Sunday, September 28, 2008

more "Dunc 'n' Loo" for yoo!

Here is a bundle of stories from the third issue of Around The Block With Dunc 'n' Loo. This series' title would be shortened to plain ol' Dunc 'n' Loo with the next issue. The series lasted eight issues. I guess it was too good to last too long!

I don't want to take away from Drawn & Quarterly's upcoming reprint of this fine, fine, super-fine series. I just don't have anything else on hand to post this morning!

I'm impressed by the division of character focus in this series. Dunc and Loo are rarely in the same story together. They cross paths with the same characters, and embody the same settings, while they independently go about their business.

These first two stories, "Bombs Away" and "Ghost Story," feature neighbors Beth and Buddy. Dunc and Loo each struggle to impress and woo lovely Beth. Her interest comes with a price. She has a hulking, psychotically devoted sibling who clings to her like white to rice.

"Bombs Away" features Dunc and his younger brother Joey. Joey is another Stanley kid doomed to violin lessons. He is almost as devoted to his instrument as is Lulu's Tubby Tompkins.

"Ghost Story," a Loo feature, takes us into the bowels of the Airy Arms Apartments. It's yet another instance, in Stanley's world, of a sinister "inner world" waiting, amidst the mundane surroundings, to swallow up his protagonists.

Down in these depths live the building's superintendent, Mr. Klinka, and his wife. I can't imagine they have a decent view!

Both stories also feature the swift application of a bucket of water--with different motivations and outcomes.

I've chosen to run these stories out of order from their original 1962 publication.

For dessert, there's a two-pager featuring Dunc and some smelly garbage. It also ends with a...well, that's a spoiler!

Enjoy the charm and verve of Bill Williams' artwork on this series. I wish he and Stanley had worked together more often!

* * *

* * *

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jigger, Mooch and "food that don't fight back:" from "Animal Comics" #28, 1948

By popular's another of the handful of "Jigger" stories that John Stanley wrote and drew for Animal Comics.

Typically for this series (and 1940s Stanley), we have a pair of dispossessed figures who leave their familiar world for unknown places. In this case, these two city dogs elect to head for the sticks, in search of food that little Jigger swears "jus' lays around on the ground!"

Stanley has these two canine characters' personas down by this story. Jigger is a typical Stanley protagonist. He's driven to see his plans succeed, even when life has shown him that they typically don't pan out. Mooch is content to lie on a dirty sidewalk, and takes much prodding and convincing by his tiny pal to even get to his feet.

Mooch remains unwooed by the charms of the wide-open spaces, where even the apples seem to have it out for him.

The settings are familiar Stanley territory. This run-down, utilitarian urban landscape--one that looks distinctly Northeastern--is the stage for hundreds of John Stanley's stories. Most of Little Lulu and Tubby take place in this anonymous Anywhere, USA.

Wish I had more to say about this story. I kinda shot my wad on "Jigger" in the previous post on this series. I love Stanley's highly stylized, tight cartooning on this series. His artwork never looked the same anywhere else.

Hope you enjoy this story, and thanks for dropping by! I'll do another post tomorrow...probably some more stories from Dunc 'n' Loo!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A post of convenience: "Andy Panda," from "New Funnies" #125, 1947--MISSING PAGE ADDED!

I had today's original story choice all ready to go--or so I thought. I'd forgotten to scan one page out of a long story. @#!%#@$!@#, if I may curse funnybook-style!

I had this amusing "Andy Panda" story as a possible Plan B, so here comes that rainy day! (Here in Seattle, it is NOT raining this morning. It poured non-stop yesterday.)

This is a typical entry in Stanley's entertaining-enough stint on New Funnies. Stanley wrote for the title for 4.5 years, and racked up, I'd estimate, 400 to 500 pages of work. Not all of it is world-class. Some of it ranks with his best work. It is a consistently likable and colorful chapter in John Stanley's career.

Via the characters of Woody Woodpecker and Charlie Chicken (from "Andy Panda"), Stanley developed the personality template for Tubby Tompkins, anti-hero of the Little Lulu comics. New Funnies also endowed Stanley with the ability to reel off variants on familiar plot devices and story formats.

