« 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!
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. »
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. »
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.
*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.
« Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus. » — Annie Dillard
’twas 1982, and DC’s mystery anthology titles were dead or dying (the last one standing, The House of Mystery, had but a year or so left to go), and The Unexpected, published since 1956, was a mere two issues away from cancellation. Latter-day editor Dave Manak had done a fine job with the means at his disposal, wisely engaging Joe Kubert (1926-2012) to grace close to ten issues with his ever-elegant artwork.
This is perhaps the finest of the lot, a wistful, old-fashioned cover that dispenses with most of the clichéd Holiday iconography.
The issue’s lead, Holiday-themed story, boasts gorgeous art by powerful and versatile Puerto Rican cartoonist Ernie Colón (1931-2019), and it’s unusually well-coloured for the era (not to be confused with well-printed!), in that the shadings convey projected light and ambiance, not merely the prevalent, simplistic colour-by-numbers approach.
The writing, on the other hand…
Santa Is a Killer! is an artless hodge-podge of tropes, a kiddie rehash of Johnny Craig’s timeless “… and All Through the House” (Vault of Horror no. 35, Feb. 1954, EC), dressed up with the done-to-death-and-then-some “That — wasn’t *you*? Then — it must have been the –*choke* — real ghost / Satan / Santa Claus / Carlos Santana / Tooth Fairy / Larry “Bud” Melman!) “twist”. Did I mention that I love the art?
« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert
Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.
Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe Kubert – Russ Heath – John Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.
In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.
In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.
DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.
This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)
So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!
Sometimes tentacles are positioned so close to the head that one gets the impression they’re sprouting directly from it. Whether accidental or not, the result is quite horrific – sometimes in a good way, if one enjoys the creepy and bizarre. In this Tentacle Tuesday, we’ll come across literal cases of octopus-instead-of-head, beard-tentacles (stylish!) and alien cepha-cerebellum-pods, which I hope will catch on as a term.
The following has been taken from The Octopeople of Ectroia, illustrated by Henry Kiefer, and published in Fantastic Comics no. 8 (July 1940, Fox Comics). If the introductory panel gives but a brief glimpse of the creature we are about to encounter…
… the splash page gives us an eyeful of her charms. Now we know what Baba Yaga would look like with tentacles instead of her usual limp grey tresses. Incidentally, a few days ago an enterprising fellow won enough support (and funding) from the Lego community to make his Lego Baba Yaga idea an (eventual) reality. She would come with her traditional hut on hen’s legs, a black cat and “everyday useful things” like horseradish drinks. Needless to say, I want one.
“Comics” McCormick has had more than just one encounter with cephalopod-headed men! The following is the cover of Fat and Slat no. 4 (Spring 1948, EC Comics), illustrated by Ed Wheelan.
And here is a page from The Octopus, printed in Terrific Comics no. 3 (May 1944, Helnit Publishing). Is it the same villain? Well, nearly: they’re Octopus-Man and Octopus, differentiated only by the costumes they sport under all those tentacles.
The following sequence is an oldie-but-goodie from the oft-quoted Origin of the Species!, scripted by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, and illustrated by Feldstein. It was first published in Weird Fantasy no. 8 (July-August 1951, EC Comics). For those of you who may not have read it and are wondering whether those tentacled beasts were somehow the progenitors of the human race… no, they weren’t. As for the plot, it raises more questions than it answers, which I believe is not atypical of a Feldstein tale (from those I’ve read, they tend to be like a movie with plenty of drama and special effects, but little sense).
I recently came across a 3-part story published in Eerie numbers 91 to 93 that I quite liked: the tale of Moonshadow, the assassin who never failed, scripted by Bob Toomey and illustrated by José Ortiz. As luck would have it, two of the instalments were rife with tentacles!
The following page (and also the preceding panel) is from Suzanna Don’t You Cry, part 2 of the tale, published in Eerie no. 92 (May 1978, Warren).
Last but hardly least, a page from Kingdom of Ash, published in Eerie no. 93 (June 1978, Warren).
Fast forwarding some twenty years, we land in the middle of a pirate tale – and what suits a pirate more than a headful of tentacles (and a peg-leg)? This page is from Autopsy in B-Flat, written and illustrated by Gary Gianni and first published in Hellboy: Almost Colossus no. 1 (June 1997, Dark Horse) as a back-up feature. Gianni’s The Monstermen stories have since been collected separately.
Finally, I think I promised some tentacles in lieu of beard, and the early stages of this guy’s transformation surely qualify:
This creature appears in the pages of Nocturnals: Black Planet (October 1998, Oni Press), with all plotting and art handled by auteur Dan Brereton. Actually the pages of this collection are so rife with tentacles that I’m going to force myself to be succinct.
