! is scripted by Raymond Marais, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Chuck Cuidera.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Have Tentacles, Will Space-travel

« When the blast of a rocket launch slams you against the wall and all the rust is shaken off your body, you will hear the great shout of the universe and the joyful crying of people who have been changed by what they’ve seen… »*

Greetings, dear astronauts! Today’s Tentacle Tuesday concerns itself with that “religious experience”, space travel… with tentacles in tow, of course. Some comics may announce their interplanetary theme by putting SPACE into the title of the series (and making sure it’s big and bold!), while others deploy a little subtlety and coyly refer to the unknown, or the unexpected. Either way, we’re in for a grand old time exploring space along with the brave men and women (err, mostly men) who found themselves exclaiming “ooh, tentacles!” while exploring some mysterious planet.

In chronological order, then…

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Space Squadron no. 5 (February 1952, Atlas). The cover is *probably* by Joe Maneely.

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Worlds Unknown no. 4 (November 1973, Marvel), (bad) cover by Dick Giordano. Some people have the knack for coming up with original and scary monsters, and some don’t. ’nuff said.

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Star Hunters no. 1 (October-November 1977, DC), pencils by Rich Buckler and inks by Bob Layton. The green thingies may be snakes/dragons, not tentacles, but they’re doing a convincing impersonation.

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The Unexpected no. 221 (April 1982, DC), cover by Joe Kubert. Now *there’s* a convincingly moody and frightening cover – no big pyrotechnics, just a strong hint of suffocation by a strangely-shaped cloud of ectoplasm. Shudder.

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Pulp Fiction Library: Mystery in Space (September 1999, DC). Cover by Mitch O’Connell. This 228-page anthology features a bunch of reprinted stories (from the early 50s to the the early 80s) originally published in Real Fact Comics, Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures and Action Comics.

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The Goon no. 11 (March 2005, Dark Horse), cover by Eric Powell.

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Yeah Franky, what the hell are you doing?

Check out part 1 of this interplanetary tentacle exhibit here: Grabby Denizens of the Airless Void.

Incidentally, today I was given a nice gift at work: Buddha’s Hand, or the fingered citron, a type of citrus someone described as a “Monsanto-produced cross between calamari and a lemon”. How very appropriate for Tentacle Tuesday! Here’s a picture of my very own tentacled beauty:

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« I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room. »*
~ ds
*All quotes by the great Ray Bradbury

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 29

« Here it is, Halloween again, and all the ghouls, goblins and other beasties are coming out of their secret lairs to frighten little kiddies… who are also emerging in weird, wild costumes to frighten the grown-ups, the stay-at-homes who hand over candy or whatever ransom is demanded in the traditional Halloween challenge! » — Joe Gill, « Trick or Treat »

It was the early 1980s, and DC’s mystery books, in decline since the mid-70s, were running their final mile. They’d hardly ever risen to greatness, writing-wise, and the visuals had, for too long, borne far more of their share of the pact. And when you switch art directors from Nick Cardy to Vince Colletta, it’s got to hurt *bad*. By 1980, the strongest stylists had moved on, replaced for the most part by bland youngsters champing at the bit to move on to superhero work. The farm league, basically.

So the vultures were circling. In the midst of all the bad or lazy decisions, the most heartening exception was the frequent use of Joe Kubert‘s all-but-boundless skills on the covers. I suspect they gave him free rein… it certainly appears that way. Technical skill, thematic originality, « mysterioso », even a deftly humorous touch… it’s all there. Bravo.

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As even most comics fans of the period might be surprised that the mystery books were still around, I think it safe to assume that these pieces may be unfamiliar even to devoted Kubert fans. Enjoy!

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Joe Kubert

As Tentacle Tuesday lazily unfurls its slimy appendages yet again, we come face-to-face with one of the comic greats, Joe Kubert. And, as luck would have it, his ability to draw pretty much anything extends to depictions of cephalopods.

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Page from “It Was a Dark and Heavy Night…”, published in Heavy Metal Special Edition Vol. 11, no. 2 – 20 Years (January 1997).

I’m less engrossed with Kubert’s work on prehistoric cavemen, archetypical feral youngsters or troglodyte adventurers (my interests lie more in the direction of Enemy Ace or Unknown Soldier, as well as Kubert’s solo projects like Abraham Stone). Nevertheless, Korak, his father Tarzan, and the unrelated Tor have all encountered tentacles in their eventful careers of dinosaur skirmishes and vine-swinging. (I also have to admit that if anybody could make me inquisitive about this sort of thing, it would be Kubert. I may yet reconsider, especially in the case of Tor, a comic Kubert both drew and plotted.)

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Page from Tor no. 3 (May 1954). Read the whole issue here. The adorable monkey Tor is talking to is Chee Chee, his pet gibbon.

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See Korak wrestle tentacles on this aquatic Joe Kubert cover! Korak (the ape name for “Killer”) was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs for his Tarzan novels. (Korak was the hero of The Son of Tarzan from 1915; in other novels he was but a young boy, incidental to the plot). This is Korak, Son of Tarzan no. 54 (October-November 1973). This issue has Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson on the main story.

It’s not only prehistoric men who have to put up with tentacles – Scandinavian royalty has to deal with them, too.

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The Brave and the Bold no. 24 (June-July 1959). The main two stories, “The Trail of the Black Falcon” and “Curse of the Dragon’s Moon”, both scripted by Bob Haney and drawn by Kubert, are frankly silly.

Moving into a slightly different direction….

