Saturday, February 13, 2010

Killer, Not Filler--John Stanley's complete "Woody Woodpecker" gag pages of 1947 [updated 9-22-10]

Here is an appropriately red-hued bouquet of 18 comic-book roses from the pen and wit of John Stanley. At least one of these has appeared here before, but most of these are mega-sized scans from my copies of these old funnybooks. I left 'em large so you can savor Stanley's slick, sharp pen line and vivid cartooning.

These were done around the same time of the only New Yorker cartoon Stanley published. They share the elegance and verve of that high-ticket achievement, in both looks and content. They're a marked improvement on the series of full-length stories Stanley wrote and drew in 1945 and '46 issues of New Funnies.

I now feel that Stanley probably didn't ink those "Woody Woodpecker" stories, a few examples of which you can find elsewhere on this blogscape. The pencils are clearly his, but the ink line is lifeless in comparison to these gag pages. They look exactly like his early story-and-art for the Little Lulu one-shots in this regard.


These gag pages, in turn, look more like the "Jigger and Mooch" stories Stanley wrote and drew for Animal Comics--all which are gathered elsewhere on Stanley Stories. Those share the thin, spiky pen-nib line of these shorter pieces.

Stanley contributed these filler pages for 10 issues of New Funnies. He was at the end of his tenure on this title when these pages were created.

Here's the first one Stanley did for New Funnies 121. These ran on the inside front (and, later, back) covers of each issue. The model airplane contest theme figures in several classic Little Lulu stories.

 
The humanoid dogface characters have a lot in common with Carl Barks' comic book work. Some of the background characters almost look like Barks' art style--almost being the operative word.

Though this pantomime gag is simple and straightforward, the eye appeal of Stanley's cartooning urges the onlooker to linger upon each frame.

Stanley had been drawing Little Lulu regularly for a couple of years, and all that practice really paid off. His cartooning of the later 1940s is among his best.

Issue 122 of New Funnies also contains one Stanley gag page. It's the wildest (and densest) of the entire run. This may be Stanley's finest piece of cartooning in the 1940s. It has strong hints of Milt Gross, blended with School-Of-Tex Avery zaniness. Stanley's cartooning is much stronger and more confident than in the prior issue. Thanks to Ron Limbaugh for supplying this hard to find issue.


 
Stanley took more chances with a licensed entity, in this single page, than he ever did elsewhere. The contemporary animated Woody was capable of such outbursts, but never with such grave consequences. As a result of his indoor hunting (which is, quite sanely, justified in the second panel) Woody's home is surrounded by armed police. The final silent panel shows him angry, in a strait jacket, and locked in a padded cell. A lot occurred between panels 10 and 11!

No gag pages ran in NF 123. There's almost no Stanley content, period, in that issue. Must have been a deadline crunch somewhere else that month.

Thanks to Alan Hutchinson's generous scan donations, I can share with you Stanley's pair of pages from New Funnies 124:




 
These pages just get better as they go along. The last one touches on a still-timely bit of American statis: the inertia that surrounds Christmas tree removal. I can still see Xmas decorations (and a few scraggly trees) on display in my neighborhood. (Truth told, I once left an Xmas tree up until Easter. Thus, this is strictly glass house material for me.)

It's a thrill to see Stanley's cartooning get so sharp and ferocious.  The highly varied figures on these two pages dance with life. (The Barksish dogmen are still here; this would be their last appearance in Woody's world. I suppose some black truck came for them in the night.)

The human woman who offers Woody fudge--in a seductive manner, I might add--looks a lot like Barks' contemporary drawings of human beings. 
The first gag page, with Woody's OCD collecting of bottle caps, ties in neatly with the "Andy Panda" story I posted HERE. "Hoarding, compulsive" emerges as a minor theme in the 1947 New Funnies issues.

These next two are not my scans; they're from New Funnies 125.

By this time, the Barksoid dogfaces are 100% replaced by human characters. It's interesting to see Stanley drawing more attractive figures, as he does in the first page here. His human characters tend to be chubby, spindly or child-sized.

Look at how well he draws human feet in that first page, too. As any cartoonist will tell ya, feet--bare feet in particular--are a b!tch to draw. They're rendered in such simple, confident lines here. Stanley must have been feeling pretty engaged and inspired as a cartoonist in 1947. His New Yorker cartoon sale contributed to that vibe, I would guess.



Woody's act of aggression towards the studly lifeguard, in the first gag page, is hilarious. This is a great instance of the Stanley "Tubby type" expressing himself to his oblivious "superiors."

I ran one of the pages from New Funnies 126 in the second "John Stanley's World" post. For completeness' sake, here it is again. You will recognize one panel as part of the collage of the logo for this blog. 



I am proud of Woody's pro-active solution to his sneering asshole neighbor's request.

126's "B" page again recalls the cartoon style of Milt Gross, and the archly exaggerated, angular figures of Tex Avery's 1946-8 MGM cartoons. The scouts at the end could easily fit into an average "Little Lulu" episode.

New Funnies 127's gag pages are both gems--perfect executions of essential Stanley themes and comedic set-ups. I ran a lesser scan of the second one recently, but its morbid visuals and macabre overtones made it a must for re-scanning at a large size.



Stanley's cartooning gets more aggressive and expressive in the last batch of these gag pages. Dig the vibrant poses and great panel compositions of the first page below. Both are from New Funnies 128.




The next two, from New Funnies 129, feature some of the spikiest, most Milt Gross-like cartoon art Stanley ever produced. It's got so much raw life in every line! Tho' his Woody goes dangerously off-model by this time, the verve and snap are a marked improvement over the bland official design.



 
Look at the final panel of that first page! Wow! That jack in the box is right out of a 1927 Nize Baby page by Milt Gross! Stanley's cartooning style of the '40s is typically so laid-back and naturalistic. It's great to see him pushing the boundaries of cartooniness in these pages.

Stanley's last writing appears in NF 129. His gag pages graced the now-inept monthly for two more issues. Perhaps these were inventory items, done some time before the end of '47.

Here are the two pages for NF 130.





The first of these two is a laugh-out-loud affair, with quite the different angle on the housing market. 2010's Woody would be glad he wasn't saddled with unsellable homes!

Dig the atrocious mis-coloring by the monochromatic production person. Woody's creepy uncolored lower eyelids in the third tier... brrr!

Exhibit B shows the 'pecker's more mischievous side, and ends on a barbed note of feathered frustration.

Issue 131 offers the last of his Woody gag pages. They're both doozies. As with issue 130, the "b" page is just three tiers, to make room for money-saving coupons. Here they are:




 
Woody's act of shoplifting, in the "A" page, suggests a subtle continuity from the previous issue's "B" page. From realtor to apple thief in just one issue!

The final page in this series offers a Zen approach to comedic problem-solving. It's fitting that this series concludes with Woody living at a Dutch angle--and the happier for it.

These are the last pieces John Stanley did for New Funnies--ending a run of almost five years in this magazine.

Other artists, including Dick Hall and Dan Gormley, continued these magenta-tinted Woody gag pages for some time in New Funnies. Suffice to say they fall short of the standards Stanley set in this short run of brilliant cartooning.

It's taken a year to gather all these pages together. I'm glad to finally present them here. I feel they are significant additions to the works of John Stanley, cartoonist-writer.

2 comments:

Paul Tumey said...

Great stuff here, Frank! Having recently taken a closer look at Jack Cole's 1-pagers and gag cartoons, I find it interesting to study Stanley's shorter works. It's not easy to pull this sort of thing off so gracefully. I agree, this is some dern fine cartooning!

Thad said...

Thanks for sharing these one-pagers! Some are a little crude though; the lifeguard one is really poor in my opinion. While Woody punching the guy in the neck is a great idea, Stanley clearly had trouble putting it across in the actual drawing - look at that sloppy line of action!

The one at the cemetery though is absolutely brilliant.