Friday, January 7, 2011

Deep Doody: More of John Stanley's Howdy Doody comics, 1949/50

Happy '11 to you all. For our first 2011 post, here are some more stories from Dell's Howdy Doody comic book. I've finally acquired the missing issues in the book's long run. Early and late issues are full of John Stanley material.

At the time, Howdy was as big a pop culture property--bigger, possibly--than Marge Buell's "Little Lulu." He was arguably the first big celebrity of the TV age. Dell's comic book was the format's first TV adaptation. Turning TV into funnybooks continues to be profitable, well into this 21st century of ours.

By this time, Stanley had developed a more controlled, sophisticated approach to comics with the Lulu series. Those stories are the most disciplined, reined-in work of his career. He did very well by the disciplines of Lulu, and created character-rich, clear and satisfying narratives.

Stanley's antic side had not died away. In his side projects of the 1950s, he kept his wilder tendencies in good shape. The broader, louder, more violent material that was mostly out of place in Little Lulu runs rampant in his other '50s work.

At the close of the 1950s, Stanley joined this brassier part of his creative persona with the more upscale tendencies of Lulu and set the stage for his most assured, risk-taking work of the 1960s.

As usual for a new Stanley project, this first issue of Doody is uncertain but spirited. Stanley may have worked closely with Bob Smith, the host/owner of the "Doody" franchise, on this premiere book.

Stanley's unfamiliarity with the characters hinders his work.  He uses tried-and-true story formulas to find his way into the "Doody" universe, with mixed results.

The book's opening story is a prime example of seat-of-the-pants storytelling. Stanley tended to improvise his stories, with no sense of where they would end up. This story is a cheerful example of his ODTAA (One Damned Thing After Another) story style.

Howdy has a Tubby moment on p.2, when he squanders an entire day watching a steam-shovel in action. His reaction to the end of the operator's workday, in panel seven of that page, is quite amusing. The Tubby-Type compulsion to fixate has made an entire day pass in a blur.

In best Tubby-Type fashion, Howdy panics in the last panel, and on the top half of p.3, before a series of escalating events helps him belatedly achieve his goal.

Sheer chaos garners much better results for Howdy--he becomes a figure of public adulation and he's rewarded by his superior, Mister Bluster. Had Howdy not zoned out on the steam-shovel action, and spent his day papering the city, the endgame might not have been so profitable!

Stanley's love of crowd scenes shows its hand on pps. 3 and 6. The arrangement and body language of the long-shots at the bottom of p. 3 are typical of Stanley's 1940s and '50s work.

For "Howdy and the Pirates," the debut issue's longest story, Stanley returned to the knockabout comedy-adventure of his longer Andy Panda and Oswald Rabbit stories of the mid-1940s. This story also prefaces the first "Tubby" solo story, "Captain Yo-Yo," minus much of the 1952 story's playfulness and wit.

Stanley's villains typically take up more space than his protagonists. This story's modern day pirates are large, picaresque figures who pose a genuine threat to our trio of de facto heroes.

After several pages of spirited, knockabout farce, peppered with "YOW"s and "Ha! Ha! Ha!"s, this story peters out on its last page. The Scooby-Doo ending is a real cop-out. Perhaps Stanley wrote himself out, and just wanted to wrap it up and get it done.

The most peculiar member of the Howdy Doody troupe was the whatizzit critter Flub-a-Dub. Thanks to the photo-filled covers and inner covers of early Doody issues, I can show you what the real puppet looked like. Here, you can also see Bob Smith and another Doody character who figures in the following story, Clarabell the mute clown:

Though he had yet to get a grasp on the admittedly limited possibilities of the Doody troupe, Stanley immediately seized on Flub-a-Dub's gadfly/outsider persona. This is the classic John Stanley anti-hero, and right away he's drawn to the bizarre beast-thing's possibilities for comedic chaos and stakes-raising.

The cop on p.2 looks much like Stanley's drawing style of the 1950s, as do some of the other incidental human figures. Otherwise, this is a pretty basic, uninspired story that's distinguished by its energy and Flub-a-Dub's a-hole actions.

Stanley soon shared the Doody duties with other writers. He contributed a substantial amount of work to the series, which lasted 38 issues, plus some one-shot follow-ups.

At the risk of overkill, here's a story from the fifth Doody issue. It stars Howdy's nebbish-sidekick, Dilly Dally, in the sort of waking nightmare that distinguishes some of Stanley's better 1950s stories:

Again, this is not masterpiece stuff. The accelerating repercussions of poor Dilly's attempt to loaf and nap, culminating in the vivid freakout of p. 7, show Stanley's hand quite strongly.

Chances are, Stanley wasn't particularly invested in the work, as he seemed to be with Little Lulu and Tubby. Nonetheless, his telltale themes and images run through these stories. Thus, they still stand out after 60 years--long after the original Howdy Doody and Co. have largely perished from the national consciousness.


Sam Henderson said...

It's too late now but I had the same problem with using up too much bandwidth with Google. Someone told me I can store the images on Photoshop, Image Shack, or similar sites. You can just type the html those sites give you in the posting section.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

i am a huge fan of these stories and did not know they were by Stanley. Thanks!