Saturday, October 31, 2009

The HaLLoween Spirit 4: Tiny Martians Enliven Costume; Cruel Catgirl Skews Party; Rotund Goblin Exposed, Painted Pink By Witch

After all the sturm and drang of Tales From The Tomb, let's return to the more reassuring world of "Little Lulu." Here are the last three stories from the 1958 "Halloween Fun" giant. Previous installments can be found HERE, HeRe, HerE and hERe. Whew!

These last three stories take place in comix "real time." That is to say, they occur "live" before the reader, with no breaks or jumps. As this giant comic began that way, it's appropriate that it end in this manner.

First up is Tubby in "The Headless Goblin," which guest-stars the little men from Mars:

There's some rich "Tubby talk" in this typical later story. Though Tub bears the sting of angry ants, he is rewarded by show-stopping and status-boosting SFX. His self-worth is boosted, and he awaits his much-deserved chocolate-covered cherries.

A minor but pervasive Stanleyism is seen on the story's last page, in the fourth panel. Spots before the eyes, in Stanley's world, connotes confusion, fear, worry, illness and other distress-related states of mind.

I believe R. Sikoryak picks up on this in his brilliant melding of Stanley's "Little Lulu" and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, as seen in his recent anthology, Masterpiece Comics. This is brilliant stuff, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The kids have regained their composure and returned to the party for "The Great Don't-Dad Hunt." Here, we see Lulu in an ur-Catwoman costume, as she and Annie manipulate their friends for their personal gain:

Lulu is a rascal in this story. Were it not for the reassuring adult-offered reward of ice cream and cake, the other kids would be justified in egging (or toilet-papering) the Moppet household. They have been well and truly used by Lulu. And for what? A doll's hairpiece! Tubby doesn't look so conniving, or as greedy, in light of this story.

The final story, "Ol' Witch Hazel and the Bashful Ghost ," is perhaps the only of Lulu's fractured fairy-tales in which she does not appear in any way, shape or form.

Though an odd way to close this Halloween giant--in that it offers a cursory wrap-up, rather than a formal conclusion, this is a wild, antic story, in which one senses that Stanley felt like cutting loose and having some fun. He seems to really enjoy depicting Witch Hazel without the presence of Lulu, or of Little Itch, the witch-in-training who is usually right by Hazel's side in these stories.

The rotund, mustached, pink goblin on the story's last page is a wonderfully perverse visual element.

Well, kids, that's it for Halloween. I managed to fulfill my goal of posting a month's worth of Halloween-worthy stories, while moving all my stuff across town and working on my graphic novel. I think I'll take it easy tonight and let Halloween happen.

I may be absent for a bit, as I set up my new domicile. I hope to have a new post in a week or so. 'Til then, please check back often, and I hope yours is a Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tales From The Tomb #1, pt. 4: Elemental Swamp Horror Takes Elder Dog's Life; Mordant Humor Dominates One-Page Fillers

Here's the last of Tales From The Tomb... "The Mudman." The Grand Comics Database claims this story was drawn by George Evans. I only wish it were... the GCD has some endearingly nutty errors. This is not George Evans' artwork, I assure you...

THIS is an example of George Evans' typically graceful artwork, just in case you're unfamiliar with his comix.

"The Mudman" has a Tubby-esque main character, given to some mild cognitive biases and full of chatter. If Tubby had been presented with a horrific event, as seen here, the results would likely be similar, especially this panel:

"The Mudman" offers the only bona-fide monster rampage moment in this unique anthology. Stanley obviously wished to end the book with a bang. His sense of comic absurdity barely keeps contained. Or, to be fair, I'll say that it's hard to read "serious" Stanley without an overlay of his strong sense of comedy.

Two tongue-in-cheek fillers end this book. "Asphalt Test," drawn by Frank Springer, is cut from the cloth of Dunc 'n' Loo, and is quite amusing:

"The 'Interview'" sends off Tales From the Tomb on an appropriate note of nuttiness.

Well, there you have it, folks. 80 addled pages of nightmare images, neurotic fantasies, a truckload of ellipses, and some undeniably effective moments.

Tales From The Tomb ended John Stanley's short-lived career as a writer of non-humor comix. I wonder what might have happened, had these comix been OK with people, and had Stanley continued in this vein.

I'm glad he didn't, as we might not have his mid-1960s auteur period, where he was a total cartoonist for a few happy years. But, as daffy as some of these stories are, they are always compelling and colorful and, even when their scare-concepts fail, or are staged ineptly, damned imaginative.

As I said in a prior post, there are no other horror comix like John Stanley's. We can only be thankful that this eccentric outburst saw print.

Look for the final Halloween Little Lulu post--on Halloween! See you then...

Tales From The Tomb #1, part 3: Padded Therapist, Tragic-Mystic Cat, Grouchy Scion of Wealth All Involved in Horrific Events

We're on the home stretch of Tales From The Tomb...

