Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A "Tubby" supplement: the rest of the story

Here's a boxcar to my last post...the other six pages of this issue of Tubby.

Dig the meta-reference in the two-page story. Consider the fourth wall BROKEN! It's not likely that we'll be able to get a repairperson in 'til 2009. Watch out for all sorts of self-reference, awareness that one is a cartoon, comic-strip, TV, movie or fictional character, and other such shenanigans. Take part in them, friends; be self-aware, and prosper!

And have yourself a happy noo year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The Bank Robber," Tubby Four-Color #444, 1952: story and art by John Stanley

This will be my last STANLEY STORIES post for 2008. Thought I'd go out with a bang: here's "The Bank Robber," a 30-page story written and drawn by John Stanley for the third Tubby one-shot.

It's a significant story in many regards:

1) Stanley's top-drawer cartooning: John Stanley was a far finer cartoonist than many of the artists who did the final illustrations of his stories. Only Bill Williams was truly a superior draftsman and cartoonist to Stanley.

Note the assurance and vigor of Stanley's linework; his strong character construction; powerful panel layouts; and, most of all, the sheer liveliness of every figure and pose. The guy evens draws horses and bulls galore--hard critters to cartoon--and does them beautifully.

Compare the art to any of Stanley's Peterkin Pottle stories. The character drawings are quite similar, but by doing the finishes with an even, precise pen line, Stanley makes comix that are way easier on the eye. Only his Jigger and Mooch stories look better.

2) High-stakes storytelling: "The Bank Robber" is quite serious. A constant threat of physical violence shadows Tubby throughout the story--whether it's his near-death at the hands of a larcenous pack of midgets, or the perverse men in black who long to administer corporal punishment to Tub's plump keister.

Unlike the more far-fetched perils of super-hero comics, the dangers in "The Bank Robber" are ones a child can appreciate. They're palpable and probable. A spanking carries more weight than any atomic death-ray!

3) Hung-up Heroics:Tubby is a truly heroic figure throughout the story. Furthermore, he is a misunderstood, untrusted outsider-hero. Rejected by his friends, pursued by angry adults, and forced into a series of dangerous, unfamiliar situations to prove his innocence, Tub fearlessly delivers the goods, even as the reality of the crime slowly dawns on him.

Tubby is a flawed hero, desperate for acceptance and high status. As a pretend cowboy, Tubby begins the story with a series of aggressive mock-assaults on neighbors and businesses.

Stanley achieved this "hung-up hero" concept a decade prior to Stan Lee's supposed discovery of it in 1960s Marvel super-hero comics. Prior to Peter Parker, there was Peterkin Pottle--and, most importantly, Tubby Tompkins.

In classic Tubby fashion, he is so into his own world that he doesn't see the impact of his actions. He causes a grocery store display to collapse, and interrupts the consumption of grilled greasy goodness at the Sunset Diner. It's all in play for Tubby, but via the reactions to his presence, we see that Tub has an impact on the adult world around him.

Once he is a prime suspect of the bank robbery, his known world unravels. Page 8 of this story is a desperate soliloquy, played for subtle but inherent humor, and punctuated with a damning reminder of reality.

This is sophisticated stuff for a "kiddie comic," past, present or future. This story falls outside the conventional boundaries of comedy and adventure. While it has strong elements of both, it merges them into a different type of story--one that resists genre categorization.

4) Stanley does not condescend to his audience: By keeping the events on a kid's-eye level, Stanley creates a nightmarish urgency. He does not dumb down the violent and threatening aspects of his narrative. His insistence on keeping Tubby a hero, warts and all, makes it easy for the reader to fall into Tub's viewpoint throughout.

5) "The Bank Robber" isn't available elsewhere on the Internet: This is the only issue of Tubby that hasn't yet been scanned and posted on the Web. These are my scans, from my personal copy of this comic.

