Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals: A John Stanley Masterwork

The Pacific Northwest suffered a miserable heat wave this past week. On Wednesday, Seattle hit an all-time high temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I am a certified Sun-Shunner [TM]. I have no use for summer--indeed, no use for any climate above 70 degrees F.

I sought refuge in the air-conditioned rooms of two friends. It is to them that this post is dedicated.

While in fugitive mode, I dug out my musty, crusty copy of the 1956 Dell Giant Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals. Purchased from a scowling, portly merchant at a miserable little comic-con in Tallahassee, Florida, circa 1987, this two-dollar buy has served me well over the years.

A re-reading, in the chilled haven of an AC'd room, re-affirmed my long-held belief that this 100-page book may be John Stanley's anarchic masterpiece.

Rarely was his wit as edgy and sharp as it is here. Story after story, this book resonates with perfect comedic timing, risky subject matter, and potentially traumatizing narratives.

Stanley introduced the troublesome but fascinating Gran'pa Feeb herein. As well, he gave ample berth to the morally questionable doings of the little men from Mars. Problem-making, stakes-raising elements are the rule throughout this book. As well, the male-oriented energy, with all its adversarial, aggressive tendencies, tips the vibe of Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals far, far away from the more balanced canvas of Little Lulu.

Did I mention how funny Stanley's writing is here? This 53 year-old book packs an enormous comedic punch. Even with the unapt Lloyd White providing finished artwork, Stanley's gift for storytelling and visual flair shines through in every moment.

Here are two favorite stories from this epic funnybook.

"Injun Fighters" co-stars Gran'pa Feeb, whose apparent senility masks a table-turning, chaotic sharpness. As well, Tubby is at his Tubbiest--dodging from one neurotic impulse to another, causing trouble while trying to dance his way out of it.

There are so many choice moments in this story: Tub's repeated, haranguing "Hello, Janie;" Tub's friends attempt to keep a smile on his face by repeating the word "vacation;" Tub's color-coded mood-swing gallery on p.7; Feeb's deus ex machina terrorist attack on the West Side boys.

Stanley thoroughly understands and accepts his characters in this story. I hope he had fun writing such stories; a real sense of playful abandon fills these pages.

"Zoodunit" co-stars the little men from Mars. I suppose that they are indeed real to Tubby. The fantasy elements they bring into stories such as this, while wildly at odds with the trampled naturalism of the Lulu universe, offer welcome relief from the inexorable suburbanality (hey, there's a new word!) of the Lulu-Tubbyfranchise.

There is much to savor in this raucous story: the Martians' complete lack of Earthly moral standards, and Tubby's freak-outs over same (a comic duet which boosts the story into sublimity); the mini-zoo keeper's shell-shocked reactions, after Tubby rescues him from the micro-tiger; and the comedic topper of the frog becoming enlarged, and Tubby's wager with his smug father.

"Zoodunit" weaves fantastic elements into a conventional story without ship-wrecking it. The judicious building of unbelievable moments creates a willing suspension of disbelief on the reader's part.

The story's final reward: it ends before the expected climax. We're left with the delicious anticipation of what might happen beyond the story's last panel. As a reader, I feel respected by the author.

I'll return to this Rosetta Stone of four-color comedy in future posts. Keep cool, wherever you are!


Chris Riesbeck said...

It says something for the staying power of this particular comic that both stories were as familiar to me as if I'd read them last week. not an an easy 50+ years ago. Thanks for posting. I can't remember what else was in that special issue but I'm sure it'll ring more bells when you put them up.

Bret Littlehales said...

So those are Lloyd White's finishes over Stanley's layouts? Pencils? Makes one really appreciate Irving Tripp even more. I wondered what happened to the artwork in the "Tubby's" as opposed to the "Lulu's".

Great stories- thanks. I didn't read Dells as a kid, I was strictly a National/ DC reader back then. It's been a real treat to discover John Stanley's great comics, as well as Carl Barks.

Elliot said...

Thanks for these great John Stanley TUBBY classics, Frank! This particular book was a staple in my childhood comic book library from the moment I acquired it back in the fall of '56!! Although I always fancied Stanley's LULU output much more, there was an undeniably odd quality that the best of his TUBBY tales achieved--despite the often lackluster finished art that Lloyd White provided.
Reading the Granpa Feeb stories today it is fairly remarkable how utterly frank and honest Stanley's depiction of old age was. When I first read these stories as an innocent 8 year old, the sad undercurrent of their meaning was totally lost on me. Just one more reason why John Stanley is, for me at least, the true unsung genius of 50s comic story-telling. Thanks again!!

Mr. Fantasy said...

Thanks so much for posting the rousing adventures of Tub and his gang! I hope you take heart in learning how much your work is appreciated by all of us, your readers. Along with praising John Stanley for his wondrous, intricate plots and his character-based humor, I'd like to mention another aspect of his work that gives so much happiness. Stanley is deeply insightful in capturing the world of childhood, with all its joys and sorrows, its deep yearning and weirdly unrealistic fantasies and daydreams. He captures the carefree summer days, the happy-go-lucky adventures of childhood, and also portrays the dark, unreasoning fears, and the huge, frustrating gulf between the minds of adults and children. He's the poet laureate of childhood's days of wonder.