Today's posting offers two of its freakiest stories, plus one of its most oddly moving and, dare I say, poetic.

Freak flags fly first with the slice of psycho-horror that is "Crazy Quilt." This is THE story from TFTT that most who read it as kids remember with a shudder. Well, just see for yourself...

"Crazy Quilt" is, at once, John Stanley's kookiest piece, and one of his most revealing as a writer.

The concept is sheer nightmare lunacy. It is a perfect sort of childish bad dream. Being quilted, in the cold light of day, may not strike a mature adult as terrifying. It might actually be a virtue in colder climates.

But from the viewpoint of a child, to whom the world is a sweltering mass of unknown and untested things, this concept is most potent. The idea that a comforting, warming object like a quilt could become something frightening and dangerous is appropriate for a child's imagination.

For a man who said "I don't believe in therapists and pills," Stanley turns in a stellar performance-in-words via poor Miss Birkley, the protagonist. She twists and turns on the psychiatric couch as she tells her story, rich in details and punctuated... with... synapses. I feel that Stanley sympathizes with her.

Therein, we find an interesting variant on the "you are doomed... doomed... DOOMED!" bit that appears in some of Stanley's later Little Lulu stories, and in the harrowing encounters, in Nancy and Sluggo, between Sluggo and the push-button psychotic McOnion.

The rich attention to detail, in Miss Birkley's theraputic monologue, anticipates the nervous, similarly vulnerable dialog of Stanley's Thirteen Going On Eighteen. Stanley's dialogue grew longer and more intense in the 1960s. This talky trend reached an apotheosis in his last work for comix, the first issue of O. G. Whiz (which you'll find in an earlier installment on this blog).

The villain of the piece, of course, is the psycho-therapist-slash-quilter.

Next is a curiously poignant story with subtle scare elements--"The Cat That Was Part of The Night."

"The Cat That Was Part of The Night" suggests a lost Val Lewton horror movie of the 1940s. It is more about domestic tension and dysfunctional adults than horror, per se.

The most charged moments in the story concern the trauma of separation between the little girl, Sue, and her black cat Sammy.

We've seen a dress rehearsal for this scene in the "Li'l Eight Ball" story from New Funnies #101, which was posted HERE not so long ago.

In both stories, Stanley invests the moment of separation with much drama. He is better able to voice this pain in "The Cat..."
Here, he paints a strong portrait of an effed-up family dynamic. Dinah is a commonly-seen 1960s Stanley character--the shrill harridan whose job in life is to bitch and moan and make the world around her tense.

Dinah and Jerry do not get along very well. Jerry is a passive schlump, while dominating Dinah rides him with gusto. Both adults use the child, Sue, for emotional target practice, scoring indirect but vicious hits on one another in her name.

Sue has retreated into a pacifying bond with her cat, Sammy. She describes him poetically on the story's third page:

"Sammy is black--like the night! Sammy is a little part of the night! If he's put out he'll go back into the night!"

All the supernatural elements in this story occur off-stage. We see them through Sue's eyes. She becomes chillingly cruel as she watches Dinah being shredded to bits by the resurrected cat:

In the cold light of day, police surmise that it was your run of the mill raspberry bush scratch/broken neck combo. But Sue knows better.

"The Cat That Was Part of The Night" is the most powerful and convincing story in Tales From The Tomb. I wish the artwork were stronger. The artist does a sort of pastiche of Jack Kamen, George Evans and that Madison Avenue drawing style of the Space Age. The results are, like much of this book, oddly primitive. Yet they somehow--if just barely--succeed.

Back to Wonkyland for "The Long Wait"-- no relation to the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name.

The Tales From The Tomb formula--novel concepts made zany and dream-incoherent--reach their peak in "The Long Wait."

In this story, Stanley calls one of his pet themes--that rich people are no damned good--and gives it a new twist.

Here, we see a very rare instance of a wealthy person (and an admitted scoundrel) willing to atone for his misdeeds. Despite the physical improbability of the story's last panel, "The Long Wait" impresses with its blend of grim ritual and of a miscreant baring his soul and confessing his crimes.

Rich, detailed dialogue fills this story. Mr. Drone's ironic recitation of the "classic" version of his life story, followed by what really happened, is among Stanley's most impressive writing. As well, the interactions of Drone and his man servant, Robert, in a situation usually played for black comedy in Stanley's world, are handled here with impressive gravity.

The concept for the story's shock ending is worthy of the best of the E.C. horror comix. Its shoddy treatment by the artist really robs this piece of its potential impact. As it stands, its blend of grave, affecting dialogues and a kooky finale are par for the TFTT course.

And now, to clear the palate, here's another one-pager, "Goblin's Ball"-- a goldmine of runaway ellipses...

Until... next... time...