Another instance of tentacles-as-hair:
Thanks to friend Barney for pointing this last batch out!
I’m afraid the appeal of Archie Goodwin’s (1937-1998) writing has always escaped me. As you’d expect with a career as busy and prolific as his was, there are notable exceptions*. But I think, as is often the case in comics, he gets a lot of credit for tepid, formulaic writing that happens to be masterfully illustrated. You know, like just about every story from the early Creepy and Eerie (Goodwin was editor and principal writer of the Warren line for its first four years or so) with their groan-inducing ‘shock’ endings: “But I’m a vampire, and we don’t like competition around here!” or “We ghouls don’t cotton much to werewolves!” or “You’ve guessed my secret too late — I’m a witch!” or “For I am… Death!“
On the other hand, he was a fine editor and, by all accounts, a terrific human being. In 2013, Mark Evanier put it this way: « At a time when some editors in comics were notorious for treating their freelancers with disrespect and yelling, Goodwin had a sterling reputation. He always would. Archie was nice. He was honest. »
It is to his great distinction that even such divisive, eternally-acerbic figures as Jim Shooter (« First and foremost, everyone loved Archie. Archie had a manner about him that you just couldn’t not like him. While he was tough as nails, and he was probably the best that passed through this business, he managed to do it without offending anyone. He managed to be respected and remain friends with everyone and do his job. ») and Alex Toth (« None of us were working there [at Warren ] for the money, because there wasn’t much. We were working there to work with Archie. ») reserved naught but effusive praise for the man.
But you know what I really like about Archie? His drawing, which was all-too-rarely showcased. While he did adjoin thumbnails layouts to his scripts, Goodwin’s drawings rarely appeared in print, aside from some jokey editorial asides at Marvel in the 1980s. Here’s Sinner, written and illustrated by Goodwin, from Wally Wood’s prozine Witzend no. 1 (Summer 1966).
Despite all this, Archie Goodwin’s greatest claim to fame simply has to be the tremendous legwork he did as Nero Wolfe’s assistant.
« Archie Goodwin’s first prose story was published by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which warned him he could not use Archie Goodwin as a pen name because it was a Rex Stout character in the Nero Wolfe books. According to Goodwin’s wife Anne T. Murphy, the magazine’s editors ‘then were so delighted when he wrote back to say that it was his real name that they used the anecdote as the introduction to the story, which ran in the July 1962 issue.’ »
*Notable exceptions: The Success Story, with art by Al Williamson (Creepy no. 1, 1964) has actual bite. Despite its rote-EC-revenge-from-beyond-the-grave finale, it’s a bitter parody of real-life comic-strip parasites such as Don Sherwood (Dan Flagg, The Partridge Family) and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake). There’s the tragically moving Island at World’s End, illustrated by Gray Morrow (Eerie no.4, July 1966). And a handful of inspired little tales that truly fired up the creativity of a freshly-emancipated Steve Ditko: Collector’s Edition (Creepy no. 10, Aug. 1966); Second Chance! (Creepy no. 13, Feb. 1967); Deep Ruby! (Eerie no. 6, Nov. 1966); and my very favourite, Room With a View (Eerie no. 3, May 1966… their first collaboration!). If anyone’s interested, the Goodwin-Ditko outings have been handsomely collected in Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko (2013, Dark Horse).
It must be said that Goodwin knew how to match a plot with the proper illustrator. As he explained, « I always tried to write the stories for individual artists. Sometimes, I’d ask them if there was a certain setting or a certain kind of story they were interested in, and I also knew what they did best. » It’s a shame that, overall, the stories themselves were so timid and unambitious, so mired in the glories of the past. Some people can’t help pulling their punches, I suppose.
**To give you a fair idea of Marvel’s delusions of corporate grandeur at the time, Epic Illustrated no. 2‘s convoluted and deceptive editorial credits read thus: Stan Lee (editor); Archie Goodwin (editorial director); James Shooter (consulting editor); Marian Stensgard; Louise Jones; Larry Hama; Ralph Macchio (editorial); Roy Thomas (contributing editor); Maggie Thompson (contributing editor); Don Thompson (contributing editor). Dollars to doughnuts that Goodwin and Louise Jones did all the actual work.
« Naturally there was quite a ruckus when everyone found out who… and what Rah was. But there wasn’t any rules concernin’ the eligibility of a mummy to play ball, so the Jets’ victory stood… » — from Roger McKenzie’s The Return of Rah
Carrying on with our irregular survey of significant Warren cover artists whose names and reputations are somewhat less inextricably linked with the publisher than the usual suspects, and thereby sometimes overlooked. Fresh out of art school, and on his way to a truly remarkable, award-peppered career, Don Maitz (born 1953, Plainville, CT) graced a brace of Warren Mags with some of his earliest professional imaginings, which I’ve gathered here.
