(Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico

« Someone at Dell Comics decided it’d be swell to turn famous monsters into superheroes — an idea whose time never came. And just to make sure there were bad, they hired Tony Tallarico to draw them. » — — James Schumeister, with the sort of brickbat typically lobbed at Mr. Tallarico.

Last week, we lost, at the venerable age of eighty-eight, the controversial, much-maligned Tony Tallarico (Sept. 20, 1933 – Jan. 7, 2022). The case of Mr. Tallarico’s reputation is typical of mainstream US cartoonists who generally eschewed the superhero genre. His mistake, I suppose, is that he drew a handful of them, and in his own distinctive fashion to boot, thus sealing his doom in Fanboy court.

Yet there’s far more depth and variety to Tallarico’s career, and that’s should be remembered. Besides, those superhero comics were just light-hearted, unpretentious fun. Obviously not what the continuity-addicted True Believers craved.

Let’s take a tour of some of the highlights!

A page from Crazy Quilt, one of three stories Tallarico illustrated for my personal candidate for greatest horror comic book of all time, the unlikely one-shot Tales From the Tomb (Oct. 1962, Dell). Script and storyboard by John Stanley. Read the rest (complete with, fittingly, its analysis) of Crazy Quilt here.
Arguably, if Tallarico’s going to be remembered in comics and general history, it may be for this once-obscure but significant mid-60s creation. This is Lobo no. 1 (Dec. 1965, Dell Comics). Tallarico and writer D.J. Arneson hold different views as to the character’s genesis, as Canadian researcher Jamie Coville discovered in 2016. To his credit, Coville simply let the former collaborators present their respective side of the story. Read the resulting interviews here! And do check out the début issue itself, along with Tom Brevoort’s analysis… right here.

As reported in Alter Ego no. 106 (Dec. 2011, TwoMorrows): « On May 20, 2005, Tony Tallarico received the Pioneer Award, given for his co-creation of the first African-American comic book hero, Lobo, a post-Civil War cowboy who appeared in two issues of his own Dell/Western title. The honor was given at a ceremony held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. »

A Tallarico ad from Eerie no. 20 (March 1969, Warren); given Tony’s propensity to keep it in the family, ten-to-one that “Danny Smith” is actually Anthony Tallarico, Jr.
Cryptozoologists take note! Creepy no. 26 (April 1969, Warren); script by editor Bill Parente. I just adore Uncle Creepy’s pose (great use of props!), not to mention the question mark mullet. Should be the hit of the next tonsorial season!
Joe Gill and Tallarico took over the handlebars of one of Charlton’s established hot-rodders, Ken King. Following the direction blazed by their predecessor, Jack Keller, King had become “the Most Hated Man on Wheels!” (in Drag-Strip Hotrodders no. 13, Jan. 1967, Charlton) after being unjustly accused of wrecking his best friend, Jerry Gerard, aka “The Nicest Guy in Racing” during a meet. The series’ unremittingly bleak portrayal of the racing scene is fascinating, and Gill and Tallarico wisely kept the pace. This is World of Wheels no. 26 (June 1969, Charlton); cover by Tallarico.
An in-house ad from Eerie no. 23 (September 1969, Warren), technically Vampirella’s first published appearance. Art by “Tony Williamsune”, the collective nom de plume adopted by frequent collaborators Tallarico and William ‘Bill’ Fraccio. According to Tallarico, their collaboration was quite fluid: both contributed to layout, pencils and inks, but Tony was the extroverted go-getter, while Bill was the quiet one.
A “Williamsune” splash from Creepy no. 31 (February 1970, Warren). Tallarico on his association with Fraccio: « I would pencil some, he would ink some, visa versa y’know one of those things. I was really the guy that went out and got the work. Bill never liked to do that. It would depend. If he was working on something else I would start a project too and do pencils. It was a fun time. » [ source ]
This is Abbott & Costello no. 14 (April 1970, Charlton), featuring the beloved veteran comedians’ crossover with the aforementioned Ken King. The look of the series is based upon Hanna-Barbera‘s 1967-68 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show rather than on the duo’s classic movies and routines. Besides, Lou Costello having passed away in 1959, his part was voiced by Stan Irwin (with Bud Abbott as… Abbott).
Preceding the advent of Jonah Hex by some months* in the Weird Western stakes, Geronimo Jones was a truly oddball oater series, in the best sense of the term. Created by Tallarico (script and inks) and José Delbo (pencils), Geronimo’s adventures ran for 9 issues (plus one that remains unpublished), from September, 1971 to January, 1973. Geronimo himself was essentially a young pacifist seeking his quiet place in the Old West, in the finest tradition. However, strange encounters and occurrences keep thwarting his noble goal. And none is more outlandish and shocking than what he comes up against in this issue, cover warning and all. This is Geronimo Jones no. 6 (June 1972, Charlton). The GCD credits the cover to Delbo alone, but the use of collage and halftone wash are telltale Tallarico trademarks… not to mention his distinctive lettering. My guess therefore is: pencils by Delbo, layout, inks and collage by Tallarico.
Tallarico and Fraccio did only a handful of stories in this wild, swirly style, including four for Charlton: The Curse of the Vampire in The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves no. 44 (Jan. 1974, Charlton);
this one, Come See Our Ghost… in Haunted no. 16 (June 1974, Charlton); The Reuger Formula in Haunted no. 24 (Nov. 1975) and A Solemn Oath! in Ghostly Tales no. 118 (Nov. 1975). Let me assure you that the sort of bold inking on display here, while deceptively simple in appearance, takes unerring confidence and skill to achieve. Bravissimo!

