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The Comics Journal reviews JOHN STANLEY's MELVIN THE MONSTER VOLUME 3

Updated May 19, 2011


The third volume of John Stanley's Melvin Monster is the last, and prints the final issues of the original series. As with all of the volumes in the Seth-designed John Stanley Library, it's aimed primarily at children, and packaged with them in mind. As such, it's designed to flow like a series of stories for anyone to enjoy, rather than acting to preserve a specific set of reprints. That has annoyed a number of collectors, particularly because of the publisher's decision to omit the original covers. Those same collectors will be pleased to know that all of the series' original covers are reprinted in the back of this volume, though eight of the nine covers are reprinted four to a page. While not ideal, Stanley's line is simple enough to convey each cover's gag quite adequately.
The main attraction of this series is Stanley's artwork. The beautiful simplicity of his character design makes each one a walking gag machine. Young Melvin, the kid monster who is a disgrace because he's nice and doesn't get up to mischief like all the other monsters, not only has a pointy head, but that pointy head is integral to any number of jokes. (The best is Melvin shooting himself at an animated totem pole.) A lot of the humor is driven by funny drawings, like a giant monster baby kept in a "crib" that is a cage with a huge padlock on it. When Melvin gets away from him, he's alarmed to discover that the crib has wheels. Another great repeated gag sees his friendly enemy Little Horror turning him into a series of part-boy, part-frog hybrids.
Stanley the writer isn't featured quite as prominently in this volume. Stanley's at his best when he takes a simple premise and is able to craft a complicated plot around it, throwing in gag after gag while escalating the circumstances of the story to hysterical levels before resolving it with a topper gag. Stanley even manages to keep a continued storyline going through a series of shorter stories, each with its own closing gag. You can see this in the fantastic Thirteen (Going On Eighteen), Tubby, and of course his classic Little Lulu comics. Those comics are far less high-concept than the Munsters/Addams Family style of humor found in Melvin Monster, but their stories flow out of the rock-solid characterization developed in each.
In earlier volumes, Stanley tried to develop longer and more complicated storylines surrounding Melvin's status as an outcast in his monster society. His journey to "Human Bean Land" in particular was a highlight, stacking gags as noted earlier. In this installment, Stanley stops attempting this type of story, sticking instead to a stock series of set-ups. Those involve the family's pet crocodile Cleopatra trying to eat Melvin, Melvin trying to enroll in the local school against the wishes of the teacher, and Melvin getting up to shenanigans with Little Horror. Stanley is quite adept at coming up with variations on a gag, but what's disappointing is that he isn't able to evolve the comic's stable of characters nor its stock set-ups over the course of the series. The stories get shorter and the gags get simpler in the last few issues of the original series.
The highlight of the volume is "Supermonster", a story that plays on the weird tension between Melvin and "Baddy," his father. In any other kind of story, the abuse and neglect Baddy heaps on Melvin would cast him as a villain; here, he's mostly just a buffoon doing what everyone else does. That said, Melvin is quite aware that his dad doesn't have his best interests at heart. In this story, Baddy prefers to put his son in harm's way of an all-devouring monster about to wake up from a long sleep rather than confront it himself. Indeed, he hopes to become famous as the father of the little monster who puts Supermonster to sleep! When Melvin enters the monster's cave, Stanley utilizes a series of enormous sound effects to get across the size of the monster and the peril he puts Melvin into. Stanley stacks the action of this strip's gags with a topper gag involving a "stretcher bird's" egg which, after Melvin confuses it for a sleeping pill, winds up attacking Baddy's nose.
The final gag of the series sees Melvin using a chemistry set to turn himself into an ordinary human boy (to his great delight) and then reversing the effect when he hears his father about to walk by. It's a gag that sums up the series. Melvin is a Candide-type innocent, a straight man in a crazy world who desires a normal life but is given nothing but chaos. I think Drawn & Quarterly was wise to market this so directly to children. The figures are simple, direct, and easy to understand. The colors are bright and border on garish (especially the backgrounds, which fill up negative space with non-naturalistic pastels). It features monsters doing silly things and mixes laughter and violence in a way that children always find funny. It's not the sort of series that generates the sort of affection for a character the way Little Lulu does, but it still features a cartoonist in Stanley who understands a trend and how to put his own stamp on it.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
John Stanley

           Featured product

Melvin Monster Volume 3




  Newsarama calls MELVIN THE MONSTER terrifically clever

Updated May 12, 2011


Drawn & Quarterly brings readers another collection of John Stanley's terrific Melvin Monster comics, originally published in the late 1960s. Melvin's a young monster, living with his Baddy and Mummy in Monsterville, and he just doesn't fit it. He's very polite and wants to go to school - which makes him a very poor monster!

This third hardcover collects the final three issues of Melvin, and though the formula has become more obvious than ever (the increasing number of short gags suggest Stanley was running out of twists on his longer narratives), Stanley's strong cartooning and sturdy scripting keep the series engaging and fun.

While it's definitely a book for children, fans of quality cartooning will find plenty of reasons to appreciate Stanley's terrific work. He's able to move readers' eyes confidently through pages, and his quirky, iconic character designs capture the core essence of each character so immediately that little dialogue is needed to enforce their personality.

Drawn & Quarterly, working with designer Seth, continue to knock it out of the park in the design and assembly of the Stanley Library tomes. Sturdy hardcovers, sewn bindings, flat solid pages - you can actually give these comics to their target audience! I'm almost disappointed to get to the end of Melvin Monster; it's been a relentless fun, terrifically clever series. If you have kids, get all three books. If you don't, you still owe it to yourself see why Stanley's considered a master (I'd recommend the second book if you get only one - that's where I felt Stanley's voice felt strongest and freshest on this particular series).

Featured artists

Seth
John Stanley

           Featured products

Melvin Monster Volume One
Melvin Monster Volume 2
Melvin Monster Volume 3




NPR recommends JOHN STANLEY'S SUMMER FUN for Free Comic Book Day

Updated May 4, 2011


John Stanley's Summer Fun

A collection of vintage comics by the beloved John Stanley - the man behind Nancy, Melvin Monster, Dunc and Loo and other classic strips, this book's gonna get snapped up quick
 
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Featured artist

John Stanley

          



  Bookgasm raves about the pure physical comedy of Melvin Monster, Volume 3

Updated March 30, 2011


Melvin Monster, Volume 3: The John Stanley Library
Bookgasm.com
Rod Lott
March 29, 2011


On one hand, it’s sad that Drawn & Quarterly’s third volume of John Stanley’s MELVIN MONSTER comics of the 1960s is the final one. On the other, the title’s short life — all of nine issues — means it never got a chance to suck.

Collecting issues #7-#9 of ye olde Dell series, the hardcover finds little Melvin up to his old tricks. Basically, that amounts to him attempting to be as normal a kid as possible, despite his green skin, scary visage and backward-acting parents, the aptly named Mummy and Baddy.

Amid the stories here — some shorter than ever at two pages, and even one that’s literally just half a page — Melvin gets a babysitting job, where the tot is a giant; encounters a mammoth “supermonster”; is chased by a totem pole inexplicably brought to life; turns the tables on a talking tree; and temporarily becomes a frog (not to mention a normal human boy, in the series’ final gag).

Two recurring plotlines pop up, in both this volume and the series at large. In one, Melvin tries unsuccessfully to convince witch Miss McGargoyle to enroll him in her school — akin to Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football held in place by Lucy. In the other, Melvin tries successfully to prevent being eaten by Cleopatra, his family’s pet alligator.

The former isn’t funny compared to the latter. In fact, what was to be Melvin’s last go-round with Cleopatra makes for this book’s highlight. Devoid of dialogue, it’s purely an exchange of physical comedy — something at which Stanley excelled like no other creative talent, writer or artist, in the medium.
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Melvin Monster Volume 3




Bleeding Cool previews D+Q's 2011 FREE COMIC BOOK DAY COMIC!

