Why the Long face? The Lighter Side of Batman

« The best thing for rich people to do is become Batman. » — Karl Heinrich Marx*

So we’ve got another dour, dark, mumbly, violent, grim ‘n’ gritty Batman movie making the rounds. I’ll pass — I’m afraid that’s not my Batman of choice. But I’m certainly game to provide an alternative view.

This is World’s Finest no. 32 (Jan.-Feb. 1948, DC); cover art by Hamilton, Ontario’s Win Mortimer (1919-1998), just one in a long, memorable series of frequently goofy scenes featuring this heroic trio.
A cute one from John Gallagher (1926 – 2005), twice (1957, 1971) the winner of the National Cartoonists SocietyBest Gag Cartoonist‘ Award and elder brother of Heathcliff creator George Gately Gallagher. It was published in scouting monthly Boys’ Life‘s July, 1966 issue, smack dab in the heart of Batmania. We ran another bit of bat-drollery from John in an earlier post.
This is Mad Magazine no. 105 (Sept. 1966, EC); cover by Norman Mingo (1896-1980).
A pivotal page from ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk’ written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky and inked by Mike Esposito, from The Brave and the Bold no. 68 (Oct.-Nov. 1966, DC), edited by George Kashdan. We’re featured the issue’s fabulously batty cover in our earlier tribute to Mike Sekowsky. Bless you, gentlemen — you truly understood what fun meant and what comics should be.
Prolific Argentine cartoonist Vic Martin (in his homeland, he drew the strip “Salvador” for Medio Litro magazine) moved to the US in the early 1950s, crafting a respectable body of work in the comic book field, chiefly for Ziff-Davis, before migrating to men’s magazines and girlie digests. By the 1970, he’d found a home with Cracked Magazine (He handled the Hudd & Dini feature), while also freelancing for Sick and Crazy. Everything but Mad, really. This particular cartoon comes from the March, 1967 issue of Avant Publishing’s “Escapade”. As Pat Masulli is listed under “production” in the masthead, a Charlton connection is more than likely. And speaking of “Leapin’ lizards!“, Martin would later (1973-74) work on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip.
From Plop no. 9 (Jan.-Feb. 1975, DC); Writer unknown, art by Kurt Schaffenberger.
This one’s from Plop! no. 20 (Mar.-Apr. 1976), DC); idea by Don ‘Duck’ Edwing, art by Dave Manak.
Dan Piraro‘s May 21, 1995 Bizarro Sunday strip. Between Piraro and his canny accomplice, Wayno, there have been scores of excellent bat-japes over the years. I must confess that the term ‘bat-bat’ triggers other associations. « To the Man-Mobile! »
This is Pictures Within Pictures, a 1998 watercolour by Mitch O’Connell (not to be confused, of course, with this beloved, near-homonymous fella — yes, I can just hear Beavis and Butthead chortling). The piece is full of references to various Golden Age comics made infamous by Fredric Wertham‘s Seduction of the Innocent. For instance, er… Batman‘s speech balloon quotes from this particular comic book‘s opening splash. On a sobering note, let’s not forget that the 1950’s furore over comic books, as absurd as it may have seemed, still has relevance today.
In a more deadpan vein, here’s the opening splash of Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire‘s madcap homage to the very earliest of Batman’s exploits, with nods a-plenty to the 1943 film serial. “The Bat-Man” originally appeared in Bizarro Comics (Aug. 2001, DC).
Another most decidedly dynamic duo, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, assembles to concoct an affectionate, thoughtful and yes, funny look at one of Batman’s most bizarre-yet-neglected members of the Bat’s rogues’ gallery, Lenny Fiasco, aka The Eraser, introduced in Batman no. 188 (Dec. 1966, DC) with The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman! This sequel, Who Erased the Eraser? also made its original appearance in Bizarro Comics (Aug. 2001, DC), edited by Joey Cavalieri.
Here’s one (June 12, 2014) from Pulitzer Prize-winning (1981) editorial cartoonist Mike Peters (b. 1943). It’s from his unevenly written but always gorgeous comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm (created in 1984 and still going strong in over 800 newspapers worldwide). Like his colleagues Piraro and Wayno, Mr. Peters can scarcely resist a good bat-gag, so this is just one in a crowd of many.
Everyone’s familiar with the famous playground song and staple of crooner Robert Goulet’s répertoire, right? The web is rife with visual adaptations, but this was my favourite, the work of Matthew S. Armstrong and available as a handsome t-shirt.


*the second-funniest Bat-related thing I encountered online this week is this attribution of a Batman (created in 1939) quote to Marx (1818-1883).

The funniest was the following deeply ironic quote from pathological liar and glory hog Bob Kane: « How can an article about me or the Batman be the true story when I am not consulted or interviewed? »

Tentacle Tuesday: a Treasure Trove of Charlton Tentacles

I wasn’t around in the 70s. (Literally, as in “I hadn’t been born yet”.) So when somebody – in, oh, say 2008 or so – handed me a copy of some ghost comics printed by Charlton Comics (I don’t remember what exactly), that was my first exposure to this publishing company. I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t « supposed » to like this stuff… and by the time some kind soul pointed out that it’s not exactly orthodox to seek out Charlton publications, it was too late to change my mind. Clearly, that’s how monsters with no taste are created.

Charlton Comics had the reputation for inferior printing (as one of my friends put it, « godawful colours and reproduction and paper ») and low quality control. I’d say that when one contemplates the variety of artistic styles and the dizzying panoply of artists published by them, the quality of the printing distinctly becomes a less important consideration. Charlton paid badly, sure, but since when do people decide what they like and what they don’t based on how artists are treated? (Just look around – companies that trample on creators’ rights are doing very well indeed.) It seems like a knee-jerk reaction; I often wonder if people who automatically react with sneers to the very mention of Charlton have actually read any of the comics this company printed. Or perhaps they’re scared by some of the artists’ styles which are just too wild, too squiggly, just not clean enough. (Sloppy line work! Anathema to any comic book lover worth his salt, right?)

Anyway, Charlton’s « loose editorial oversight » meant there was no house style to speak of, and artists with highly idiosyncratic styles could let their eccentricities shine.

You may notice some names are conspicuously absent from today’s post. Tom Sutton, exhibit A of the “chaotic, scratchy art” category, will get a Tentacle Tuesday post all to himself at a later date. Some beloved artists just didn’t draw any tentacles for Charlton (as far as I know!): Warren Sattler, Don PerlinSam Glanzman, Don Newton, Rocco Mastroserio, etc. Wayne Howard is already part of a Tentacle Tuesday (see Plant Tentacle Tuesday), as is Enrique Nieto (Tentacle Tuesday: Spunky Skirmishes).

Without further ado, but with lots of tentacles…

First, two beauties from Steve Ditko (if you’d like more Ditko – and who wouldn’t? – visit my co-admin RG’s lovely posts about him: Ditko’s Ghostly Haunts and Happy 90th birthday, Mr. Ditko!), both featuring “70s Ditko green“. (It’s that characteristic green hue that often appears on his covers, a fitting term coined by erudite Professor Fester.)

Ghostly Tales no. 111 (September 1974), cover by Steve Ditko. « The Thing in the Hole » is a really cool story, but it’s written and drawn by Tom Sutton, and as such it’s off-limits for now (I’m hoarding material for a different post.)

Ghostly Tales no. 122 (August 1976), cover by Steve Ditko.

Do these green noose-appendage-things count as tentacles? Sure they do! Panel from The Crew That Was Hanged!, illustrated by Steve Ditko and written by Joe Gill.

And moving on to other series, other artists:

Haunted no. 8 (October 1972), cover by Jack Abel (1927-1996), perhaps best known as an inker for DC and Marvel.

Newly-weds that are half-squid, half-fly, but newly-weds nonetheless. Page by Peter A. Morisi (1928-2003), who went by the nom de plume of PAM (or, since his signature’s M looks like a triple “I”, “PAIII!”). He was a NYC police officer, and moonlighted as a comics artist. I really like his calm, easily recognizable style and the way his characters seem to be frozen in each panel. There’s something quite effective about this stillness, a pleasing contrast between the drama and action of a story and the way people are staring off-panel in quiet contemplation, even when terrified. This story is called “Wrong Turn” and comes from Haunted no. 13, 1973.

(Baron Weirwulf’s) Haunted (Library) no. 28 (July 1976), cover by Mike Zeck, whose career actually started at Charlton (he later moved on to Marvel to work on Master of Kung Fu, Captain America, etc.).

« The creature’s tendril closed so gently around his leg, he didn’t notice it at first. Then a second grasped his arm! » The Source is the cover story of Haunted no. 28. Is old Thomas Willet mad? Well, he just has unusual taste in pets, that’s all (and, as tradition demands, he will pay dearly for his extravagance). Pencils and inks by Frank Bolle(1924-2020), who worked for Gold Key and Charlton, illustrated horror stories for Warren titles, and also had a hand in several newspaper strips (Winnie Winkle, Apartment 3-G, Stan Drake’s The Heart of Juliet Jones, and Gil Thorp).

Ghost Manor no. 1 (October 1971), cover by the ever-masterful Pat Boyette (1923-2000), who’s a big favourite at Who’s Out There. Go read a whole story by him: Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good

We couldn’t find a good enough scan of this issue online, and it’s one of the rare Ghost Manors co-admin RG doesn’t actually own, so here’s a cover photostat (slightly coloured):

Ghost Manor no. 58 (August 1981), cover by the Recreo Studio.

Ghostly Haunts no. 48 (February 1976), cover by Rich Larson (we’ve seen him before in Haunted House of Lingerie — see Tentacle Tuesday: a Day at the Beach).

Ghostly Haunts no. 52 (October 1976), another cover by Pat Boyette, this time gorgeously painted.

Beyond the Grave no. 11 (October 1983), cover by Mitch O’Connell (also present in Have Tentacles, Will Space Travel).

~ ds

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…

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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:


« 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

Tentacle Tuesday: Octopuses join the ranks of honest workers

Heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go. Octopuses have to work, too (at least occasionally). (And while they work, they have to restrain from grabbing unwilling passersby, as they don’t want to get slapped with a sexual assault lawsuit. I present to you a list of some of the professions that cephalopods excel at… no hanky-panky involved.

They’re musicians!

Budding guitar players rejoice: octopuses sometimes have trouble getting all the notes right, too. This was scanned from “Mitch O’Connell: the World’s Best Artist” (Last Gasp, 2014) by, obviously, Mitch O’Connell, who does not mince words when referring to his mad talent. Check out our other post about Dr. Mitch here.


This poor overworked fella is drawn by Paul Mavrides (he of the Furry Freak Brothers and Church of the SubGenius fame!) An excerpt from « Skull Farmer », Tundra Sketchbook Series #10 (1991, Tundra).


Octopus by Anatol Kovarsky (born 1919 in Moscow to Jewish parents, passed away in 2016), who had a long career (nearly 300 drawings and almost 50 covers) in The New Yorker’s pages.


From the Russian magazine Krokodil, 1970s.

~ ds

Urban Legend Fun: The Spider in the Hairdo

« We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information. » — Neil Stephenson

True story! It happened to a friend of a friend of a relative of an acquaintance of the hairdresser of the nephew of the uncle of the garage mechanic of the girdle maker of a cousin of a U.F.O. abductee ex-classmate of my brother’s. Or so he obliquely claimed under hypnotic regression.

Apparently, this tale gave rise (I know, I know) to a variant called The Cucumber in the Disco Pants.

And remember, always check with Snopes.com before propagating dubious claims.

Spider in the Hairdo! is a juicy excerpt from Dark Horse’s one-shot Urban Legends no. 1 (June, 1993). Adaptation by the self-proclaimed « World’s Best Artist », Mitch O’Connell. I can think of far less worthy candidates for the position.

Should you be craving more from Dr. Mitch, here’s where to go for your fix: www.mitchoconnell.com.

And if, like me, you can’t get enough of such urban folklore, check out any of Jan Harold Brunvand’s score of splendidly compelling books on the subject. When it comes to urban myths, Dr. Brunvand is the authority.


As a bonus, here’s Arthur Adams‘ slightly subsequent take on the same myth, published in DC/Paradox Press’ inaugural entry in its ‘Big Book of…’ series, The Big Book of Urban Legends (1994).


By their very nature, the Big books (seventeen in all) tended to be pretty hit or miss, not, for once, because of the writing, but chiefly due to the evident paucity, in the current comics industry, of artists versatile enough to credibly depict low-key, quotidian, humorous or historical situations. Is it counterintuitive, or fitting, that artists on the cartoonier end of the scale (Rick Geary, Roger Langridge, Gahan Wilson, Hilary Barta, Ty Templeton, Danny Hellman, Sergio Aragonés…) tended to fare best in producing this type of « documentary » work? I haven’t quite made up my mind. All I know is that the superhero specialists and photo tracers just brought embarrassment upon themselves *and* the unfortunate reader.

– RG