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:
You know how women aren’t advised to go out after dark, or to go to parties in revealing clothing because they might get raped and/or murdered? (This is purely a comic blog and we play nice, so I’m not developing that line of thought any further.) In the comic world, until relatively recently, that sort of thing couldn’t really be shown, but aren’t tentacles a rather handy stand-in for more realistic (and far scarier) violence? The only point I wish to state is that a woman can’t even go for a fucking walk without encountering tentacles. Swimming? Just forgetaboutit. Sitting quietly on a log? As long as you’re female, the tentacles will still find you, it scarcely matters whether you’re clad in a swimsuit, a gunny sack, or a parka. If the monster finds you a tad overdressed, it will just rip your clothing off – problem solved!
Stoner, who worked for a plethora of golden age companies (Timely, Fawcett, EC, Dell…) attracted some pretty heavy criticism in recent years. « Stoner’s drawing is the visual equivalent of fingernails scraped across a slate, and whenever he had a chance to botch the perspective, the composition, or even the inking, he did so with brio », opines Ron Goulart in his Great History of Comic Books. One could make the point that the above cover demonstrates this: the characters seem to be floating, not connected at all with one another or the landscape. However, whatever one thinks of his art, it has to be admitted even by the staunchest critic that Stoner was a pioneer who carved out a path for other African-American artists.
« On December 16, 1969, Elmer Stoner passed away. Since then he has been largely forgotten by the comic book industry and overlooked as a trailblazer. He was no Jackie Robinson, his presence in the comic industry didn’t alter its course. He did, however, pave the path for Al Hollingsworth, Matt Baker, Ezra Jackson, Cal Massey and for every African-American artist who followed. Stoner’s life is worthy of further exploration and his story deserving of wider recognition. He should not remain invisible. » |source, an article by Ken Quattro that’s well worth reading!|
You know how I said that swimming is not recommended unless you want a tentacular encounter? Do keep that in mind, especially with summer just around the bend:
A closer look at Heather’s rescuer:
Puck is a dwarf, okay, but why does it seem like Byrne has never seen an actual dwarf in his life?
Crompton’s art is not *great*, but it has definite charm: somewhat childlike and proudly cartoony, it underlines Demi’s innocence perfectly, her huge puppy eyes beckoning to the reader while she gets ravished by yet another toothy monster, well-endowed Pegasus, or frisky cat goddess. And I don’t mean to make it sound like she’s lying back and thinking of England, either – in most cases, she’s an enthusiastic participant in the sexy shenanigans.
« Over 35 different Demi the Demoness comics have been published. Numerous artists and authors have worked on Demi comics over the years, including Frank Brunner, Tim Vigil, Seppo Makinen, Philo, Ryan Vella, Gus Norman, Enrico Teodorani, Silvano, Diego Simone, Jay Allen Sanford, and many others. Demi has appeared in numerous comics crossovers with other characters, including Shaundra, Captain Fortune, Mauvette, Vampirooni, Cassiopeia the Witch, Djustine, Crimson Gash, and adult film stars Tracey Adams, Tabitha Stevens, Deja Sin, and Bonnie Michaels.» |source|
You can read a dozen Demi issues on My Hentai Comics… the link is very much not safe for work, unless you work for a sex-obsessed Lord Cthulhu or something. But I can guaran-damn-tee a lot of tentacles!
Inside, we get Blood and Bones, Part II: Swamp Things (scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Dick Giordano), a Mœbius 2-pager, a couple of pages of captioned Schultz dinosaur illustrations, and – just in time to save this issue from being thoroughly dreadful – Sailor, Take Warning!, scripted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Steve Stiles.
You know what Blood and Bones, Part II: Swamp Things has, aside from a suspiciously blue and limpid swamp? Dinosaurs. More specifically a T-Rex skeleton controlled by a brain with tentacles, who’s actually the father of one of the characters! It takes a Roy Thomas to cobble up such classic plots.
I hope I have impressed upon you the absolute necessity of caution when taking a stroll – whether your path lies next to a large body of water or leads through a forest. Above all, do not perch on a log when you need a rest, or lean against a tree. Hanging out with magicians is also not recommended.
