Sunday, February 1, 2009

Three from Thirteen Going On 18 #15, 1965

Yes, it had to happen: a Thirteen Going On 18 post!

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my grousing sentiments that this was not my most favorite of Stanley's work. I've warmed to this series more since then. It is rough going, emotionally, at times. But Stanley did his allegedly teenaged audience a favor.

By laying the cards of teenage life, at its most humilitating and harrowing, on the table with an edge of frantic comedy, Stanley offered a ray of hope to his readers.

"See?" he seems to say, in each and every story. "You think you've got it bad? Compared to Val and Judy, you're doing fine! They survive the worst embarrassments and failures I can throw at 'em--and they keep coming back for more!"

In other words, it's worth the trouble to take it on the chin, and to just keep going. Coming from a self-identified sufferer of lifelong depression, Stanley's implicit message uses the most negative means to deliver an ultimately uplifting sensation.

This particular issue has a special story. David Lasky, my creative partner on the work-in-progress graphic novel, Don't Forget This Song, rescued this issue from a random box of 1960s comix at Seattle's most quirky funnybook emporium, Comics Dungeon.

It was a particularly hot issue of the book, so it seemed only right to choose it for today's post.

Here are three stories from this mid-series issue. The first two are quite hilarious, and have a shared theme of clothes getting ridiculously messed up.

Here's the cover, to start things off. I like the use of the butterscotch-yellow color for the speech balloon. The triangular shape of Judy's dress, the oval of the balloon, and the shared hair color of Val and the mannequin, set against the gray-green, slate blue and other earth tones is quite pleasing.

Oh, yes, and then there's the smart-ass gag:

"Unsuited For Dancing" is a rare story in which Val has the judgmental upper hand on her perennial beau, Billy. Billy and Val both give as good as they get here. Repartee suitable for a finer-quality sitcom or a screwball comedy fuels this quite funny story.

I find the status struggle of this story very well-wrought. It's hard to be partisan here: Val is a complete a-hole to Billy. She doesn't resist any opportunity to make a dig at him, insult his intelligence, and undermine his self-confidence.

Yet Billy retains his sense of well-being. If these two wed, you know they'd be one of those couples who bicker all the time, but seem to genuinely like one another.

"Unsuited For Dancing" shows the wide dynamics of Val and Billy's stormy but solid relationship. This is remarkable writing for a '60s teen comic.

Stanley's artwork on this series has always looked a bit rushed to me. That said, the verve of his brush line and the vim and vigor of his characters is always an utter visual pleasure. I've never used more Vs in a single sentence before!

"The Brush" is a simple short story, but it's full of funny moments. Stanley occasionally found sublime ways to comically show the passage of time. Such an incident occurs on the first half of the second page.

The last two panels of page three are brilliantly conceived.

There's no escaping the Theatre Of Cruelty that is "Judy Junior." This unusual episode, "White Boy's Burden," has no dialogue.

That's notable for this series. Stanley's usual bugaboo is to have evil, evil Judy Junior and her hapless foil, Jimmy Fuzzi, repeat each other's name in each exchange.

I find the pantomime of this story (a) beautifully achieved and (b) a most refreshing break from the yakketa-yakketa-yak of Stanley's later work.

The guy wrote brilliant comedic dialogue--don't get me wrong. At this point, the concept of "too much of a good thing" wasn't in his radar. He often effectively wields dialogue like a bludgeon in his comedic arsenal. It makes these comics a sometimes-exhausting reading experience.

And now, the suburban silence of our final feature today.

I do look forward to Drawn + Quarterly's books of this series--even tho' I own all the original issues in digital form. They deserve to be on bookshelves and in shops.

I'm curious to see if they connect with modern readers in the way Dark Horse's Little Lulu books have done. I've seen many kids get completely lost in those stories--they depart from the world around them as they read Lulu.

It's great to see 50+ year-old comix still have such strong impact.


Prof. Grewbeard said...

that was the most unusual teen comic i've ever read! er, not that i've read many, though i did go through an Archie phase in the late 60s...

Chris Duffy said...

Judy Junior always makes me cackle. This story was new to me. The teepee turning into a bullhorn is amazing!

I'd like to add my voice to those responding to the last post--to me getting stories with commentary and insight is almost BETTER than a book. (Though I'll buy the books, youbetcha.)

Marc Burkhardt said...

I'm a big Thirteen fan myself. Its sensibilities are so off-kilter compared to the myriad of Archie clones out there!

Philtre said...

Man, this blog is a continual joy - thanks a million!

steve said...

Thanks for posting these. I remember stumbling across one of the Val comics when I was a kid (I'm 52 now). It was SO utterly different from the Archie stuff that I never forgot it!