« All my life I’ve been torn between frivolity and despair, between the desire to amuse and the desire to annoy, between dread-filled insomnia and a sense of my own goofiness. Just like you, I worry about love and sex and work and suffering and injustice and death, but I also dig drawing bulgy-eyed rabbits with tragic overbites. » — Matt Groening
Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t grow up absorbing The Simpsons, probably because I only watched cartoons on videocassettes instead of actual TV. I also somehow managed to skip Futurama (catching up with it years and years later, with great enjoyment). So the work of Matt Groening* (who probably needs no introduction, but you can get one here) was not really familiar to me at all when co-admin RG introduced me to The Big Book of Hell, though of course I was aware of the Simpsons aesthetic, as one would truly have to live under a rock not to be acquainted with it to at least some degree.
*Here’s how to pronounce ‘Grœning’ correctly and impress all your friends.
Life in Hell crept into the world in 1977 as a self-published book that Groening, freshly moved to Los Angeles from Portland to pursue his ambition of becoming a writer, would give out to friends. He also sold it for two bucks a pop in Licorice Pizza, one of a chain of record stores operated by James Greenwood. As is often the case, Groening’s cartoonist/writer/producer/animator career kicked off by way of serendipity: in 1978, an editor from the charming WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing liked Life in Hell enough to print a few of its strips. From then on, the strip’s popularity snowballed slowly but steadily (from its first regular weekly appearance in the Los Angeles Reader in 1980, to the huge success of a compilation of LIH’s love-centric cartoons, titled Love Is Hell, in 1984, to the strip’s presence in over 250 newspapers by 1986), which eventually led to The Simpsons. Speaking of the latter, I am now shamelessly going to plug a previous post, namely Tentacle Tuesday: Treehouse of Tentacular Horror.
Here’s a selection from several out-of-print anthologies co-admin RG had handy, namely from Love Is Hell (1984), Work Is Hell (1986), School Is Hell (1987), Childhood Is Hell (1988), and How to Get to Hell (1991).
Treehouse of Horror episodes are easily my favourite Simpsons material, and not just because Hallowe’en is the most interesting ‘holiday’ of the year (in my hardly humble opinion). Of course, abandoning the pretence of any continuity makes for entertaining, anything-goes storytelling, but what I find especially appealing is that these little gems take the Simpsons’ brand of humour, admittedly already somewhat dark, and kick it up a notch all the way into full-blown black humour and gore.
The comic books series of the same name continued this tradition, offering readers a fun grab bag of horror and science fiction film parodies, literary references and just plain madcap-yet-macabre nonsense. Not all stories are good; plots vary widely in quality, and even a good plot falls flat in the hands of an artist lacking the expertise to pull it off. However, through the years (there are 23 issues of total, published between 1995 and 2017) a number of illustrious comic artists and writers have contributed their talents to this misshapen, haphazardly hammered treehouse.
You will not be too surprised to hear that a number of stories included tentacles, be it in a secondary capacity or featured front and centre. The quotidian presence of aliens Kang and Kodos ensures that, but there are also a number of plant and chest hair tendrils, Homer-as-octopus, Cthulhu guest appearances and god knows what else. The following is by no means an exhaustive list; I have striven to include a bit of everything. Two stories have made it into previous Tentacle Tuesdays (see Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Hilary Barta and Tentacle Tuesday: tentacles, some fresh, some older than time).
The cover of number two features… err, is that Kang or Kodos? with tentacles in full display. You may insert a ‘all aliens look alike’ joke here, to be fair, these two can mostly be told apart by their voice, Kang’s being deeper.
The insides offer us the tentacles of Sideshow Bob, whose transformation into a blob is distinctly cephalopodian in nature.
Skipping over a few tentacle-less issues (for shame!), we arrive at number five, in which Mr Burns and Smithers, having been turned into Rigellians, demonstrate a proficient use of tentacles for their god-intended purpose, namely grabbing and choking.
Leaving Kang and Kodos behind for now, we can play the game ‘option A or option B’: if somebody was forcing you to choose between having a third eye or tentacles instead of hands, which would you go for?
The following, incredibly boring parody of LOTR at least offers one genuine octopus, perhaps supposed to be the Watcher in the Water.
The following cover is Kodos (or Kang? sorry, guys) again, which I’m including because I like it…
… and because one of its stories featured a somewhat original interpretation of tentacles: chest hair!
