Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grindhouse! Tom and Jerry from Our Gang Comics #16, 1945

Thanks to Doug Gray for these scans. Doug has a nice comix-related blog that you can visit at

He is, obviously, a fella of good taste. He responded to my plea for missing issues of Our Gang with possible Stanley content.

His offering is an especially gnarly "Tom & Jerry" entry. Stanley did the finishes on this story's artwork. It looks less precise--and more rushed--than usual, but it has his tell-tale artistic tics.

As usual, the mice set themselves up for ODTAA by leaving their safe zone and exploring the big, confusing world about them. A potential sailing mishap leads them to a delicatessen around the corner from their "residence." Here is where much of the food and dry goods they've pilfered were purchased.

Here, Jerry and Tuffy encounter hostile big-city mice. Tom Cat, in an especially cranky mood, eventually shows up, too.

This is a wartime story. I'm fascinated to see how readily available coffee beans were at this imaginary deli. Perhaps this was wishful thinking on Stanley's part. The coffee bean grinder plays a major role in this story. Our rodent pals nearly meet a Herschell Gordon Lewis-style finale inside the deadly bean machine.

Later, it is their deus ex machina that returns them to the world they know, via the arms of stereotyped black maid Mandy.

Note how much more sympathetic and human a character she is here, compared to the equivalent character in the MGM cartoons. Note, as well, the apparently German deli owner. I guess he was one of the "good Germans." Mandy is treated courteously and warmly by the deli guy.

One final note: the inker and/or letterer get the mice mixed-up on the first page. A magically diaperless Tuffy addresses a suddenly diaper-endowed Jerry in the fifth panel. They switch back in the next frame. Editor Oskar Lebeck must have missed that little gaffe when he scrutinized these pages.

2011 Post-Script: It's clear to me, now, that this story is illustrated by John Stanley. The inking is unusually loose for him, but it's certainly his work as a cartoonist/writer.

Another thing: why is this particular post so darned popular? I'm happy for its success, but I obviously don't see something here that a lot of other people see--and get.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Plunk! Dunk! Yow! "Flip and Dip," from Our Gang Comics #12, 1944

Here's an ultra-obscure Stanley Story. Editor Oskar Lebeck snuck an original feature into the MGM-dominated Our Gang Comics, "Flip & Dip." He held the copyright to it, and perhaps even created it. (Stranger things have happened, y'know.)
The feature lasted over 50 issues, and got more slapsticky and Kelly-esque as time wore on. (I think Dan Noonan may have written and drawn some of the later episodes.)

I've suspected Stanley's hand in some of the lesser Our Gang backup features. A few other non-"Tom & Jerry" stories, throughout the early run of the title, have Stanleyesque qualities, but don't truly feel like his work to me.

Not this story! It's very clearly Stanley's creation. Replace the simians with Lulu, Tubby, and company, and this story would neatly fit into the first few Little Lulu one-shots.

Stanley invokes Comedy Rule #337-C (cute character who's seemingly innocent, but is, in reality, a hellion), as Flip and Dip are forced to wear their best clothes and visit with their blood-thirsty Cousin Mimi.

Stanley's humorous dialogue (tell-tale lack of punctuation runs rampant) and inventive sound effects distinguish the story. As does the glorious moment when fed-up Flip and Dip decide to exact deadly revenge--little realizing they've been mind-fudged by brutal Mimi.

By no means a major work in the Stanley canon, this early piece has its charms, and shows that Stanley could bring an edge to otherwise-harmless kiddie fodder. Think of it as an unplanned warm-up for "Little Lulu."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Stanley Clinker And A Little Gem, both from Our Gang Comics #48, 1947

I'm back after a long spell of no time to post. I've been recovering from a horrid case of sinusitis, aggravated by my growing chemical sensitivity... I had to abandon my apartment for a week while they tore up the dusty, filthy old carpet in the hallways, sprayed pesticide all over the place, then laid in new, formaldehyde-fragrant carpeting. Pretty soon I'll be starring in the made-for-cable movie, The Middle-Aged Guy in the Plastic Bubble.

To conclude a "Tom & Jerry" trilogy, here are two stories from Our Gang Comics #48. The first story is a Stanley rarity: a not-so-hot effort.