By the mid-70s, with his main comics accounts defunct or dormant (Dell, Treasure Chest, Charlton), Tallarico, ever the astute and tireless businessman (another rare trait among cartoonists) simply stepped up and diversified his efforts, branching out and creating a market for himself. « In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. »

Here’s a lovely one: Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Monsters (1977, Grosset & Dunlap). From the author’s introduction: « My sincere thanks to the many motion picture studios who produced these great monster films. They have kept many a generation of fans ‘monsterized‘. My thanks to my parents, who did not forbid me to see these films when I was a boy. Instead, they brought out in me many of the questions that appear in this volume. They always stressed that monsters are another form of fictional entertainment. My thanks to my wife Elvira, and my daughter Nina**, who stood by while my son and I made a mess of the living room as we selected the many pictures that appear here. »

I should point out that I haven’t forgotten one of my favourite Tallarico projects, namely his charming work on the Bobby ShermanGetting Together” comic book (7 issues, Feb.-Oct. 1972, Charlton)… it’s just that I’ve already addressed the topic: check out Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

And what of his 1965 collaboration with The Shadow’s Walter Gibson, Monsters? Got you covered on that one as well!

I don’t know whether I’ll change anyone’s mind about Mr. Tallarico’s work, but I believe I can rest assured I gave it my best shot.

-RG

*Hex was introduced in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.-Mar. 1972, DC).

**My closest brush with the Tallaricos came in 2015 when I helped his daughter Nina identify and source some artwork she was selling on eBay for her dad. In my experience, a very nice lady. My sincere condolences to the bereaved family.

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 3

« Apparently, no one could credit such a grotesque being with any sense of kindliness, and so the wounded monster limped along his way, his hatred of humanity grew in proportion to his size. »

Unleashed upon the world in 1965 by Wonder Books, this generously-illustrated volume of classic adaptations is a collaboration between fellow prolifics Walter Brown Gibson (1897 – 1985), the writer most closely associated with Street & Smith’s The Shadow, and artist Tony Tallarico, a journeyman who produced a bounty of work, as artist and packager, for just about every publisher in the business… save DC and Marvel, and who, upon leaving the mainstream comics field in the mid-1970s carved out a lucrative little niche for himself putting together scads of illustrated books, mostly for children, on just about every subject under the sun.

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« Dracula’s form had materialized now, His long-nailed fingers were gripping the window bars, and the mist had become a swirl of moths behind him. »

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« The man’s  ugly, fiendish look chilled Enfield, but the crowd threatened the ruffian, who finally said that his name was Hyde… »

Tallarico would, the following year, revisit some of the fiends depicted here for a short-lived but infamous trio of series for Dell: Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf. Ah, but don’t be so dour: it’s just light, campy fun.

-RG

Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

« You’ve got his likeness
emblazoned onto
the top of a tin box

Perfect big heart
perfect blue eyes
perfect teeth and
perfectly 
flowing locks » — The Motorz, ‘Bobby Sherman Lunchbox’

It’s birthday number seventy-six for singer, actor, songwriter, Charlton comics star and all-around swell guy Robert Cabot “Bobby” Sherman, Jr. (born July 22, 1943).

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 1 (Feb. 1972). Story and art by the much-maligned Tony Tallarico. You know what, though: he’s alright in our book. One of these days, we’ll make our case.

His Getting Together co-star, Wes Stern, also celebrates his birthday this Thursday, July 25. He’ll be seventy-two. You may remember Wes from his recurring rôle as Brenda Morgenstern’s shy, foot-fetishist beau Lenny Fiedler on Rhoda (early on, before the show utterly went South).

