Friday, February 10, 2017

Post-Mortem Post 008: New Stanley Material Discovered--Oswald the Rabbit Four Color 39, 1944

In all my years of research, I somehow overlooked this early 1944 one-shot, which is now important as containing John Stanley's first two long-form stories. This is a terrible quality scan, suitable for reading, but that's about it.

With beautiful cartooning by Lloyd White, the pun-filled main story, "Easterland," is a larval early effort, but full of Stanley tells, such as slurred language/slang, dubious authority figures, quietly absurd humor (the plight of the elderly rabbit at story's start; the out-of-control jelly bean factory and its buried inventor; the little piece of hard candy that imitates train whistles, etc.)

Stanley would include similar stories in his much-loved Little Lulu series, from 1946 on, as told by Lulu to her hellion-brat neighbor, Alvin. With this, Stanley's first fairy-tale, we see the glimmers of a street-smart, reactive retreat from the sugary tendencies of the fairy story. His humor throws a cold bucket of water on the genre, as did Tex Avery's cartoons such as Red Hot Riding Hood, Cinderella Meets Fella and A Bear's Tale.

Here is the whole issue. I will need to revise my 1940s comicography book now! I knew this would happen someday...


 Though clearly written as a story for children, "Easterland" manages to be witty throughout--quite unlike the average Western Publications comic of its ilk--and anticipates many later John Stanley works. It's much of a piece with the equally long untitled lead story in the next Oswald one-shot (available for reading HERE). Only three or four people in the world will be excited about this discovery--most people disdain Stanley's pre-1945 work--but I'm delighted with this early find.

"Meets Buck Beaver" is more in line with the slapstick stories of the monthly New Funnies anthology. Like the golf-playing skunk in the "Johnny Mole" story in Our Gang Comics #12 (on sale at the same time), Buck is a sociopathic asshole. The story is an amusing trifle, with clever use made of an animation trope: vanishing cream that produces invisiblity. 

Note the reference to New Funnies, late in the story. Tongues were in cheek when Stanley and Walt Kelly wrote material such as this. That wry distance is why their stories (and Carl Barks') remain readable and laudable 70 years after their publication, while so much Western-produced material was dead on arrival when its newsprint was white (or off-white).

Meets Buck Beaver:

The notion that vanishing cream can be used to remove Buck Beaver's picture from the plethora of wanted posters--and that he, Oswald and Toby Bear join in this poetic ritual--is the highlight of this knockabout farce:
I'm overdue to update and re-layout the Stanley books. I knew zero about the art of layout when I first tackled those, and did not use InDesign--a stupid oversight on my part. Having to add this title to the 1940s book is a good excuse to go through the grunt-work of revising this volume. I'm leaving the 1950s and '60s books alone unless/until changes have to be made to them as well.

Pleased to share this find with you--and thanks galore to Joakim Gunnarsson for hepping me to this comic, which had blurred right past me.