Thursday, January 1, 2015

Permalink for The John Stanley Bibliography E-Book Purchases

I have some new posts to do here, but I didn't want to obscure anyone's chance to purchase the 1960s John Stanley Bibliography. It's priced at $4.99. Here's a PayPal payment button:

You can also buy it, bundled with the earlier 1940s Stanley bibliography, for six dollars. To do so, choose this button:

If you want to purchase only the 1940s volume, for $2.99 USD, look to your immediate right.

These files will be sent to you via, which offers high-speed downloads that work well. You'll receive your files as soon as I get word of your payment! Please be sure you have a correct e-mail address so I can send the files to you PDQ!

This link will sit here, above newer posts. Thus, I won't have to run sales-pitches into the body of the regular posts. Please enjoy the other posts on this blog, and if you're interested to know more about the artist and his work, these resources are available. Thanks!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Post-Mortem Post 001: Sluggo goes Peanuts: two super-obscure Stanley stories

I warned you that I'd come back, from time to time, after "officially" ending this blog. As I make new discoveries, or find new information that either confirms or corrects my past presumptions, this blog will remain on life-support.

If/when I complete and publish the John Stanley bibliography for the 1950s, it will consist of 11 years of stories. Near the end of that era come two small surprises from a semi-likely source.

For years, I've suspected that Dell's
Peanuts series might hold some John Stanley material. No one had bothered to scan these comics and share them on the web until last month. Said it before, saying it again: kudos to the folks who scan old comics and remove them from obscurity and inaccessibility. Their work is a powerful help for today's comics scholars.

In a just world, Stanley might have been assigned Charles Schulz's characters, rather than the cast of Nancy and Sluggo, in 1959. Schulz understandably wished to keep the comic book version close to home. His friends Jim Sasseville and Dale Hale wrote and drew the new material, in the spirit of the mega-popular daily strip. You can read an interview with Dale Hale about his work on the Dell Peanuts title HERE.

It's tempting to imagine how Stanley might have handled the rich characters and relationships of the Schulz strip. Instead, this brief, inadvertent intersection is the closest these two talents came to meeting.

The comic book "Peanuts" was previewed in backup stories that appeared in Nancy and Sluggo and Tip-Top Comics, two other Dell titles based on United Features Syndicate-licensed characters. Reprints (and re-reprints) of early "Peanuts" strips already appeared in comic books published by United Features, and then St. John's.

United issued a one-shot Peanuts special in 1953. This all-reprint book is a holy grail of many Schulz collectors. None of these pre-Dell titles featured new material. Schulz took a brave step down from the exalted realm of newspaper syndication to the lower depths of comic books in 1958.

It's rumored that Schulz drew one of these pilot stories (see Hale interview for the details, which remain vexingly vague). Western Publications published its first one-shot Peanuts comic book in 1958, as part of their "Four Color" series. After three trials, a regular Peanuts title began, cover-dated February-April 1960. It was a smart move, although the quarterly comic book version apparently wasn't as popular as all parties concerned might have hoped.

As a stand-alone series, the book was available for subscription. It needed an unrelated secondary feature, to meet the demands of the U.S. Post Office. The trial issues offered solo stories featuring Snoopy, the iconic beagle. Apparently, that wasn't distanced enough for the Post Office. Four-page "Sluggo" stories, seemingly drawn from inventory, slotted into this filler area.

The first "Sluggo" story, drawn by Dan Gormley, is clearly not Stanley's work. The next two issues' "Sluggo" fillers are Stanley-written, and provide an extra taster of this troubled but fascinating segment of John Stanley's comics career.

I've written plenty on Stanley's Nancy comics, throughout this blog. If you're interested in more, just click on the "Nancy" label at the end of this post.

"Delivery Boy," from Peanuts #5, is vintage Stanley:

Stanley was inspired on the day he wrote "Delivery Boy." The sequence at the end of p. 1/start of p.2 is classic stuff, ending with Sluggo's existential sigh: "Well... EVERYBODY can't have a monkey..."

The next issue's "New Shoes" plays to Sluggo's outcast, disenfranchised side, with strong results:

"New Shoes" says more about the Sluggo character, in four pages, than many of Stanley's stories in the regular Nancy title(s). He is the archetypal Stanley outsider: poor, out of sync with the world around him, and desirous to meet that world, despite his lack of connection or understanding.

In the end, Sluggo reverts to his old shoes, and his low status in the universe. Stanley's misfits strive to exist in the mainstream, but their heart is seldom in these attempts, and their known world suits them best.

On that note, Stanley's involvement in the Peanuts comic book series ended. Other, less apt hands continued the "Sluggo" fillers (and one "Nancy and Sluggo" episode) for the book's duration.

Dell's Peanuts series lasted 13 issues, and ended at the point in which Dell Comics and Western Publications parted ways. Western's new company, Gold Key, published one Peanuts issue, which reprinted the 1958 series opener.

That was it for the comic book Peanuts until 2012, when Boom! Studios produced new material aimed at younger readers. They continue to do so, and the series appears to be successful.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stolen Snacks, Balloon Boys and Hallucinations: the last Little Lulu one-shot, 1947

As has been evident for the last year-plus, this blog is winding down. I've said pretty much all I have to say on John Stanley, short of a larger study, such as a book.

But with no visible interest in the publication of a book on Stanley, this blog is the testament of my years of thought and detective work. Perhaps Michael Barrier's forthcoming study of the Oskar Lebeck-edited Dell Comics, Funnybooks, will change this apparent apathy. Time will tell.

