If you’ll forgive me the venial but gauche sin of quoting myself… three years ago, I posited:
« Luís Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day… and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye. »
I found it sadly infuriating that such an important and accomplished artist’s latter-day whereabouts and circumstances were so shrouded in mystery… and largely, it would seem, indifference. The usual story: he didn’t really do superheroes.
Neither Lambiek nor the Grand Comics Database have anything to add on the subject, but a spot of digging turned up that he indeed was still alive until recently, though purportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his waning years. Then I found what may well be his… very basic obituary, placing his date of birth exactly one month off (unsurprisingly, since accounts have long varied) and his date of death as July 1st, 2020, in Miami, FL. Unless something more definitive comes along, it’ll have to do.
I think we can all agree that ninety-six years is a pretty good run, even with the doleful decline near the end. Let’s look back on what’s surely his peak decade in comics, the 1970s. My picks have nothing to do with ‘key’ issues, character débuts or popular crossovers. I’ve judged these on artistic merit, keeping the pernicious influence of nostalgia at arm’s length.
For more Domínguez delights, just click on this link and explore away! I daresay that I only managed to keep it to an even dozen (difficult!) choices because we’ve already spotlighted many of his finest covers.
Today we play a game: yes, those long slithery things are wrapped around somebody’s ankle… but are they tentacles, or worms?
In real life, worms (even predatory) don’t really wind around their prey or suffocate them. A biologist could tell us whether they ever ‘hunt’ in huge numbers, but I think we can be fairly certain that the scenes depicted below have never happened in real life. If disbelief must be suspended, I’d rather string it up for a cephalopod invasion, rather than a worm onslaught (ick)… But the characters of this post have had to deal with both kinds of threat. Let’s get on to it!
Worm or tentacle? Well, these have eyes at the end of… of whatever it is… and they seem like individuals, so probably worm. Hey, those who have read this issue before, no spoilers, please!
Let take a look inside this issue…
What do you think? These seem to originate from the same source. Let’s peek at the next issue – cephalopod confirmed!
Moving on to our next puzzle! Those are surely tentacles, belonging to some cephalopod monstrosity with a thousand arms:
Moving on! With a texture distinctly reminiscent of some sort of slug, the following whatchamacallits could be either… but the planet that hungers is using its tentacles, and not worms, to feed. Ping! Correct. This makes the following scene no less disquieting – oh, somebody bring me back to the normal, sea-faring octopus…
Let’s have one last go. This cover so clearly depicts Abby getting grabbed by some underwater tentacled monster, that it regularly appears in tentacle-related searches…
And yet! The cover is the self-explanatory The Conqueror Worms!, scripted by Len Wein and illustrated by Nestor Redondo. The star creatures of this story are actually pretty adorable, especially their mini-trunks and moist, sensitive eyes:
I hope some of these examples gave you pause, even if for just a little bit!
« There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming. » — Zooey Deschanel
While the inside artwork also had its charms, the weak link in the chain was the writing. Pedestrian and formulaic, most of its anonymous load was borne by Paul S. Newman, one of the comics industry’s great cranker-outers. And so things ran their humdrum course, even with the arrival of talented DC expatriate Arnold Drake in the early 1970s. I strongly suspect rampant conservatism on the part of the editors, as even normally-compelling authors produced the same generic plots, ground out like under-seasoned sausage.
Then occurred a curious bump in the road: the unheralded, near-anonymous arrival of future Clown College alumnus*Connor Freff Cochran (1954-), who scripted (as Freff, when credited — a rarity at GK) a number of short tales for Gold Key’s anthology titles for a few years (1974-1977). Of those I’ve read, most docilely follow the publisher’s tame editorial formula. But there are exceptions, and they really do stand out. Here’s such a pair, which I’m boldly attributing to Mr. Cochran.
Ahem — sloppy research on Freff’s part:
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to autumn of 1915 in San Francisco.
It is therefore highly unlikely that anyone on the American continent would have been plucking a uke, let alone that two random Missouri farmboys would spot a specimen from a distance. Not to mention the fact that the uncredited and unknown artist (no, it’s notBill Molno, dear ignoramuses at the GCD) drew… a plain old guitar. Let’s face it, a banjo or even a mandolin would have made more sense.
