First Published January 1961
Digital comics are wonderful in a lot of ways. A few clicks at Comixology, a link to PayPal, and I'm another twenty in arrears.
Recently I picked up the Classics Illustrated version of H.G. Wells' "Food of the Gods." I would recommend it only to Wells completists. The cover by Gerald McCann, of a gigantic hen picking up a young human by his pants, captures the appeal of the root story instantly. The adaptation by Alfred Sundel does its job without calling attention to itself. The interior art is by Tony Tallarico, and for many of you that's all you needed to hear.
Tony Tallarico has had a long and varied career. He's done comics, art instruction books, greeting cards, trading cards, activity books and I don't know what all. His versatility almost makes up for his lack of inspiration. Give him two ways to illustrate a scene and he will create a third, duller, option. If you're feeling generous, you might call him a journeyman; if not, well, the word starts with "H" and rhymes with "gack!"
The plot in brief: Two British amateur scientists create a new chemical that, when fed to any organism from infancy, makes it grow to kaiju size. (And, of course, the Inverse Square Law need not apply.)
One of the scientists, Bensington, buys a farm in the country and hires a couple named Skinner to run it. He tests the new wonder food on chickens and the baby chicks grow to six or seven times normal.
Which is good. What's not so good is the slovenly conditions where the food is prepared. Wasps are getting in the kitchen and there's more than one rathole. (In a movie the scene with the wasps would call for a musical sting.)
They're not done testing, but somehow they're already marketing the stuff, as "Boomfood." We don't see any packaging. I bet Kevin O'Neill designed some.
Back in London Bensington is conferring with his partner, Redwood. (Wells could be as "on the nose" as anybody.) Redwood admits that he gave some Boomfood to his sickly infant son. And here is where the Tallarico anti-magic comes into play: we get this news in six panels of talking heads. Of course he varies the angles but that's about it. With all this talk of the boy, who'll become quite important later on, it would be nice if we could see him.
Now things start to turn sour. A hunter brings down a wasp as big as a barn owl and soon others are sighted. The stinging nettles around Bensington's farm grow bigger as you watch. No rats have been sighted, but it's only a matter of time. Mrs. Skinner can't take it any more and leaves for her married daughter's place. But before she goes she thoughtfully unlocks the chicken coop so the poor things won't starve.
What follows is something right out of P.G. Wodehouse, or perhaps Mack Sennett. Giant chickens invade a small English village. The small boy is pecked up, as per the cover, but soon rescued. The vicar, brandishing a croquet mallet, chases the chicken out of the yard. A giant chicken alights next to an invalid in a wheelchair, who jumps up and runs indoors.
Back in London, Bensington and Redwood are commiserating about the hens and wasps.
"By the by, how is your boy?"
"Growing. Weighs nearly fifty pounds. And only six months old. Naturally, rather alarming."
"Vigorous. His nurse is leaving because he kicks so forcibly. And everything, of course, is shockingly outgrown."
"He'll grow, as far as I can calculate from the hens and wasps, to the height of about five-and-thirty feet."
"Confound it, man! Think of his clothes!"
And, of course, this is once again done by talking head shots. With Tallarico, it's "Tell, Don't Show."
At this point the worst news of all -- giant rats have been sighted. Some of them attacked a doctor and killed his horse.
We're about a third of the way through the story and a new protagonist shows up: Cossar, billed by Wells/Sundel as "a well-known civil engineer," but really he's a man of action, standing in for Allan Quatermain or Professor Challenger. (Sean Connery would play him in the movie. Well, thirty years ago.)
Cossar gets men and weapons and accompanies the scientists back to the countryside. They kill the wasp's nest, which is twice as big as a man, but about as threatening as a soggy piñata. (At least the way Tallarico draws it.)
Next come the rats. We never see them ourselves, but witnesses point to a gigantic hole in a gully. Cossar and his best man take rifles and lanterns, head into the hole, fire a few times, and come back out.
Let's go over that.
Two men, with rifles, against six man-sized rats, in an underground passage lit only by flickering lanterns.
And Tallarico keeps all that OFFSTAGE?
In fairness, that might not be (completely) Tallarico's fault. Classics Illustrated was known to downplay some of the more sensational aspects of the literature they adapted. That's why it was funny when Pete Von Sholly did a mock CI cover for "The Dunwich Horror." CI was no more likely to cover that book than "The Scarlet Letter."
Back to "Food of the Gods." Cossar proposes to get rid of the nettles and the dead rats at one and the same time. "Burn everything. Burn the ground and make a clean sweep of it."
A clean sweep, right. We find out later he saved some of the food and started feeding it to his kids. Who would suspect the British Upper Classes of such utter duplicity?
Boomfood's influence isn't diminishing, oh no. On page 22 of this digital edition we hear the latest rumors:
"There are giant beetles at Keston."
"It's flies and red spiders at Ealing."
"I heard great eels came ashore at Sunbury and killed sheep."
We hear it, because Heaven forfend Tallarico draw it. Which would you rather see, a giant eel attacking a sheep, or NPC's from My Fair Lady?
Now we flashback to Mrs. Skinner, the housekeeper. She took along two tins of Boomfood for her young grandson, because what else. A twelve-foot-tall eight year old proves hard to manage:
"He was troublesome and out of place. He could not go to school or church, although he sometimes sat outside and listened."
We see him outside a church, listening. This would be oh so easy to do in live action: find a small hill several yards away from the church and take your shot from low down. This is called "forced perspective" and is very popular among cheapo filmmakers. (See Full Moon's Dollman series.)
If you're a cartoonist, and you can't outdo Bert I. Gordon in the FX department, well, there's nothing more to say.
Young Coddles (no other name given) is put to work in the quarry to keep him out of trouble. Dressed in castoffs and patches, he gets to thinking, "If it's good to work, why doesn't everyone work? What's work for? Why should I work in the pit day after day? Why should I be refused all the wonders of the world beyond?" Man, even at this remove, Wells' socialist tendencies come through.
Coddles gets fed up with his life and marches into town. Things get out of hand very quickly and before day's end he goes down in a hail of bullets.
Concurrent with the Coddles continuity we hear from Redwood's kid, among other so-called Children of the Food. They're having as hard a time of it as Coddles. At least young Redwood catches a break when he meets the foreign princess, herself a Boomfood eater, and she's as tall as he is.
Before I wrote this, I re-watched the MST3K episode Village of the Giants, which was based on "Food of the Gods" ("In that they're both in English!" -- Crow) One plot point the stories share: the giant kids have a sense of privilege as big as the rest of them.
Young Redwood, the Cossar boys, the Princess and the others get to talking and decide they should run things to suit them. This does not sit well with the previous generation and by story's end the battlelines are being drawn. I don't know about Wells' original, but here the advantage is presumed to lie with the giants.
But does it, really? We only see one female among more than a dozen males. Plus the authorities have already killed the only one used to manual labor. (Actually they don't say outright if Coddles has been killed, but we never see him again.) Human instinct is to get on the good size of the bigger guy -- that's why Cossar and Mrs. Skinner got Boomfood for their descendants, however much they decry its use by others.
A text piece at the end says that Tallarico undercuts the story's fantastic aspects with his matter-of-fact art. I'd say Wells' philosophizing undercuts the story plenty as it is; I'd like to see this story with a more exciting artist, myself.