Sunday, March 6, 2011

Post #200: Bird, Rabbit Enter American Work-Force, Encounter Hostility, Arrogance; Woodpecker Defects From Cruelty of Streetcar Operation; Rabbit's Job Imploded

Here we are at post #200 for Stanley Stories. I've written some 100,000 words of chit-chat, criticism and insight in the prior 199 posts. I've also featured 303 complete stories to date.

The statistician in me wanted to know how all this fascinating data. I'll risk boring you with some factoids. I've even prepared a column chart!

[Feel free to skip this part if your personal risk of being bored is too intense. There are two 10-page stories at the end of this accountancy!]

Stanley Stories Stats:

From left to right on our primitive graph:
LITTLE LULU (LL) leads with 79 complete stories. I was surprised at how many Lulus were here, but, as I've run pieces from all of the 100-page giants, including several complete issues, that big number makes sense.

TUBBY comes in second place with 36 stories, followed by NANCY & SLUGGO (32), TOM & JERRY (18 stories), Stanley's horror stories (17) and ANDY PANDA (14 stories). Those are the Top 6 subjects of posting on this blog.

WOODY WOODPECKER leads the second wave with 10 stories (one which includes 18 one-pagers drawn by our hero). DUNC 'n' LOO, which I've kinda held off on, as Drawn + Quarterly will eventually publish in beautiful hardcover form, is represented with 8 stories.

HOWDY DOODY, JIGGER & MOOCH and CHRISTMAS STORIES (asst'd) are tied at 7 stories.

PETERKIN POTTLE and OSWALD RABBIT have 6 stories apiece herein.

RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY, LINDA LARK and NEW TERRYTOONS (asst'd):5 stories per.

O.G. WHIZ, LITTLE KING and KRAZY KAT have 4 stories each here.


MELVIN MONSTER, ALVIN (from LITTLE LULU), FUZZY & WUZZY*, BLACKIE THE LAMB and FLIP & DIP have each been represented by--you guessed it!--1 story.

The * means that these stories may not be Stanley's work, but they're here all the same. This goes without question for the Stan Lee-authored "Little Lizzie" stories I posted in a fit of pique sometime last year.


For this special bicentenary post, we return to the first days of Stanley Stories--long before it was a blog!

Today's first story is a rescan and re-post of the very first Stanley story I ever presented, back about 2001, on the old, long-gone first incarnation of the site. This was the story that first made me aware of the work of John Stanley.

My first Stanley exposure was via a pile of mid-1940s issues of Walter Lantz New Funnies in the early 1980s. As a starving college student (hungry for both food and comics), I purchased a pile of 1945-7 issues of New Funnies from a long-gone side-street comic book and paperback shop in Tallahassee, Florida. They were cheap--a buck or two each. I didn't expect much from them. The shock-value of the "Li'l Eight Ball" stories, and the surprised reaction of friends and colleagues to them, was my initial attraction to these funny-books.

Then I sat down and read the things. I became aware that two or more creative teams supplied each issue's contents. Furthermore, all but one of them sucked. The "Andy Panda," "Woody Woodpecker" and "Oswald Rabbit" stories, especially from 1946 on, were genuinely good--funny, literate and surprising in their narrative stakes.

I wouldn't connect these stories with Stanley until a decade later, when I'd read enough of his Little Lulu work to realize these were indeed his efforts. The story you're about to read, from NF #120, was the clincher. Its black comedy, grungy urban settings and unexpected, slightly moving finale were clearly of John Stanley's hand.

Stanley's stories run in themes. A theme of his New Funnies stories is the characters' usually failed pursuit of jobs. As I scanned the story you're about to read, a quick browse of the preceding issue offered another job-failure story. (There are several such stories in the 1946 and '47 issues of New Funnies.)

Jobs and job growth are in the news these days. The general consensus is that things are getting better. I hope it's true--our economy needs all the help it can get. Perhaps the playful, perverse nature of these two stories will help things along.

In today's first feature, outsider Woody Woodpecker becomes a streetcar conductor. It's a job best suited for gleeful sadists and misanthropes. Our bird is indeed odd, but he's got a heart--a fatal flaw in this brutal business...

I don't know if Stanley lived in Manhattan in 1947. According to his son, James **, Stanley and his family lived in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s. The story you've just read reveals a cynicism towards public transportation--black comedy worthy of Roald Dahl.

Woody, at story's start, is an agitated outsider, his status unsecured. This hire is a big moment in his fragmented life. Stanley plays Woody's tension for satirical humor. His words and body language parody the melodrama of every WWII Air Force movie ever made, past, present or future. In a key moment, the bird makes a naked confession to us:

The military genre parody continues on the next four pages. Woody easily passes through the red tape of signing up. He then meets his mentor, a beefy, nameless Alan Hale Jr. type with homicidal tendencies. His cognitive bias is that the passengers are potential agents of harm.

He preps the 'pecker to expect physical and emotional abuse from the streetcar riders. The opposite proves true. Nameless Mentor gets off on the physical/psychological torment of his passengers. He takes great pride in his work--note the sublime middle tier of p.8, in which he brags about the sharp timing of his enmity--and passes the torch of torture to his new charge.

Woody has reservations about this line of work; it just isn't in his makeup to be intentionally cruel to others. Here is where Stanley's hand most deeply touches this story. His Woody is the polar opposite of the brassy, aggressive animated cartoon version. He has a conscience, is humble, and considers the impact of his words and deeds on others.

In Stanley's cruel urban landscape, this brands Woody as a loser, albeit with a heart of gold. Woody is unable to zoom past stops, mangle his riders, or refuse their requests.

On the story's final page, Woody loses control of the street car, and creates a new, nicer career for himself. The silent final frame is both funny and touching. Woody has passed through--and surpassed--the careless cruelty of the world around him, and found a niche he can, indeed, scratch.

John Stanley's Working continues with an "Oswald the Rabbit" story from NF 119. Oswald is more connected to the mainstream than Woody Woodpecker. He has a home, a domestic partner, and a cheerier disposition. At story's start, he's on his way to the first day of a new occupation...

Oswald jauntily makes the best of a job others might find humiliating. His cheerful march through Stanley's mean streets, clad in a tuxedo and walking on stilts, makes him a moving target for abuse--both intentional and accidental.

Oswald remains passive; the events happen to him, and he doesn't make pains to prevent or halt them. He finds a quarter; while he retrieves it, a man lazily picks his pocket. Oswald's Tubby-like reaction to the theft bears repeating:

He arouses the ire of a beat cop, who sees Os as an agent of chaos--which he, quite unwittingly, is. Whereas Woody is more of an alienated adult, Oswald is a man-child. He follows his whims, even when they take him into awkward places.

In a vivid comedic set-piece, Oswald uses his heightened status to sneak a free peek at a ball game. A clamber of street kids scramble up his stilt-legs to partake, and Os is bludgeoned, pawed and badly shaken for his trouble.

An innocent phone call turns Oswald into a cheery fugitive. He makes a crucial mistake: he figures he'll be safest amidst the crowds of downtown. "There's a feeling of security here," he says, more to reassure himself than to inform the reader.

Oswald escapes with his life, and his sunny outlook, at story's end. It's clear that this first day on the job is also the last, but our furry hero is none the worse for the wear. Not quite a happy ending, this finale suggests that Oswald is as deluded as any other Stanley character. Even when things aren't right, and mounting evidence proves this point. his characters choose to look on the bright side.

These, like Stanley's other "working" stories, tell us that to take a job is to risk one's status (if not one's life), and to supremely test one's personal ethics and will. Anyone who's ever held a job would have to agree this is true, to some extent. I could tell you stories--anyone could as well. Most of us also have positive job stories, too, and thank goodness for that. We all want to do something that helps us prosper, but also gives us something to do that we like. Work, for many, is a necessary evil. It pays the bills, but it also takes a toll on our collective soul.

This is a silent but commonly held belief about the world of employment. Rarely is it expressed forthrightly in popular culture. Mike Judge's brilliant film, Office Space, which has echoes of Stanley's viewpoint and comedic tendencies, may be the single finest articulation of the futility of the American workplace in pop culture. It's fascinating to see this message in Stanley's work of the 1940s--at a moment in time when America was approaching one of its most prosperous, worker-friendly eras.

May your work week be unlike Woody's or Oswald's--if, indeed, you are among America's employed! See you soon with post #201...

(** PS to Jim Stanley: if you're reading this, I hope all is well with you...)


Unca Jeffy said...

Congrats on 200 posts!

Stanley would be proud.

Sam Henderson said...

Before Carl Barks was a well-known name he was referred to as "the good duck artist". I guess Stanley could be called "the other good Dell artist"