Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aw, shucks... [blush]

I just noticed that animation/comics historian Michael Barrier commented on this blog (and its website equivalent) in a recent post on his blog of notable things... ( )

"Finally (for the moment), let me recommend most heartily Frank Young's Stanley Stories. The Stanley in question is John, the brilliant cartoonist and writer whose name is most readily associated with Little Lulu but who, as Frank makes clear, has a lot of other great things on his resume. Frank Young is not just a Stanley fan, but also a student of his work who can identify it even when it's under the veneer of another cartoonist's drawings, as it usually was. Stanley Stories reproduces some of Stanley's best (and most obscure) stories and includes a glossary of "Stanleyisms," the distinctive characteristics of his writing. A biography is promised. This is the internet at its best."

I'm honored, sir... I hope this blog can continue to please. I enjoy doing it very much!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Snowpocalypse now: "Andy Panda" from New Funnies 82, 1943

Here's another super-early John Stanley "Andy Panda" story.

The refreshing wintry landscape should be a balm to those already suffering the onset of spring/summer heat and humidity.

This early on, Stanley's work has much in common with his transcontinental rival, Carl Barks. Both creators gave their 1943 efforts an open, bouncy, spacious feeling, with an emphasis on high-speed, knockabout comedy.

When wartime paper restrictions doomed the three-tier page layouts of most Dell features, in 1944, that sunny spaciousness almost never returned to their collective pages.

Barks and Stanley would indulge in pastoral pieces (Barks far more than Stanley), but the space restrictions permanently altered both creators' approaches towards making comix. Through force of habit, both artists became instilled with the desire to cram more action into less space.

This story is a prime example of the "open" 1943 sensibility. Altho' filled with vibrant slapstick and wild physical action, there is a sense of space in these panels that is refreshing.

As well, the narrative is akin to many a Barks farce, with our heroes ending up in some far-flung place, due to their cheerful ineptness, which unleashes a [literally] snowballing chain of events.

This is a type of story Stanley would quickly stop writing. From 1944 on, his stories' conclusions have a gravity that is often deeply felt by the reader. One always feels that Barks' Donald and the nephews, even if stranded in Timbuktu at story's end, will easily make their way back to Duckburg in time for next month's romp.

Stanley characters regularly face sobering and bracing finales. They will, just as often, be evicted from their homes at story's end, or have to accept a mixed bag of good and bad outcomes.

I'm not saying one approach outdoes the other; both are potent formulae. Both served these two towering comix creators very well during their long careers.

It is neat to see Stanley "doing a Donald" with this very funny, lively early farce.

The 1943 issue I scanned this story from must have gotten damp some time ago. Opening its bag unleashes an assault of vintage mold and mildew fragments. Tho' unseen on the pulp paper pages, they are deeply noticed by my sensitive sinuses. Whew!

By scanning this story, I no longer need to reopen this bio-degradable Pandora's Box. Hurrah!

Love finds Woody Woodpecker: from New Funnies 90, 1944

Here is an charming early Woody Woodpecker story written and drawn by John Stanley. Though the on-screen Woody had, by 1944, received a most attractive make-over by Walter Lantz layout artist Art Heinemann, the comic-book version retained the butt-ugly pre-1944 look.

Someone finally noticed that the funnybook Woody didn't match up with his most current screen version, and fixed the situation.  Woody looked best in his John Stanley-written stories when Stanley drew them himself. (You'll find some later, more refined examples of Stanley-drawn Woodys throughout this blog's past posts.)

This story anticipates Stanley's soon-to-happen assignment to do the comic book version of Marge Buell's Little Lulu. Woody and his human girlfriend, Patricia, could be exchanged for Lulu and Tubby without altering much of the story.

The piece shows Stanley's ability to juggle hard-knocks comedy and a more sensitive emotional approach. The combination works very well, and would continue to serve Stanley well for the 15-year run of Little Lulu.

The children in this story look like refugees from contemporary Famous Studios "Noveltoons" cartoons. Famous animators moonlighted in comics for Western Publications in the early '40s. John Stanley's distinctive lettering provides the "tell" that this is his work as an artist. That said, another hand may have inked the drawings. The spike and zing of Stanley's pen line aren't evident here.

Woody's closing lines are pure, Grade-A "Tubby talk." Stanley was ready to write Little Lulu--whether he knew it or not!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This one's for Thad: "Andy Panda" from New Funnies #80, 1943

Thad K. wrote and asked me if I had the second John Stanley-written "Andy Panda" story (see last post for the third installment).

I do, and I had to confront my collector side in presenting this rare early piece to you all. In order to scan this 8-page story, I degraded a VF+ copy of this 1943 funnybook, probably to VG+. So it goes. These eight pages are the only worthwhile content in the whole shebang, aside from reprints of Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat newspaper strips. And the story does no one any good languishing in a sealed plastic bag. I doubt these early stories will ever be reprinted. So screw condition... it's all about what's printed on the pages, not what some "authority" sez they're worth!

Thad pointed out something I'd overlooked... that Andy's domestic partner, Charlie Chicken, ages in the first three stories. In #79's piece, Charlie is a chick-like thing--the equivalent of a 7 year-old kid.

In this story, he's half-grown... perhaps a teenage chicken. In the following story (again, check out previous post), Charlie is the more-or-less adult-size squab he would remain ever after.

You don't often see radical changes in such characters. I suppose that, because Charlie wasn't really an official part of the Walter Lantz world, he could be quickly re-thought. (A Charlie-esque chicken--actually, a lot of them--appear in Shamus Culhane's 1943 Meatless Thursday, the first of the innovative director's Andy Panda cartoons. This may be what inspired the idea for Charlie.)

On the other side of the continent, Carl Barks also worked non-standard, recurring characters into the world of "Donald Duck." These outside-the-box figures, including Uncle Scrooge, the Beagle Boys and Gyro Gearloose, also changed dramatically in each of their early story appearances.

In all cases, a standard design was quickly settled upon, and never again changed.

In this story, we see one of Stanley's earliest YOWs, plus a whole lotta commotion, as bear and chicken destroy their domicile, in conflict with one grade-A smart-ass insect. Said insect indulges in some mind-fudgery with Andy and Charlie, and then requests another playdate.

Charlie turns white on one page of the story. Oops!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

A very early effort: "Andy Panda" from New Funnies 81, November, 1943

Hi all. Here is the third "Andy Panda" story by John Stanley. At this stage, he is still learning how to utilize the still-new comic book format.

Nonetheless, there is something distinctive--and border-line creepy--about this story. A dry sense of humor lurks right beneath the simple surface.

To boot, this may be Stanley's earliest story with a fantasy-fairytale angle. Already, a sense of the sinister aligns itself with fantastic subject-matter.

The story's dissolution into was-it-a-dream-or-not, at the end, sets up another familiar Stanley story theme. He leaned on this motif regularly, throughout his career.

Indeed, the first story posted here, "The Guest in the Ghost Hotel," pushes that uncertainty to its limits. It's most interesting to see an early usage here.

Notice that the snowman and snowdog turn pink for one page. As well, both Charlie Chicken and a fire become a muddled fecal green-brown. Oops! Someone mixed up the color separations! This gaffe only enhances the story's curious qualities.

Stanley's resistance to the use of punctuation marks is another distinguishing "tell" of his early work. He later went to the... opposite... extreme -- using! such! effects! to the max...

I'm a big fan of his wild usage of ellipses, bold type, and other visual-verbal kicks in his late '50s and '60s work. It really helps the reader "hear" the stories' intended emotional and tonal inflections. The blank-verse approach of the early Stanley stories is a curious thing. As said, it helps distinguish his lesser stories from the works of other creators.

No masterpiece today--but for its themes and approach, this story has a lot to offer the John Stanley enthusiast.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chew, Chew, Charlie...

