Posts Tagged ‘Toon Treasury’

Right Comics, Wrong Format: Sugar and Spike


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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Normally I’d be overjoyed at the news that DC comics is at long last doing a book reprinting Sugar and Spike, the delightful kids comics Sheldon Mayer started in 1956  and continued working on till 1992. Chronicling the misadventures of two talking babies (who can communicate with each other and other kids but not adults), Sugar and Spike hasn’t received the critical acclaim doled out to Carl Barks or John Stanley, but the series has a real sweetness to it that is worth cherishing.


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John Stanley Notebook


Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Little Lulu #19

Along with my friends Frank Young and Gail Singer, I just recorded an Inkstuds episode devoted to John Stanley. You can listen to it here.

And below are some excerpts from my John Stanley notebook:

 Stanley as Lulu. Month after month, Lulu had to improvise a story to please that pesky small-fry Alvin. Lulu was adept at spinning out burlesque yarns featuring stock characters – poor girls, kings, witches — and coming up with new scenarios for them to enact. Wasn’t Lulu’s plight the same as Stanley’s? He was on a story tread mill, he had to keep running to make the kids happy, there was no let up or relief for nearly thirty years.

Mummy as Enabler. Is it too much to see Melvin Monster as an allegory about child abuse? Melvin’s always under the threat of violence, sometimes death itself. His chief persecutor is his father, Baddy. The name says it all: Baddy equals bad daddy (a pun related to Blake’s nickname for the God of organized religion: Nobodaddy). Melvin’s mother, Mummy, is all wrapped up in the Egyptian manner. That means she has no eyes to see what is happening. She turns a blind eye to Melvin’s situation. That’s the way it often is with abusive families: one parent is violent, the other a blinkered or self-deceived enabler.


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Anthology Making as Autobiography


Saturday, December 19, 2009

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Dan’s comments on the Toon Treasury got me thinking about anthology-making, an underappreciated craft. In the entire history of comics, there have only been a handful of great anthologies. Off the top of my head the following come to mind:

1. The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics, edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams. A really great anthology, collecting the best strip comics from the early 20th century: Opper, McCay, Herriman, Sterrett, Gray, Segar, Crane, Gottfredson. This book is the foundation stone of the reprint renaissance we’re living through right now. There is no way, for example, that the Walt and Skeezix books would exist if the Smithsonian volume hadn’t published choice examples of King’s Sunday pages, which led Joe Matt and Chris Ware to collect Gasoline Alley strips. The book is particularly strong on the great long and rousing continuities of the 1930s that Blackbeard grew up reading: giving readers an extended sample of Wash Tubbs, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye at their violently exuberant best. It took me many years to figure out that the book has some limitations. The editors had no taste for adult observational humour panels, so there is no Clare Briggs or Gluyas Williams in the book. And because Blackbeard’s taste was so nostalgically oriented, the book peters out after 1945 or so. Still, this is an essential volume that anyone interested in comics should own.

2. The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. Dan has already said what needs to be said about the book. The one point I’d add is that it does a useful job in sorting out a canon of the really great kids cartoonists (Barks, Stanley, Kelly, Mayer) while providing enough material from other artists who did solid work so that readers get a sense of the scope of the genre.

3. Art Out of Time edited by Dan Nadel. This is probably too incestuous but I have to say this book looks better every time I return to it. This is especially true now that we have more books reprinting some of the artists from this anthology: what distinguishes the book is the fact that the stories Dan selected were both striking and emblematic of the cartoonists being displayed. About the only critique I’d make is that the comic book pages looked better than the newspaper Sunday pages reprinted. It might have been better to have two volumes, one devoted to the comic book stories and a larger book to the Sunday pages.

4. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, two volumes, edited by Ivan Brunetti. There is so much that could be said about these books. I love the connections they draw between classic cartoonists (notably Bushmiller, Kurtzman and Schulz) and alternative comics. Like Spiegelman and Mouly, and Dan as well, Brunetti is very smart about how he’s organized the book: the unexpected juxtaposition of certain artists (Forbell and Regé, Teal and Burns) ignites a new understanding of familiar material. And I like that the Crumb material is from his underrated middle period, and not the overly reprinted 1960s stuff. More subtly, Brunetti has a knack for picking out stories that stick in your mind. Much of this book was déjà vu for me, but that’s because so much of it is from the very stories that I’ve constantly been re-reading for the last twenty years.

5. McSweeney’s 13 edited by Chris Ware. All the praise of Brunetti’s book applies to this volume.

Aside from these books, there are a few near great anthologies: books that are very strong but more flawed, including A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (edited by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams) and The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics (edited by Don Donahue and Susan Goodrick). The Smithsonian book suffers mainly from its half-hearted selection of superhero and action material (which either should have been more comprehensive or entirely left out), and the dull coloring of the reproduction. The Apex book gives a good selection of the main underground artists but many of them would go on to do stronger work (notably Spiegelman, Spain, and Deitch; actually also Crumb, now that I think of it). So it’s crying out to be republished in an expanded edition. Or perhaps someone can start from scratch and do an anthology of “The Essential Underground Comics”.

