Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"The Bogyman"—John Stanley's Forbidden Little Lulu Story In Color; Farewell To This Blog

This blog is a decade old. It's a done deal, for the most part. I wanted to mark its 10 years of existence with one last special post.

In addition to revising, redesigning and updating my three volume bibliography of the published works of John Stanley, I also revamped The Tao of Yow, my book of essays on Stanley's work. This new edition is available HERE, or can be had at a discount by contacting me directly at eubiecat at gmail dot com.

The original edition was poorly laid out, and never sat well with me. Not many people have bought the book, so I didn't think I'd upset anyone by improving it. Now, I feel it's as good as it can ever be. As with the bibliographies, these new edition are final. I will not change them unless an avalanche of new information turns up (which could happen, but is not likely).

The final section of the first edition of the book featured my colored version of "The Bogeyman," the infamous banned 1950 Little Lulu story. I've decided to remove it from the book, so this first-ever color version, which few people have seen, is my last posting of substance on Stanley Stories. I hope you enjoy seeing the story in color.

Preceding it is the text from the former version of the book that accompanied the story. This feels like an apt sunset for Stanley Stories. This blog, and all its content, will remain on the Web as long as Blogger will tolerate it. I hope it will continue to be a source of entertainment, information and interest in the coming years.


Censored creative works acquire—and, in, essence demand—a cachet. The notion that something is deemed too disturbing, ugly or abrasive to enter mass distribution, in books, newspapers, films or television instantly arouses our curiosity. What could be so bad about ___________ that they won’t let us see it?

Most censorships are over-reactions, borne of a passion to protect mankind (usually children) from a sight that might scar them or give them negative influence. They are also side-effects of the implementation of a religious or political ideology—an efficient way to remove concepts that go against the accepted grain.

Among the most often-censored mass entertainments, the American comic book was tainted with the tar-brush of unworthiness from its inception in the 1930s. These luridly colored, cheaply printed, inexpensive magazines—the Depression’s update of the old “penny dreadful”—could, for one thin dime, give kids and adults a quick popcult fix. From the start, they were considered an affront to culture and literacy by those who obviously knew better.

Unlike newspaper comic strips, which never suffered such scrutiny, the mass-market comic book was considered low culture and bad art from its inception.

The violence inherent in the adventure/super-hero genre helped cement comics’ low profile before World War II. During the war, as comics became a staple of servicemen’s daily lives, their images of violence—and racism—intensified. Images of savage Japanese and Germans, distorted to monstrous degrees, and ostensibly in the name of patriotism, added a stronger grotesque, primitive edge to the mix.

Post-war crime and horror comics confirmed the medium’s reputation as a corruptor of youth. By the turn of the decade, comics were under constant attack from other wings of the media, and a growing number of concerned parents and politicians. David Hadju’s 2008 book The Ten-Cent Plague offers a gripping (if melodramatic) account of this dismal period in American pop culture.

Dell Comics exempted themselves from this witch hunt. Their comics, created and printed by Western Publishing, hewed to a higher ground. Though much of their product was dull, Dell had a handful of visionary creators whose works are now revered. Their famous slogan, “Dell Comics are GOOD Comics,” blanketed their publications’ rare incursions into violence (or, most often, implied threat).

From 1945 to 1959, John Stanley’s primary outlet was his popular adaptation of Marge Buell’s gag cartoon, Little Lulu. By 1950, Stanley and a team of artists, headed by Irving Tripp, had re-imagined the one-dimensional imp of the Buell cartoons as a savvy, determined and self-possessed being.

With its quiet wit and top-tier storytelling, Lulu was among the few comic books an adult wouldn’t be embarrassed to read in public. As surviving copies show, the average issue was read, re-read, swapped and borrowed until its pages were frayed and its cover mangled. The monthly comic book sold well, and garnered the ongoing approval of Buell, who eventually sold the character outright to Dell.

Buell had the right of refusal on any material she felt was beneath her standards. She looked over John Stanley’s shoulder as he wrote and drew the first three trial issues of Lulu. She balked when Stanley stepped away as artist, in 1946, but quickly recovered as she saw the series achieve financial and creative success. She trusted Stanley as the custodian of her character.

Only once (that we know of) did Stanley’s work fail to meet Marge Buell’s standards. For the August, 1950 Little Lulu, Stanley wrote one in a long series of improvised fairy tales, told by Lulu, in monthly intervals, to keep bratty neighbor Alvin at bay. These stories often burlesqued the violence of popular culture, as filtered through the eyes of someone too young to altogether understand it. Figures and images common to classic fairy tales—including darker elements—are a part of these inventive stories.

“The Bogyman” was not considered problematic by anyoneuntil the finished artwork reached Marge Buell. She was incensed. As Michael Barrier relates in his indispensable history of Western Publication, Funnybooks (University of California Press), Buell decried the story as “…ugly, tasteless…entirely out of character…way below the high standards of the Little Lulu comics.”

Thus, the 14-page story was shelved, and a reprint of Stanley’s first fairy-tale story, from 1946, substituted. The story first saw print in late 1980s as part of the final set of Another Rainbow’s 18-volume hardcover Little Lulu Library. It was reprinted in the last volume of Dark Horse Comics’ 2000s paperback black-and-white “Lulu” reprints. The story has never appeared in color until now.

I’ve had the notion to color “The Bogyman” for several years. I am a professional comics colorist, among other things, and, as such, always in search of work. It occurred to me that this story might be a nice portfolio piece.

More importantly, it is a chance to give this misunderstood and obscure banned “Lulu” story a re-appraisal. It’s an example of the balance of dark and light, in Stanley’s work, falling out of whack.
“The Bogyman” has much in common with Stanley’s original series The Hair-Raising Adventures of Peterkin Pottle. Stanley, its artist-writer, is often in good form there, but the stories’ tendency towards harshness, hatred and often-fatal violence are too much for many readers.

A year later, fully focused on Little Lulu, Stanley toed the line as the creative force behind a mass-market favorite. That darkness pushes itself into the Lulu of 1950 and 1951—sometimes in the guise of too-frenzied physical action, but often, as with “The Bogyman,” through glimpses of the horrific.

Characters perish in some of Lulu’s earlier improvised stories. “The Deep Black River,” from Little Lulu 17, has a body count higher than a pile of Tales from the Crypt comics. This violence occurs off-panel, but its volume and gravity are deeply felt.

No fatalities occur in “The Bogyman,” and its title character is more comical than frightening. He is a branch of the primary John Stanley character: the full-of-himself narcissist, convinced that his view of the world is correct, despite its glaring flaws in cognitive logic. This is the foundation of Lulu’s friend (and foe), Tubby Tompkins, who, in Stanley’s hands, is among the richest figures of 20th-century popular culture.

Lulu does not fear the bogyman—she brutalizes him in a two-page display of unladylike violence. That, and her misdeeds in the story within a story, seem more likely a cause for Buell’s alarm—and the story’s suppression. 

By 1950, John Stanley’s Lulu was a far cry from the hellion-with-a-halo of Buell’s Saturday Evening Post cartoons. In a sense, “The Bogyman” is an attempted retreat to Lulu’s behavior of old.

Though framed as an imaginary story, and one with a possible moral at its end, the antics of “The Bogyman” are heady stuff. Lulu is willfully sadistic and destructive—if the story’s twists revealed this Lulu as an evil twin, it would make perfect sense. Stanley’s Lulu was crafty and resourceful—and, if so driven, able to exact fitting revenge to her malefactors. Her gleeful cruelty to her parents is jarring, even as a meta-story. Less hep readers might have been upset by this comics precursor to A Clockwork Orange.

Lulu terrifies and torments her parents—running her mother ragged, breaking their finest chinaware, publicly humiliating her father. The inventiveness and energy of her malice is overpowering. As a last resort, after repeated threats, her parents give her over to the bogyman. In a painfully prolonged sequence, Lulu sits alone in her darkened room, awaiting the bogyman’s entrance via her closet door.

She is repentant for a moment, but driven by curiosity. What could this bogyman really be like? The journey to the netherworlds, and possible permanent separation from the life she’s known, seems worth the answer.

The bogyman’s revelation, in a large panel on the story’s 11th page, is far less disturbing than a detail beside him. The so-called monster is comical, if exaggerated. He looks like a Tex Avery character stuck in “take” mode.

