Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two jiggers of "Jigger": Animal Comics 25 & 27

There are four Jigger and Mooch stories left to post. Here are two of them.

The first, from Animal Comics 25, shows the characters' startling makeover from their prior, debut episode. Drawn as scruffy, mangy mutts for their first appearance, they were radically redesigned as high-style, "cartoon modern" critters for the rest of their brief run.

John Stanley drew the remaining six stories in this series. This is some of his finest cartooning. It is so stylish and so designed that it looks European rather than American.

I like the modeled color on this episode. I imagine it was hard to pull such effects off in the poorly-printed medium of 1940s funnybooks. It is a rare treat to find a copy of a comic from this decade in which all the colors are correctly aligned. One gets used to the red plate being horribly out of register, or the blue pitifully under-inked.

The reckless printing methods tend to become part of the vocabulary of comix. I appreciate the efforts of the brave souls who sought to do ambitious coloring, as in this story.

This 3-D approach was quickly dropped. Very likely, it was discarded the day that copies of this comic arrived from the printer. After a few in-office "YOW!"s, flat color was assigned to our canine contendahs. (Jigger, being white, was allowed to keep some blue shading.)

Here's the story from ANIMAL #25...

This next story, from ANIMAL #27, is, at eight pages, the longest of the seven Jigger stories. It is also perhaps the bleakest and most grotesque. Stanley is almost the Eugene Ionesco of comix. Absurdity, futility and despair are tightly woven into the fragile fabric of his narratives.

Mooch is so hungry his ribs are showing. Jigger suggests that they try hunting for live game. This stirs up some "Tubby Talk" in Mooch, who precariously clings to what little pride this ragamuffin life allows him.

This hunt quickly devolves into a festival of humiliation for the poor dog. But food--albeit of a dreadful variety--finally comes his way.

It is beautiful cartooning. I like the angularity of the angry cat, and of the water splashes. Those, in particular, would fit into a Lionel Feininger comix page. I'm curious to know if Stanley studied the work of Euro-cartoonists. He appears to be attempting some of those non-American effects throughout this series. This tendency does not show up in any of his other written-and-drawn jobs (that I know of).

This story is as bleak as any of John Stanley's 1960s material. This is an aspect of Stanley's work that must be accepted, without hesitation. Despair was the conduit of his storytelling genius.

Stanley is unremittingly bleak. His most popular series, LITTLE LULU, somehow manages to temper this bleakness, and make it appealing and apt.

In this series, as with PETERKIN POTTLE, Stanley let his existential dread run the show. To me, stories such as this completely defy the whole idea of "children's comics."

I'm glad that Stanley was allowed to put such simon-pure depictions of desolation, hopelessness and absurdity in mass-consumption work. I can only wonder what message 1940s kids got from these stories.

Stanley was a harbinger of the bleakness of the Cold War era in America. Perhaps stories such as these helped prepare young people for the years of fear and uncertainty that lay ahead of them.

That same bleakness keeps these stories vividly alive, decades later.


Gabriel said...

I really never imagined that Stanley's work could be so delicate. Your return has been absolutely great, Frank. Thanks again for your dedication. There's some kind of melancholy I just had read in the Peterkin Pottle story you posted a while ago -a character which I still find myself fascinated for. Here you hit the nail on the head again.

Gabriel said...

Hi there again Frank!
Those Fabuleous 50's has posted up a Peterkin Pottle story which was published in the last issue of Raggedy Ann and Andy. It may be of interest to you.
All best.