Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm at a crossroads...

When I began "Stanley Stories" as a primitive website in 2000, John Stanley's work was almost entirely unreprinted. Only the flawed but essential Little Lulu Library had been issued, and that was 15 years prior.

In 2009, we will see the publication of several new volumes of John Stanley comics--from Drawn + Quarterly's series of Stanley's 1960s work, to Dark Horse's continuation of the Lulu reprints (and, just announced, the run of Stanley's companion title Tubby) to the upcoming Toon Treasury, a thick hardcover book of great "kid's comics" from the 1930s to the '60s, including a substantial section on John Stanley, to which I contributed input.

All this reprinting is wonderful. It restores John Stanley's largely-unread work to a mass audience. I'm all for it.

What does it mean for the future of this blog?

I've gone out of my way to avoid posting any stories that already exist in an in-print, available edition.

With D+Q reprinting Dunc 'n' Loo, Nancy, Melvin Monster and Thirteen Going on Eighteen, and DH finishing the Stanley run of the Marge-based titles, that doesn't leave much wiggle room for me.

I'd like to get your honest feedback:

Would you rather I avoid this material, as it will be available in book form within the next few years?

Shall I restrain myself only to the material that will obviously never be reprinted (the Walter Lantz-based material, etc.)?

Or should I comment on stories without "reprinting" them here, and creating a redundancy with the soon-to-be-published books? As I understand it, none of these books will offer anything substantial in the way of introductions or critical commentary.

At least 60% of what I've posted on this blog, so far, will be in those books.

I enjoy working in this blog, and I feel that, in many cases, I am the first person to ever offer critical analysis of this work. Is that enough to sustain your interest as a reader?

Thanks. I await your input. I'm a worry-wart, so I may be fretting over nothing at all.


UPDATE: Wow! Thanks for your comments! I feel utterly reassured!
Look for a new post with a couple of Stanley stories this weekend...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy B'day Jim: O. G. Whiz, Pt. 2

For our 50th post, here's the second half of the first issue of O. G. Whiz, John Stanley's last original work for comics.

"A Short Happy Life" is a bittersweet story with a cynical, satirical bent that reminds me of Gilbert Shelton's best work. There are faint echoes from Little Lulu's world in this story, but the outrageous corporate actions of the Tikkletoy Company steal the show here.


Our last O. G. Whiz story--and Stanley's final published comix work--drives deeper into Shelton-esque territory. Both the shrill sitcom-stereotyped General Ponko, the colorful baddie of "A Tough Customer," and the battery of highly literal sound effects would fit just fine into any vintage "Wonder Wart-Hog" or "Freak Brothers" story.

Its seems highly probable that John Stanley's comix influenced Gilbert Shelton's profoundly dry, absurd style of humor--well before 1971, of course. I'd be surprised to learn of any 1971 underground cartoonist having noticed, or read, this particular comic book.

Cultural stereotypes seemed to reach some kind of zenith in the 1970s. As a side-product of "awareness" and "tellin' it like it is," florid-but-harmless caricatures like General Ponko were standard fare. Ponko is just a means to an end--a forceful figure to cause comic mayhem for a few pages.

Well, Jim, I hope you enjoyed this two-part post. And, of course, the same goes to everyone else. These stories aren't available anywhere else on the Internet, so save 'em for later enjoyment!


Happy B'day Jim: O. G. Whiz, Pt. 1

O. G. Whiz was John Stanley's last original work for comics. This may, in fact, be the very last comics work he did for publication. Very late in his life, Stanley sketch-scripted a couple of "Little Lulu" pages for the fan publication The HoLLywood Eclectern. They were finished by fan artist Larry Blake.

Stanley didn't do the finished art, but his hand is strongly evident in the character designs, layouts and body language of characters. He did draw the cover, with some assistance. It looks like a Gold Key staffer touched up the O.G. Whiz figure to make it smoother and more "commercial." The frogs and the startled secretary are in the loose brush style Stanley used on his 1960s comics:

This may be Stanley's talkiest comics work. His dialogue became heavier and more percussive throughout the 1960s, but never were his comix this verbose. It's witty, lively talk, with a touch of sitcom shrillness. These stories, in fact, have an unusual mix of visual and verbal humor.