Updated March 11, 2011



 
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Featured artist

John Stanley

          



  NANCY VOLUME TWO reviewed by The Comics Journal

Updated February 18, 2011


The latest edition of the John Stanley-written (he also did breakdowns) Nancy goes from strength to strength in terms of its use of character formulas, but it brings diminishing returns until a series of connected stories in the book’s last section provide Stanley a chance to really stretch out. Dan Gormley did the finished art, getting it to properly approximate the original Ernie Bushmiller designs. One of the main differences between these comic book reprints and the original strip is that Stanley fleshed out their world, getting them to interact with a wider range of environments. These stories are also more physical and caper-oriented, as Stanley’s style of humor involved stacking gags on top of a premise with a final payoff gag. In these comics (originally published by Dell in 1959) as opposed to two set-up panels and one punchline (that was often a word-based pun rather than a sight gag). While Nancy and her friends crack wise constantly, the humor in these comics was primarily visual: houses falling down, cement dropping on characters, round-headed visual reminders of Sluggo haunting Nancy, etc. The strong hand of Stanley the designer can be seen throughout the comic, as there’s a symmetry in the way he arranges characters and objects in each panel. That keeps the reader’s eye moving quickly across the page as Stanley delivers exposition. When he wants to draw attention to action, he tends to contort his characters at an angle on the page: jumping, bending, lunging, stretching, falling–they are rarely depicted with a vertical or horizontal line, but rather a diagonal.

The only problem with these comics is that the title heroine is by far the least interesting character. While she’s a curious, rambunctious girl, she’s reduced to straight man role for the likes of Sluggo, his arch-enemy and tormentor Spike, and most especially the hilariously spooky Oona Goosepimple. The Oona adventures almost seem imported from another comic, as Nancy is put through the sort of dangers that Stanley creation Melvin Monster endured in his adventures. These stories are of interest not because of Nancy, but because of the bizarre obstacles Stanley throws in her way: bizarre tricksters called the Yo-Yos, a magician uncle who shrinks them, a gold egg that attaches itself to Nancy, etc. Through it all, Oona seems like a perfect innocent, though it’s clear that she has a more active hand in the weird goings-on than she might indicate.
All of this is perfectly solid Stanley good for some laughs, but a level below his Little Lulu comics or the characters that he created. That changes in the last section, taken from an annual comic that put Nancy and Sluggo at a summer camp. That simple change of venue seemed to really excite Stanley as a writer, as he sent Nancy, Oona and big-beaked friend Nosey Rosie to Camp Fafomama. Stanley gets a lot of mileage in that trio torturing their monitor with a withering series of stunts and insults, with the final reveal that it’s Sluggo resulting in a circle-completing punchline. Stanley, always fond of the energetic but sometimes clueless Sluggo, made him a fish out of water in the woods, but his guile and toughness helped him get the best of a gang of kids who had been harassing him. There’s even an Oona-centered story that involves her using a magic door to go back to her house for dinner, with Nancy following along and inevitably getting in trouble. Rather than Stanley simply performing variations on a theme, these stories see him trying to stretch himself a little, and they’re certainly worth a reader’s time.
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Nancy Volume Two




Nancy Volume 2 in the Comics Journal

Updated February 1, 2011


D&Q Classics, Part I: Nancy, Volume 2
Rob Clough
January 31, 2011

The latest edition of the John Stanley-written (he also did breakdowns) Nancy goes from strength to strength in terms of its use of character formulas, but it brings diminishing returns until a series of connected stories in the book’s last section provide Stanley a chance to really stretch out. Dan Gormley did the finished art, getting it to properly approximate the original Ernie Bushmiller designs. One of the main differences between these comic book reprints and the original strip is that Stanley fleshed out their world, getting them to interact with a wider range of environments. These stories are also more physical and caper-oriented, as Stanley’s style of humor involved stacking gags on top of a premise with a final payoff gag. In these comics (originally published by Dell in 1959) as opposed to two set-up panels and one punchline (that was often a word-based pun rather than a sight gag). While Nancy and her friends crack wise constantly, the humor in these comics was primarily visual: houses falling down, cement dropping on characters, round-headed visual reminders of Sluggo haunting Nancy, etc. The strong hand of Stanley the designer can be seen throughout the comic, as there’s a symmetry in the way he arranges characters and objects in each panel. That keeps the reader’s eye moving quickly across the page as Stanley delivers exposition. When he wants to draw attention to action, he tends to contort his characters at an angle on the page: jumping, bending, lunging, stretching, falling–they are rarely depicted with a vertical or horizontal line, but rather a diagonal.