This link will take you to the latest installment at Doug Gray's always-fun blog, The Greatest Ape. Its title reminds me of my own childhood misunderstandings of movie and TV show titles. This often led to impossible and unfulfillable expectations... discovering that the movie is not about a gigantic simian, but just a Steve McQueen prison-break movie...

Herein, Doug has kindly scanned and provided the entirety of a curious 1969 Gold Key one-shot funnybook written and laid out by our man John...

I have never seen nor read this particular funnybook. It's been at the top of my Stanley wish-list for awhile. It's a happy coincidence that Doug so kindly chose to post this comic.

As he mentions in his post, it's become annoyingly expensive on the ever-accursed "collector's market." To be fair, it is probably pretty rare.

Doug also provides info on the character's shameless public identity--as a hawker of candy-coated pseudo-licorice snack-treat Good 'n' Plenty. To my knowledge, this is John Stanley's only comic book based on a corporate shill.

Come to think of it, Little Lulu's long association with Kleenex tissue might also count; she was peddling these ersatz snotrags at the time her Dell title first appeared.

While you're at The Greatest Ape, check out the other cool posts, including a plethora of Dick Briefer Frankenstein stories from the mid-1940s.

Thanks, Doug... and double thanks for kindly allowing me to hitch a ride on your wagon this week. I'd begun to feel guilty about my poor showing on this blog. This is, at least, a point to something of interest.

I look forward to reading these seldom-seen Stanley stories myself!

Friday, April 10, 2009

2-in-1 Nancy post

November 2012 note: I see this post is getting a lot of hits of late... is it just because of the stories themselves, or has someone linked to this particular blog entry? Any information is welcome...


Jim Gill put in a request for some more Nancy stories. I don't want to impinge upon the Drawn + Quarterly volumes soon to appear, so I opted for two oddball stories.

Thus, this is a 2-in-1 post.

"Take Me To Your Ladder" [Nancy #163]

This story gives us an unusually formal introduction to a supporting character. Presumably, John Stanley saw all sorts of potential in the self-assured, cheerfully inept burglar, Bill Bumble.

I don't think Bumble was used again. I don't have four issues of the Stanley Nancy run. It's possible he made another appearance in one of those issues.

Bill Bumble is another archetypal Stanley character. He's Tubby, grown up and on the wrong side of the law. Like so many Stanley anti-heroes, he's utterly sure of himself. He operates on the highly flawed assumption that he's unerring, and that the world around him is easy pickin's.

He's a fine foil for Sluggo, who barely needs to rouse himself from sleep to cross, double-cross and bollix Bill Bumble's hapless life of crime.

Great comic timing distinguishes this story. I like Bumble's character design. On the newly-created characters, including Oona Goosepimple and McOnion, Stanley and artist Dan Gormley could indulge in some off-model designs. It gives the faux-Bushmiller look some visual variety.

A good story speaks for itself, so enjoy the high-level sitcom that follows.

Part Two: Is This Stanley's Work?
"The Magazine Wreck," Nancy & Sluggo #185

John Stanley's last full issue of Nancy and Sluggo was #180. Thereafter, the quality of the title went into a steep decline. The sole exception: a few more stories, obviously by Stanley, that were used as filler in subsequent issues. This was the last one. It appears to be Stanley's work. It shows the hand of an editor; some re-writing was done.

The neurotic behavior of Mr. Krank, the magazine store proprietor, smacks of Stanley's hand. As well, Nancy and Sluggo's repeated demolition of his inventory is indicative of our hero's efforts.

It's curious that a few isolated stories appeared after Stanley left the series. Were these from an incomplete issue #181? Did Stanley quit the series suddenly? He appears to have written his final N&S summer camp giant comic in early 1961. Perhaps that lionized his time, and he was only able to script a few scattered stories for the regular title.

It is a highly amusing story--unlike its neighbors in this issue--so I'm inclined to consider this a genyoowine Stanley Story. What do you think?