Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stanley's Final Funny Animal Comics: "Heckle and Jeckle" from New Terrytoons 4, 1969

Here is perhaps the most fascinating find I made in my months of work on this new 104-page e-book, The 1960s John Stanley Bibliography. (To purchase this and other e-books, see the permalink at the top of the Stanley Stories homepage.)

I  bought and filed away this 1969 issue of New Terrytoons in the late 1990s. At that time, I assumed its contents were all reprints.

The title was started by Dell Comics in 1960, before its break with Western Publications. Stanley wrote stories for its fourth through eighth issues. For many years, it was thought that these were his final comics of the funny animal genre.

The Terrytoons properties were among those Western took with them when they reformed as Gold Key Comics in 1962. The title was quickly cancelled in 1963 with its third issue.

Dell got a temporary lien on the characters for three comics in 1966/67. Typical of their post-Western, non-Stanley output, they were terrible comics, and the Terry license apparently reverted to Gold Key. They revived New Terrytoons in mid-1969, picking up where they left off in issue numbering. At least one of the stories within is a reprint, from the 1960/61 Dell run of the series. I had every reason to believe that two of the other three "Heckle and Jeckle" stories were also reprints, or inventory backlog.

As I have learned what little there is to know about the last years of John Stanley's comics career, it's become clear that he quit Dell in 1967, took about one year off from comics, and then approached Gold Key/Western for work in 1968 or early '69. This suggests that some last straw was broken at Dell, and that Stanley sought to return to the company that had first and longest employed him as a comics creator.

Stanley did first issues of two titles for Gold Key--the TV ad knockoff Choo Choo Charlie and his final original creation, O. G. Whiz. Sometime in 1971, another event caused Stanley to walk away from the comics industry for good. He took up work at a small company called Fairgate Rule. Michael Barrier has done some remarkable research into this post-comics phase of Stanley's life, and has a haunting essay about Fairgate and Stanley HERE.

In between those two book-length comics, Stanley found time to write and draw a pair of "Heckle and Jeckle" stories. Compare these two pieces to the contents of Charlie or Whiz and it's quite evident these are 1969 works.

The three comics share a burst of compressed, garrulous and colorful hard comedy, peppered with finely-honed wordplay and much of the frenzied physical action seen in Stanley's auteur comics Thirteen Going on Eighteen and Melvin Monster. While neither of today's story offerings is a masterpiece, they offer us another fascinating late glimpse of John Stanley's writing and (partial) artwork.

Stanley did no further stories for New Terrytoons. Subsequent issues are largely reprints of the first Dell run, filled out with new stuff crapped out by the Gold Key staff. Why Stanley was approached to do these stories makes sense: he'd done dozens of similar pieces in the 1940s and early '60s. They circle back to his earliest work for Western Publications, in titles such as New Funnies and Our Gang Comics. Many examples of those 1940s stories are found elsewhere on this blog.

The first of these stories, "The Restaurant Business," was featured on the first version of Stanley Stories, nearly 15 years ago. These are new scans, and are substantially larger and better than the earlier attempt. This story has the closest ties to Stanley's '60s material. The theme of a pretentious French restaurant figures in two of Stanley's finest '60s stories, "Mice Business" (Melvin Monster #3) and "Dress Affair," from Dunc and Loo #4.

ERRATA: I had previously stated: "This is Stanley's cover, with some modifications by Western's art staff. The paint blotches on the palette and the apple cores are redolent of Stanley's brush style. It's probable that the figures of Heckle and Jeckle may have been touched up by another hand."

Not right! This is a reprint of the cover of the Dell New Terrytoons number 6, from 1961. While I still feel that the inking style is reminiscent of Stanley's, he obviously did not do the covers for this series. He did write and layout/possibly pencil the following two stories.

Several Stanley tropes dominate "The Restaurant Business," from the myopia of Heckle and Jeckle, who mistake the French eatery for the public library, to the constant status shifts between the uptight manager and the bouncer, Beef, who is paid in bananas.

Heckle and Jeckle are typical Stanley trouble-makers. They shift their behavior with the uncertain situation. Their constant goal is to best the authority figure(s) and make the most of their mistaken assumptions.

Stanley's hand is evident in the artwork, although it appears another artist did the ink finishes. The ink artist may have simply light-boxed Stanley's script, which would have been sketched out in comics form. The remarkable vigor of the figures, and the design of the characters, smack of Stanley's work.

"The Fastest Guns in the West" strongly resembles Stanley's "Woody Woodpecker" stories of the mid-1940s. As in those stories, the main character(s), armed only with their wits and their strong cognitive biases, assess a dangerous situation without the realistic understanding that might frighten or worry them.

If John Stanley was Vladimir Nabokov, we could consider the constant woodpecker references in "Fastest Guns" some meta-allusion to the 1940s New Funnies material. Stanley claimed (or feigned) forgetfulness of his past work. When pressed by fans in the early 1990s, Stanley rejected work that was obviously his, and claimed authorship of some comics he clearly had nothing to do with.

As a final callback to the anarchic spirit of the 1940s material, "Fastest Guns" is a fond farewell. Stanley's refined sense of wordplay, and of escalating physical comedy, brings more substance to this story than it has any right to possess.

Stanley appears to be in a fine mood in these two stories. He seems to have had a good time writing them, and the touches of his hand in their artwork (which may have been finished by Lloyd White--and that's just a remote guess on my part) gives them a suitable vigor.

This is just one piece of the rich and complex puzzle that comprises the final works of John Stanley. To learn more, consider a purchase of the new 1960s bibilography. Thanks!

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