In his defense, Freff recalled:
« I absolutely did write “Don’t Play That Ukulele!” But I don’t deserve the ding for the misspelling — that was the letterer’s error, which no one fixed. I will cop to not knowing (in 1975) that the ukulele wasn’t introduced stateside until 1915…but even there the story is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When I pitched the idea it was a guitar that brought doom down on our unfortunate swain, same as it wound up being drawn. But editor Paul Kuhn thought a ukulele was intrinsically funnier than a guitar, and he’s absolutely right about that. I remember us both giggling over the title when we came up with it. »
At fourteen, he and his family moved to Placentia, California, east of Los Angeles, where he graduated from El Dorado High School a year ahead of the normal schedule. One of his fellow students had combined the words “friend” and “Jeff ” to coin the name “Freff ”— and while at ﬁrst this remained only a nickname, by 1970 he had started signing his artwork that way, as well. Like many artists, Cochran entered the science ﬁction ﬁeld doing “freebie” drawings for fanzines. His ﬁrst paid job were pen and ink drawings for Andrew Porter’s semi-prozine Algol, done in 1972. In the same year he dropped out of Fullerton Junior College after two months of art classes to live on his own. He worked in various ﬁelds to make a living and “The rest was all just self-directed study and experimentation,” he says, adding “as a young pro, just starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored ever-so-slightly by two of my early faves in the ﬁeld: Kelly Freas and Jack Gaughan. At Kelly Freas’s suggestion Cochran moved to New York in September 1973 and started looking for work as an illustrator.
When that was not forthcoming, Cochran attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College — class of 1974.
In that year he got his ﬁrst big break from Jim Baen, the new editor of Galaxy and If. Baen needed people who would work fast and cheap and put up with being paid late — in other words, the perfect opportunity for beginning artists like Cochran. By this time he was aware that other professional artists and cartoonists were named “Cochran”— and feeling that using his initials “JC” would be presumptuous — the artist in 1976 went to court and legally adopted “Freff ” as his professional nom de brush, and kept it during his years of magazine illustrating. Baen was so taken with the name that he put it on the cover of Cochran’s ﬁrst cover for IF, as if Cochran was an author with a story in the magazine. After that “Freff ” did a lot of work for Baen, primarily interiors in black-and-white. He also did drawings for Cosmos, Isaac Asimov’s SF, and did cover work for publishers such as Dell, Berkley, and Doubleday. Cochran was selected to be one the artists in the special 1975 NASA/Smithsonian Artists Tour. After early success illustrating Zelazny’s “Amber” novels for Galaxy, followed by cover art and interior illustrations for a set of hardcover novels by Zelazny for Gregg Press in the early 1980s, Cochran became disgruntled over nonpayment for the use of his art in foreign editions of John Varley’s novel Titan, for which he had done a frontispiece and 16 illustrations—and the argument led to the end of Cochran’s illustrating in the ﬁeld.
He turned to other endeavors, but brieﬂy “dipped a toe back into the waters by collaborating on the ﬁrst (and only) issue of an SF comic book called D’Arc Tangent” in 1982–1983. He did inking and penciling for DC and Marvel comics: Star Trek** and Tomb of Dracula***.
And here’s the uncredited, utterly batty Tender Feelings, recognizably illustrated by another hardworking Argentine, José Delbo. It saw print in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 53 (Apr. 1974, Gold Key).
Part of my reasoning for attributing authorship of Tender Feelings to Freff is his penchant for light, deftly humorous tales that conclude with several characters meeting dismal ends. Churrr...
But… nope. The mystery of this mordant little tale remains whole. Freff helpfully eliminated himself as a suspect, and proposed some intriguing leads:
« I can’t take credit for “Tender Feelings.” I certainly wish I could, since it’s a delightful mashup/piss-take on DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. But nope — not me.
The publication date I find online for that story is April 1974. But Gold Key titles usually hit the stands a month ahead of the printed date, and editors Wally Green and Paul Kuhn liked to have a solid backlog of finished stories on hand. That puts the likely writing window for “Tender Feelings” somewhere around August 1973, which means there’s a chance that “Tender Feelings” was written by Len Wein himself. Len did a lot of uncredited Gold Key stories, starting around 1969, but he stopped in late summer 1973. It would have been absolutely in keeping with his sense of humor to write something like “Tender Feelings” as a happy sendoff for himself.
