Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SS Press: Cited in HoLLywood Eclectern #48

A tip of the non-Hatlo hat to Ed Buchman, who had a sort-of Stanley Stories special in his latest issue of the home-brewed Lulu-Stanley gazette, The HoLLywood Eclectern.

Ed kindly acknowledges some of the Stanley "finds" I've made via this blog. He also asks a question I seem to get a lot lately:

"What happened to the Stanley Stories website?"

It is, indeed, no longer. I forgot to renew my domain name. I still have all the files and data. It's just not on the 'net any longer.

The website was a chore to update. I dislike writing HTML code (lots of trial and erorr, er, error). As well, a source of personal frustration was the site's visual incompatibility with certain computers and monitors. Text that flowed like a natural spring on one machine looked like a 20-car pile-up on another.

I switched to this blog a year+ back. It's easier to update; I feel compelled to create new posts because I don't have to re-invent the effin' wheel each time I update.

A feature of the defunct website, one acknowledged and added to by Ed, is the "Stanleyisms" page. On this page, I picked what I felt were the Top Ten "Stanleyisms"-- quirks and techniques that often provide tells when I'm perusing faceless old Dell comix for possible John Stanley content.

These "Stanleyisms" are not all unique to John Stanley. "Yow" is the number one example. Thousands of funnybook makers have used "yow" before, during and after Stanley's comix career. By now, it's as much the signature of Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead as it is a Stanleyism.

Still, if you find "yow" plus other prominent Stanleyisms, you've very likely located some of our hero's work.

Ed's 'zine has reminded me that I might do well to revisit "Stanleyisms" here on the blog, as a series of posts.

I'll include his fine additions of "EEYOW!" (which can have an unlimited number of Es, dependent on the issuer's state of panic, terror or shock); spots before the eyes to indicate illness, confusion, dizziness or displacement, and a brilliant observation on Ed's part of Stanley's skipping the B part of a narrative A-B-C line.

He offers an excellent example or two. One you can find on this blog occurs in the final two panels of THIS post's story.

This narrative motif is sparingly used in Stanley's career, but it's beautifully effective, and warrants inclusion as a bona-fide "Stanleyism."

If you'd like more information on Ed's charming Eclectern, write him at this address:

The HoLLywood Eclectern
c/o Ed Buchman
P. O. Box 4215
Fullerton, California 92834

Thanks again, Ed! Keep up the good work!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

From Nancy # 166: House of Oona Goosepimple Proves Impassable; Numerous Public Servants Wander Lost in Maze; Bristle-Headed Nancy On Case

Consider this post a teaser for Drawn + Quarterly's forthcoming first volume of the John Stanley "Nancy and Sluggo" stories.

I've wanted to feature this story for a long time, but this issue of Nancy, along with #170, is significantly harder-to-find than the rest of the Stanley run.
This isn't the best copy in the world--the pages are quite yellowed--but the story itself is a total mind-fudge.

Here, read it and see for yourself...

The opening page of "The House With Everybody In It" is among the talkiest of Stanley's career. It reminds me of some of those Al Feldstein-scripted EC stories; the dialogue threatens to crowd out the characters!

Stanley uses this ocean of words to set a nervous rhythm. The collusion of Nancy's rope-skipping count and Oona's stake-raising introduction puts us, the reader, on a speeding path into utter chaos and uncertainty.

Once we enter the Goosepimple house, the hinges fall off the doors of reality. I love the moment of Nancy's head-clearing tantrum:

At the heart of this story is a dark, edgy fairy-tale. The elderly witch, caught in the Sisyphian trap of feeding toasted marshmallows to the tiger, reminds me of something from Roald Dahl. I wonder if Stanley was a reader of Dahl's fiction.

There are startling similarities in both writers' work--most strikingly in their casual treatment of traumatic material. This story is a prime example. Trauma piles atop trauma. Each incident blends tragic and comedic elements. It is the passage of a vulnerable but indefatigable heroine through this maze of chaos--and her final escape, having undone the worst of the chaos--that compels us through this darkness.

I wonder, as well, if Dahl secretly read Little Lulu. There's a snapshot I'd like to see!

Dan Gormley's artwork is properly agitated--its linework borders on fury. One can see Stanley's drawing style peer through Gormley's assimilation of the Bushmiller style. He negotiates the nightmarish twists and turns with a dancer's grace.

I'll post another story from this issue tomorrow... we all need a breather in the wake of this one!

TOON TREASURY is here! Yow!

Apologies for my low profile of late... but you'll get another post today. I hope a double-header can make up for my summertime inertia...

BIG BIG NEWS! I've been sitting on this scoop for months! Abrams Books has just issued a beautiful, delightful and insightful hardcover collection of "kid's comics" from the 1930s to the 1960s.

