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'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


Thad said...

Great stuff here, but how botched are the Barks sets exactly? I look at them all the time. I used to think the most blatant retracing was 'Darkest Africa', but lo and behold, after finding the original printing of it, it really did look like shit. Other than the obvious ones that were censored, what other printings in the set offend you so much?

Frank M. Young said...

Hi Thad,

Four stories that are censored and visually altered: "Voodoo Hoodoo," "In Darkest Africa," "Race To The South Seas" and the late Uncle Scrooge story, "Treasure of Marco Polo."

Some of the 10-page Comics & Stories stories are traced (some particularly bad ones in the first set of WCD&S), plus some of the stories for the Firestone Xmas giveaways.

Disney chose to further edit some stories when Gladstone reprinted them in comix form. The gelded version of "Land of the Totem Poles," which was published intact in the hardcovers, is painfully neutered in the color comix reprinting.

There are some other subtle editing touches here and there in the Carl Barks Library volumes. If I had the time to go through them all, page by page, I could spot them.

I'm glad I own the sets, and for the best of the 10-page stories and the "Four Color" one-shot Donald stories, they're well worth owning.

A must to avoid: the "Donald Duck Family" set. That's where the bulk of the castration occurs. It's a pity, as that set could have been the crown jewel of the series with accurate reprintings of the MARCH OF COMICS stories, the giveaways, and whatnot.

Pappy said...

If it's any consolation--and I'm an ex-Seattle resident who remembers that a couple of inches of snow could paralyze the city--where I now live I get to shovel snow quite regularly. I live right off the road to four major ski resorts, and we're expected to get up, shovel snow and go to work even after a 12" dump. Consider yourself lucky your stranded-by-snow is a sometimes--and rare--event.

Oh, the Lulu stories.

I'm like Thad, and wasn't aware of censoring and tracing on the Barks comics. You are talking about the Barks hardcover, slip-cased sets, aren't you? I guess I'll have to go back and take a closer look.

comicsnstories said...

Awhile back when I was quite frankly, doing more research on Barks than I've done in quite some time, I found this page, which should clear up edits and alterations in the CBL.