My best second guess after that would be John David Warner…though if I really had to bet, I’d bet on Len. In any case, whoever did it was lightyears better than the usual Gold Key writer. Glad to see them get this recognition. »
*Class of ’74. As Freff himself stated: « The Really Famous Guy from our session was Bill Irwin, who went on to a great stage, TV, and film career, and was the first performer to win a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.) I did originally intend to apply for the ’73 class, but I learned about it too late to make that year’s deadline. So I went to NYC instead to pursue art, while waiting for my next chance to roll around.. »
***a pair of frontispiece illustrations in Tomb of Dracula (the magazine, that is: six issues, published Oct. 1979 – Aug. 1980); he also conducted a fine interview with Stephen King, published in issues 4 and 5 of TOD. Freff provides some illumination: « plus the framing graphics for the magazine’s title/table of contents page, plus I got to ink a bunch of ads for the magazine. The one I know they used involved inking Gene Colan’s pencils, which was hella fun and a childhood dream come true. I grew up on Gene’s work in DAREDEVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, etc, and he was easily as big an influence on my visual thinking as people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko. (I got to achieve another childhood comics dream when I got to re-pencil, ink, and color a Curt Swan drawing for the October 1988 cover of KEYBOARD magazine.)
I did a lot more writing than artwork at Marvel, but most of it was nonfiction material in their b&w magazines — 100+ articles for PLANET OF THE APES, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU, CELEBRITY, NOSTALGIA ILLUSTRATED, THE TOMB OF DRACULA, etc. »
« I don’t know what’s wrong with him! He’s in hellish torment! » — there’s witchery afoot, clearly
I’ll grant you in a heartbeat that Nick Cardy‘s (and, to a lesser extent, Neal Adams’) earlier The Witching Hour (full original title: It’s 12 O’Clock… The Witching Hour!, hence its twelfth day appearance) covers beat out subsequent entries on the overall quality front, but this particular beauty, in my opinion, takes home the terror tiara as the very creepiest of the bunch. Is it the otherwise-innocuous daytime setting, the tension between the pastoral and the grotesque? In the end, it induces shivers, and that’s what counts.
Though it comes as the tail end of their involvement, Carmine Infantino and Cardy still had a hand in, as publisher and art director, and took an active rôle in the design of each DC cover of the era.
And so — why not? — here’s the full tale, so that you may judge for yourself.
Wilfredo Limbana ‘Fred’ Carrillo (1926–2005) was an underrated Filipino artist who produced some quite fine work for DC Comics’ mystery titles in the 1970s. I was particularly fond of his work on The Phantom Stranger, when he illustrated both the titular feature and its worthy backup, The Black Orchid, at the tail end of the title’s run.
« 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.
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.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
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.
By now, we have surely established that in the compendium of made-up monsters, tentacles are an artistic short-cut for evoking an especially terrifying creature. As it turns out, if there’s one way to make an already spine-chilling abomination even scarier, it’s to equip its gaping maw with teeth. Be it fangs borrowed from some unfortunate vampire, the implausibly symmetrical dentures of a TV show host, or clearly carnivorous, sharkish chompers, artists have been inserting teeth where no teeth should be long before you or I were born.
« But Grandmother! What big teeth you have! », once quipped Little Red Riding Hood in the 19th century, and this fear of teeth has clearly followed us into the Modern Age.Take a look —
Sheldon Moldoff was probably thinking of a snake’s fangs when he came up with this cutie:
This cross between a dinosaur and a mole (or is that more of an ant?) boasts an enviable set of sparklingly white dentition:
One thing you can say about tentacled monsters, it’s that they sure keep their denticulations (yes, it’s a word) impeccably clean. Maybe they choose their victims based on that, like cats gleefully enjoying the crunch of a good teeth-cleaning croquette?
On the other hand, some monsters could have used a set of braces (this one is an orphan, which is why it had to make do with a British set of teeth).
