Monday, March 22, 2010

Inept Violinist Is Cause of Miniature Invasion From Mars: art and story by John Stanley, from Tubby #4, 1953

Here, as promised via a recent teaser, is the fourth Tubby comic. It's an ambitious send-up of the likes of The Day The Earth Stood Still and other early science-fiction movies.

It's another large dose of John Stanley's cartooning. This is one of the last book-length, adventure-slanted stories he did for Western Publishing. This was the final of the four try-out "Four Color" Tubbys before the rotund, sublimely deluded one got his own quarterly title.

Dark Horse Comics has begun to reprint Tubby from its first tryout issues. This story will soon be in print, albeit with DH's too-much-brightness-and-contrast treatment. It is a damned pity that Drawn + Quarterly's first volume of Tubby must start with the 9th issue. Only that issue contains Stanley artwork.

The remainder of Stanley's run on Tubby was illustrated by Lloyd White--a competent craftsman, certainly, but not a vibrant cartoonist by any stretch of the imagination.

I haven't many more of these lengthier Stanley stories to run here. I've covered a lot of ground so far in the life of this here blog...

Here is a fine example of Stanley's typical stakes-raising approach as a storyteller. He starts with a simple, mundane premise, gets his protagonist involved, and then builds a narrative stairway. In this story's case, that stairway spans the far reaches of outer space.

Stanley's chains-of-event are usually fueled by the comedic and absurd. In this story, Tubby's extremely poor musicianship is the hilarious catalyst. Were he skilled, in any way, on his violin, none of the things that happen would have a reason to be.

In Stanley's comic universe, failings are just virtues tipped sideways. He has a soft spot for the inapt and ill-informed. In this light, his character's shortcomings have a side-effect of being effective and useful. "Tubby's Secret Weapon" is a particularly fine instance of this inverted, oblivious heroism.

This is also a rare Stanley effort that makes a sort-of-topical reference to trends of its day. America was flying saucer-conscious in the early 1950s. As well, the first batch of modern science-fiction movies appeared in 1950 and '51. This story has some vague commonalities with Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man From Planet X, The Flying Saucer and some other early post-war SF flicks.

I don't think Stanley envisioned the little men from Mars as more than a one-shot story device. (For that matter, I doubt Carl Barks had more in mind for his Uncle Scrooge character, outside of his similar stake-raising first appearance in 1947's "Christmas on Bear Mountain.")

Further leavened with humor, and thus less menacing, they became a significant sub-theme in his "Tubby" stories of the 1950s. Whether you're of the mind that they truly exist, in the fictive world of Lulu and Tubby, or consider them a manifestation of Tubby's puissant cognitive biases and daydreams, the miniature Martians are a brilliant invention.

Stanley mined them for much humor in their subsequent appearances. Here, they constitute a true threat to the well-being of Tubby, Gloria, and the orange tabby cat. All three are whisked from their suburban Everyworld to the unimaginable realms of outer space.

Just by being his typical self, and staying true to his highly impulsive, self-absorbed nature, Tub drives the story through its ingenious blend of absurd comedy and outer-space spectacle.

Stanley the writer gave Stanley the artist some challenges in "Tubby's Secret Weapon." It's fascinating to see him drawing a story that so departs from the typical environments of his work. A certain impulsive streak in his cartoon art seems ideally matched with his ultimate anti-hero, Tubby Tompkins.

The illegal street vendor and his mechanical wind-up men are another pet Stanley motif. This comedic complication shows up in several 1950s Little Lulu stories. It's also an aspect of this story, which remains among my favorite Stanley pieces.


Chris Duffy said...

Seamless storytelling! Such a great story. Thanks, Frank.

Myrrpage said...

Thanks Frank. This is my fondest comic memory from my early childhood, and I think it is the best of all Tubby issues (although #6 is a close second). So much of the story is way over the top (including an inexplicably nicer than usual Gloria), but all of it works to make a super story.

Michael Brown said...

Well, I've learned that D&Q is doing the Tubby book, which I was surprised by. (figured since DH had the Lulu rights, that getting Tubby was a natural).

The first one comes out in October, and covers Tubby #9-12. Not sure why they don't start off with the first ones. And I hope they will go back to those (just like DH did).

psmith said...

Great story. Thank you!