Not long ago, I chanced upon this passage from an interview with the lovely Ramona Fradon, wherein she touches upon her mid-70s work for Joe Orlando‘s ‘mystery’ comics at DC.
« Those were all Joe’s productions, and there was nothing he liked better than to get around the Comics Code. The fact that my drawing was comic helped him get away with more than he could with other artists. He was always pushing the envelope. »
« So when we decided to start running a weekly illustrated personal ad — ‘Lustlab Ad of the Week’ — we knew right away what we didn’t want. We didn’t want to sensationalize what was already pretty sensational, thanks. And we didn’t want to hyper-sexualize what was already plenty sexual. We wanted an artist who could take short, pithy personal ads — short, pithy, filthy personal ads — and infuse them with the kind of playfulness that true kinksters bring to their sex lives. We wanted someone that could make someone into whips and chains and hoods look like someone you could take home to meet your parents.
We wanted Ellen Forney. »
Just like Ramona Fradon, Ms. Forney wields a friendly, extremely engaging and accessible style (as you’ll witness). Here, then, is a modest sampling from the four-year frolic of the ‘Lustlab Ad of the Week’, circa 2004-2007. Feel free to browse.
The feature’s highlights have been collected, in fine fashion, in a snazzy little hardcover entitled ‘Lust‘. (Feb. 2008, Fantagraphics). While it’s out of print by now, affordable copies appear to still be available. If it floats your boat at all, don’t hesitate!
Since I’d hate to just leave you with such a tease, here it is, so you can be your own judge of the yarn’s merits (or its failings, however the chips may fall).
That poor, fragile, lonely woman! It’s not enough to be trapped in a loveless marriage with the world’s coldest fish, but any sympathy and hope she seems to receive from anyone is mere pretence in the process of gaslighting her. Of course, the plot is redolent of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and other, and much needed, contemporary critiques of the obligations and ambivalences of motherhood — unthinkable in earlier days — but it has its own points to make.
This is, to my knowledge, one of the few horror stories in mainstream comics of that period to be both written and illustrated by women: Maxene Fabe and Ramona Fradon, respectively. While Fradon is justly celebrated for her defining work on Aquaman in the 1950s and on Metamorpho in the 1960s, Ms. Fabe’s is likely a less familiar name to most comics readers. In the 1970s, she wrote around twenty-five scripts for DC comics, almost exclusively short horror and humour pieces for editor Joe Orlando. Of these, four are Fabe and Fradon collaborations: the (almost) equally dark conte cruelLast Voyage of the Lady Luck in House of Secrets no. 136 (Oct. 1975, DC); the more conventional The Swinger in Secrets of Haunted House no. 3 (Aug.-Sept. 1975, DC), working from a plot by Mike Pellowski, and finally, the sardonically humorous Bride of the Pharaoh in House of Mystery no. 251 (Mar.-Apr. 1977, DC).
« The vibrating tentacles produce hypnotic music that people can’t resist! »
This is the last Tentacle Tuesday before Christmas, so wishing all of our lovely readers a splendid (and safe) evening, whether you celebrate Christmas specifically, something else altogether, or nothing at all.
As far as I’m concerned, one of the most important components to creating a holiday mood (aside from being with my family, of course) is music. If it’s played by an octopus, so much the better – and one not? Having a lot of arms is surely handy for playing many instruments at the same time. One must say this is a musical edition of Tentacle Tuesday – so put on a record, preferably of the old-school vinyl variety, and swing your tentacles (or whatever appendage you do possess) along!
Speaking of Topo… he’s been getting some attention recently, and unsurprisingly his musical talent is involved:
And to prove that octopuses dig LPs, too, I’ll include this nifty poster:
On a connected subject, I heartily recommend this Soviet cartoon, which involves all manner of sea-creatures (yes, including several octopuses!) playing all sorts of instruments – don’t worry, it has subtitles in English.
Random fact of the day: in Mandarin Chinese, secret is “mimi”, whereas in French “mimi” means something like “cute”. Today’s post is not cute, but it is very much about secrets – DC secrets, to be more precise.
The original art for this cover feels a little less cluttered:
Taking a peek at the insides, we will find that they have little to do with the cover, but tentacles are still present. The Discovery is scripted by Jay L. Zilber, pencilled by Juan Ortiz, and inked by Vince Colletta:
Tentacles also rudely intrude in Selina, a story scripted by Nicola Cuti and elegantly illustrated by Ramona Fradon and Bob Smith —
Beware the Sea Hag, the cover story, is scripted by Carl Wessler and drawn by Wade Hampton:
But, wait, this is not what the Sea Hag normally looks like! This is more like it:
Shifting to another sort of secrets (these are sinister rather than haunted), we have another tentacle apparition —
This story, a sort of take on Bluebeard, is well worth reading, for the plot as well as the stunning art. I don’t want to reveal spoilers – you can read it here.
Since we’re discussing secrets, I might as well throw in TheHouse of Secrets… I will willingly admit that I have the hardest time keeping track of which is which.
Some people automatically conflate “goofy” with “childish”, but goofiness comes in many guises: from the charmingly nonsensical to the playfully quirky, from the clearly brilliant but confusing to the fucking stupid. (It’s also a snow-boarding term – How do I tell if I’m Goofy or Regular?) Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is goofy, all right, but more in the category of seemingly drug-induced codswallop. Another word for Dial H for Hero is wacky; distinctly wacky, so wacky that (as co-admin RG put it) it’s hard to really dislike it.
Maybe I should backtrack for those in the audience who are not familiar with the concept of Dial H for Hero. Robby Reed, a lucky (?), plucky teenager with a propensity to shout “Sockamagee!” in moments of excitement, stumbles upon some sort of magical thingamajig in a cave that enables him to become a superhero at the drop of hat (well, a turn of a dial). The process has unpredictable and uncontrollable results, in the sense that Robby has no idea who he will become, or what powers will be at his fingertips.
I have nothing against the idea of a rotary phone cum magical dial – that idea is rather interesting, given that rotary phones are indeed mysterious objects to the current generation – but I find the stories a tad too random to be enjoyable. Yet that’s the aspect that some readers clearly relished. To quote a letter from House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1968) from Bethesda, MD’s Irene Vartanoff.
« One of the best things about DIAL H FOR HERO is the huge amount of imagination put into each story. When at least two new heroes with new powers, costumes, weaknesses, bodies, etc. have to appear in each story, it may make your writers rack their brains and work overtime, but the results are fantastic. »
Given all the transformations Robby has gone through and the many bad guys he has had the pleasure of defeating, it is unavoidable that he would 1) encounter some villains with tentacles 2) acquire some tentacles himself. Dial H for Highball on *your* old-fashioned phone, if you still have one gathering dust in the attic, and enjoy this gallery of fun nonsense.
The very first appearance of Robby Reed and his magical dial, and already we have tentacles:
I mentioned that Robby himself sometimes sprouts tentacles. Here’s a good example:
Jim Mooney was responsible for Dial H for Hero‘s art for many issues, from the onset of the series with House of Mysteryno. 156 (January 1966) to House of Mystery no. 170 (October 1967). Dial H for Hero lasted three more issues after Mooney’s departure. As luck would have it, no. 171 and no. 172 bring our most striking examples of tentacles yet. (The final DHFH issue, House of Mysteryno. 173, features a cover by Jack Sparling, with insides by Charles Nicholas and Sal Trapani.)
Arguably the prettiest cover of this post (my favourite, at any rate):
The last thing I’d like to mention is that my favourite Robby Reed appearance was in an issue of Plastic Man, of all places – to be more precise, in Plastic Man no. 13 (June-July 1976). In If I Kill Me, Will I Die? (read it here!), scripted by Steve Skeates, pencilled by Ramona Fradon and inked by Bob Smith, Reed not only gets to take on Plas (in more ways than one), but also falls deeply and magically in love with a professional hog-caller. Also, tentacles. Adorable *and* exciting!
When you think of Aquaman, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is he a brooding, tragic hero? A hapless sap whose prowess extends no further than throwing a starfish at his assailant? A talented swimmer, defender of Earth’s oceans?
