Sunday, November 23, 2014

Post-Mortem Post 003: The Fine Art of Comics Pantomime, with Little Lulu and Company

John Stanley was a great storyteller. His ability to spin multiple variations on a number of stock plots, and bring something fresh to the table each time, is downright enviable.

At the core of his storytelling skill is a sardonic, droll sense of humor. Stanley often indulged in slapstick on the comics page, and did it well. His true gift was an understated, subtle comedy, deeply rooted in the myriad flaws and quirks of characters he made his own and knew like his own children.

In my recent updating and book publication of the three-part John Stanley Comics Bibliography (see links at foot of post), I've been reminded of the grace and charm of his pantomime one-page gags in early issues of Little Lulu. These were in line with Marge Buell's original vision of the character. They expanded beyond Marge's one-panel chuckles, as did Stanley with all the characters he grandfathered over from the Buell version.

Stanley's "Lulu" and "Tubby" stories are dominated by talk. Traditionally, the author offered a great deal of character information from how his comic figures act, react and think. At his best, Stanley can make pages of dialogue riveting. His love of language, and his word-smithing, are evident in each line he wrote for the hundreds of thousands of speech balloons he filled.

A constant of Stanley's Lulu and Tubby work are one-page pantomime pieces. These items, usually landfill in poorly-planned comic magazines, were treated as equals to the longer, dialogue-driven stories by their creator. There is no sense of haste or waste in these pages. As with the text feature, Lulus Diry, these apparent fillers are as rich and rewarding as any other components of the series.

Stanley did another string of impressive one-page pieces for the magazine New Funnies, featuring his rendition of Woody Woodpecker. Those may be read HERE. The "Woody" pages, drawn by Stanley, traffic in the typical sassy dialogue exchanges of his longer stories. The Lulu pages are almost exclusively mute, and require the reader's utmost attention to small details. Their rhythm, flow and structure are striking. They're often laugh-out-loud funny, and offer a taste of Stanley's driest wit.

Here is a selection of some of my favorite panto pages from early issues of Little Lulu. Spend some time with them and you'll be rewarded...

two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #110
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #120
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #97
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #115
Little Lulu one-shot #131
two pages from Little Lulu one-shot #139
Little Lulu one-shot #146
Little Lulu one-shot #158
two pages from Little Lulu #1
three pages from Little Lulu #2
Little Lulu #3
Little Lulu #4
Little Lulu #6
Little Lulu #8
Little Lulu #13
John Stanley's hand as cartoonist is keenly felt in the earlier pages. This sheaf of 23 pages offers a quick look at the visual evolution of Lulu, from Stanley's cartooning to Charles Hedinger's to Irving Tripp's.

Stanley entertained an ambition to be a magazine gag cartoonist. He had one cartoon published in the New Yorker in 1947. Roughs exist for several other well-executed gag cartoons, but I don't think any others were published in his lifetime.

As Lulu became more formula-bound, the gag pages acquired a more mechanical flavor. By 1955, they are more filler than inspiration. That said, Stanley wrote one of his most inspired single page strips late in the Lulu game, for issue #94:

To learn more about my just-published complete John Stanley comics bibliography, please click HERE. The books are available on and These lavishly illustrated books are a great holiday gift idea for the comics-loving person in your life...

1 comment:

Mike Wallster said...

Thanks for posting these, very funny and well worth the time!