The only problem with these comics is that the title heroine is by far the least interesting character. While she’s a curious, rambunctious girl, she’s reduced to straight man role for the likes of Sluggo, his arch-enemy and tormentor Spike, and most especially the hilariously spooky Oona Goosepimple. The Oona adventures almost seem imported from another comic, as Nancy is put through the sort of dangers that Stanley creation Melvin Monster endured in his adventures. These stories are of interest not because of Nancy, but because of the bizarre obstacles Stanley throws in her way: bizarre tricksters called the Yo-Yos, a magician uncle who shrinks them, a gold egg that attaches itself to Nancy, etc. Through it all, Oona seems like a perfect innocent, though it’s clear that she has a more active hand in the weird goings-on than she might indicate.

All of this is perfectly solid Stanley good for some laughs, but a level below his Little Lulu comics or the characters that he created. That changes in the last section, taken from an annual comic that put Nancy and Sluggo at a summer camp. That simple change of venue seemed to really excite Stanley as a writer, as he sent Nancy, Oona and big-beaked friend Nosey Rosie to Camp Fafomama. Stanley gets a lot of mileage in that trio torturing their monitor with a withering series of stunts and insults, with the final reveal that it’s Sluggo resulting in a circle-completing punchline. Stanley, always fond of the energetic but sometimes clueless Sluggo, made him a fish out of water in the woods, but his guile and toughness helped him get the best of a gang of kids who had been harassing him. There’s even an Oona-centered story that involves her using a magic door to go back to her house for dinner, with Nancy following along and inevitably getting in trouble. Rather than Stanley simply performing variations on a theme, these stories see him trying to stretch himself a little, and they’re certainly worth a reader’s time.
 
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Nancy Volume Two




  The Montreal Gazette lists TUBBY, MAKE ME A WOMAN and PICTURE THIS as top comics of 2010!

Updated December 14, 2010


Pictures help tell the story

Graphic novels and classic comics cover a wide range

By IAN MCGILLIS, The Gazette December 11, 2010

When it's done right, graphic literature combines the best qualities of books and film to produce a reading experience of unique immediacy. Here are some of 2010's best titles, suitable for adepts and newcomers alike.

...

The comics scene is a culture aware of its history and respectful of its elders, with cutting-edge publishers often maintaining a parallel role as curators. A good case in point is The John Stanley Library: Tubby (Drawn & Quarterly, 144 pages, $34.95), a lovingly presented collection of 1954-55 Dell comics featuring the adventures of the rotund boy gourmand of the title. Today, political correctness would probably deep-six the mere idea of it -why, some tubby kids might feel hurt! -but collections like this serve as salient reminders of the roots of a culture, and of the undervalued art of telling a story in a simple sequence of panels. Elsewhere, Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross (Pantheon, 224 pages, $37) de-mystifies the work of one of the leading contemporary painters of superheroes -Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al -by showing the original pencil renderings.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $26.95) collects seven years worth of frankly autobiographical comics and drawings centring on the social rituals, private pleasures and identity struggles of a young, self-deprecating, middle-class Jewish American woman. Davis trains the keen eye of a comic anthropologist -a David Sedaris who can draw, you could say -on her friends, family and herself, in the process proving the maxim that the road to the universal runs through the specific.

It isn't exactly new (it came out last year), but Poof! by Line Gamache (Conundrum, 93 pages, $15), the tale of a young woman who loses her inspiration and goes on an epic journey with her talking dog to find it, is too good to miss. Gamache's use of flattened perspective and exuberant detail recall both cave painting and children's art; while not a children's book as such, Poof! is nonetheless one of the few books on this page suitable for even the youngest of readers, infused as it is with wonder, whimsy and a crucial edge of menace. A similar theme is approached from a very different angle in Picture This by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 225 pages, $31.95). Barry is a sui generis pioneer with a mission to unlock creativity through memoir; this time around, she explores the question of what causes us to start drawing and, just as pertinently, what causes us to stop. Even more than most graphic books, Picture This resists easy encapsulation; it demands to be seen.

