It is easy to take John Stanley's Little Lulu for granted. It was, by far, Stanley's most successful and popular project. It enjoyed a strong 15 year run in Stanley's hands. Thus, there is a lot of it.
The monthly Little Lulu comic book was among the best-selling titles of comics' so-called "golden age;" it was also among the very few comic books that adults would admit to reading.
To this day, Stanley's thousands of pages of Little Lulu material spans a broad reader demographic that would moisten the knickers of any ad agency exec. I have seen a child of 5 and his 40-something dad read these stories together. Each of them enjoys the work on a different level.
I wonder if Stanley was aware of the impact of his Little Lulu work? I am hard-pressed to think of any other comic book creator whose work can boast such a far-ranging appeal.
Little Lulu is an uniquely American body of work. Like Charles Schulz's Peanuts, its embrace of its characters, warts and all, speaks in the voice of its people and their culture.
I am not attempting any flag-waving rhetoric here. This, in my opinion, is one of the things that American comics do best; they level the playing field. No one is an absolute hero in Stanley's or Schulz's worlds. Every character has his or her noble and ignoble moments.
That we like the Little Lulu and Peanuts characters, despite their collective feet of clay, despite their drawbacks and hang-ups, says to me that they are fully-formed, well-wrought and sincere creations.
But this is a blog about John Stanley, so I'll tuck away this Schulz business for the time being.
Today and tomorrow, I'll post two stories from the exceptional 94th issue of Little Lulu. You recently read the brilliant lead story, "Two Foots is Feet." This morning, here are two stories of status struggle, "The Marble Champ" and "A Row Deal."
As with "Foots," these have never been reprinted. I disagree with the Little Lulu Library's "official" edict that #86 is the last "classic" issue of this series. Stanley's Little Lulu was consistently good throughout its 15-year run.
The 1956 and '57 issues seem, to me, to show a sharpening of Stanley's wits. He had a repertoire of stock situations, by this time, that he could use as sturdy narrative bases. It is quietly stunning to see how many variants Stanley could create from a few basic set-ups.
Tomorrow I'll post one of Lulu's "fractured fairy tales" and a hilarious "Tubby" story involving job neglect and stale baked goods.