Sunday, November 23, 2014

Post-Mortem Post 003: The Fine Art of Comics Pantomime, with Little Lulu and Company

John Stanley was a great storyteller. His ability to spin multiple variations on a number of stock plots, and bring something fresh to the table each time, is downright enviable.

At the core of his storytelling skill is a sardonic, droll sense of humor. Stanley often indulged in slapstick on the comics page, and did it well. His true gift was an understated, subtle comedy, deeply rooted in the myriad flaws and quirks of characters he made his own and knew like his own children.

In my recent updating and book publication of the three-part John Stanley Comics Bibliography (see links at foot of post), I've been reminded of the grace and charm of his pantomime one-page gags in early issues of Little Lulu. These were in line with Marge Buell's original vision of the character. They expanded beyond Marge's one-panel chuckles, as did Stanley with all the characters he grandfathered over from the Buell version.

Stanley's "Lulu" and "Tubby" stories are dominated by talk. Traditionally, the author offered a great deal of character information from how his comic figures act, react and think. At his best, Stanley can make pages of dialogue riveting. His love of language, and his word-smithing, are evident in each line he wrote for the hundreds of thousands of speech balloons he filled.

A constant of Stanley's Lulu and Tubby work are one-page pantomime pieces. These items, usually landfill in poorly-planned comic magazines, were treated as equals to the longer, dialogue-driven stories by their creator. There is no sense of haste or waste in these pages. As with the text feature, Lulus Diry, these apparent fillers are as rich and rewarding as any other components of the series.

Stanley did another string of impressive one-page pieces for the magazine New Funnies, featuring his rendition of Woody Woodpecker. Those may be read HERE. The "Woody" pages, drawn by Stanley, traffic in the typical sassy dialogue exchanges of his longer stories. The Lulu pages are almost exclusively mute, and require the reader's utmost attention to small details. Their rhythm, flow and structure are striking. They're often laugh-out-loud funny, and offer a taste of Stanley's driest wit.

Here is a selection of some of my favorite panto pages from early issues of Little Lulu. Spend some time with them and you'll be rewarded...

two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #110
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #120
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #97
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #115
Little Lulu one-shot #131
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #139
Little Lulu one-shot #146
Little Lulu one-shot #158
two pages from Little Lulu #1
three pages from Little Lulu #2
Little Lulu #3
Little Lulu #4
Little Lulu #6
Little Lulu #8
Little Lulu #13
John Stanley's hand as cartoonist is keenly felt in the earlier pages. This sheaf of 23 pages offers a quick look at the visual evolution of Lulu, from Stanley's cartooning to Charles Hedinger's to Irving Tripp's.

Stanley entertained an ambition to be a magazine gag cartoonist. He had one cartoon published in the New Yorker in 1947. Roughs exist for several other well-executed gag cartoons, but I don't think any others were published in his lifetime.

As Lulu became more formula-bound, the gag pages acquired a more mechanical flavor. By 1955, they are more filler than inspiration. That said, Stanley wrote one of his most inspired single page strips late in the Lulu game, for issue #94:

To learn more about my just-published complete John Stanley comics bibliography, please click HERE. The books are available on and These lavishly illustrated books are a great holiday gift idea for the comics-loving person in your life...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Edition of the 1960s John Stanley Bibliography is out!

THIS LINK will take you to the CreateSpace store page for this 112-page full color updated edition of the 1960s John Stanley Bibliography. In a few days, it will be available on Amazon, and I'll append this post to include that link.

This print edition, in an 8 x 10 trade paperback, is full color, and features a special 24-page section of stories written by Stanley and illustrated by his greatest collaborator, Bill Williams.

Any of these three books will make a superb holiday gift for the comics fan in your life. Please consider purchasing one or all of these books. Thank you!

Book Edition of the 1940s John Stanley Bibliography Available on Amazon!

THIS LINK will take you to the page for the deluxe full-color version of the 1940s John Stanley bibliography. This is much improved from the original download version, with a great deal of new content, three complete comics stories, and seven essays on the significant Stanley characters of this decade.

The publication of this and the other two books in the bibliography is the culmination of years of research and hard work. I'm glad to be able to make these available in print form.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The John Stanley 1950s Bibliography is now on Amazon!

Start spreadin' the nooz! Both the cost-conscious standard edition and the deluxe all-color version of "John Stanley in the 1950s: a Comics Bibliography" are now available for reduced rates on! While I get less royalties from the amazon versions, they make the book more affordable, so I'm down with that. Click on those links and check them out! You can look inside the standard edition and see interior pages!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Buy A Print Edition of the 1950s John Stanley Bibilography! Yow!

Click HERE to order copies of the standard (black and white interior) edition of the 1950s John Stanley bibilography. It's 190 pages, in a handsome 8 x 10 squarebound trade paperback. The cost is $12.99 plus shipping, from Amazon's CreateSpace.

The deluxe (color interior) version, which includes a cover gallery in full color, is also available. THIS is the link for that edition.

I have print versions of the other two volumes in process. The 1940s volume will undergo some big revisions--mostly the inclusion of more text.

I think this is the first stand-alone book on John Stanley's work to be published. With any luck, this will just be the first of many...

