The day will come when I exhaust all the comix written and drawn by John Stanley--that is, those that aren't currently in reprint status by our fine friends at Drawn + Quarterly!
I hear tell that they may publish the overlooked and under-rated Tubby series. If this is true, it's cause for joy! I find Dark Horse's scan/reprints of the color Little Lulus to be an eyesore. (Ditto for all their other scan-scourced reprint projects.)
In an attempt to downplay the age of the stories, DH chooses to pump up the brightness/contrast controls. This removes the amber hues of the half-century-old newsprint--at the expense of visual pleasure. The comix look harsh and uninviting. As well, they print 'em on slick paper--another roadblock to full enjoyment.
Yes, I am delighted that the later issues of Lulu are back in print! I'm glad to see them in color. BUT... it could be done much better.
Tubby is an important series in the Stanley canon. Aside from the obvious reasons--the series focuses on Stanley's most significant and fully-realized anti-hero figure--Tubby is a gateway to Stanley's 1960s work. Here, he experimented with the darker themes and character relationships that would come to full fruition in Dunc 'n' Loo, Melvin Monster and Thirteen Going On Eighteen.
These are often achieved in baby steps, but they happen most often in the pages of Tubby. Published quarterly at first, the title became the repository of John Stanley's only published cartooning work of the 1950s. As has been noted here before, Stanley was inspired to draw issues 2 through 9 in their entirety. That's 288 pages of rich, inspired comix art.
The contents of Tubby are little-known to most Lulu fans. You can find a few other posts on this series elsewhere in this blog. Stanley indulged in a series of exotic, unconventional book-length adventure stories, again unique to his 1950s work, in issues 2-4 and 6.
With the fifth Tubby, Stanley broke the pattern. The book's lead story, which I'll feature here soon, is a rather un-PC burlesque of Western adventure tropes. Perhaps it ended sooner than its creator expected. The back-up story, presented here today, is as close to Little Lulu territory as Stanley's Tubby gets.
Its settings are akin to the suburban idyll of Lulu, and it features the fearsome West Side Gang, in one of their only Stanley-drawn appearances. Another Lulu icon, the rich sociopath Wilbur Van Snobbe, figures in the story's stake-raising plot.
The simple beauty of Stanley's cartooning is a joy to behold. Much as I admire Irving Tripp's artwork, Stanley's has more oomph, and consistently achieves more with less.
When your alleged friends force you to dress in drag (with mohair sofa stuffing for a wig) and enter enemy territory, your day is already not going well.
The mind-fudgery the West Side Guys inflict on Tubby reminds me of a scene from one of the few genuine horror movies I've ever seen: Jack Webb's The D.I. This 1957 chiller contains a similar sequence in which D.I./A-hole Webb forces his platoon to search for the corpse of a sand flea in a vast, tangled field--at night.
This would be MY worst nightmare. Tubby's forced crocheting of a substitute spider-web, while comically absurd, is a similarly wearisome, thankless task. His Pyrrhic victory over the West Siders--via the clever sleight-of-hand with the captured skunk--is a weak triumph, when compared to the mass of $h!t he must endure.
Tub seldom gives more than he gets. Thus, it's easy to like him, and to identify with his comic/horrific plights. Whether pursued by sociopathic, spanking-crazed loners, forced to endure endless violin lessons, or being badgered by Gloria, Wilbur, the West Side Guys and his so-called friends, Tub's life is full of risks and emotional land-mines.
Tubby endures. He'd make a good crisis counselor or hostage negotiator. I'd like to think that he grew up to such a career--one in which his problem solving skills AND his extreme egotism would work for him, and not deliver constant kicks to the shins.
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