Saturday, November 22, 2008

Prowl the streets with Henry Aldrich! From Henry Aldrich 1, 1950

Bill Williams was perhaps the best artist who ever worked with John Stanley. The grace and verve of his pen lines, added to his adroit and expressive human figures, was uncommonly fine for humor comics, then or now.

Williams' best-known collaborations with Stanley happened in the early 1960s, with the one-two punch of Kookie and Around the Block with Dunc 'n' Loo.

Their partnership had a prelude, one decade earlier. Stanley wrote the first issue of yet another licensed-property book for Dell Comics.

Henry Aldrich was based on a popular radio program, which also sired a series of low-budget movies (themselves the precursor of TV programming). Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the first Henry Aldrich movie, 1939's What a Life. Former child star Jackie Cooper was the first to portray Henry in the movies.

Henry was already on TV (The Aldrich Family) by the end of 1949, when this comic book was prepared for publication.

The Dell Aldrich seems based on the later installments of the Paramount series--and/or the TV version. In the hour-long movies, James Lydon portrayed the adenoidal, fumbling teen whose squeaky "Coming, Mother!" catchphrase punctuated both film and airwaves.

As usual, Stanley takes formula material and wrings something unusual and impressive from it. He eschews high-volume, frantic action and exaggeration for a more character-driven, down-to-earth atmosphere.

Compare this story to any of the Stanley/Williams Dunc 'n' Loo material I've posted earlier on this blog. It's much more chilled-out and relaxed.

Stanley had 52 pages to fill in this 1950 comic book. Thus, he could linger over the stock-comedy situations, such as in this untitled story. Insomnia leads to a series of escalating snafus--but, unlike a typical Little Lulu story of the era, there is no screaming, shouting or flailing of limbs.

There is something lovely about the spaciousness and hush of this story. In 15 pages, it can take its time to work through its mildly humorous sitcom events. Again, compare this ambling pace to the compact, frantic tone of the 1960s material.

This slower approach truly conveys the feeling of night, and of being alone in a socially awkward situation.

It also allows Stanley some beautifully timed pantomime. Check out page 5 of this story. John Stanley earned his payment with that one elegant page.

Henry indulges in some "Tubby Talk" throughout the story. As is standard for the Stanley protagonist, Henry navigates the world via his own compass. He is considerably better-adjusted than Tubby Tompkins, Woody Woodpecker or Peterkin Pottle. This does not preclude him from the self-serving delusion that is a Stanley character's cockeyed state of grace.

I've gabbed enough for one lonely Saturday night... enjoy this story!

Now, for dessert... Williams' handsome cover to this issue!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More from Four Color 1034, Nancy & Sluggo Summer Camp, 1959

Hi gang... well, since I had scans of this entire 36-page funnybook, I thought I'd post some more excerpts. I don't want to take away from the impact of Drawn & Quarterly's upcoming reprint of the Stanley Nancy series, so I'll lay low on this-type material in future...

If you're reading this in Australia, New Zealand, or in neighbouring parts, it's practically summertime where you are. Perhaps these stories will seem more apt.

This "Four Color" issue is an anomaly. It comes well into Stanley's run on the regular NANCY title. Stanley had already created a magnificent 100-page LITTLE LULU summer camp special, two years prior.

In that milestone issue, Stanley pioneered a lovely longform style of storytelling, in which a score (or so) of short stories all weave into a cohesive, flowing book-length narrative.

When reading Dan Clowes' Ice Haven, I was reminded of Stanley's summer camp comics. Clowes took the concept one step further, by transmuting the narrative 'pearls' into a variety of genre comics styles. All this flash and dazzle would seem empty, were these devices not driving the story Clowes wished to tell.

This story form would reach its apex with the pair of 84-page Nancy & Sluggo Summer Camp specials published in August 1960 and '61. Stanley would return to it, in a more subtle usage, in the Thirteen Going on Eighteen series a few years later.

Back to this guess is that Dell wanted to test the sales waters and see if the Nancy material would sell when blended with the summer camp genre. The answer, an obvious 'yes,' gave birth to those magnificent twin Dell Giants.

In the first story featured here, "Off To Camp," Stanley introduces one of Nancy & Sluggo's key supporting figures, the suburban Jekyll and Hyde, Mr. McOnion. Note that he's drawn as a bland, button-nosed layabout here.

This is an excerpt from the next NANCY camp giant, in which we see McOnion at his most typical--a deadpan psychopath stalking a terrified Sluggo in a helpless world:
Stanley had yet to develop McOnion's sinister side, although he is as clearly vexed, as Sluggo's neighbor, as he would be in later episodes.

The genuinely creepy relationship between Sluggo and McOnion is of a piece with the more disturbing aspects of Cold War mass media. Gloom and doom figured prominently in popular entertainment, as it had during the two World Wars.

In the shadow of H-bomb armageddon, pop culture got darker than our nostalgia would like it to be. Stanley's comix writing was a prime force in this pitch-black era.

Things are considerably lighter in tone here. These three stories are in sequence, and provide the basic set-up for a summer camp comic book. "Off To Camp" sets up the formula: underprivileged Sluggo can't go to camp...or so he thinks.

