Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jeet Heer responds re D + Q's Melvin Monster book

Jeet Heer offered some thoughts on the editorial thinking behind the new Drawn + Quarterly John Stanley Library books.

He was not involved with the editorial decisions on this series, but he has spoken with some of the individuals who put these books together.

What he has to say makes sense to me. It also clears up any misgivings adult readers might have about these books.

Please read Jeet's words and consider them...

I think the MM book is a great kids book. I have witness[ed] a few families I know who are really enjoying it. [The addition of] a long introduction (in the mode of Walt and Skeezix and other books) would have been a mistake since it would make the series seem archival rather than living kids books.

There's plenty of time to do an archival edition later: right now I think it's more important to get kids reading Stanley again as they did in the 1950s and 1960s. Once there is an audience for his work, then there will be room for a more focused study of the man.

I agree with him: it's important to get these comix back into the hands of kids! Dark Horse's paperback Little Lulu books have sold well and been very much enjoyed by kids. Although Stanley's stories can be enjoyed by adults, as with Barks' work, there is much to be gained by getting this material back into the currency of young readership.

However, it is standard publishing practice to fully credit the creative talent of a book. Therefore, I strongly suggest that John Stanley be credited as ARTIST and WRITER of the comix he created fully, such as MM and Thirteen Going on 18. I hope Drawn + Quarterly will amend the credits for future JSL volumes.

As well, introductory material could be helpful in giving interested adult parents some background on what they're buying for their kids. The kids will just skip past the introduction anyway; there is an interested adult market for these books, and it seems wise, business-wise, to gear them towards as many paying markets as possible.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

UPDATE: Tom Devlin, who commented on this post, has asked that his comments be withdrawn. I found his viewpoints on the editorial vision of the John Stanley Library series of great interest. They are rather invisible in the published volumes, and given the controversy my postings have aroused, I felt that, for once, an explanation was helpful.

I'm going to paraphrase some points Tom made, just to end this dischord--a dischord not intended by me in any way...

The MM books were designed for children--as stated earlier, their goal is to bring John Stanley's comix back into circulation for younger readers. As John Stanley is one of the great American authors of the 20th century, this is a noble goal.

D+Q has tentative plans to produce an Art of John Stanley book someday. I have discussed this project with Tom, and my involvement is likely. I didn't mention it here because (a) it slipped my mind and (b) I don't like to sound off on projects that aren't in the here and now. If this book comes to be, and I am a part of it, I will be happy to work on it. I think such a book is inevitable, despite the lack of solid biographical information available on Stanley.

But Stanley is not the first great author to be written about in the absence of a great deal of biographical knowledge. The themes of his work, and the artistry of his storytelling--and his innovations to the comix format--are a rich topic, and much can be said about them.

The MM books were planned as a three-volume set, each to contain a third of the series' nine-issue run (#10 was a reprint of the first issue). This choice helped keep production costs down, and thus the retail price of the books down.

This is an elaborate book, but it's worth the retail price. As said in my review, and other discount internet sites offer excellent deals on the book. Again, I urge you to purchase this volume to support D+Q's ambitious plans to restore John Stanley to print.

OK! Matter closed. Let's move on to new horizons. I look forward to the next volumes in D+Q's Stanley series. I may even review them here. We'll see...


Paul C.Tumey said...

I totally agree with the idea to make Stanley's comics "living works." My mother read the Lulu stories when she was a kid, and then introduced me to them when I was 7 or 8. And now, thanks to the Dark Horse and D&Q projects, I get to introduce them to my 8-year old son.

That being said, I humbly ask the D&Q staff to consider if they would publish a book of kid's comics by one of their living artists, such as Seth, and didn't credit him with the story and art. It seems unthinkable!

In the MM book, there is a great photo of John Stanley and a brief bio that only discusses him as a writer. In fact, John Stanley was a comic book artist, too... and he published probably 100's of comic pages that he wrote and drew himself, including the Melvin Monster stories. He was a comic book master who wrote and drew... in the great tradition of Eisner ,Cole, Barks, etc. He just happened to write a lot of comic book stories that others drew. But he drew a lot of pages, too! He's one of my favorite comic book artists. I love his loose, simple, lively style. My main point is that Stanley should definitely get credit as the writer AND artist on the Melvin Monster stories.

I agree that a long, Walt and Skeezix style essay would not fit in the series concept. However, let's face it... grownups will buy these books, too... so what would be the harm of one or two pages of small-print, age-appropriate notes in the back? It seems odd that D&Q, of all the publishers out there, would not want to make sure John Stanley recieved appreciation and acknowledgement that is long overdue.

Anyway... I want to make sure that my praise for the high quality of the printing is heard, too. Great job, there! More, please!

Thanks Frank, for your great blog. I hope that Drawn and Quarterly will hire you to write something about Stanley someday... you're the man for that job!

Alex Holden said...

I was not happy with the decision to have Seth REDRAW the Stanley characters for the covers of this series. It's already a little disappointing to see the same Art Deco font again, but to actually eliminate the author's art in favor of the designer's art?

Would Seth redraw a Philip Guston or Ben Shahn image for a book's cover?

Tom Devlin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Brown said...

Ok. My own comments on the comments. :)

* Ok, so the MM volumes are aimed at kids, hence little archival info. Hmmm, well I would hope there would be some. Maybe not the amount in the Walt & Skeezix volumes, and maybe stuck in the back so the kids don't have that intruding on them. Thing is, I would expect the MM volumes to have some info on that comic, so unless this "Art of John Stanley" comes out some day to fill that gap, kind of sad.

* 3 vs 2 volumes. Uh, it was D&Q's only website that indicated there would be 2 MM volumes, repeated at Amazon. It was only when v1 came out that their site was updated to indicate there were going to be 3.

* There is no info on their page for how many issues the THIRTEEN volume covered, or how many volumes would be in the series (most likely 3 with 8-9 issues per volume). Since the subject matter doesn't appeal to kids, larger and hence a little more expensive volumes make since.

* Seth designs. For myself, I have no issue with Seth's designed for the JSL volume. While I have only the cover shots shown at the D&Q site, etc, I think they look nice and give a good overall look and feel to the series.

* Quality of the scans. Not having seen the volume itself, I can't comment on the quality of the scanned images.

Karl Straub said...

i've recently started reading john stanley's books in reprint form, and for what it's worth here are my two cents--

i'd love to see info about stanley, about the comics, etc. but i'm enjoying these books so much that i'm just happy they're available. also, i may be in the minority, but i like the seth covers a lot.