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Mystery in Space no. 115 (January 1981). In a Kubert illustration, even monsters have soulful, anguished eyes.

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Weird War Tales no. 77 (1979). Do all three dooms involve tentacles, by any chance?

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Kubert’s tribute to Arzach, a comic series by Mœbius. Interesting to see Kubert sort-of imitating someone else’s style – however, the feet, hands and tentacles are obviously his.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Swashbuckler vs Octopus

For as long as there have been tentacles, there have also existed brave men to combat them (preferably whilst garbed in tight costumes).

Heroes have battled poor, innocent octopuses in water…

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« The mantled crime-battler makes a desperate lunge… a razor-keen blade knifes into rubbery flesh! » Prize Comics no. 43, July 1944. The cover is by Dan Zolnerowich, illustrating a scene from « Wanted – Dead Or Alive ». Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein also puts up an appearance in this issue, this time fighting – pardon, smashing – the Nazis.

The aforementioned scene doesn’t look anything like it does on the cover, involving a much bigger tank, an orange octopus, and a quite underwhelming fight scene (my main emotion was sympathy towards the octopus for getting stabbed by some idiot in a mask with ears).

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Nobody was asking you to get into the tank, bubba. Observe the octopus knitting its tentacles together in distress (we knit our brows; octopuses knit their tentacles).

Octopuses have also been defeated by valiant warriors in space…

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« Earth to Starlab – why don’t you answer? » «Well, sir, we were grabbed by this giant space-octopus and he just won’t let go…» Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 56, 1974 (This one is a Whitman variant.) This painted cover is most likely the work of the prolific George Wilson.

And intrepid daredevils have also gone tentacle a’manglin’ in… say, what is that gooey stuff, anyway?

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Is that green thing attacking our hapless hero a malevolent butterfly, a hostile starfish, a vindictive serpent? Only one thing is certain: it has tentacles! (Also, here’s the form-revealing, tight clothing I was pining for earlier.) House of Mystery no. 301 (February, 1982); cover by Joe Kubert illustrating The Scoop.

The Scoop (script by Bruce Jones, art by Tom Yeates) has an intriguing premise (I won’t spoil it – read it for yourself). Here’s the original art of its first page:

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ve got some pretty cute tentacled creatures saved up for next week’s installment. À bientôt!

~ ds

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Draw Me… you know you want to!

« The desire to draw is important! »

A couple of days ago, I came upon a recent piece by the one-and-only Robert Crumb, one that’s currently up for (well-heeled) grabs through the auspices of Heritage Auctions.

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Quoting Heritage’s description: « Robert Crumb and Others – ‘Spike and Mike’ Jam Mural on Canvas (2015-16). An approximately 80″ x 60″ sheet of canvas, with sketches on both sides. Chief among them is a “Draw Me” ad parody by Robert Crumb. Getting Mr. Crumb’s involvement was not easy; it took a friend lugging this oversized piece of canvas around Europe to track down the elusive artist, but the results were worthwhile. Crumb’s art measures 8″ x 11″, and is on the “unfinished” (cream-colored) side of the canvas, with several other sketches. »

It brought to mind the rich, if often sordid, history of art lessons offered in comic book ad spaces. Here’s a sampling.

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The face that launched a thousand backroom businesses, and the object of Crumb’s homage/parody (1952). Note the sharp bit of self-serving credibility-boosting: « Amateurs Only! Our students not eligible. » The implication being that, naturally, their students are now all successful, seasoned pros… but you still need to tell them to butt out of the contest. The beautifully-drawn girl anticipates Jaime Hernandez‘s stripped-down style, if you ask me.

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Apparently a dry run (1954) for the great Joe Kubert’s School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (established in 1976, and still around); its (early) graduates include Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and Timothy Truman. Joe’s then-partner Norman Maurer, aside from being a fine cartoonist himself, was the son-in-law of Stooge Moe Howard, for which Maurer produced many 3 Stooges cartoons and comic books. Maurer and Kubert were also co-originators (with Leonard Maurer) of 3D Comics in 1953.

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Well, if you can’t draw… there’s always tracing; though even there, talent is an asset (1963.) According to Kirk Demarais‘ excellent book, Mail-Order Mysteries, this was « a rip-off. »

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This little ad was quite ubiquitous in 1970s comics. Was the product offered worth a damn? The mystery endures; well, that and the newly-wealthy cartoonist’s memorably frazzled expression.

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Roy Wilson’s book can still be found with a little digging. It certainly boasts a great cover. I’d mark this one as an honest enterprise (1973.)

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According to Kirk Demarais, You received «  A thirty-two page booklet that teaches you, not only to draw monsters, but how to draw, period. Art history and artists’ tools and techniques are covered, along with a gruesome collection of creeps. It’s all presented with a healthy dose of encouragement for young pencil bearers. » Monsterman (aka Harry Borgman) earned himself a thumbs-up verdict from Mr. Demarais: « In a sea of shysters, Borgman is the real deal. » (1975)

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Mail Sack, Inc.? Still, a quarter doesn’t seem like too much of a gamble… (1971)

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Corner-cutting maestro and Marvel yes-man Big John B.’s art class gave the world such enduring talents as… er, Bob Hall. (1976)

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For some reason, this one leaves me… somewhat skeptical (1978.) Nice perspective, chump.

KubertSchoolA
And of  course, we can’t leave out the cream of the crop (1982.)

Mr. Crumb is right, of course: the bottom line is that « You need to knuckle down and really learn how to draw! »

– RG