One of the highlights of John Stanley's post-Little Lulu career was an original title he developed with the superb assistance of journeyman cartoonist Bill Williams.
Around The Block With Dunc and Loo, as it was first called, is a rich, fully-realized concept. It strikes me as a precursor to some of our contemporary, complex TV dramas (MadMen, Six Feet Under, Deadwood).
Like those ambitious programs, it's about a setting, or an era, that just happens to be populated with a rich cast of characters.
The setting here is the cramped, musty, rundown block of city pavement on which rests the Airy Arms Apartments. Over the series' eight-issue run, we get to know the people, businesses and public institutions [library, elementary school] around the block.
The most commonly-visited spot is the block's social hub: a corner candy store run by the easily-vexed yet infinitely patient Sid. This urban mensch is resigned to a life of constant negotiation.
Dapper Dunc and iconoclastic Loo (seemingly based on Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis and Manyard G. Krebs, from his series of popular 1940s/50s short stories) use Sid's as a primitive networking tool.
They con Sid into giving them ice cream and letting them read magazines, comic books and paperbacks while they attempt to charm unimpressed "chicks." Sid frequently vents his frustration on them. Despite provisional bannings from his premises, Sid ultimately can't forbid these youthful moochers--they are the lifeblood of the neighborhood.
This first story (the lead in the series' debut issue) defines Sid's importance to the neighborhood, and his relationship with Dunc and Loo. It contains some hilarious examples of Stanley's accelerated Space-Age approach to comic-book humor. This approach would soon become strident. In the world of Dunc, Loo and the Airy Arms, it works beautifully.
As with his best work of the 1940s and '50s, Dunc 'n' Loo celebrates the quirks and shortcomings of its wide, colorful cast of characters. Though our protagonists are in constant conflict and peril, it is a softer, more naturalistic variety.
Though often played with the pitch of a Space-Age sitcom, this series achieves an ambitious goal. It creates a fully realized, habitable world.
And now, enter the shabby world of Sid's Candy Store. It's a hot, humid summer day in the big city. Go ahead--see if you can mooch a cold drink off of Sid. I hear he's a big pushover!
One pleasing aspect of Dunc 'n' Loo is that each of the main characters (plus some of the younger kids on the block) got solo stories, within the main framework of each issue.
Here's a remarkable "Loo" solo story from ATBWDNL #3. Loo is shown doing something many parents would forbid. His mother is apparently fine with his sitting up all night, getting google-eyed from viewing pre-dawn reruns of old movies. He then tries to sleep through a hot, busy and NOISY urban day, which proves impossible.
This dates me a bit, but I recall the joys of unstructured late-night TV programming, before its brutal, bitter death in the 1980s. Sunday nights were once a wonderland of pop-culture detritus, via the cathode-ray tube. The deadly "informercials" that did a program pogrom during that miserable decade eventually alienated me from watching TV, period.
I don't view network or cable TV. Nor do I peruse the local channels I might poorly receive over my disused "rabbit ear" antenna. The only time my idiot box switches on is when I view DVDs.
I do miss the bygone days when watching TV had a certain risk factor. Those wonderful hours between midnight and dawn were a playground for bored TV programmers. One never knew what to expect. The TV listings were frequently incomplete, or incorrect. It was a block of time when it didn't matter what was broadcast.
Back to our story... this is an innovative, fresh use of the comics form by Stanley and his uber-talented artist, Bill Williams. The sequence in which sleep-deprived Loo tries to catch some ZZZs in the public library is a superb example of how comics can depict a narrative in a way unlike movies, TV or prose.
Drawn and Quarterly Publications have announced, as part of their projected Stanley reprint program, to collect the eight-issue run of this comic. It will make a wonderful book. I'm looking forward to it.