One of my favourite tropes, octopus-in-the-library (wait… it’s not actually a trope, but it should be!), is aptly used in number thirteen:
Mutants with tentacles traipse on in number sixteen…
… and plant tentacles rear their acquisitive little tendrils again in number eighteen.
Finally, the last (alas!) cover of this series feature tentacles a’plenty! What a great note to end this on.
Greetings, tentacle lovers! After a hearty breakfast of cephalopod pancakes (no octopuses harmed), one can sit down with a quiet cup of tea and enjoy today’s crop of mechanical tentacles.
I tend to follow a chronological order, so our first is E-Man no. 1 (October 1973, Charlton Comics). The cover aside, these images have been taken from a recent reprint, which accounts for the somewhat garish colours. I am hardly a fan of Joe Staton, so this is starting off on a somewhat less aesthetically pleasing foot, but mechanical tentacles are en flagrant délit in the cover story. Besides, E-Man has a certain innocent charm.
The cover story is The Beginning, scripted by Nicola Cuti and illustrated by Joe Staton:
Going towards a much darker note (both in terms of printing and content – and to be honest, I by far prefer this dark-ish colour palette to the rainbow of E-Man colours), here is The Absolute Power-Play of the Parasite!, scripted by Martin Pasko, pencilled by Curt Swan, and inked by Frank Chiaramonte, and published in Superman no. 320 (February 1978, DC):
Next, dramatic Rebirth!, scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gil Kane (Tentacle Tuesday Dabbler!), published in Action Comics no. 544 (June 1983, DC):
There’s even a sort of pin-up in that issue: The New Brainiac, pencilled by Ed Hannigan and inked by Dick Giordano.
There are few things more satisfying than hitting two birds with one stone. Today’s Tentacle Tuesday almost, but not quite, coincides with the birthday of Hilary Barta, who was born on June 17th, 1957. As it happens, he is delightfully adept at depicting tentacles, and quite enthusiastic about it, too…. so it is my pleasure to combine tentacle festivities with a (hopefully) tantalizing sampling of a great artist’s work.
There’s no mentioning Barta without perusing some of his Simpsons’ work, especially under the umbrella of that tentacle-rich (my favourite!) manifestation of the Simpsons, the Treehouse of Horror.
Welcome to Tentacle Tuesday! We now have an official logo for T.T., courtesy of my husband and fellow blogger. It’s brand-spanking new, so here it is in a fairly high resolution.
Give him a round of applause… oh, what’s that, it’s hard to applaud with tentacles? Okay, a round of « squish, squish », then.
Let’s begin (proper) with « The Thing on the Roof », adapted by Roy Thomas from a story by Robert E. Howard. The latter was a member of the renowned Lovecraft circle, so the Chthulian vibe of this is no accident. It’s illustrated by Frank Brunner, who does a bang-up job – the man was asked to draw the love child of a dragon and an octopus, and he did not disappoint!
Continuing in a similar vein (but fast-forwarding 40 years), here’s a terrific story from Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #19 (September 25th, 2013) which is so chock-full of tentacles that it could be a post all by itself. Written by Lovecraftian Len Wein and illustrated by Demonic Dan Brereton, it ranks as one of the top Treehouse comic stories as far as I’m concerned… but then I might be slightly biased. Or possessed by Chthulhu, whichever.
I couldn’t help but post at least three pages of this story – hell, I was tempted to post it in its entirety – but I’ll let you do the work. Go read the whole thing here.
And to wrap up, let’s go back half a century or so, to the Miss Horrible Entity 1954.
What I want to know is who, upon being startled by a cephalopod cyclops with vampire fangs and one very bloodshot eye, describes it as an “entity”? “Monster”, sure, even “beast” or “demon” or “creature”, but “entity” (defined as “a thing with distinct and independent existence” by Webster’s)? If you’re going to be *that* stuffy, maybe you deserve to get eaten.
Welcome to our daily rending of calendar leaves ’til All Hallows’ Eve 2017 is upon us, all flailing fangs and claws…
We open with a salute to our kindred evil spirits, the ticklish rogues who bring us The Simpsons. Their Halloween Special / Treehouse of Horror episodes, by now numbering thirty entries, have done much to keep the torch of seasonal eeriness ablaze over the years.
The comic book spinoff series is none too shabby, either: launched in 1995, it also appears once a year, when noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay**. It shares its parent show’s penchant for references to comic books and magazines, toys and films and tv shows, some recent, some rather ancient, some known to all and some surprisingly (and wonderfully) obscure.