City Kitty

Today on the site, Frank Young joins us to discuss some of John Stanley's lesser-known 1950s comics.

In the research for my three-volume bibliography of John Stanley’s comics work, the ‘50s was the most problematic period. It’s surprising how prolific Stanley was in that decade. His Lulu work—which soon included a satellite title, Tubby—is a staggering aggregate. Each year he wrote, in storyboard form, a dozen 36-to-52-page monthlies, four quarterly Tubbys, and, from 1955 to ’58, one or two 100-page annuals.

This work is built on a series of story formulas. After 1954, the formulas become more mechanical, and thus more obvious. Like George Herriman, John Stanley had the skill and wit to milk a set of stock scenarios for every possible (and impossible) variation. By 1951, Stanley knew the Lulu cast so well he could spin these stories seemingly without effort.

In the high-performance vehicle of Lulu, Stanley’s fail-safes guaranteed finesse by clockwork. At best, Stanley simply picked one of his formulae, did a mix-and-match of characters and narrative stakes, and had a likable, amusing story. At worst, late in the Lulu game and through much of his subsequent work on Nancy and Sluggo, Stanley seems exhausted of joy but determined to soldier on.

A lifelong sufferer of depression, in the pre-Prozac days when self-medication, via tobacco and booze, was a daily norm, Stanley was as much workaholic as alcoholic.

In his non-Lulu 1950s comics, Stanley tests untried concepts, characters and theories. The best of this material presages Stanley’s auteur comics of the 1960s, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and Melvin Monster. It shows that Stanley had the first inklings of his finest ideas while Truman was in the White House—comedic notions Lulu couldn’t accommodate.


Long live Bin Crawler, especially for this Pete Morisi bit.

An interview with Taylor McKimens on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in NYC in 7 years.

I love Wonder Warthog! Might need to really get to work on that.