I was a member of the book's advisory board, and several of my suggested stories made it into the book. As well, I have become friends with Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, the editors/instigators of this massive, lovely tome.

My involvement thus prevents me from writing a bona-fide review of the book. 'Tis sad, as this is, really and truly, the comix anthology the world has needed for at least 25 years. But I can still herald its release. (Stanley Stories receives a mention, complete with URL, within the book, so consider the following my way of sayin' thanks...)

Our hero John Stanley is well-represented via the following stories:

"Five Little Babies," Little Lulu #38, 1951
"Two Foots is Feet," Little Lulu #94, 1956
"Jigger," Animal Comics #28, 1947 *
"The Guest in the Ghost Hotel," Tubby #7, 1954*
"Mice Business," Melvin Monster #3, 1965 *

Stories marked with a * are drawn by John Stanley, as well. I'm proud of their inclusion; this is the first substantial reprinting of John Stanley's total cartooning work to appear.

Nearly all these stories can be found on this blog, but seeing them beautifully printed in this lovingly compiled gatherum is to encounter them anew.

Michael Barrier championed the re-reprinting of "Five Little Babies," which appeared in his pioneering Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics in 1982. The reproduction is greatly improved for this go-round. As well, although Stanley did many stories on this boys-against-girls theme, it's hard to think of a more sublime example.

There are also great stories by SHELDON MAYER, CARL BARKS, WALT KELLY, GEORGE CARLSON, BASIL WOLVERTON, MILT GROSS, JACK COLE, HARVEY KURTZMAN, JULES FEIFFER and many comix creators who may be new to you!

Among the hidden gems in this book is a delightful "Nutsy Squirrel" story co-created by Woody Gelman, various second-tier funny animal comix with a delightful sense of anarchy, a Captain Marvel story in which CM encounters Surrealism--and is baffled--and a "Fox and Crow" story that breaks the fourth wall with vigor and joy.

I got Nutsy and F & C into the book, as well as an amazing Sheldon Mayer J. RUFUS LION story from 1945--see more about that in a post I did for the blog Trick Coin earlier this year.

Among the other advisors to this book are Michael Barrier, Seth, Chris Duffy, Paul Karasik, Bill Alger, John Benson, Kim Deitch, Fred Levitz, Jeff Smith and Jay Lynch. Each person made brilliant suggestions and found stories that perfectly fit the book's ambitions. I feel honored to have been a member of this distinguished group.

This book is designed to reach younger readers. Spiegelman's introductory essay provides a great way for the average reader to place these comix within the boundaries of both pop culture and children's literature.

While the book has built-in appeal to us older comix afficionados, the book is meant for impressionable child readers. It would make a perfect holiday gift for the bright young 'un in your life.

It's not a stocking stuffer, though. TT, as we in the biz call it, weighs around three pounds, and is 350 pages thick. I envy readers new to many or all of its contents. You have hours of great reading ahead.

Reproduction is first-rate. A couple of stories are newly colored, but they blend in quite well with the crisp scans from aging funnybooks. I was gobsmacked at the results gotten from the comix I lent to the project. The book is printed on matte surface paper, like the D+Q Stanley books, so you're spared the glare and unfaithful reproduction quality of similar slick-papered tomes.

It's a boggin at 40 bucks. Amazon currently has it for under $30. Treat yourself--and the young folks in your life--to this vibrant, essential hunk o' comix.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Stanley Stories Hits the One-Year Mark! Alvin Runs Wild; Haunted Dollhouse Shrinks, Enlarges

'Twas a year and a day ago that Stanley Stories: The Blog made its Internet debut!

I've managed 92 posts in the first year. That's roughly a post every 4.46 days. I hope to match or better that average in Year Two.

To celebrate, here's a little-known but mind-blowing two-part story. It kicks off the hard-to-find Dell Giant Lulu and Tubby Halloween Fun #2 from 1958.

I intend to post more Halloween stories from the two such-themed Dell Giants around Halloween. Since these stories only vaguely touch on the Hallow-theme, stand on their own, and abound with Stanleyisms and fine comedic writing, I deemed them sufficient for this celebratory post.

"Ol' Witch Hazel and the Haunted Dollhouse" is an especially dark and manic example of a Little Lulu staple--a "fractured fairy-tale" as told by Lulu to her hyperactive, semi-civilized neighbor, Alvin.

Full of comic incidents and stake-raising jollity, this story also features the shrinking and enlarging of a house--as well, said house has supernatural residents. Thus, this story is a fitting book-end to the first Stanley Story posted here, Tubby's "The Guest in the Ghost Hotel."

Witch Hazel and Little Itch, both Stanley creations, are rarely in finer, more compelling form than here. Both characters work better when they face adversarial situations that frustrate and aggravate them.