In "Camp Fafomama," Sluggo must endure much physical and mental battery to attain his place in the sun.

Finally, for a moment in "The Bank Holdup," stagestruck Sluggo undergoes some sort of self-hypnosis to attain a higher status.

Just day soon, you'll be able to enjoy these stories in a lovely Drawn & Quarterly-published volume! For now, here they are for your computer screen...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Summer fun for November: from Four Color 1034, Nancy & Sluggo Summer Camp, 1959

I've been busy lately, and that means less posts on this blog. Got to keep the home fires burning. Thus, on this prematurely dark, chilly November early evening, here's a trio of stories from the tryout Four Color summer camp special for John Stanley's interpretation of Nancy and Sluggo.

I consider Stanley's brief run on Nancy among the highlights of his comix career. The writing is vivid and sharp throughout. Even though the characters are, as noted prior, highly similar to Little Lulu's cast, something about Planet Bushmiller stimulated John Stanley's creative side.

We start with a brief horror story that's more effective than anything Stanley attempted in his serious scary comics of the early 1960s. This shaggy dog anecdote seems vaguely familiar to me... perhaps Fredric Brown, or another short-short story writer, used this same basic concept.


Now, here's another episode in the privileged life of Rollo Haveall, and his longsuffering manservant, Crumbly:


In closing, Oona Goosepimple delivers another mind-fudge to poor Nancy. Not even the rustic pleasures of summer camp can buy Nancy freedom from these psychedelic living nightmares.
I particularly love the bewildering coda to this story. Of course, Nancy just has to rub salt in her psychic wounds by going and checking that damned board...
The Dell pledge to parents, in the last panel, does nothing to dilute the overall effect. In fact, it reinforces the creepy sensation...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stanley stories hither and yon

Two John Stanley stories of note are posted on two fine blogs, for your reading enjoyment. On Classic Cartoons, you can find a long Oswald the Rabbit story, "The Prehistoric Egg" (one I've meant to scan and post; thank you, Andrea!) Just click HERE!

On Thad K's blog is another of the Stanley/Rube Grossman Hector and Herman stories; just wander over THISAWAY!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

more Famous frivolity: "Blackie the Lamb" from Animal Comics 13, 1945

For Kelly, here's a Stanley-written example of the Blackie the Lamb feature.

Some animation history is required here. When the Fleischer Studios metamorphosed into Famous, they were still based in Miami. (Paramount essentially used their ownership of the Miami studio as grounds for evicting the Fleischer family from the business.)

At this time, in the wake of two so-so animated features, the studio had only two series--both licensed properties. Their Superman and Popeye cartoons were popular.

Popeye, still in black-and-white, was by far the better of the two series. We are fortunate to now have the entire run of black-and-white Fleischer/Famous Popeye cartoons released on legit DVDs. Look in your local entertainment store (preferrably a privately-owned one), or get 'em off Amazon.

The remnants of the Miami Fleischer studio were moved back to New York in 1943. Once back home, the heat was on for the studio to create original characters.

Their goal: to compete with the new wave of brassy, self-referential West Coast cartoon stars, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry and the Fox & the Crow.

A new Technicolor series was created to showcase these stars-in-the-making. The early Noveltoons are gorgeously animated, expertly timed cartoons.

None of their early characters had much staying power. They did last long enough to be licensed funnybook fodder. This is where John Stanley, Walt Kelly, and others enter the picture.

It would appear that these stories (at least, those that Stanley wrote) had involvement from actual Famous staffers. Thad K. noted that Fleischer/Famous animator Rube Grossman signed the "Hector the Henpecked Rooster" story I most recently featured here.

Thus, it's highly likely that the art for this "Blackie" story was done by a moonlighting Famous animator. For comparison's sake, here are three frames from the first Blackie cartoon, No Mutton For Nuttin' (1943).

The characters in this story stay completely on-model to these 1943 screenshots. I would like to nominate either Grossman or Bill Hudson for the art credit on this story.

The penmanship in the story's lettering is quite similiar to that of a 1943 Famous model sheet, drawn by Bill Hudson and found on page 308 of Leonard Maltin's animation history Of Mice and Magic. It's known that other Famous staffers worked on comic-book stories in the 1940s, so my guess could be completely wrong.

Transparent a Bugs clone as Blackie was, he and the other early Famous characters did translate well to the funnybook page. This story benefits from wry, amusing dialogue.

Wolfie indulges in some "Tubby Talk" at the story's pathetic start, wherein he tries to eat a mop head, with the aid of some spaghetti sauce.

The story takes one absurd detour after another, and builds its morbid amusement entirely from strong characterizations. Stanley takes these characters much farther than the Famous cartoons ever did.

Of course, he had more dialogue at his disposal, and less expectation to provide the largely visual gags that fuel the animated cartoons. All the chatter in this story would be deadly on the silver screen. It works just fine on the poorly printed page.

Blackie the Lamb actually outlived the Animal Comics series, albeit by a matter of months. The next wave of Famous "stars" would exist outside of Dell's orbit. We are, perhaps, fortunate that there are not Herman and Katnip comics by John Stanley, nor Little Audreys by Walt Kelly.