Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mice With Cigars And Money: "Tom and Jerry" from Our Gang Comics nos. 20 and 21, 1945/6

Here's a break from posting LITTLE LULU and TUBBY stuff. I know they're crowd-pleasers. The real purpose of this blog, to me, is to restore to public attention some of the lesser-known stories John Stanley wrote (and sometimes drew) for various Dell/Western/Gold Key comics in his three-decade career in comix.

Today's double-header offers two Stanley stories you probably haven't read. To boot, they were drawn by Stanley, too, and show where his cartooning might have gone, had LULU not overtaken his duties as a comics creator.

These two stories, from consecutive issues of OG, come at the close of Stanley's first run on the T&J strip. They were written in 1945, right at the time Stanley wrote his first issues of Little Lulu.

As said in my previous post on Stanley's T&J stories, Stanley significantly improved the concept of the original MGM cartoons. Always a champion of the underdog, he shifted the comic book series' focus on the two mice, Jerry and diaper-wearing Tuffy. (As Jerry and Tuffy are the same size, why Tuffy wears diapers is an utter mystery. Perhaps he had poor bladder control. That's my best guess.)

The mice attempt to make sense of the human world. All its trinkets and gadgets both baffle and intrigue them. Tom, the cat, is more a minor nuisance to them than the carnivorous monster of the animated cartoons.

Furthermore, Stanley lets all three characters talk, and gives them distinctive personalities. Jerry is an ersatz authority figure, all logic and composure--that is, until he's deeply inducted into Tuffy's latest fascination. Tuffy is all impulse; like Charlie Chicken in the Andy Panda feature, Tuffy exists to get straight-laced Jerry into conflict.

The mice share a more childlike, gentle attitude towards all they encounter, with some street-wise 'tude mixed in.

Tom is an important pre-Tubby figure, similar to Stanley's interpretation of Woody Woodpecker. He bears the Stanley trademrk of the self-assured, self-deluded eccentric who's convinced that his version of how the world works is the correct--and only--one.

In these last couple of stories, Stanley selects two vivid topics: money and smoking.

In the first story, the rodents' discovery of a nickel causes a literal invasion of Tom's life. The cat makes no attempt to pursue or provoke the mice. He's just doing what cats generally do when nothing's up: napping.

"This is a dangerous undertaking" Jerry comments, with a characteristic lack of punctuation. Nonetheless, the mice prowl through the cat's innards, and convince him that he's facing death. All for a lousy nickel.

Issue 21's story is an unsung Stanley masterwork of the mid-1940s. This is an example of the terribly un-PC story that any modern-day comix publisher, TV animation exec, or control-freak legislator would rail against at length.

While it isn't exactly a pro-smoking story, the use of tobacco by these reader-identification figures is, shall we say, casual. Stanley hilariously riffs on this touchy topic, and brings screwball fantasy elements into the mix.

The story ends with a beautiful off-beat "grace note." Stanley excelled at bringing things to a close in unconventional ways.

Gotta love the "KAFF KIFF KUFF KOFF KEFF" on page one, as well.

These stories show strong evidence of Stanley's layout designs. I have no idea who did the finishes. They're functional, if not exciting.

While the artist is no Harvey Eisenberg, he is far, far, far better than the rank amateur who took over the series after Stanley left.

Stanley returned to write both "Tom & Jerry" and its companion feature, "Adventures of Tom," for a few issues in 1947 and '48. These stories are choice, and completely unknown to Stanley scholars (I just spotted them a few minutes ago, while trolling through some of the later issues in my scattered run of issues). I'll post another pair of them next time.

Enjoy this little-known gem. Me, I'm gettin' a fresh cup of coffee. This damned hangover isn't going away easily. But that, as they say, is another story...

Mice With Cigars And Money: "Tom and Jerry" from Our Gang Comics nos. 20 and 21, 1946

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