Ah, the nineteen seventies… and their Satanic panic, in which we can recognize so closely the roots (or at least relatives) of today’s disinformation maelstrom, before the politicisation and weaponisation of septic paranoia and lies had become honed to such an anti-science. In a lot of sordid ways, Lawrence Pazder was an Andrew Wakefield of his day.
Here’s a story that I first encountered around the time of its release, remembered, but didn’t revisit until a couple of weeks ago, when a good friend (merci, Keith!) helpfully snapped up a copy for me. This deceptively dark tale was created by writer Arnold Drake (I surmise), penciller John Celardo and mysterious inker Wanda Ippolito, who may have a been a spouse or relative of Celardo’s. It’s odd to find someone else inking Celardo, as this was his chief, most enduring and distinctive strength. For comparison’s sake — and presumably, reading enjoyment — here’s another Drake-Celardo outing, The Anti-13!
I won’t make any claims that this is great art: by this time, Gold Key’s printing was shoddy, they barely bothered with the colouring (straight Magenta and Cyan and Yellow everywhere — how lazy can you get?)… but I treasure this one because of the story. Given its moral — what moral? — it’s hard to imagine The Comics Code Authority giving this one a pass, as it merrily violates several of its key precepts. I’ve got another such blasphemous entry in the pipeline… this one duly Code-Approved! Just you wait…
On the other hand, the accompanying cover is spectacular.
And as (nearly) always, a bonus for context: Celardo had a long and fruitful career, and I’m sure one of its highlights was to number among Fiction House’s elite cadre of cover artists. I’ve said it before, but despite their mind-numbing repetitiveness, FH covers were tops in the Golden Age in terms of draftsmanship and production values.
« I was already doing a lot of splendid research reading all the books about ghosts I could get hold of, and particularly true ghost stories – so much so that it became necessary for me to read a chapter of Little Women every night before I turned out the light – and at the same time I was collecting pictures of houses, particularly odd houses, to see what I could find to make into a suitable haunted house. » — Shirley Jackson
This one’s from the department of historiated text. What text? “those fiction pieces that nobody read” in comic books, prose pages mandated by the United States Postal Service. The USPS insisted that comic books «… have at least two pages of text to be considered a magazine and qualify for the cheaper magazine postage rates. »
By the Sixties, most of these pages consisted of letters to the editor, but not every company followed this practice. After EC pioneered the letters page idea in the early 1950s, ACG, DC, Archie and Marvel followed suit. But not Dell/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton.
For its mystery titles, Gold Key naturally opted for a ‘unusual history’ format, enlisting, to provide spot illustrations, veteran cartoonist Joe Certa, best-known for his co-creation of and long run (1955-1968!) on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter and his stylish run on Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book series (1969-76). While Certa started out with a pretty mainstream approach, as the Sixties wore on, his style got increasingly angular, spare and expressive. Personally, I love it… but I know it’s not for all palates.
One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):
Somehow, after yesterday’s rather epic (or at least time-consuming) post, I thought I’d breathe a little easier today, but no… these things have a way of imposing themselves, complications and all.
When I was a young collector, say under the age of fifteen, when I still gave a hoot about what comics were ‘worth’, financially speaking, I enjoyed leafing through the Overstreet Price Guide. Not so much out of greed, but rather of curiosity about the past. One title that piqued my imagination was Pines’ The Unseen. I mostly saw tiny, tantalising postage-stamp-size reproductions of its covers, but they lived up to my expectations. Lots and lots of talented folks toiling on the insides, too!
So I thought I’d collect them for your viewing pleasure, with two exceptions: the initial one, by Ross Andru, is kind of lame, so I’ll skip it; the final one, number fifteen, was featured in last year’s countdown.
Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure whether these were tentacles or what, but one look at the cover story dispelled my doubts. Does anybody care that the monsters inside look nothing like the ones on the cover? Naaah.