Until next Tentacle Tuesday, I remain tentacularily yours…
« When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her. » — Sacha Guitry
Here’s my contender for the most adult thing ever published in a Warren Magazine, as opposed to adolescent. It was also Wally Wood’s final significant contribution to his bibliography (though it was created around 1971); by the time of its belated publication Wood’s work had degenerated into depressing, crude porn before he tragically took his own life in November, 1981. As Witzend sadly proved, most comics creators, when handed a creative carte blanche, would merely regurgitate the same old thing they were doing for the mainstream, but with the addition of tits and/or gore. This, however, whilst featuring a generous dollop of T&A, is another breed of beast. It was published, of all places, in Warren’s SF anthology 1984 (issue 5, Feb. 1979). Go figure.
The marvellous Bhob Stewart queried Nick Cuti about the story during a roundtable gathering of former Wood assistants in Derby, Connecticut, in July 1985. The discussion later appeared in Against the Grain: MAD Artist Wallace Wood, edited by Stewart (2003, TwoMorrows Publishing)
Bhob: You worked on “Last Train to Laurelhurst“? [the story’s original title] Cuti: « As a matter of fact, I’m in it on the opening page. That’s me — right there [points to foreground figure in splash.] I used to wear muttonchops in those days. We wrote that together; Woody came up with the basic storyline, and I wrote a lot of dialogue. I hated his ending. I said, ‘Woody, you really ought to change the ending.’ The ending was that the guy blasted his faithless wife and her lover and then walked away. I said, ‘Gee, that’s what he’s intending to do in the very beginning. There’s no switch at the end. If you change it around somehow, it would make it a little bit more surprising.’ So he went home and rewrote the ending. I thought that the ending he came up with was far superior and made it a really brilliant story, to really tell you what life can be like.
Ernie Colón did the pencils. It was Woody’s idea, and I wrote some of the script, I don’t know how much because we used to toss things back and forth all the time when I was at the studio.It was for a magazine called Pow that never came to be. [Jim] Warren had approached Wood to do an adult humor magazine which would have had serious stories, very sexy, something that adults would enjoy reading. Unfortunately, Woody and Warren had diametrically opposed personalities, and they couldn’t seem to get together on it.
There was a funny story: Ernie had done the pencils with a soft pencil, and Woody and I were wondering what the heck we could do to make sure it didn’t get smudged. I was very carefully going over the pencils with an eraser to get out the smudges. I came in the next day with the pencils and said, ‘I found the perfect way to avoid smudging the pencils.’ Woody said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘I sprayed them.’ Woody’s face dropped, and he almost reached over the strangle me before I stopped him and said, ‘Hey, Woody, I’m only kidding!’ [laughter] Because when you spray something, you can’t erase the pencils any more. You would have ink and pencil on the same paper. He almost had a heart attack right there; his mouth dropped open, and he said, ‘Oh, no!’ Then he started laughing after I told him it was only a joke. Later, when I walked into the house, and Marilyn said, ‘Oh, Woody, Nick’s here. You know, the fellow who sprays all your pencils?’ Obviously, he had thought enough of the joke to tell her about it. »
Speaking of Pow, here’s a cover sketch Wood did in 1971.An adult humour magazine? I guess they hadn’t quite settled on the tone.
I understand that the artist left quite a lot of empty space on purpose – to be filled with pointless text – but still, was it necessary to plaster nearly every inch of the image with captions yellow, red and purple? (I do like how the WEB seems to be made out of plasticine… and likely was.) Here’s the cover without all that wordy fluff:
The Rook couldn’t quite kill the fishy brute’s whole family in #4, so he had to confront its slightly more colourful cousin in issue 7:
Co-admin RG suggested I check Eclipse Magazine‘s tentacular offerings for this post, and he was correct, there was one issue involving an octopus used as a coffee table.
Marvel’s Epic Illustrated, with its 70-odd pages per issue, surely offered something for everyone. The aforementioned offerings were quite hit-or-miss, but the occasional presence of Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Basil Wolverton (in reprints), Berni Wrightson, Ernie Colón, Craig Russell, et al. makes it worthwhile to go through its 34 issues (okay, maybe not all in one sitting, unless you have quite a few thermoses of tea prepared – or something stronger).
Brunner’s painting is rather nice – the mermaid and her friendly octopus both look so serene! – that here it is again. And read an interview with him while you’re at it: Legendary Feathers: Interview with Frank Brunner. (I apologize for linking to a website titled Fanboy Nation, though. Erk.)
Issues 10 to 17 of Epic Illustrated featured Rick Veitch’s Abraxas and the Earthman, a purported retelling of Moby Dick (although frankly, aside from a vengeful squid, the similarities are not striking). Naturally, tentacles abound. Really freaky, creepy tentacles, much like the rest of the story.
Veitch’s fucked-up (I mean that as a compliment), imaginative tale continues with “Man and Whale (Chapter Eight)”, the final installment. Alongside a plethora of sea-creatures (no longer in the sea), there’s this Devourer of Awareness, Bearer of Tentacles: