Wednesday, May 19, 2010
More of Stanley's Krazy Kat: from issue #5, 1952 with a chaser from '55
It's been nearly two years since I posted examples of John Stanley's curious take on the cult classic George Herriman comic strip Krazy Kat.
This series was an apparent challenge to Stanley. The first two issues show him struggling to get a grip on these felicitous characters, and the whimsical settings--both at odds with his prior, mostly urban/suburban material. Of course, just as he was getting into the Kokonino Kounty groove, Dell had to cancel the series.
These are some stories from the last issue of the first KK run. This untitled "Ignatz Mouse" story is very similar to a couple of contemporary Little Lulu stories. "Space Kids," from LL 56 (September, 1953), shows Tubby an' Th' Gang [TM] attempting a similar space-age mind fudge on Lulu and Annie. In "Trip To The Moon" (LL 86, August, 1955), the rascals fake-out Lulu into believing she's gone to--I don't need to finish typing that sentence, do I?
This theme surfaces other times in Stanley's LL and Tubby stories. Free to portray the "Tubby Type" in its apotheosis, Stanley lets Ignatz run rampant in his astro-prank, as you'll see...
Lively cartooning, imbued with that unmistakable "Stanley Spike," sells the antic events of this story swimmingly. My favorite moment: the worthy-of-Samuel Beckett Page Four, Panel Two.
Air travel is a theme in this issue. This longer story takes more time to explore its absurd set-up, and is peppered with sprightly word-play. Stanley let himself romp on the pages of this funnybook...
Ignatz' single-minded pursuit of an exhausting, complex prank again reminds us of Master Tompkins. This story plays as a sort-of Tubby daydream. There is an air of wish-gratification in the careening events: the kind of mid-day fantasia a bored Tub might have, fighting off post-lunch sleepiness in the back of Miss Feeny's class.
As freewheeling theater-of-the-absurd entertainment, these Krazy komix have their undeniable charms. As with the recently posted New Terrytoons material, this isn't first-rate John Stanley. But there is a sense of joy and abandon. While he continues to work within the formulae of Little Lulu, he is able to take greater risks with the characters--which he clearly enjoys. Unlike Lulu, Krazy is a sort of Zen airhead. His/her lack of emotional reaction to Ignatz' mischief is disarming.
There is displayed a certain reverence for the original Geo. Herriman conception of the strip. Stanley, who was usually prone to re-invent the cast, add new characters, and otherwise slant the personas of his adopted, licensed figures, stays fairly true to the vibe of the original. He is, perhaps, more clever than Herriman--one does not sense the intellectual struggles that make Herriman's work fascinating and transcendent.
When I read Herriman's Krazy, I strongly sense the hard effort of thinking. I don't feel that funny stuff came to him as automatically as it did to Stanley. Herriman and Carl Barks have this in common: their work feels ponderous (altho' in a good way). While Stanley's work has obvious smarts to it, I don't think he puzzled over his work. It feels as though he got 'in the zone' and just produced these stories in a burst.
I can't say for sure. This remains the "Rosebud" of John Stanley: I still know almost nothing about the man. I have been in contact with Stanley's son, James, and with a former Dell Comics editor, with whom I hope to do an interview, who worked with Stanley in the 1960s. It is my hope that both these individuals can help me shed some light on who Stanley was as a person, and how he developed his sense of humor, and appreciation of the absurd.
For now, I'm just wondering out loud here. I appreciate your humoring me while I ramble a bit.
For a chaser, here's the title-free Ignatz story from the 1955 "Four-Color" KK #619. While its frantic events are kinda kontrived, Ignatz' poetic monologue, on the opening page, is Tubby-Talk at its most profound.
In contrast to the 1952 stories, this seems rather dashed-off. Stanley's workload was more regulated in the mid-1950s. Though he was drawing the quarterly Tubby, which may have consumed more time than usual, he wrote some 480-odd pages of Little Lulu material--for the monthly comic and one 100-page giant. Assignments such as this and the Little King one-shots may have been squeezed in to fatten the ol' paycheck.
In closing, I hate to contradict Dell's advertising copy, but, rest assured--no goodness, or entertainment, could be had in either funny-book pictured in that filler ad.