But, to his left, we see a ragged, miserable child curled into an almost-fetal ball, aquake with fright. This image suggests serial torments that the sleaziest comic book publishers might balk at printing. This one element suggests a horror beyond words. It is a haunting image, and it gives the reader a moment of true distaste.

Lulu’s attack on the bogyman is akin to the animated Popeye’s actions, post-spinach. She kicks him, tweaks his nose, boxes his six ears and rips out his bushy head of hair from its roots. Along the way, the bogyman acquires a black eye, though that occurs off-panel. This is a side of Lulu not seen in many (if any) of her Stanley-written stories. As with her earlier misdeeds, this over-the-top violence is jarring.

Lulu’s role as an activist for children’s rights fuels her assault, but its extremity and duration is troubling. We’re back in Peterkin Pottle territory, with the protagonist dishing out brutal violence via a daydream.

At story’s end, its most surprising point is revealed: Don’t ever be afraid of the bogyman, Alvin. This is no moral—it’s a license for anarchy. Lulu knows it. In a rare moment of self-reflection, she congratulates herself on “a pretty good story.”

The story influences Alvin to become a true hellion. Lulu’s oblivious mother, whose line “The phone! I’ll answer it!” speaks volumes about her vapidity, bears the brunt of the news. She is furious with Lulu. 

Lulu’s response is disingenuous. One hand on her hip, the other behind her head, she makes a hollow promise to “…never tell Alvin a story again.” The 1950 Little Lulu reader would have known this a lie. Lulu is not one bit apologetic for her negative impact.

“The Bogyman” is a compelling story, but such a deviation from the norm that its publication might have swayed the character, and the series, off its well-established path. It is an exquisite example of the dark side of John Stanley’s psyche, and how this jaundiced side of his worldview could so easily seep into the wholesome milieu of Little Lulu


Thank you for visiting Stanley Stories over the years, and look for the forthcoming quarterly series of full-color hardcovers from Drawn + Quarterly that will reprint Little Lulu accurately for the first time, along with notes and critical writing by myself. 


Chris Sobieniak said...

Glad to have followed this blog as well!

Mestiere said...

You really are a professional, great coloring.

Thank you for ten years of intelligent analysis of John Stanley's work and for all the free entertainment you gave us with the comics you published. I wish you the best of lucks.

Chris Riesbeck said...

thanks so much for posting that!

John Reynolds said...

Great blog! Hopefully it will remain a long time as I check in the archives from time to time. Congratulations, Frank!

And thanks for this final post - very cool and informative!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your blog, and thanks for posting the "banned" Little Lulu story. It proves again that all censoring is unreasonable and of no value.

Tiger said...

Hola from Peru!
South America, that is!
Thank you for keeping Stanley's "Little Lulu" comics ALIVE!!
Myself as a kid, in the 80's, reading her situations, in the licensed Spanish version, introduced by my Mother who was a BIG FUN!!
Mr. York: All your effort is deeply AKNOWLEDGE!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank M,

My earliest comic book memories are of reading Little Lulu way back in 1948 when I was six years old! I recall laughing out loud and really loving the stories that Lulu told Alvin, also Tubby as the Spider, exposing Lulu's guilty father every time! Magical days.

So I was overjoyed to discover your blog today, and to learn of all the recent reprint history and such -- I have been out of touch with the comics world for roughly 15 years!

Excited to be offered the chance to read a BANNED Little Lulu story, I was more than a little curious. Particularly as I abhor censorship in any form...

You know, Marge Buell was right! The Bogyman story is so out of character for Lulu that it made me uncomfortable, and I vainly hoped that the tale would end with Lulu revealing that she had made it all up to steer Alvin along the right path, or to spare him the anguish of a confrontation with the Bogyman. Didn't happen!

I have decided to accept the story as non-canonical Lulu, an aberration, and to regard it as NSFW.

Looking forward to seeing the full set of reprints, and your very welcome John Stanley Bibliographies.

Roger Noble

Wheez Von Klaw said...

Amazing, incredible Lulu tale. This story would have warped minds and probably drawn the ire of Frederic Wertham. The Bogyman is pretty inspired if ya ask me. Brilluant stuff! Up there with EC Segar and Gene Ahem.