Here is an amusing Stanley screwball-comedy. It has a classic screwball structure: one small misunderstanding snowballs into an avalanche of confusion, fueled by gossiping spinsters and "nosy parkers."

Stanley shoves one of his sinister hulking characters into the mix, just for fun. He also gives a typically descriptive name to the story's main character, Mrs. Munchbun.

Her neurotic, obsessive-compulsive devotion to her dead spouse is both touching and hilarious. (Our teaser panel hints at the manifestation of Munchbun's OCD memorial.)

Stanley was not writing for tots with stories such as this. Most of the humor in this piece would soar over a 9 year-old's head like a stealth bomber at midnight. Or, perhaps, the average 9 year-old, circa 1947, was a hell of a lot smarter than anyone would like to admit!

I hope that, somewhere, someday, the identities of the artists who rendered these stories will come to light. This cartoonist did many pieces for New Funnies. He has a pleasantly spiky, expressive workmanlike style. I don't think it is Irving Tripp or Dan Gormley. It could not be Dan Noonan. This artist did a lot of work for the East Coast division of Dell Comics. There must be records of the Dell artists somewhere...

While this mystery remains unsolved, please enjoy this amusin' but confusin' Stanley story!

NOTE: I somehow neglected to post the final page to this story when I first created this entry. Thanks for noticing this, Chris Riesbeck! Today is Missing Page Day here at Stanley Stories... my apologies to anyone who tried to read this story before its final page was belatedly slapped into place!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meet Oona Goosepimple! From "Nancy" #162, 1959

As John Stanley wound down on his 15-year stint writing Little Lulu, he took on a very similar project.

Dell had acquired the publication rights to United Feature Syndicate's Tip Top and Nancy titles when St. John bowed out of the comics biz. St. John, best known for its sophisticated romance comics, had picked up these books from UFS when THEY opted out of funnybook-dom.

Dell created new "Nancy" stories. United Features had generated some original "Fritzi Ritz" tales. UFS' new material was nothing to speak of. It was a first attempt at fashioning comic-book stories from Bushmiller's creations.

Dell also served up original "Peanuts" stories, created by a friend of Charles Schulz's, and crappy "Captain And The Kids" stories that hewed closely to the equally wretched newspaper feature.

Ernie Bushmiller's newspaper strips, the most Zen cartoons ever published, had been reprinted (and, in some cases, re-reprinted) in lieu of original material.

Dell floundered with both titles before eventually dropping Nancy into John Stanley's hands. Stanley wrote a few fine stories for Dell's version of Tip Top Comics--but  most of his effort was reserved for the main title.

Stanley's Nancy, with art by Dan Gormley, hewed closely to the look of the Bushmiller strip. In telling actual narratives, Stanley significantly parted ways with the original.

Bushmiller had narratives in the 1920s and '30s Fritzi Ritz and Nancy daily strips. By the end of WW2, he had let even the lightest story threads drop for a gag-a-day format.

Stanley didn't work up a sweat with the Nancy comic book. He translated the "Lulu" formula to this new series. Nancy=Lulu, Sluggo=Tubby, Rollo=Wilbur, and Spike=the West Side Gang in these particular Stanley stories. The characters may be slightly different, but they serve identical functions to the "Lulu" cast.

Stanley approached this new assignment with surprising vigor--he'd seemed to have written himself out on Little Lulu by this time. Perhaps the slightly different dynamic of the characters put some pep in his creative step.

For example, Nancy's antagonistic relationship with her aunt Fritzi Ritz differs from Lulu's more subservient, respectful attitude towards her parents. Sluggo, unlike Tubby Tompkins, appears to be an orphan. He lives in utter poverty in his own ramshackle house, sans parental guidance.

Stanley invented some inspired supporting characters for Nancy--the borderline-psycho Mr. McOnion, the much-perturbed passive-aggressive neighbor to Sluggo, and his smart-ass, long-suffering wife. Best of all is the other-worldly Oona Goosepimple, who rates as one of Stanley's most enigmatic creations.

