Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another Tip Top Tipple: A Nancy and Two Sluggos (feat. McOnion) from 1959

As is evident from even a quick reading, John Stanley was a bit burned out on Little Lulu in 1959. He had every right to be. Fifteen years of steady work on the series (including the companion title, Tubby) had yielded some 7,270 pages of comics--at least 700 of those also illustrated by him.

Lulu was continued by others, who followed Stanley's example to the letter, but without a vestige of the soul formerly present in the characters.

Someone at Western Publications had the brilliant idea that John Stanley should continue writing stories about kids, based on licensed properties. Having wrested rights to United Feature Syndicate's characters from UFS itself, Dell published a plethora of comics with the characters from Nancy, Peanuts and Captain and the Kids.

They ignored Gus Arriola's Gordo, which might have made a successful comic book transplantation, and apparently avoided Al Capp's Li'l Abner, which was a wise move.

Nancy, as I've written here before, is really just Little Lulu sideways. One can sense John Stanley's frustration in still being asked to churn out stories about kids and the suburbs. A certain anger rises from the base of these stories. This anger breeds a brittle, edgy comedy, often laced with dark impulses, and peppered with open hostility from its adult characters to its children.

On the other hand, Nancy gave Stanley a complete break from the heavy rules and regulations of Little Lulu. Though he was too careworn to run wild with this new property, he did approach it with a certain venomous vigor.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scavengers of Snacks and Sexual Status: "Tom and Jerry" from Our Gang 19, 1945

John Stanley co-opted the "Tom and Jerry" feature in Our Gang Comics in 1945. For a few precious stories, he converted it into a vehicle for an emerging, highly distinct and personal style of comic-book storytelling. The results were ahead of their time, and sadly short-lived.

Stanley worked on the series from early 1943, and inherited it from writer Gaylord DuBois with issue 6 of the MGM-themed anthology, Our Gang Comics. Stanley contributed increasingly assured, sharp writing and cartooning to this series until early 1946.

By then, another licensed property--the licensed property of his career--called on his full attention. Little Lulu's growing popularity, as an original Dell comic book series, kept him busy producing 52-page comic books on his own, from script to art to lettering, in a constant series of one-shot editions.

Before Lulu became a regular Dell comic book, Stanley had let go of much of the final rendering. Charles Hedinger came aboard in 1947, to be joined by Irving Tripp sometime in 1948.

It's a pity that Stanley had to abandon "Tom and Jerry"-- he was on the verge of hitting a smart, hip and modern sensibility to comic books. He wouldn't get this vibe back until the early 1960s. Flashes of the razor wit and keen observational comedy of Thirteen Going on Eighteen is seen in some 1945 T&J stories.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"The Little King" Pt. III: Stanley's 1950s Man-Child

In the mid-1950s,  John Stanley was fully occupied with his work on the best-selling Little Lulu and Tubby comic books. The potentially high-pressure demands of the job were tempered by a series of foolproof formulas he concocted for the Lulu stories.

Stanley had a number of sturdy structures at his disposal. By 1955, he could pretty much fill in the blanks of a series of self-generated "Mad-Libs"-style scenarios and produce high-quality comic book stories.

This didn't leave him much room for experimentation. The 1950s were Stanley's most domesticated years as a comics storyteller. And while his Lulu work is uniformly strong, at times one can feel him in creative doldrums.

Little Lulu didn't accommodate all the facets of his storytelling and comedy. For a period of two years, he tempered this with a series of wildly imaginative stories for the satellite book, Tubby, which he wrote and drew.

The energy and focus required by total cartooning was apparently too much for Stanley. He laid down his pen and brush in 1956, not to touch it again until 1963.

Among the few outlets afforded him, in this Lulu-centric phase of his career, were a trio of spirited, delightful one-shot books based on O. Soglow's pantomime newspaper strip The Little King. These comics mark the first faint inklings of John Stanley's 1960s sensibility. He clearly strives for something beyond the Lulu and Tubby stories he produced like a machine.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Addled Inventor Creates Already-Extant Mammals, Ungulates, Junk Mail; Mute Assistant Suffers Self-Evident Fate With Stoic Calm; three stories from Clyde Crashcup 2, 1964

It's getting tougher to find something suitable to present to you, here at Stanley Stories. Yet there are a still new-to-blog goodies lurking in ye olde archives.

People seemed to dig the previous two Clyde Crashcup posts. Thus, lightning strikes thrice and a post is born.

I've said everything that needs saying about Clyde Crashcup, and where it fits in the John Stanley canon, elsewhere on the blog.

John Stanley (and two of his finest artists, Irving Tripp and Bill Williams) seemed to enjoy themselves with this five-issue series. There's a genuine sense of fun in their DNA. Much less joy is evident in other post-Little Lulu work-for-hire projects, such as New Terrytoons (and, arguably, the later run of Nancy and Sluggo).

Crashcup's built-in Quixotic qualities were tailor made for the John Stanley sensibility. As well, the series offered catnip to its creator: a single situation that could be milked for endless variations.

Here, for your summer reading pleasure, are three stories from this second issue of CC. Well, four; first is a one-page filler illustrated and lettered by Irv Tripp...