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 2 (Mar. 1972). Story and art by Mr. Tallarico.

Bobby and Wes had the singular honour of starring in seven issues of their own Charlton comic book (February to October 1972). Our excerpt is number 2’s « A Guide to TV? », written and illustrated by Tony Tallarico and shot from the original art. Good-natured fun, especially when the Getting Together cast of characters is around. In the 1971 Fall season, the snappy little show was off to a promising start, but found itself, in the eleventh hour, scheduled against the powerhouse tv hit of 1971, Norman Lear’s abrasive All in the Family, and that was all she wrote.

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Ah, back in those innocent days when watching seven hours of TV was the stuff of humorous exaggeration. Now (depending on how it’s defined and whom you ask) it’s *below* the daily average.

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Inside joke alert: “Honest Ed Justin” alludes to one of Bobby’s songwriting partners, Ed Justin. Here’s one of their musical collaborations. And, hey, two posts in a row featuring Tricky Dick cameos… I’m on a roll! Incidentally, ‘Amateurs Tonight” predates The Gong Show by nearly half a decade. Was Chuck Barris perchance a Charlton reader?

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But that’s all water under the bridge. By the mid-70s, Bobby basically walked away from the grind of public life, and the odd tour or charity event aside, he’s been volunteering with the LAPD, training recruits in first aid, CPR, and so forth. A solid citizen, no irony or sarcasm intended.

One more?

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 4 (June, 1972). M. Tallarico strikes again!

Once again, we wish the most joyous of birthdays to Bobby and Wes! 

-RG

Return of the Tentacles

Once upon a time (or, more precisely, a handful of years ago), we started a little weekly celebration of tentacle glory in comics and called it Tentacle Tuesday. (My husband came up with that alliteration; I hope he’s willing to share the credit for this pithy little phrase with others, as I honestly don’t know whether he was first to dream it up. By now, #tentacletuesday is a hashtag and there’s a Facebook page with that title). Yet “real life” (read: “a sad existence tragically devoid of octopuses”) got in the way, and although we’ve often thought about Tentacle Tuesday, no offerings were made at the Octopoda altar. We’d spot some glorious tentacles while reading comics, and wistfully dream of sharing them with a like-minded audience, but the impulse would pass, leaving behind vague but lingering regrets.

Well, we are back. Let’s keep Tentacle Tuesday going strong, for after all, comics and tentacles are among the universe’s greatest achievements. Let the cephalopod fiesta begin – we welcome you to this blog’s first-ever installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first offering features, quite naturally, a Welcome Mat leading to a trapped, angry octopus, who seems to be indignant about being stuck in a pit with a bunch of uncouth, plebeian imaginary monsters. Claws, pincers, and talons, razor-sharp teeth and dendritic horns? Ha, *he* has tentacles! And if the other denizens of this trap are purely monster-under-the-bed material and act as if they’re drunks at a party, Mr. Octopus here is a professional who takes his job of being terrifying seriously.

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This is a pin-up, if I may call it that, by the easily identifiable Sergio Aragonés, scanned from DC’s House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov./Dec. 1970). The giggling guy is Cain, the so-called host of the House of Mystery, and is every bit inclined to betray and double-cross as his Biblical namesake. Incidentally, number 189 is an excellent issue: Eyes of the Cat, with art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood, is both gorgeous and scary, with bonus points for prominently featuring a black cat (which Neal Adams made look like a rat on the cover – if you don’t believe me, try http://pencilink.blogspot.ca/2008/05/house-of-mystery-189-neal-adams-cover.html ) It is followed by The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T by Leonard Starr, and the issue wraps up elegantly with The Thing in the Chair with art by Tom Sutton.

In a slightly different vein, but equally lighthearted, is this cover of Abbott & Costello no. 16 (Aug. 1970, Charlton). I hope our readers shall be too polite to point out that Tony Tallarico, the artist, made tentacles look more like elephant trunks, or that this… creature… has but four of them, which would make him probably the only quadripartite octopus in existence (they’re supposed to have 8, for those of us who are a little hazy on the specifics). Now, if only Charlton paid by the tentacle rather than by the page…

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This comics series was of course based on the American comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, of early 40s and 50s fame. Fast-forward to 1967, and with Costello having long passed on (in 1959), the pair was miraculously given a new, two-dimensional lease on life (hey, you take what you can get… comedy’s a vicious game!) through the auspices of Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Charlton landed the comics licence and ran with it… for a healthy twenty-two issues. The first eight or nine of these, featuring the madcap talents of artist Henry Scarpelli and (especially) scripter Steve Skeates, are the ones to seek out. You have been warned!

~ ds