« The image of the superhero riding on a chariot made of fish—sporting that classic orange top and green pants—sealed the depths-dweller in public memory as a doofy champion, despite defenders who insist there’s more to Aquaman than talking to fish and riding them places. While later depictions of the character emphasized his serious side, Aquaman jokes abounded especially in the 90s and 2000s—largely thanks to a school of young male animators, including Seth MacFarlane and South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who couldn’t help but poke fun at Aquaman’s ineffectual reputation. »|source|
I believe the aforementioned Aquaman’s defenders are slightly missing the point. What’s wrong with catching a ride from a fish, or getting a helping hand from an octopus? In Aquaman’s world, octopuses play the role of indispensable helpers, using their tentacles as lassos, bludgeons and tourniquets, or forming acrobatic formations to give Aquaman a boost. Does this somehow make this superhero wimpy? Do we seriously still believe that treating animals with kindness, or collaborating with them, is emasculating? No wonder this world is going to hell in a handbasket. The audience for superhero comics sometimes seems to be quite devoid of imagination (or a sense of humour).
« Jokes about his wholesome, weak portrayal in Super Friends and perceived feeble powers and abilities […] led DC to attempt to make the character edgier or more powerful in comic books. Modern comic book depictions have attempted to reconcile these various aspects of his public perception, casting Aquaman as serious and brooding, saddled with an ill reputation, and struggling to find a true role and purpose beyond his public side as a deposed king and a fallen hero. » |source|
Okay, I’ve grumbled, and now I’ll move on to the tentacles. Take a seat astride your favourite jellyfish, strap in your fins, and let’s go!
Aquaman, the child of an undersea explorer who learned how to breathe and live underwater “by training and a hundred scientific secrets”, was created in 1941 by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. During the Golden Age of comics, he fought various evil guys (usually from water-related professions: sailors, marine biologists, pirates… and Axis villains, too). The whole thing started becoming really interesting (imho) in 1956 (coincidentally, with the advent of Silver Age), when Aquaman acquired his sidekick Topo the Octopus:
Ramona Fradon handled Aquaman from 1951 to 1959, when she became pregnant and had to temporarily withdraw from the comics field until 1963. She deserves a separate post, really, especially since I love her art. In the meantime, read The Woman Who Made Aquaman a Star. As for Topo, I don’t have to explain why I’m fond of the idea of an octopus sidekick.
A few nice Fradon pages:
In 1961, Nick Cardy started working on Aquaman with Showcase no. 31 (March-April 1961). When the sea king got his own title in 1962, Cardy became the regular artist, drawing inside stories and covers until Aquaman no. 39 (May-June 1968), and staying as the cover artist until Aquaman no. 56 (April 1971).
« Cardy proved adept at drawing sea creatures; his fluid, swirling water currents helped create a captivating, eye-pleasing undersea world. He became a fan favorite, not only because of his superb story-telling ability, solid figure work and facile inking, but because of the way he rendered Mera, Aquaman’s girlfriend. Cardy’s women had curves, not angles, and seemed to exist in three dimensions on the two-dimensional page. He never stopped trying to elevate his work, until the later covers in the series were among the most striking and imaginative of the publisher’s entire line.» (source: Comics Journal’s eulogy for Nick Cardy)
Well, that’s high praise indeed, but is it deserved? I can confirm that Cardy covers were really inventive. As for the interior art, let’s take a peek, as these stories conveniently overflow with tentacles.
There’s tentacles getting tangled, the octopus equivalent on panties in a twist…
An army of octopus fighters…
I promised you acrobatics, so here are some octopuses doing a cheerleading routine (Aquaman forgot his pompoms at home):
Continuing our tentacle shenanigans…
One of those Nick Cardy covers we were discussing earlier, so you can decide for yourself whether his women are all angles or all curves:
With Aquaman no. 40 (July-August 1968), Jim Aparo replaced Cardy on the inside art. Issues no. 40 to no. 47 (September-October 1969) were scripted by Steve Skeates (a definite favourite of this blog; read co-admin RG’S post “… and the Dog Howls Through the Night!”) and drawn by Jim Aparo. This creative team is a favourite of many an Aquaman fan. Voilà:
More Jim Aparo (sans Skeates):
You can read issues Aquaman issues no. 1 through to 63 here.
One last thing… I happen to be the proud owner of a piece of original art by Ramona Fradon (of fairly recent vintage), given to me by my sweetie. Lucky me!