Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Last of the Kool-Aid: Lulu Summer Camp Experience '58...The Finale!

The thought of summer camp brings to mind very, very weak Kool-Aid. Tinted a faint violet or pink, this stuff tasted more of the waxy cups in which it was served than of any alleged artificial fruit flavor.

Summer camp in the early 1970s was all about nearly-flavorless Kool-Aid. Hence today's title.

These are the final four stories in this magnificent 1958 Little Lulu summer camp giant.

First up today: "Ol' Witch Hazel and the Sneezing Weather-Vane."

This feature, a staple of Stanley's Little Lulu, is regarded as masterful, inventive storytelling in some quarters. Others find fault with the fairy-tale format's extensive narration and lessened use of the comix format.

I consider these fairy-tales often-brilliant, highly creative storytelling. They are a bit text-heavy. I'd imagine modern young readers might be taxed by the lexile challenge Lulu's narration presents.

The ironic understatement of her narration, and the contrast between narrator and scene, as seen by the reader, seems very rich to me. This story, with its decidely manic, agitated cartoonish farce, is quite funny and vivid.

I particularly like the repeated imagery, on the second page, of the townsfolk working hard to earn money to search for the mountain. I also find it humorous that such an obviously visible mountain should prove so difficult to find.

In the feverish, improvised kid-logic that fuels these fairy tales, it makes perfect sense that the patently obvious should remain invisible, and vice-versa. I'm impressed at how consistently Stanley retains the voice of a child storyteller. The temptation to revert to the ironic adult voice would be enormous to most writers.

If you dig these Lulu fairy-tales, you've no doubt had a ball reading this one. If not, at least stop to admire the inspired imagery and the faintly Will Elder-y attention to detail within those cramped panels.

"Wet Cement" is a three-page quickie.

Not much to say here; Stanley is entitled to catch his breath between two fairy-tales.

Tubby is the rare creator of such a story in "The Sea-Monster With the Tired Ears."

Tubby's personality beams through every word of this fairy-tale. This is the only instance I know of in which Tubby regales Alvin with a supposedly pacifying story. Ironically, Lulu provides an unintended punch-line to Tubby's tale.

The self-centered, socially irresponsible male sea monster is a hilarious, albeit unintentional, mirroring of the world-view of its creator. This is, perhaps, Tubby's future as an adult male--to feel beleaguered by the demands of women, and to find solace only in his own intense inner world.

Stanley knew his characters deeply by 1958. It is sad to think that he'd abandon them within a year.

"The Injun Fighters" provides anarchic closure to one of John Stanley's finest hours in comix. At 11 pages, it's the longest story in the book. See you when you're finished reading it!

Abundant with droll humor and high comedy, "The Injun Fighters" captures the chaos of childhood with sharp observational relish. The play's rehearsal, with its many levels of action, is handled with enviable ease by its author.

Real life intrudes upon the cliched play in a manner that rings constantly true. Stanley's cast is so well-defined that humor results from their simply being themselves.

I particularly love the moment in which Tubby gets a little too much into his role, and terrifies Wilbur, who transacts with Alvin in order to save his scalp.

Gran'pa Feeb is mentioned early in the story. As any storyteller knows, if you mention something, you're obliged to bring it on-stage. Feeb's entrance (which is literally on-stage) brings down the curtain on this intended entertainment, and ends another summer camp season in utter calamity and chaos.

I admire Stanley for not repeating the finale of his prior summer camp giant. There is no note of melancholy; no somber farewells to season's end. There's just feathers, water, and a scrambling stage-full of addled kids, trying to escape the clutches of the unmedicated (or, perhaps, hyper-medicated) Gran'pa Feeb.

We close this book with its back cover. I'm impressed that some 1958 kid didn't rip off this back cover and nail it to his or her bedroom wall.

Well, that's enough Little Lulu to hold me for awhile.

I have a request for "Captain Yo-Yo," the first issue of the Lulu spin-off title, Tubby. Among the most controversial stories of Stanley's career, this will be our next post. See you very soon, my friends!


BretSector said...


Thanks for posting the Summer Camp special. My 10-year-old is going away for a week of camp and we had a blast reading it as her bedtime stories this weekend.

I enjoy your commentary and analysis as well. Fun on a different level. Between your site and the Darkhorse reprints, we have really become huge John Stanley fans.

Thanks for all of your time and effort!

Paul Tumey said...

Thank you for positing what has to be on eof the best John Stanley comics of all time. I remember reading these as a kid, and although I never got to have the experience of going away to camp for the summer, Stanely's summer camp giants filled that void just fine. I remember hot summer days reading these stories over and over... getting lost in the world Stanley and Tripp created. I tend to be in the camp (pardon pun please) that thinks the fairy tales are pretty brilliant. They are less "pure" than the other stories, in that -- as you point out -- the are heavy on the naraative. However, Stanley rewards the careful reader, because often the visual in the panel is at comic odds with the narrative, creating a second-level on which to enjoy the story if you carefully read the narration. Thanks so much for your awesome blog!