To complete a series on this blog, here are the three stories that comprise the final one-shot Little Lulu comic book (#165 in the Dell Four Color series), with a publication date of October 1947.

This issue would be followed quickly by the first official bi-monthly edition of Marge's Little Lulu. That short launch time speaks to the popularity of the Lulu one-shots. Carl Barks (and other artists) did 25 Donald Duck one-shots before Dell committed to a regular numbered series, four years later.

The Disney character was, arguably, a more potent commercial property than Marge Buell's magazine cartoons, but the decisions of publishers, then as now, remain a mystery.

Team Lulu is in great shape throughout this last trial issue. Charles Hedinger provides finishes to Stanley's script/pencils. John Stanley's understanding of the character of Tubby comes into sharp focus in the first two stories. All that remains is the entrance of artist Irving Tripp to complete the winning formula.

I have come to admire Charles Hedinger's work. He translated the feeling of Stanley's characters more efficiently and expressively than Tripp. There is something rawer and more real to Hedinger's work. Tripp tends to soften and sedate the comedic impact of Stanley's writing.

The pleasant contours of Tripp's work, and its crisp economy, is what we think of when we consider Little Lulu. Like Carl Stallings' music for the Warner Brothers cartoons, it was that last needed touch to finalize the formula of a highly popular (and profitable) mass-media entertainment.

Something was lost from Lulu with the departure of Hedinger. He is in fine form in this issue's three stories.

Opening the issue is a classic example of a constant LL formula, "The Case of the Purloined Popovers."

Stanley's focused and crystalline characterizations here show an assurance and confidence that were necessary to make a bi-monthly (soon monthly) Lulu a reality. Stanley would recycle the basic story of "Purloined Popover" over 100 times in his tenure on Little Lulu. As with Tripp's artwork, this is the story-type we think of when the phrase "Little Lulu" is mentioned. 

I would like to nominate this as one of the funniest single panels in the entire run of Little Lulu:

"Alvin's Solo Flight," at 22 pages, is the longest "Little Lulu" story. This was the last chance Stanley had to play with such a large canvas until his remarkable series of book-length Tubby pieces in the early 1950s.

Again, it's a Lulu story-type that would be revisited often by Stanley. By this time, it was already a Lulu trope. Here it is, in livid color:

In a 2010 post, I referenced a curious 1961 animated cartoon that adapts this story. "Alvin's Solo Flight" is a first-class example of John Stanley the spontaneous storyteller. With length no issue, he rambles from tight-knit incident to surprising outbreak, and the story's drive and energy are unpredictable.

There is much to savor here. Lulu and Tubby's adoption of parental roles, and their mimicry of the condescension and nescience of those figures, is beautifully written and woven into the fabric of the piece.

This Tubby is less quixotic, and more self-aggrandizing, than the c. 1950 version. His acts of greediness, presumption and bossiness are often priceless. This is the Tubby of "The Kid Who Came to Dinner," a "Four Color" gem from earlier in 1947. Something was lost when the more aggressive edges of Tubby's persona were softened. They had to be, to make him a more sympathetic figure in a sustainable series.

The beach, like the public park, is a key setting in the world of Stanley's Little Lulu (and much of his other work).  It is a ground zero for human interaction, and a showcase for the foibles of young and old. Getting outdoors always brings life to Stanley's stories. "Alvin's Solo Flight" is a masterful piece of work. It's a pity that the regular-series Lulu so rarely gave him the chance to go beyond 10-12 pages per story.

The last piece in this last one-shot "Lulu" is seldom discussed. "Never Again" is a pantomime of hedonism gone wrong. A great wordsmith, John Stanley also excelled at expressing volumes about his characters, and their world, without one line of dialogue:

 "Never Again" is pure comics, and a sophisticated presentation in its social satire. Most notably, it lacks a moral message. Lulu is not likely to smoke doll hair again, but there's no Buster Brown-like swearing off... just nausea and weakness.

The freeform hallucination sequence (pp. 5-8) is breathtaking in its imaginative comedy and its audacity. Stanley's hand as artist is most deeply felt in this piece. Hedinger simply finishes Stanley's innovative, playful sketches. Irv Tripp would have taken the life out of this story, so we're fortunate that it appears at this time in the Lulu chronology.

We close with the one-page gag (again, an pantomime) that ends the original comic book:
As my colleague Thad Komorowski has commented, this page captures a child's mindset brilliantly.

John Stanley was on the brink of a career-defining series with this final one-shot issue. Little did he, or anyone involved, know that this would lead to another 12 years, and thousands of pages, of  "Little Lulu" stories.

With this entry, I feel that Stanley Stories, the blog, has come to a satisfactory close. That said, I will likely post here on occasion, as whim or opportunity dictates. But all good things must come to an end, and after six years and over 250 posts, I think it's time to bring down the curtain.

The work I've done here has, I hope, meant something to the world of comics, and helped readers better understand the complex, rich and rewarding efforts of the man who was mainstream comics' greatest writer. I hope that, someday, I will be given the opportunity to do a book on John Stanley's life and work. Despite the importance of his work, and its lasting impact on comics, there is still no market for such a book. These are difficult times, though, and not likely to get any better.

Thank you for your interest in Stanley Stories. I hope it will continue to inform, entertain and inspire readers around the world.