A somewhat similar (but a lot less overcrowded) set of ivories for gnawing and gnashing can be spotted in water:
This toothy post is now at its end – happy brushing (and flossing — it’s important!) to all, and ’til next Tentacle Tuesday!
p.s. Not particularly related to comics, but I found this photograph distinctly on the side of scary:
Todd Franklin of Neato Coolville has actually transformed this cover into a groovy wallpaper (go to his website to download the high-res version).
That previous cover has borderline tentacles, I agree, but the completist in me insisted on its inclusion. Also, it’s entertaining.
A beautiful cover this may be, but the insides are distinctly underwhelming. The title story, It Lurks by Moonlight, is scripted by Don Glut and illustrated by Filipino artist Jesse Santos, who seemed like a likable artist with a wide-ranging career… but his art is not my cup of tea.
The painting lost something in detail (a lot, actually) when it was made into a cover… this is more what it originally looked like:
« You’re sure you want to spend the night out there? »
As an avid backyard camper, this effectively chilling cover by the versatile Argentine Luis Dominguez never failed to bring a pleasant tingle of dread. It has that quality of a silent, slow-motion nightmare. Barely-glimpsed but eerily tangible horrors shambling your way… and you can hardly move, helpless but with all senses on edge. Eek.
DC’s The Unexpected no. 166, (July 1975). The moody featured story, The Evil Eyes of Night, scripted by Al Case (one of editor Murray Boltinoff‘s several noms de plume) and illustrated by an inspired Ruben Yandoc, doesn’t betray or squander the promise proffered by the cover, though it hardly proceeds as one might presume. This isn’t The Expected, after all…
Ah, but today, we’re celebrating Drake’s co-conspirator, the prolific Argentine master (yes, another one) Luis Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day (Dec. 5, 1923), and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye.
Without further foot-dragging, here’s a vintage tale of quick wits in ruling class hubris from beyond the grave, The Servant of Chan, by that dastardly duo, Drake and Domínguez.
« Slavery in ancient China was not a pleasant experience. The lives of slaves were filled with hardship. Many were abused. Many slaves were children.
Most people who were slaves worked in the fields, alongside of peasants. They did the same job, and had the same hours, and pretty much the same clothing and food, as free farmers. But they were not treated with the same respect given to farmers. Some slaves built roads. Some worked in government.
But slaves who worked for the emperor, the royal family, and sometimes the nobles, had the worst of it. They could only do what they were told to do. They were treated in any way that their master and his family felt like treating them. Many were treated with great cruelty. When their master died, they were killed, and buried with their master in his tomb, so they could continue to serve their master after his death. »
Brr. All the same, if you’ve enjoyed this yarn, check out Arnold Drake’s other contribution to this issue, The Anti-13, which we enthusiastically featured some time ago.
¡Feliz cumpleaños, Señor Domínguez… wherever you may be!
« Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant. »
I had planned to feature quite another tale this week, but seeing as we are in the torrid grip of quite the heat wave, I opted in the end for something more topical I’d been saving on the back burner.
Edward Nelson Bridwell (1931–1987) is one of those scarcely-noticed but greatly accomplished figures of American comics. At DC from the mid-1960s to the end of his life, he edited, wrote, packaged and compiled his heart out. Most impressive, in my view, were his erudition and discerning eye for a fine short story.
There’s always a blessed but mostly-powerless minority of comics creators that endeavours to improve the unwashed readership’s minds… nearly never at Marvel, most often at DC. In the mid-1970s, while working as Joe Orlando‘s editorial assistant, Bridwell adapted three excellent, but highly unconventional vintage spooky tales, as far afield as imaginable from the usual EC-by-homeopathy fare his boss favoured. These were William Fryer Harvey‘s August Heat (Secrets of Sinister House no. 12, July 1973), Ambrose Bierce‘s The Man and the Snake (Secrets of Sinister House 14, October 1973) and John Russell’s The Price of the Head (Weird Mystery Tales no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1974); all three were splendidly brought to visual glory by WOT favourite Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000). All three are moody slow burners, with much introspection and little action.
On this scorching day (currently a sticky 35°F /95°F in Montréal, Canada) you’ll forgive me for not waiting until August to share this dark beauty with you.
As evidence of Mr. Bridwell’s skill as an adapter, feel free to read the full (yet quite brief) text of August Heat. Or listen to one its several fine radio adaptations, the choice is yours: