Little did the faithful followers of Lulu in 1959 know that this issue would be the last of its kind.Western would continue Little Lulu into the mid-1980s, with other artists and writers (among them Arnold Drake, creator of the DC Comics series The Doom Patrol and the outrageous 1964 SF/horror film The Flesh Eaters) and artist Hy Eisman.
Lulu would more or less look and feel the same for the next several years. Like an amnesiac, or a victim of Alzheimer's syndrome, the post-Stanley Lulu would go through its long-established, instinctual motions, with none of the charm, wisdom or humor that characterized John Stanley's 14-year tenure.
As this issue is unaccountably rare, I've chosen to present all the comics content. WARNING: Only the second (silent) story, and the next-to-last story, are clearly the product of John Stanley. The others have the limp-noodle quality that would plague the series from 1960 onward.
At the end of this uninterrupted flow of stories, I'll add my customary two cents' worth. Enjoy the last of the wine, friends...
"The Overdue Book" and "The Photographer" are written by someone who's much too stiff and formal for their own good. Pedantic dialogue, flat characterizations, piss-poor motivation and shoddy narrative stakes make for heart-breaking reading matter. I think that even the most average 1959 Lulu reader would have noticed the flaccid debacle of these stories.
Stanley's four-page pantomime story, tucked between these two aberrant wrecks, is basically filler. Unlike the word-heavy, flat narratives it's sandwiched between, it conveys the strong individual personalities of Lulu, Alvin and Tubby without words. Stanley was to grow increasingly verbose in the 1960s. This is among his last wordless pieces.
The two-page filler that precedes "Alvin, Spare That Family Tree!" is an inept, lop-sided thing. Its first page is in pantomime. The second page's shift to dialogue is jarring. Add to that the lame-ass gag finale, which is insulting in a thuggish, one-dimensional way...urgh.
Thank heavens the next story is written by Stanley. "Alvin, Spare That Family Tree!" is the last of Stanley's numerous free-form fairy tales for Little Lulu. (He may have outlined or plotted the fairy-tales for the next couple of issues. They have great concepts, but are badly written and botched affairs overall.)
The scrappiness, personality and playfulness of this story are a breath of fresh air after the lumbering non-entities of "The Photographer" and "The Overdue Book." Stanley left his stylistic mark on these pages: crowd scenes, SFX in speech balloons, two YOWs and one "Ha, ha." (Note how the unknown writer of the non-Stanley material phrases his laughter as "Ha-ha-ha" or "Ho-ho-ho.")
One beautiful moment on page one shows Stanley's hand as strongly as any of the above-listed "earmuffs." Lulu, fascinated by a family reunion in Alvin's yard, tries to keep to herself, and not snoop. But curiosity gets the better of her. In the fifth panel, we see her halfway out of her bedroom window. She says to herself a simple "Gosh."
That "Gosh," coupled with the unusual faceless view of Lulu, has great comic impact. It also acts as a metaphoric shorthand for Lulu's love-hate relationship with Alvin. He drives her nuts, but she feels responsible for somehow taming him and inducting him into "normal" society.
I've never discussed those "Lulu's Diry" text pages. The earlier ones are pretty great. I don't know if Stanley wrote those. One of these days, I'll select some of the best and do a feature on them here.
The untitled "Tubby" story, not by Stanley, provides a depressing curtain-ringer to what is perhaps the finest sustained run in the history of American comic books. The unknown writer repeats the errors of his/her earlier stories. Exposition-heavy dialogue takes all the punch out of the inherently humorous situation.
Tubby is merely brash and confident here. He is not the self-absorbed, slightly nutty ego-maniac we know from Stanley's quintessential version. To read this, and the other non-Stanley pieces in this issue, is to appreciate the fine shadings of character and motivation that are easy to take for granted.
I don't know if John Stanley had any kind of attachment to Little Lulu, or if it was just a form of steady work. I'd like to think it was, indeed, a labor of love--one of those rare occasions when a creator's passion and talent are rewarded with mainstream success and, if possible, financial success.
The hundreds of Little Lulu and Tubby stories John Stanley wrote are too intelligent, too thorough, too deftly shaded and plotted, too full of life and wit to be mere work-for-hire performances.
I apologize for putting you through the effort of reading the non-Stanley material in this issue. I believe it says more about the heart and soul of John Stanley's work to see his final Lulu work in contrast with the fecal matter that surrounds it.
Speaking of such, here's the final nail in the Little Lulu coffin... real dreamy, indeed! Hand me that all-plastic F-500 Fury...
See you again soon. Enjoy what's left of this peculiar summer!