Monday, February 20, 2017

Four books, one "old," three new...

I have updated and glamorized the 1940s John Stanley bibliography, which now includes a compete index of his 1943-49 stories, plus four complete comics stories, a cover gallery and many visual chotchkes throughout. It will be available on Amazon shortly. For now, it can be had HERE through Amazon's price-gouger, createspace.com.

If you wish to support me through my healing from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (I'm in the middle of my chemotherapy treatment) and don't mind spending a couple extra bucks, consider Createspace. Otherwise, wait a couple of days for bargain prices on amazon.com.

This is the ultimate version of this book, and I don't plan to update it again, so if you've been waiting, here's the finest iteration I can come up with of this first of four John Stanley books available on Amazon. Check my author profile to see all my books.

Are you aware that I have three novels available on Amazon? Yep. The newest of them is a 438-page dramedy, Fools Like Me, set in the Deep South in the early 1960s. Read all about it HERE.

Two shorter paperback novels, The Bye-Bye Box and Hell is a Lonely Place, are also available on amazon,com. Click on the title to see their pages. You can browse all four books to your heart's content.

Please consider a purchase of any or all of these books. Being confined to bedrest much of time, I've worked hard to get these books out into the public. You might enjoy one or more of them. As said, investigate them on amazon through their helpful "Look Inside This Book" feature.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Post-Mortem Post 008: New Stanley Material Discovered--Oswald the Rabbit Four Color 39, 1944

In all my years of research, I somehow overlooked this early 1944 one-shot, which is now important as containing John Stanley's first two long-form stories. This is a terrible quality scan, suitable for reading, but that's about it.

With beautiful cartooning by Lloyd White, the pun-filled main story, "Easterland," is a larval early effort, but full of Stanley tells, such as slurred language/slang, dubious authority figures, quietly absurd humor (the plight of the elderly rabbit at story's start; the out-of-control jelly bean factory and its buried inventor; the little piece of hard candy that imitates train whistles, etc.)

Stanley would include similar stories in his much-loved Little Lulu series, from 1946 on, as told by Lulu to her hellion-brat neighbor, Alvin. With this, Stanley's first fairy-tale, we see the glimmers of a street-smart, reactive retreat from the sugary tendencies of the fairy story. His humor throws a cold bucket of water on the genre, as did Tex Avery's cartoons such as Red Hot Riding Hood, Cinderella Meets Fella and A Bear's Tale.

Here is the whole issue. I will need to revise my 1940s comicography book now! I knew this would happen someday...

Easterland...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Post-Mortem Post 007: Wait And They Shall Scan--a VERY Early Stanley Story from Our Gang Comics 4, 1943

As odds and ends surface, which is occasional here, I continue to post new things, even though this blog is officially kaput.

Until recently, Our Gang Comics #4, with John Stanley's second published comics story, was only available in a terrible, terrible microfilm scan. This scan (which I gladly moved to my computer's recycle bin) gave the effect of reading this 1943 comic book through heavily silted, possibly contaminated water.

This story is not written by Stanley. The prolific Gaylord DuBois penned thousands of stories for Western Publications, from its early years in the comics industry through its transition from Dell to Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. This was one of his typical early '40s jobs.

Humor and subtlety were not DuBois' fortes. Ideally suited for the fast-moving, near-incoherent Tarzan series, beautifully illustrated by Jesse Marsh and almost impossible to read, DuBois was wise to leave funny animal comics as John Stanley proved himself capable of writing and illustrating.

This story is a nice example of Stanley's most careful, controlled and elegant 1940s cartooning. One cannot read it without imagining how much Stanley might have improved it, had he written it outright.

A Walt Kelly cover is always worth a gander, so here's the public face of this issue of Our Gang:
 And the story within...
Once Stanley's cartoon art has been properly savored, the flaws in the script become obvious. The two mice have constant exposition-filled dialogue, thus breaking one of the cardinal rules of great comics writing. It's a visual medium, so show it, don't describe it!

DuBois' script commits another sin: it talks down to its supposed audience of slow-learner tots. The basic concept--that the mice can't abide life inside the house, with Tom tormenting them, and fend for themselves in the outdoors (with stolen treats from the house to fortify them)--has promise, but its dullness becomes stagnant.

The sequence of pp. 37-40, in which the mice talk, talk talk about every step they take to make their home from found objects, is deadly. DuBois, like many writers for children in the 20th century, had the notion that young readers enjoy having every physical detail of an event described at length. More might have been done than the tepid series of events on these eight pages. 

It's possible Stanley may have punched up what he could, where he could. One of his early tell-tale tics--sound effects in speech balloons--happens on the story's final page, and Tom's utterance of "SCROWEE!" is an ur-YOW that brings a chuckle to the reader's lips.
Mandy, the black maid, is given textbook Hollywood Negro dis-dem-das dialogue that Stanley also used, later in the series' run (see THIS STORY for an example). Her vocal ramblings are more offensive from DuBois' purview. Like every character in the story, Mandy describes what she's doing, and what she will do, only in the "Ah's gwine to" mushmouth mode of black stereotypes.

Stanley's cartooning is among his slickest. His renditions of Mandy, on p.2 of the story, impress with their deft contours. Stanley's placement of areas of black is spot-on, and his pen and brush lines have real flair.

The coloring for this story has some innovative touches. The red sunburst in the last speech balloon on p.5 is a neat touch that, to my knowledge, was never repeated. Characters cast colored shadows on pp. 2-3--a practice soon abandoned, as the havoc of high-speed presses discouraged such touches.

Once again, I give public thanks to the scanners who have made so much of America's four-color history available to those who simply wish to read or study the work. A decade ago, many important comics remained unscanned--or existed in dreadful microfiche enlargements that are almost worse than NOT having the comics, period. It is easy to become spoiled by the breadth of crisp, source-faithful scans that exist on the Internet. It can't be said often enough that the work of these scanners has made it truly possible to write about comic book history. The work speaks for itself, and is seen in the context of its time, and of other comics creators' stories. The bad mightily outweighs the good, but it's important to see it all to achieve a rounded view of the history of American comics.
NOTE: I recently did one last clean-up/edit of the 1940s volume of my three-book John Stanley comics bibliography. If you've been waiting to purchase this book, now's the time. I'm finally satisfied with all three volumes. Until or unless new data appears, or educated guesses become proven reality, I am done with the books and will let them be.

See you next time--whenever that may be!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Post-Mortem Post 006: Stanley's Artistic Transition in the Early Little Lulu Comics

I've looked at some of John Stanley's Little Lulu stories so many times that it doesn't seem possible they hold anything left to discover.
The first 10 Lulu comics, published from 1945 to late 1947 in Dell Comics' blanket one-shot 'Four-Color' series, still contain valuable clues as to how this popular, big-selling comic book got its start.

John Stanley's three writer/artist issues (FC 74, 97 and 110) contain some of his finest early work. They show a comics creator working at the top of his early game, with promise and assurance in his purview. His take on the Marge Buell characters, which required the conversion of mute gag-panel figures into developed, vocal and interactive characters, took a few years to fully gel.

From the first "Lulu" story, Stanley's wit, and his understanding of what makes comics tick, keeps the work from seeming tentative or fumbling. The Lulu of 1945/6 may act more like Tubby, in his golden era of 1949-54, and less the voice of reason figure she becomes by decade's end, but she is a vivid, engaging character who is successfully different from the Buell iteration.

This work was done with Buell's input and blessing. She supervised, and was pleased with, Stanley's work. In early 1946, Buell might have  assumed that he would work on the series, as artist-writer, in perpetuity. She got another 14 years of comics stories from him, but not in the form she first encountered.
In a recent perusal of actual printed copies of the Four-Color Lulus, I've noticed how John Stanley transitioned away from his artist-writer role of the first three books. Above is an alphabet cobbled together from 1940s comics work that is certified (by others beside myself) as Stanley's, and Stanley's alone.

To Marge Buell's upset (at first), Stanley ceded the hands-on artwork of the still-new "Lulu" stories to the team of Charles Hedinger and Irving Tripp. Michael Barrier details the mild drama behind this change in his fine survey of the Oskar Lebeck-headed Western Publishing, Funnybooks.

It was assumed that Stanley, even early on, used his most typical method of writing comics--with vigorous pencil sketches on foolscap or typing paper, which he sent, via mail, to Western's Poughkeepsie, New York offices. As Barrier reveals, Stanley seldom made in-person visits to the offices, and preferred to work from home. He was not especially close to Tripp, or the other artists involved with Little Lulu.

His hand in these subsequent Lulu Four Colors appears to be more aggressive than historians may have imagined. Though he surrendered the task of the finished artwork, he continued to letter these stories until the last two try-out issues (158 and 165), published in the last half of 1947.

Here is a sample page from FC 115, with Stanley's lettering--and layouts more in line with his way of drawing--in evidence.
The spaciousness of the panels' layout--there is much breathing room in the boys' clubhouse, which appears to be the size of a grocery store--is in line with Stanley's earlier Lulus, and with his other work of 1946/7 in general.

This continues in issue 120. I've never run the very funny story "The Newspaper Business," so here it is. Again, note the wide-open feeling--and Stanley's distinctive lettering:
There is a lot of "air" around Lulu and Tubby in this story. Close-ups are absent, and the staging most often involves full figures, with plenty of background space around them.

This literal distance from the characters belies the closeness Stanley accords them as fictitious beings. Early on, the misconceptions of how the adult world works, by Lulu and Tubby, is a constant source of charming, anarchic humor.

They seem like little children, given the enormity of the space around them. This sense will gradually leave the series as it reaches its great period of 1949-54.

There are, of course, no surviving notes as to who did what--or why. Stanley's lettering in five consecutive Lulu comics (115, 120, 131, 139 and 146) suggests that he may have submitted his work as penciled stories on illustration board, with his lettering and balloons drawn in ink.

Despite a small loss of the impact of his drawing style, Stanley's eye clearly informs this story. Here are sample pages from the next three issues, all with Stanley's lettering:
 from "Lulu is Taken For a Ride," #131
 from "The Hooky Team," #139
 from "The Boy Who Came to Dinner," #146
Stanley puts a slight italic note into his lettering for issue 146. These three pages, though they show Stanley's drawing style absorbed into the work of the Hedinger-Tripp team, still feel like Stanley drew them.

A sea-change occurs with #158, published in August, 1947. Stanley's lettering is gone (this is Hedinger's lettering, I believe) and the more cramped, claustrophobic staging that will run through the first year of the monthly Little Lulu comic, launched with the January, 1948 issue makes its debut here:
Here is a sample page from the last of the 10 Four-Color tryout issues, #165:
The last tier of the page from #158 illustrates what I mean by "cramped and claustrophobic." It's not a huge difference from the earlier issues, but it's noticeable. Perhaps this is due to the speech balloons. They get bigger after Stanley lets go of his role as letterer. That is a likely agent in this smaller, tighter feel.

It's not bad work, by any means, but suddenly the Lulu comics don't look exactly right. This uneasy transition will consume the 1948 stories, and continue until Tripp steps into the majority role as artist in 1949. In that year, the classic look-and-feel of Little Lulu blossoms, and Stanley, Tripp and the other members of Team Lulu enter the series' true golden age--one that will continue at least to the end of 1954.

P.S.: I have recently published a full-color, 8" by 10" trade paperback of some of my favorite essays from this blog, plus a couple of all-new pieces. It's called The Tao of Yow: John Stanley's World, and is available HERE. I suggest you buy copies from the re-sellers, who are simply ordering their own copies of this print-on-demand book and selling it for several dollars less than amazon.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Tao of Yow: John Stanley's World: new book available on amazon.com

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book on John Stanley.

The Tao of Yow includes revised versions of three of the acclaimed "John Stanley's World" essays from this blog,  alongside four new pieces. All are profusely illustrated in full color with images from printed comics, production materials and rare promotional items that have sat, unseen, for over half a century.

This 154-page, 8 x 10" softcover, professionally bound and printed through the Createspace print-on-demand program, is designed as a companion to my three-volume bibliography of John Stanley's work in comics. Since those books are mostly data, they left little room for the type of material in The Tao of Yow. Given the impermanence of the Web, in which a long-established site or blog can vanish overnight, it seemed like a good idea to commit some of these pieces to the printed page.

Here is the book's table of contents:

The essay on p. 122 offers a first-time-ever full color version of a certain notorious "Little Lulu" story from 1950:

The Tao of Yow: John Stanley's World may be purchased on Amazon at this link. This will, I hope, be the first in a series of books that collect, expand and revise my work on this long-running blog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Post-Mortem Post 005: The Second Nancy and Sluggo Summer Camp Special

Every so often, I get an e-mail from someone who has read and enjoyed this blog during its heyday. Though I consider Stanley Stories a done deal, I have done an occasional "post-mortem post."

These include material I've recently discovered, or oversights that really ought to be added, the better to make this site an exhaustive reference of the work of John Stanley.

Longtime reader B. Baker wrote recently, and requested that this second and last Nancy and Sluggo summer camp special be posted. It's still summer, so the time seems right.

I've written much about Stanley's Nancy comics elsewhere on this blog. As well, the 1950s and 1960s volumes of my illustrated Stanley comicography (available HERE and HERE on amazon.com) offer basic information on Stanley's creative involvement in this series.

This second 84-page graphic novelette is the lesser of the two Nancy annuals. The 1960 annual is one of Stanley's most satisfying, cohesive longer works. It's arguably the finest of his Nancy run--tense, edgy and amusing, with constant status shifts.

Stanley sleepwalks through much of Nancy, with refreshing pauses when newly-created secondary characters pique his interest. The series' humor is hard-edged and not always appealing. Character relationships are often brutal and loveless. Nancy and her Aunt Fritzi, for example, appear to barely tolerate each other's presence. Their existence together seems the result of an unspoken, half-hearted truce.

Ernie Bushmiller's original template is also troublesome, in this regard. In the Bushmiller world, events occur in one-gag increments. Fritzi's impatience with Nancy was a constant source of quick-laff set-ups. Perhaps Stanley chose to follow that, no questions asked, as it was one of the popular comic strip's backbones. That we see longer sequences, in which Nancy and Fritzi bicker, taunt and belittle each other, brings the laffs to a screeching halt. In these moments, Nancy threatens to become Edward Albee's Comics and Stories.

Sluggo is the character that most sparks Stanley the writer. As a student of social status, with a soft spot for life's underdogs, Sluggo seems to speak to Stanley. He is the lowest of his many low-status figures. He is not self-absorbed or full of hot air, like Little Lulu's Tubby. Nor is he zany and free-wheeling, as in Stanley's version of Woody Woodpecker.

Sluggo seems numbed, resigned to his fate and unable to change anything in his life. He is befriended by Nancy, and other kids, but shares none of their daily comforts. He is, on one hand, a child's fantasy of independence. No parental figures overshadow Sluggo. His next-door neighbors, the McOnions, are negative-image parents. They take some interest in Sluggo's well-being, but any benevolence is shattered by husband Bunion "Bunny" McOnion's schizophrenic mood-swings.

Freedom's price-tag is that Sluggo lives a life of flux. Nothing is certain, nothing stays the same for long, and his well-being/sense of self is in a perpetual state of challenge. It's a good life if you don't weaken!

Mr. McOnion is the most constant figure of threat and doom in Sluggo's life. In the first Nancy annual, Stanley makes his most memorable use of this twisted relationship. The re-match seems redundant here, but its less terrifying turnout suggests that someone might have mentioned to Stanley that he overdid the darkness in that first annual.

Whatever the case, this is still an amusing, if spotty, comic book. Good moments outweigh the bad, and as with the first annual, there seems a spark of life and interest in its contents. Here's the entire book, minus activity pages. Enjoy...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Frank M. Young on John Stanley in the Drawn + Quarterly Super-Special!

I just received my contributor's copy yet, and I await the opportunity to spend some quality time with Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels. Four of its nearly 800 pages contain an original essay I wrote on John Stanley.

This is a phone-cam photo of the first two pages of the piece, which I wrote last fall, right before my life-saving move to Portland, Oregon.

The book appears to offer hours of engrossing reading, in interviews, comics, essays and other good stuff.


The book also reprints selections from Tubby and Thirteen Going on Eighteen, to provide the new-to-Stanley reader with a notion of what I'm talking about here.

After all my work on Stanley, it seems ironic to me that this is my first published piece on the man and his work. Truth told, I'm glad to have waited until 2014 to write this. Working on this blog has helped me to shape an understanding of John Stanley's life and work, and I think this essay is as good as anything I could ever write on the topic.

I have had the pleasure of briefly browsing the book, twice, in stores, and if you care about the state of the art of comics (and I'll bet you do!), this book is a sight-unseen must-buy. I'm truly honored to be a part of this epic celebration.