I'm happy to bring you this significant work of John Stanley... a story I hope will be new to you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ho, Ho, ho hum... (some LULU stories for holiday cheer)

There. That's as Xmassy as it's gonna get, here. I consider the crayon scribbles to be some past humbugger's editorial comment. I do like Lulu's wearing of a Star of David as a headpiece. She's shoutin' out for a Happy Hannukah too!

I have been more or less snowbound for almost two weeks. I live in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, Washington. It is, indeed, a series of steep hills. All of them are impassible by foot--unless you're fond of frequent snowy pratfalls.

Here I sit, on Xmas Day, bored and a bit irate. Who was it, exactly, who was dreaming of a white Christmas? It wasn't me! Sure, snow is beautiful. Lovely to look at. I'm fond of how it transforms all landscapes.

I'm unfond, most unfond, of having to live in it. I know it's much worse elsewhere in this continent. I've not lost power or heat; I have plenty of food, things to watch, things to read...it's the being-stuck-in-confinement angle that doesn't sit right with me.

For something to do that isn't watching DVDs or reading books, I've been scanning all the issues of Little Lulu I possess that are unscanned on the various Internet funnybook sites I haunt.

Most of these issues are post-issue 86. This is the "official" cutoff for the "good, classic" Lulu, re: the edict of The Little Lulu Library, and its subsequent reprinting by Dark Horse Comics.

These well-intentioned volumes basically botched the job, as did The Carl Barks Library. Both suffer from a wretched solution to a shared problem.

Several stories no longer existed in photostat or proof form. Their solution, which should have been to scan the stories from printed versions, was to hire unapt interns to ineptly TRACE the artwork.

The result is insulting, and it infects the first three volumes of the original hardcover sets. (Less so in the third set; it's rampant in the first two.)

Barks is another can of worms. We are fortunate that there was no Disney equivalent to block the printing of authentic, accurate Lulu stories. Another Rainbow Press did the best they could, given the impossible and irrational set of terms laid before them by Disney.

Tracing did occur on several 1940s Barks stories, as did wholesale censoring and gelding of at least one dozen stories.

The set, as stands, is a failure. I own all 10 volumes, but I seldom look at them. I am grateful for the large number of stories that are well-reproduced and intact, but the thoughtless castration of certain stories makes the whole project a compromised mess.

But that's way off-subject. Back to the "official" Lulu...

By no means did Little Lulu decrease in quality with issue #87. As seen in my previous post, Stanley still had innovative plots and strong characterizations up to the end of his long tenure on the title.

The LLL/Dark Horse books are an effective blacklist on the 49 remaining issues of Little Lulu that John Stanley authored.

If anything, Stanley got sharper from 1955 to '57. He so thoroughly understood his cast of characters, locales, and stock situations that it was seemingly easy for him to produce high-quality work.

Lulu stories from this period, as in the trio you're about to read, are among the most diagrammatic of comix. They scan effortlessly. Irving Tripp's drawings, while bland, seem like the creation of some secret comix lathe. Their precision, strength and spaciousness lubricate the eye.

It requires some effort to read these stories slowly. Everything in them fights against a slow intake. I consider the first reading of a Lulu story, or issue, to be a mere formality. I typically don't "get" the meat of the story until a second, third, or fourth reading.

That could be my only complaint about 1950s Little Lulu: it's TOO easy to take in. The stories offer rewards to re-readers. Little turns of phrase, set-ups and payoffs, narrative "twins" and small visual details are there, beneath the smooth, highly polished surface.

If you can bring yourself to read these stories slowly, notice the many small but skillful touches that grace each panel. How fortunate we are to have,in Stanley's Little Lulu, such a large body of such concise, precise and sophisticated comix work.

Here's the first three stories from LULU #90; "Lulu's Piggy Bank," "The Dance" and "The Case of the Mad Mayor." The last story prominently features snow. Ah, yes, snow. You know, I don't feel so grumpy about it now. Call it... a Christmas... miracle! (cue swirling strings and sleighbells, just for a moment or two...)

Lulu's Piggy Bank

The Dance

The Case of the Mad Mayor