The Mortal Kombat format of the "Tom & Jerry" animated cartoons is loutish, at best. Despite their lovely, flowing animation, the Hanna-Barbera MGM cartoons perennially cater to the lowest common denominator.

(AFTERTHOUGHT: I do like several of the 1940s Tom and Jerry cartoons, especially Mouse Trouble and Mouse in Manhattan. In my estimation, there are probably a dozen truly great Tom & Jerry theatrical cartoons from the Hanna-Barbera unit. I stand by my general opinion of the series. There are too many pedestrian, mechanical and needlessly brutal T&Js for my taste as a cartoonophile.)

In his first round as writer of the T&J comic book series for Our Gang, John Stanley took advantage of the free rein Western's creators were given with licensed materials.

He catered to the chase-and-clobber format of the cartoons, but Tom Cat was always a supporting character. Stanley's sympathies, as usual, went to the two mice, Jerry and diaper-clad Tuffy. They were perfect Stanley fodder: two outsiders, making their way through an uncertain, unexplained world.

Their reactions to the everyday experiences of human life make for marvelous comedy. As well, Stanley could not help but infuse the crude routine of the cartoon version with some genuine wit.

As we saw in my last post, Stanley's identification with the mice still produced first-rate stories upon his return to the Our Gang book in 1947/8. When required to include Tom, Stanley entered awkward territory.

Not to say the following story is necessarily bad. It isn't a willful act of self-sabotage, a la Carl Barks' "Somethin' Fishy Here," a backup story required for the second issue of Uncle Scrooge when one of his masterworks, "Back To The Klondike," was castrated by Western's Los Angeles editors.

"Somethin' Fishy Here" seethes with indignation, and is a surprisingly sharp screw-you to the indifference of Barks' editors. Barks was picked on as a creator much more than Stanley. Of course, he worked with a much hotter property--a Disney entity--and stricter rules applied, perhaps unfairly. Barks delivered an appealing, compelling Donald Duck. The Disney animated cartoons did not.

That said, Western's East Coast offices appear to have exercised a much looser editorial hand than the LA branch. The comics from this office are much more homogenized and bland than the New York material.

Thank goodness Stanley was on the East Coast. He regularly indulged in morbid, dark themes in his 1940s and '50s work, and was only apparently censored once, for the 1950 Little Lulu story "The Bogeyman."

This untitled story requires Stanley to buy into the standard "Tom & Jerry" format. He is clearly uncomfortable with the series' demands. There is a bit of that "Somethin' Fishy Here" vibe to this story. He still sides with the mice. They're placed in a high-stakes narrative--the dark flip-side to the frequent boys vs. girls stories in Stanley's Little Lulu classics.

The story, to me, falls flat--this is Stanley on a rare off-day. As such, it is fascinating to study. All the elements are there. What is missing is Stanley's personal involvement in the piece. Without that quality, it's merely a better-than-average, very ordinary comic-book story.

Made it through that? Here's your reward!

A sub-feature of Our Gang, as it morphed into Tom and Jerry Comics, was "The Adventures of Tom." This mouse-free feature showed us Tom's frustrations in the dating scene.

In this surprisingly strong story, Stanley casts Tom as a proto-Tubby-- a disgruntled misfit. Like Tubby, Tom, in this story, is utterly convinced of the rightness of his worldview, and of his actions.

Notable is Tom's failed attempts to master musical instruments--including, most recognizably for LL fans, the violin.

The SKREEEKs and SKRAAAKs Tom produces on the instrument--harsh tones that threaten the dental (and mental) health of anyone who hears them--aniticipate Tubby Tompkins' similar lack of violin mastery, in many a 1950s Lulu story.

As well, the story's supporting characters seem like extras who wandered over from New Funnies. This visual overlap confirms Stanley's obvious hand in this story.

In the first story here, Stanley seems burdened by the cat characters. In the second story, Stanley makes a virtue out of Tom, who was doomed to be a one-dimensional, homicidal villain in most of his media appearances.

These two stories provide us an unusually vulnerable side of Stanley the comix creator. There are surprisingly few outright flops amongst the thoustands of comic book stories Stanley wrote and drew. And tho', as said, the first story here isn't bad, it's clear that Stanley needed to connect with his characters--for their flaws more often than their virtues--to do his best work.