Tribulations abound in this raucous story. Lulu's naive presence further serves to befuddle the greed and need of the two witches. Hazel's systematic demolishing of her cottage is a sublime moment, and is depicted with great comic zeal.

The story remarkably continues with "The Cranky Giant." For once, we remain with Lulu and Alvin after the end of one of her improvised stories. Alvin is not happy with the outcome, and has a tantrum. Only a once-in-a lifetime combo of three major Stanleyisms can put out his fire:

With that iconic teaser, here's "The Cranky Giant."

Among John Stanley's most anarchic narratives, "The Cranky Giant" breaks with several Little Lulu conventions. The story is driven by Alvin's dream-logic; it incorporates visual-verbal puns into the reality of the story; and it breaks up the eight-panel, four-tier grid of the Lulu pages with a remarkable double-decker panel (found on p.5 of the story).

Stanley's increasingly brassy verbal humor, which would dominate his 1960s work, takes root in this story. As filtered through Alvin's addled sub-conscious, "The Cranky Giant" contains much wordplay. Particularly choice is Hazel's phonetic spell "BIGGAGIN!"

At story's end, we step outside of Alvin's inner world for a charming conclusion. Perhaps it's best that Lulu lacks our access to the chaos of Alvin's imagination. What she doesn't know truly can't hurt her.

Thank you for your support and comments on this blog. I hope I can give you a second year as enjoyable and informative as the first.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals: A John Stanley Masterwork

The Pacific Northwest suffered a miserable heat wave this past week. On Wednesday, Seattle hit an all-time high temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I am a certified Sun-Shunner [TM]. I have no use for summer--indeed, no use for any climate above 70 degrees F.

I sought refuge in the air-conditioned rooms of two friends. It is to them that this post is dedicated.

While in fugitive mode, I dug out my musty, crusty copy of the 1956 Dell Giant Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals. Purchased from a scowling, portly merchant at a miserable little comic-con in Tallahassee, Florida, circa 1987, this two-dollar buy has served me well over the years.

A re-reading, in the chilled haven of an AC'd room, re-affirmed my long-held belief that this 100-page book may be John Stanley's anarchic masterpiece.

Rarely was his wit as edgy and sharp as it is here. Story after story, this book resonates with perfect comedic timing, risky subject matter, and potentially traumatizing narratives.

Stanley introduced the troublesome but fascinating Gran'pa Feeb herein. As well, he gave ample berth to the morally questionable doings of the little men from Mars. Problem-making, stakes-raising elements are the rule throughout this book. As well, the male-oriented energy, with all its adversarial, aggressive tendencies, tips the vibe of Tubby and his Clubhouse Pals far, far away from the more balanced canvas of Little Lulu.

Did I mention how funny Stanley's writing is here? This 53 year-old book packs an enormous comedic punch. Even with the unapt Lloyd White providing finished artwork, Stanley's gift for storytelling and visual flair shines through in every moment.

Here are two favorite stories from this epic funnybook.

"Injun Fighters" co-stars Gran'pa Feeb, whose apparent senility masks a table-turning, chaotic sharpness. As well, Tubby is at his Tubbiest--dodging from one neurotic impulse to another, causing trouble while trying to dance his way out of it.

There are so many choice moments in this story: Tub's repeated, haranguing "Hello, Janie;" Tub's friends attempt to keep a smile on his face by repeating the word "vacation;" Tub's color-coded mood-swing gallery on p.7; Feeb's deus ex machina terrorist attack on the West Side boys.

Stanley thoroughly understands and accepts his characters in this story. I hope he had fun writing such stories; a real sense of playful abandon fills these pages.

"Zoodunit" co-stars the little men from Mars. I suppose that they are indeed real to Tubby. The fantasy elements they bring into stories such as this, while wildly at odds with the trampled naturalism of the Lulu universe, offer welcome relief from the inexorable suburbanality (hey, there's a new word!) of the Lulu-Tubbyfranchise.

There is much to savor in this raucous story: the Martians' complete lack of Earthly moral standards, and Tubby's freak-outs over same (a comic duet which boosts the story into sublimity); the mini-zoo keeper's shell-shocked reactions, after Tubby rescues him from the micro-tiger; and the comedic topper of the frog becoming enlarged, and Tubby's wager with his smug father.

"Zoodunit" weaves fantastic elements into a conventional story without ship-wrecking it. The judicious building of unbelievable moments creates a willing suspension of disbelief on the reader's part.

The story's final reward: it ends before the expected climax. We're left with the delicious anticipation of what might happen beyond the story's last panel. As a reader, I feel respected by the author.

I'll return to this Rosetta Stone of four-color comedy in future posts. Keep cool, wherever you are!