Stanley was certainly not out of ideas, this late in the game. The series' premise is simple but clever. Stanley did favor certain physical types. The 140-something Titus Tootle Tikkle looks like the witch/teacher from Melvin Monster, without a wig. Thutnose, O. G. Whiz' rival, bears a strong resemblance to "Baddy" from Melvin Monster and the menacing Buddy from Dunc 'n' Loo.

And, finally, O. G. Whiz is a plumper Melvin Monster with Caucasian skin and specs.

Stanley's last comix work reminds me of Jacques Tati's final narrative film, Trafic, which was also released in 1971. I doubt Stanley saw that movie, but the corporate setting, inventive humor, and gadgetry have some vague thematic link to Tati's under-appreciated film.

Here are the first two O. G. Whiz stories: "Orvie's Rapid Rises," which functions as an origin story, and "The Bubblegum Bogeyman," which sets up the dysfunctional relationship of jealous executive Thutnose and de facto authority-figure Whiz. Their personal dynamic is similar to McOnion's and Sluggo's in the Stanley Nancy comix.

The printing on this comic book, typical of 1970s Gold Key product, is wretched. By this time, plastic plates were used at the press. These held ink poorly, and delivered a fuzzy, grungy quality to both linework and color.

I've gone through four copies of this comic, in a vain attempt to find one that's decently printed. They probably don't exist. It's sad that Stanley's final published work was given such shabby treatment. But, of course, no one, not even John Stanley, could have known this was it.

O. G. Whiz continued for a year without Stanley. It was then revived for a little over a year in 1978. Apparently, something happened during or after the publication of this first issue that caused Stanley to leave comics for good. Whatever the story is (and I hope it comes to light someday), Stanley left comix with a decided, brassy BANG--not a whimper.



To be continued in our next post...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dog Daze: the last of Jigg and Mooch

A combination of too little sleep, too much snow, and too hectic a schedule has rechristened my cold. I'm feelin' sick as a dog, so it's only fair that I post two Stanley stories about our canine companions, Jigger (now "Jigg") and Mooch.

These are the final stories in the feature's short run, from Animal Comics 29 and 30. I've now posted the full run of this remarkable strip.

Stanley signs these stories as "Biff." Here is his cartooning at its most austere. The clean, mechanical pen lines suggest Herge, or the ink and paint department of a Hollywood animation shop.

Jigg's language is spare. Punctuation is only used when absolutely necessary. Part of the language of comix is the avoidance of periods to end sentences and statements. Periods were avoided because printers mistook them for flaws and removed them, or else they failed to survive to the photostat/engraving stage. (The same thing often happened to Charlie Brown's eyes in the early days of Peanuts.)

! replaced . in the comix vocabulary! Thus, most early comix dialogue seems quite loud! Even the simplest statement is fired off with an aggressive exclamation mark!

Stanley chooses to end his sentences like this This makes for a curious reading experience Thank goodness for the enclosure of the balloon Otherwise, one would never be quite sure where one statement ended, and the next began

In the 1950s, Stanley got heavily into his ellipse period. This...could punctuate a a number of ways...creating interesting...rhythms...

But enough of this! I hate to get bogged down in semantics Let's just...move on...shall we...

I feel rather written out on Jigger/Jigg and Mooch. I admire how Stanley kept his storytelling clean and direct. It's so nice to see an author write TO children, not DOWN to children. I think he best achieved this effect with this feature.

"Jigg" has an child's sense of urgency that is at the heart of the Stanley worldview: survive, move forward, stop and take stock of the world around you. A child can relate to this more than an adult, I think. The child in me still relates to it, very strongly...

From Animal Comics 29... a classic "mind-fudge" scenario:

The final story, from Animal Comics 30: