Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The Bank Robber," Tubby Four-Color #444, 1952: story and art by John Stanley

This will be my last STANLEY STORIES post for 2008. Thought I'd go out with a bang: here's "The Bank Robber," a 30-page story written and drawn by John Stanley for the third Tubby one-shot.

It's a significant story in many regards:

1) Stanley's top-drawer cartooning: John Stanley was a far finer cartoonist than many of the artists who did the final illustrations of his stories. Only Bill Williams was truly a superior draftsman and cartoonist to Stanley.

Note the assurance and vigor of Stanley's linework; his strong character construction; powerful panel layouts; and, most of all, the sheer liveliness of every figure and pose. The guy evens draws horses and bulls galore--hard critters to cartoon--and does them beautifully.

Compare the art to any of Stanley's Peterkin Pottle stories. The character drawings are quite similar, but by doing the finishes with an even, precise pen line, Stanley makes comix that are way easier on the eye. Only his Jigger and Mooch stories look better.

2) High-stakes storytelling: "The Bank Robber" is quite serious. A constant threat of physical violence shadows Tubby throughout the story--whether it's his near-death at the hands of a larcenous pack of midgets, or the perverse men in black who long to administer corporal punishment to Tub's plump keister.

Unlike the more far-fetched perils of super-hero comics, the dangers in "The Bank Robber" are ones a child can appreciate. They're palpable and probable. A spanking carries more weight than any atomic death-ray!

3) Hung-up Heroics:Tubby is a truly heroic figure throughout the story. Furthermore, he is a misunderstood, untrusted outsider-hero. Rejected by his friends, pursued by angry adults, and forced into a series of dangerous, unfamiliar situations to prove his innocence, Tub fearlessly delivers the goods, even as the reality of the crime slowly dawns on him.

Tubby is a flawed hero, desperate for acceptance and high status. As a pretend cowboy, Tubby begins the story with a series of aggressive mock-assaults on neighbors and businesses.

Stanley achieved this "hung-up hero" concept a decade prior to Stan Lee's supposed discovery of it in 1960s Marvel super-hero comics. Prior to Peter Parker, there was Peterkin Pottle--and, most importantly, Tubby Tompkins.

In classic Tubby fashion, he is so into his own world that he doesn't see the impact of his actions. He causes a grocery store display to collapse, and interrupts the consumption of grilled greasy goodness at the Sunset Diner. It's all in play for Tubby, but via the reactions to his presence, we see that Tub has an impact on the adult world around him.

Once he is a prime suspect of the bank robbery, his known world unravels. Page 8 of this story is a desperate soliloquy, played for subtle but inherent humor, and punctuated with a damning reminder of reality.

This is sophisticated stuff for a "kiddie comic," past, present or future. This story falls outside the conventional boundaries of comedy and adventure. While it has strong elements of both, it merges them into a different type of story--one that resists genre categorization.

4) Stanley does not condescend to his audience: By keeping the events on a kid's-eye level, Stanley creates a nightmarish urgency. He does not dumb down the violent and threatening aspects of his narrative. His insistence on keeping Tubby a hero, warts and all, makes it easy for the reader to fall into Tub's viewpoint throughout.

5) "The Bank Robber" isn't available elsewhere on the Internet: This is the only issue of Tubby that hasn't yet been scanned and posted on the Web. These are my scans, from my personal copy of this comic.

I'm happy to bring you this significant work of John Stanley... a story I hope will be new to you.


Myrrpage said...

What a treat. I have a copy of #444 too, but it looks so much better if you view a good scan on a decent monitor. As you undoubtedly know, this comic is notable (in addition to all the reasons you list) because it is the only Lulu or Tubby comic that mentions the name of their hometown (Meadowville). My hope is that one day you will post the next Tubby, OS 461, which is my favorite comic of all time.

Thanks for s terrific blog.


Pappy said...

Thanks for making this great story available. Love the Stanley lines like, "Guess midgets don't have as many bones as big folks." Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! This story is some masterpiece.

prof. grewbeard said...

wow, now that's an epic story!