And, last but not least, look at these baby cephalopods! So cute.
Cue in the taut, frantic jungle drums! Picture this: through a thick tangle of brush and tropical vegetation, prances a fair maiden who is quite unaffected by spiky plants or venomous insects. She’s the staunch defender of jungle animals, friend to jaguar or hippo (or whatever other animal the artist’s imagination conjures, even if it’s entirely inappropriate to a jungle… but who cares about zoological accuracy?) One creature this wild child is definitely not a friend to, however, is the octopus: anything with tentacles gets stabbed and killed, as expediently as possible. That’s little cause for concern, however – the real octopus, who lives only in oceans, has little use for a jungle… so whatever’s getting killed must be an impostor or a mutant.
I am amused by jungle comics, which perhaps require an even more dramatic suspension of disbelief than many an equally action-oriented genre. The female protagonists, usually clad in some sort of leopard/jaguar skin (which makes one wonder why big felines even want to hang out with someone wearing their relatives’ pelt), are usually portrayed as guardians of the wilderness… but some of them kill an awful lot of animals for supposed protectors of the feral kingdom. The blonde Sheena (first female comic book character with her own series), equally blonde Lorna the Jungle Girl (Atlas-published, a rival to Fiction House’s Sheena), Avon’s Taanda – White Princess of the Jungle, Camilla – Wild Girl of the Congo (a case of Fiction House knocking off their own Sheena)… the list definitely goes on. That’s quite a few jungle queens bouncing around, dealing with hostile tribesmen getting uppity, lethal white hunters up to no good and would-be Romeos perpetually being held hostage. Sometimes they even have cat fights and overthrow one another. Very amusing indeed. Pepper the dialogue with lots of bwanas, toss in an epic rescue of hapless natives, and you’re all set.
To be fair, however, some Golden Age jungle comics boast fetching art and compelling stories in which natives are their own agents and her Royal Highness gets to show off her wits (and her gams) to best advantage. It’s hard to dislike stories in which a strong, clever woman gets to save the day.
Without further ado, I present Jungle Queen vs Octopus!
First up, there’s Sheena, who has struggled with quite a few tentacles in her day:
Time for other queens to borrow Sheena’s spotlight:
This Camilla story was scripted by Victor Ibsen and drawn by Ralph Mayo, and was published in Jungle Comics no. 144 (1951, Fiction House):
We’ve had a lot of blondes so far, how about a redhead?
The cover story, «Fangs of the Swamp Beast»:
Back to our regularly scheduled blonde heroine! This is «The Devil’s Lagoon», scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Werner Roth, published in Lorna the Jungle Queen no. 4 (December 1953, Atlas):
For a chuckle, read Stupid Comics‘ critique of Devil’s Lagoon here. Moving on, I have no wish to be unfair to brunettes, especially given that I generally prefer them:
Here’s a rather amusing explanation for Rulah’s raison d’être from Toonopedia: «One day, while piloting a small plane across Darkest Africa, she crash-landed where civilization had scarcely been heard of. Her clothes were damaged to the point of leaving her butt naked (“like Eve in the Garden,” she mused), modesty preserved only by shadows and strategically-placed vegetation — yet, her skin wasn’t noticeably scratched or abraded. Fortunately, her plane had whacked a giraffe on the way down, so she skinned it and skillfully fashioned a fetching bikini from the raw, uncured pelt. Her uncovered parts were no more bothered by thorns, rough bark, poison ivy and the like, than were her bare feet. Next, she saved a tribe from the local tyrant, a white jungle queen much like herself, and was proclaimed its ruler — provided she could prove herself by killing a starving leopard with nothing but a dagger, which she did.»
Phew, that tromp through the jungle wore me out! Until next Tentacle Tuesday…
Ahoy, landlubbers! Today’s Tentacle Tuesday goes back to the good ol’ days of nautical journeys, ships crushed by mighty tentacles, and brave men who end their lives as snacks for the mighty cephalopod.
Speaking of the Sargasso Sea (frequently depicted in fiction as a perilous area where ships go to die, mired in Sargassum seaweed, unable to escape), here’s another vignette about that mysterious spot. Incidentally, it is the only sea that doesn’t have land boundaries, enclosed by the Gulf Stream on the west side, the Canary Current on the east, the North Atlantic Current on the North and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current on the South. No wonder people thought it was full of mystery and danger! Even I, more or less immune to the siren’s call of wild maritime adventure, feel a little thrill at its mention. *Ahem* back to comics.
As is often the case, the original painting has a lot more detail than the printed version:
What does this peculiar, one-eyed beast look like closer up, one might ask? Something like this:
The sea can bring many (other) strange things, including a sword-wielding octopus… who should have stayed in the water, where he had the home advantage, instead of attempting to wage battle on sort-of land.
Yes, I’m sure that jungle inhabitants had to fight off vicious, anatomically impossible pterodactyls all the freaking time. Man, has John Celardo, the artist of this cover, ever seen a pterodactyl? … Oh, right, I guess he hasn’t. That still doesn’t justify this monstrosity, though.
Mark Twain comes to mind:
« The less said about the pterodactyl the better. It was a spectacle, that beast! a mixture of buzzard and alligator, a sarcasm, an affront to all animated nature, a butt for the ribald jests of an unfeeling world. »
*This* pterodactyl certainly looks like a butt for jests, given that its spine is twisted like a strand of DNA, and that its head has been put on backwards.
The premise of Valley of the Killer-Birds is exactly the same as the raison d’être of all the other ‘Jungle Lord’ comics: Kaänga (who, judging from the umlaut, is probably Danish, just like Häagen-Dazs) has to rescue his damsel-in-distress yet again. I’m sure you are dying to know what the plot is like, so here it is in more detail:
Ann, Kaänga’s mate, is “blown off her perch” (where she was roosting, presumably) by a strong wind, and is carried off by a pterodactyl that just happens to be passing by at the moment, probably on its way to the grocery store. Kaänga tries to follow, but falls off a cliff, is carried (unconscious) through a watery tunnel, and lands in “a weird prehistoric valley”. He then effortlessly kills a a dinosaur that looks like a slightly smaller-than-average T-Rex and climbs into its skin (that somehow fits him perfectly), plays dead, gets carried off by another pterodactyl and dropped off at some random cave, miraculously the same cave where Ann is captive, and even more preposterously just a few meters away from her standing coyly by in a typical “just look at my bikini!” pose. Then he waves at her with his paw (understandably, she doesn’t understand why a dinosaur is waving at her – it’s those super-short front paws, you know), then she gets carried off (again) by a giant ape that shows up from nowhere, and Kaänga, still in T-Rex form, hotly pursues them and kills the ape. Then the hero of our tale, as clean and Arian as he can possibly be (nevermind that he just climbed from the bloody insides of an animal corpse), takes Ann’s hand and leads her out from the tunneled cave, reasoning at some point that if there’s human skulls in the passage, there must be a way out of those tunnels. (Um, no, it just means the pterodactyls and/or giant ape have had a lot of silly little humans for supper that they’ve brought in from elsewhere.)
« It is Friday the 13th and you are right on time — ten minutes to midnight! »
As the thirteenth fatefully falls on a Friday this month, I’m inspired to trot out a story from my very favourite issue of Gold Key’s Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 26 (Sept. 1975). So what elevates this particular entry above its brethren? Admittedly, the competition from other issues is pretty tepid. Truth be told, though, all comers are swept out the door by a winning pair of yarns from the great Arnold Drake (1924 – 2007, co-creator of The Doom Patrol, Deadman and the original Guardians of the Galaxy): The Servant of Chan (illustrated by Luis Dominguez) and this one, the bracingly skeptical The Anti-13 (illustrated by John Celardo).