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.

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