Nomenclature, or How to Tell Your Thingamajig From Your Whatchamacallit

« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius

To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:

Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.

This most edifying illustration was the work of Mike Witte (b. 1944), who later chucked this charming infusion of the old ‘big foot’ school of cartooning to settle into an in-demand but pasteurised version of Ralph Steadman‘s style (itself, I would argue, a more grotesque version of Ronald Searle‘s approach). Still, bully for him — it’s a hard business to earn a proper living in. Sure, the classic big foot tradition already had a modern master in Elwood Smith… but the more the merrier! (and speaking of Onomatopeia…)
Mort Walker‘s Beetle Bailey Sunday strip from July 9, 1978, a most judicious choice, was dissected.
Here’s my well-thumbed, yellowing copy of What’s What: it’s the first book trade edition (Nov. 1982, Ballantine), copies of which, or the updated edition, circa the early 1990s, can still be obtained dirt cheap. And “Nose leather?” Awww.

To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!

A page from Nazi “X” (Captain America no. 211, July 1977, Marvel) with the wild and wooly Arnim Zola – the Bio-Fanatic – flexing his mental muscles. Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by our dear Mike Royer, and coloured by Glynis Wein.
Another example, to make sure everyone gets it straight? The sky’s ablaze with Kirby Krackle in this ominously magnificent splash from Kamandi no. 24 (Dec. 1974, DC) and its tale of The Exorcism! Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Douglas Bruce Berry, and most likely coloured by Jerry Serpe.


Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Tendril of Contagion

« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »

I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…

Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »?  The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!



You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.

Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.

Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth no. 10 (October 1973). Killer Germ! is written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, with whom co-admin RG has conducted an interview. 


Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.

Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…


That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).


Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo


It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.


Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:

Calvin & Hobbes strip from February 7, 1993. May our worst encounter with microbes be of the digestive variety!

Oh, all right, one more:

Page from The Incredible Shrinking Tightwad, published in Uncle Scrooge no. 359 (November 2006). Story by Don Rosa, of course!

∞ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 1

I probably don’t have to explain who Jack Kirby (1917-1994) is, but just in case: he’s the undisputed King of comic books, the one of most influential comic book artists and writers of the United States, and an undisputed titan of comics and culture.

I also recommend reading Learning to Love Jack Kirby, an earnest and personal story of how the author (Chris Sims) came to appreciate Kirby and, at the same time, a pretty good overview of some of his most memorable characters and comics.

« I’m tempted to say that you don’t really get Kirby until you develop the ability to look beyond the surface of a story and see how much craftsmanship it takes to look as simple as his comics, but that’s really just covering up my own initial revulsion. There were plenty of kids who encountered Kirby at the same age I did and wound up loving him from the start; I’m just a slow learner. But I do think there’s something to the idea that it just has to hit you right for everything to make sense, and once you’re there, you’re there forever. And the good news is that Kirby’s contributions to the medium are so vast, so unavoidable even a quarter-century after his death, that even just scratching the surface of superhero comics means you’re encountering them all the time. »

Now that we have part over with, shall we continue to the tentacular part of today’s post? Kirby didn’t do anything in half-measures, so I’d like to think that we have some epic, larger-than-life, cosmic tentacles on offer. As it turns out, there’s quite a lot of ’em scattered throughout Kirby’s mind-boggling career, so today I am concentrating on Kirby’s work for DC Comics in the 1970s.

Seriously, there’s all kinds in here.  A sea ball of yarn is our exhibit A.

Sequence from O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Vince Colletta, and published in The New Gods no. 4 (August-September 1971).

This may be a take on the old head-of-Medusa, but Gargora doesn’t mince words, and when she says someone can’t escape, well, she’ll deploy some tentacles to catch them:

Splash from Witchboy, scripted and penciled by Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, and published in The Demon no. 14 (November 1973). Random fact of the day: Freud considered that the hair on Medusa’s head is often represented in form of snakes, because as snakes are penis symbols derived from the pubic hair, they serve to mitigate the horror of the female castration complex. …When someone tells me that are into Freudian theories, I back away slowly.

Some monsters crush you between their limbs – this is no different, but instead of two legs, there’s a “crushing mass of tentacles”. Don’t feel bad, Etrigan, no-one could break free of *that*.

Page from The One Who Vanished!!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by William Stout and Mike Royer (don’t miss co-admin RG’s 3-part, exclusive interview with Mr. Royer!), published in The Demon no. 15 (December 1973).

You might argue that these aren’t tentacles at all, but the creature is described as a “flying octopus”, and who am I to argue with Kirby’s description?

Page from The Busting of a Conqueror!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by D. Bruce Berry, published in OMAC no. 4 (March-April 1975).

Page from The Spy, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by D. Bruce Berry, published in OMAC no. 6 (July-August 1975).

One must have one proper sea monster in a Tentacle Tuesday, and this one’s a beauty:

Page from The Invasion of the Frog Men!, scripted by Michael Fleisher, penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Mike Royer and published in The Sandman no. 5 (October-November 1975).

Last but not least, plant tentacles!

Page from The Lizard Lords of Los Lorraine!, scripted by Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz, pencilled by Jack Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, published in Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth no. 40 (April 1976). Kamandi was my first exposure to Kirby, and it bowled me over.  It’s a good illustration of what he can do (and did over and over again), actually: create a universe with its own rules and a perfect internal logic. There are no boundaries in such a place, no limited number of characters – it just lives and breathes as it pleases, and one is but a passerby who gets to witness a few key scenes. Reading Kamandi teleported me into his world with such ruthlessness that I was quite disoriented when I’d have to stop reading.

« His incredibly unique art style and bombastic storytelling made him one of the most imitated creators in western comics history. Kirby Dots are named after the artist’s distinctive rendering of Battle Auras, also nicknamed, “the Kirby Krackle”. He died of heart failure in 1994 at the age of 76, or at least that’s what Galactus wants us to believe. Due to his speed in creating well-received comics, there exists something called the “Kirby Barrier”; breaking the barrier means that you’ve created a quality comic in under a week, a surprisingly difficult feat. » |source|

Don’t forget to visit the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center!

~ ds