Here's the full cover image, including spine and back panel...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The John Stanley 1950-1960 Bibliography Is Here!

At last, the 1950s John Stanley Bibliography--the volume that completes the career and story guide to the remarkable comics legacy of John Stanley--is completed and ready for purchase!

This was the most time-consuming and difficult of the three volumes to prepare. It is the most important of the series, as it chronicles the staggering comics output of Stanley's most popular and prolific decade.

Every story is given a fresh synopsis (some of them amusing, I hope), accurate page count and exact placement of which pages it originally occupied in its comic book printing. Every comics cover is reproduced in thumbnail size.

Because I forgot to include the year 1960 in the '60s volume, it's here. Thus, this book covers 11 years of a vital comics and writing career.

As well, the contents of the decade's four giant-size reprint editions are chronicled. These comics are a great way to sample the early years of Little Lulu in accurate color printings, without throwing down fat stacks of cash.

There are some surprises here, as there were in the 1960s bibliography. As I write in the e-book's foreword, Stanley's workload in the 1950-1960 period I document here is enormous. He began to branch off into new territory, such as his book-length, seriocomic stories for the early issues of Marge's Tubby, several which he also illustrated.

His work with such characters as Krazy Kat, The Little King and Howdy Doody counts for a substantial number of pages and issues. While this second-string work doesn't always live up to the high standards of his Little Lulu stories, they give us a glimpse of Stanley blowing off steam, playing with different story formats, and exploring the ins and outs of his favorite character archetype, the Tubby Type.

Stanley's loose, rich covers for the Lulu and Tubby comics are celebrated in an 18-page gallery section. I've also included house ads for the Stanley comics, examples of original art and hyperlinks to every story in the bibliography that can be found on this blog. With an internet connection, you can pause to read or glance at stories.

I ask $6.99 for this volume. This higher price is due to the amount of work the book required. This has been a project for the last 15 months, and represents hundreds of hours of effort. It is my hope that this and the other two bibliographies will start a serious scholarship and appreciation of John Stanley's writing and cartooning.

If you haven't acquired the 1940s and 1960s bibliographies, those are available as a package deal for $6.00, at the posting above this one.

You can buy a print version of this book on Amazon by clicking HERE or HERE.

For computer-only reading, $6.99 buys you a 177-page, profusely illustrated PDF e-book that works in both Windows and Mac formats. The Paypal purchase button is directly below.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Post-Mortem Post 002: The Enigma of "Knotknee"

In doing the research for my upcoming 1950s John Stanley bibliography, I was reminded of a couple of curiosities. Among them is the enigmatic filler feature "Knotknee," which first appeared in the 15th issue of Marge's Tubby.

The title already had a secondary feature, "Alvin," which guaranteed its eligibility for special periodical postage rates. I've made mention of this postal law, which is the reason for filler pieces in 1940s and '50s comic books, elsewhere on this blog.

Why "Knotknee" was created is a puzzle. The character does not otherwise appear in any "Tubby" or "Little Lulu" stories. Nor was any attempt made to explicity connect it with those characters. Long before 1956, when this oddity debuted, John Stanley had mastered the art of pantomime comics gags. Little Lulu, from its trial start in Dell's "Four Color" series, is rife with such pages.

Occasional multi-page pantomime stories appear in Lulu, and in earlier Stanley projects such as New Funnies. For a writer as in love with language as was Stanley, his fluency in using mute images to tell a story is a pleasant surprise.

By 1956, the panto pages were feeling a bit phoned in, and "Knotknee," which I hesitantly attribute to Stanley, suffers accordingly. Here is the first page in the series:
Knotknee's shtick was being very fast on his feet. He was chosen to star in Tubby's one- to two-page text fillers, which are very clearly not written by Stanley. Here is the first text page, from this same issue.
This prose, utterly drained of enthusiasm, typifies the 1950s comic book text filler. You can feel the writer's gnashed teeth in every line.

100% independent of the world of Tubby and his clubhouse pals, Knotknee faced similar interests (sports, girls) and fears (bullying, loss of social status). Thus, these pages line up with the other contents of the series, even tho' they seem mutually exclusive.

That "Knotknee" is drawn in the Marge Buell style blurs the boundaries further. It might have been jarring to readers to have a filler page drawn in a different look and feel. The feature, as it stands, must have puzzled Tubby fans (those who noticed, that is).

Here is a selection of other "Knotknee" pages. The feature ceased, as a pantomime comic, with Tubby #31, but soldiered on as a text feature.
 When that Dell Pledge to Parents is wedged into a page, its non-importance is guaranteed.
 The feature broke from its muteness just once, in issue #24 of Tubby:
 This is the last episode in the comics version of the feature:
Though a one-note concept, "Knotknee" has some occasional faint charm. He was never destined to have his own series, or speak beyond the one line given him in Tubby 24. As the most obscure and little-known creation of John Stanley's Lulu-Tubby tenure, "Knotknee" rates a brief mention here.

I'm about halfway through the '50s bibliography, slogging through the task of synopsizing each "Little Lulu" and "Tubby" story of the decade (along with all the other stories and series with Stanley's work). I'll be glad when I don't have to type "Witch Hazel" again for awhile.

More in this occasional series of post-posts sometime soon.