One interesting thing about good anthologies is how autobiographical they are. It’s no accident, I think, that the Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics is strongest on those comics Blackbeard and Williams read when they were boys in the late 1920s and 1930s. The Toon Treasury is an outgrowth of the experience Spiegelman and Mouly had as parents, sharing Barks and Stanley with their kids. And some of the selections in the Toon Treasury are either personal interests of Spiegelman (Jack Cole), influences on his work (Gross, Kurtzman) or in one case his mentor (Woody Gelman). The Yale anthologies are really a record of the comics that shaped Brunetti’s own development as a cartoonist.

Anthology-making can thus be seen as a form of autobiography. A good anthologist is moved not just by objective considerations (who are the masters of the genre?) but also personal concerns (what are the works that speak to me?). This personal dimension of anthology-making extends outside of comics: consider Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies, or John Metcalf’s many collections of Canadian short fiction, or Hugh Kenner’s volume of Seventeenth Century Poetry or the Subtreasury of American Humor edited by E.B. and Katharine White. All of these are anthologies that bear the impress of particular personalities, with items selected and organized to sharpen taste and perception.

PS: I should add that there are some very attractive-looking recent anthologies which I haven’t read yet: notably Abstract Comics by Andrei Molotiu. So if there are books that I missed, feel free to list them below in the comments section.

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John Stanley and the Two Gregory Gallants


Friday, September 4, 2009

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In the world of comics there are two Gregory Gallants, both of whom bear the imprint of John Stanley. The more famous Gregory Gallant is the Canadian cartoonist Seth (Gregory Gallant being Seth’s birth name).

Stanley, it’s fair to say, has many admirers but few advocates. As compared to Jack Kirby or Will Eisner, there haven’t really been many books or essays celebrating Stanley’s work (the fine blog Stanley Stories, maintained by Frank Young, is an exception). The Canadian cartoonist has long been one of the most vocal champions of Stanley’s oeuvre, recently designing the beautiful new series from Drawn and Quarterly that is reprinting such Stanley works as Nancy, Melvin Monster and Thirteen. Seth has also written the single best essay on Stanley’s work, which ran in the Comics Journal # 238, an eloquent examination of Stanley’s teen trilogy.

If we’re living through a John Stanley renaissance right now, Seth deserves much of the credit. (Along with, of course, the fine people at Dark Horse and D&Q).

Seth’s work has been strongly shaped by his love of Stanley. This can most easily be seen in Seth’s graphic novel Wimbledon Green, which can be read as an extended homage to Stanley. From the glimpses we get of it, Wimbledon Green’s favorite comic, Fine and Dandy, seems like a lost masterwork by Stanley, with the great cartoonist’s typical focus on character and recurring plots. The hobo theme in Fine and Dandy is perhaps a distant echo of the many tramps that populate Stanley’s universe (there is a memorable story where Tubby makes a stab at hobo-dom). And Wimbledon himself is a Stanley-esque creation: he’s Tubby all grown up. Like Little Lulu’s chubby pal, Green is an overgrown romantic egoist who uses his fecund imagination to bend reality to fit his flights of fancy. The way that Seth organizes his comics, with each page as a unit of attention, owes something to Stanley as well.

In the introduction to their fabulous new Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly note that, “the melancholy in many of today’s more emotionally resonant graphic novels can be found right below the surface of John Stanley’s work.” Certainly Seth’s melancholy shares an affinity with Stanley’s similar tropism towards a spirited, lightly masked disconsolation.

There is also a parallel to be found in a recurring family dynamic. In Stanley’s work, the family is a mom-centered affair, with dad being a distant, absent or cold figure (most menacingly in the form of Baddy, the abusive patriarch in the Melvin Monster series). When in trouble, Stanley’s kids almost always cry for their mom. The same family-situation, perhaps rooted in the autobiography of both cartoonists, shows up in Seth’s work.

But nearly a decade before Seth was born, there was another Gregory Gallant. In Little Lulu #60 (June 1953), we find a story called “Rich Little Poor Boy” which features a run in by Lulu with Gregory Gallant, described as “the big movie star.” Like Seth, Gregory Gallant wears a stylish suit and has a way with the ladies. “All the girls are crazy about him!” exclaims Lulu’s boisterous little pal Annie. But in contrast to the modest and gentle Seth, the cartoon Gregory Gallant is stuck up and mean-spirited. (This story can be found in the Dark Horse book Queen Lulu, volume 14 of their Lulu reprint series).

Artists, I’ve often noticed, create their own family tree, discovering through influence their ancestors and giving birth to unexpected descendants. In the case of John Stanley, he created Gregory Gallant twice over.

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