Here is Oona's debut story. It was the first of many Oona-borne mind-fudges for poor Nancy. Oona appears benign, but inhabits a world of sorcery and fourth-dimensional shenanigans. She forces Nancy to be her playmate, usually by paralyzing her or taking control of her body.

Oona's house and its contents batter Nancy's psyche with their wigged-out, pixilated doings. Nancy endures a waking nightmare any time she encounters Oona and her clan. Yet, Oona likes Nancy, and though their playdates are terror-thons for the prickly-headed, dash-nosed lass, their friendship endures.

Oona is like a figure from one of Lulu's stories to Alvin, come outside the box of those narratives and into the "real" comics world.

This story also introduces Oona's Uncle Eek, a miniature magician whose #1 foe is a hungry alley cat (also present in this piece). The fearsome YoYos weren't yet part of the Goosepimple household--at least, they didn't surface in this very first story.

Oona must have blown the minds of youthful Dell Nancy readers. She was, apparently, popular. Stanley brought her back several times, including strong appearances in his twin Summer Camp giant-size comics masterpieces of 1959 and '60.

I'm quite glad that Drawn & Quarterly has Stanley's Nancy on their publishing to-do list. From a most unlikely source (I am a hard-core Bushmiller fan, but one does not read the original "Nancy" for character or plot development), Stanley spun one of his most ingenious makeovers of all the licensed properties he encountered, in a long comics career.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More from "Little Lulu" #94 [pt. 2 of 2]

As promised, here are two more stories from this very good issue of Little Lulu.

I think there is a virtue to reading these stories on the computer. I tend to "inhale" a comic book in its printed form. A certain rhythm of reading I have developed makes it difficult to pace myself. My eyes scan the pages quickly, my hands turn the pages, and I often get very little from the experience as a result.

On the computer monitor, viewed face-to-face, I feel that more of the story--in both art and narrative--has a chance to sink in. My eyes linger a bit longer on all the elements of each panel. It's almost impossible to view the page as a whole. This, too, is helpful.

I hope that you experience the same unhurried approach as you enjoy these two stories.

The first story is part of Stanley's remarkable series of fairy-tales, as told by Lulu to her uppity neighbor, Alvin Jones. Sometimes told under duress, or, as with this story, in a friendly, peaceful climate, these stories are perhaps John Stanley's most brilliant accomplishments as a writer.

I have wondered, as I've read these elegant, playful meta-fairy tales, if Stanley set this series up as a monthly challenge to himself.

Though there are formulas to Lulu's stories--she is often seen as a "poor little girl," with patches on her clothes; Witch Hazel and her niece, Little Itch, regularly plague Lulu-as-protagonist--the stories require constant creative solutions to familiar narrative crises.

If you've ever been asked by a kid to tell them a story, and felt put on the spot, you can certainly appreciate the kind of quick thinking it takes to improvise a narrative--and embellish it while it's in motion. Stanley imbues Lulu's stories with this on-the-fly feeling. This gives them a freshness and newness that is admirable.

Stanley goes one step further: he encloses these meta-tales within a mundane domestic frame. This story, "Ol' Witch Hazel And The Hidden Cottage," has one of the most charming outer frames of all the Lulu-storyteller series.

Any writer can find much to learn from these humble, impeccable little fables. In terms of dramatic structure, plot "tilts" and strong finishes, these monthly episodes have a lot to teach us all.

Tubby stars in "A Stale Tale." This story has a rich vein of Stanleyisms--from a good old "choff, choff, choff" to Tubby's self-dialogue, lack of self-awareness, quirky justifications, and puzzlements over the edicts of adults.

As well, it contains a beautiful payoff, in which a few stray threads in the narrative cojoin in a tidy--and appropriate--conclusion. Just as Harvey Kurtzman's cartooning appears effortless, John Stanley's writing belies the hard work that appears invisible to the reader.

Stanley always makes writing look easy. If only it were! To produce writing that is both complex and amusing, like clockwork, under constant deadlines is something very few people are able to do.