Adolescence can be a drag at the best of times, never mind when you're stuck in a small Quebec town, your peers are ridiculing you over a viral YouTube video and your uncle is achieving dubious Internet stardom of his own. Bigfoot, by Pascal Girard, (Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $20.95) uncannily evokes the sexual confusion and all-round queasiness of what someone once laughably called the wonder years. If you're a teenager
now, this is your life; otherwise, prepare yourself for an emotional time warp.

A new edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia (Harper-Collins/Collins Design, 160 pages, $19.99) provides a case study in literary conditioning. We're so accustomed to seeing Carroll's text alongside the iconic illustrations of John Tenniel that any other combination runs the risk of simply looking wrong. Surprisingly quickly, though, Garcia's psychedelia-tinged style insinuates its own charms, and we see a familiar work through refreshed eyes.

Anyone still feeling lost for a way into the comics
world is heartily steered toward The Best American Comics 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 329 pages, $28.95). Editor Neil Gaiman presents a meritocracy where near-unknowns share the table with many of the form's biggest names. While a feast like, say, R. Crumb's vision of the Book of Genesis inevitably loses something in sample size, you couldn't ask for a better hors d'oeuvres tray.

Finally, from slightly outside the graphic lit purview comes Portfolio 24: The Year's Best Canadian Editorial Cartoons (McArthur & Co., 176 pages, $19.95), a showcase for our country's best practitioners of a discipline too often taken for granted.
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Vanessa Davis
John Stanley

           Featured products

Picture This
Make Me A Woman




SEE recommends NIPPER 1963-1964 and TUBBY this holiday season

Updated December 9, 2010


A Holiday Comic-Copia
Times have never been better for comics fans. Here are some of the season’s best.

by Kenton Smith
SEE Magazine

Given the last decade’s tremendous increase in comics publishing, an article like this shouldn’t come as a surprise this holiday season.

Even during the rest of the year, you may have noticed the kind of shelf space now dedicated to comics (or graphic novels, if you prefer) at your local major book retailers. And quality-produced and packaged work at that, aimed at mature readers, from both smaller houses like Drawn & Quarterly and Conundrum Press of Canada, to major players like Random House and Henry Holt.


More and more publishers are getting into the game. More and more people are noticing, buying and reading comics. Artists and writers have gone from facing the dilemma of trying to be noticed at all, to trying to be noticed among the competition. The lists of “hot” comics must either grow longer, or more selective. And the demand for such lists is perhaps greater than ever.

Which brings us to this, SEE’s guide to the some of the best in holiday comics shopping. As there’s no way this list could possibly do justice to the cornucopia of quality work produced just this past year alone, we’ve limited ourselves to some of the most notable, buzz-heavy recent titles.

And we’ve made sure there’s something here for everyone: the novice, the seasoned reader, and the kids. If it’s comics you aim to plant under the tree this year, let this be our gift to you, Anonymous Holiday Shopper. And stay sane.

Nipper 1963-1964

In 2009, D&Q released The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One, to a considerable degree of national fanfare: it was the most comprehensive retrospective dedicated to a largely forgotten Canadian cultural figure. “Canada’s Master Cartoonist,” is what the inimitable Doug Wright has been called.

Yet even D&Q has realized the “deluxe” format isn’t always necessarily best; publisher Chris Oliveros says the company reflected that perhaps a more accessible volume was called for — hence, the $18 paperback format of the new Nipper reprint.

Yes, the big fancy collectors’ editions tend to be the thing for Christmas — but this compact volume’s appeal both includes and extends beyond the collector. And it will even fit in a stocking.

Tubby: Volume 1

Are quality children’s comics in short supply these days? That would be ironic, given comics’ classification as children’s entertainment throughout the vast majority of their history.
And yet according to journalist and comics historian Jeet Heer, the present industry isn’t, in fact, very good at producing quality comics for kids. Good thing D&Q has since last year been collecting the work of John Stanley — most famous for Little Lulu, but whose other titles Nancy, Melvin Monster, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and finally Tubby are now accessible to contemporary readers.

“Stanley did some of the best kids’ comics ever,” Heer says. “But they’re so good — so witty, so well-crafted and sophisticated — that they’re not just for kids, either.”
 
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Featured artists

Doug Wright
John Stanley

           Featured product

Nipper 1963-1964




  School Library Journal reviews NANCY VOLUME ONE

Updated November 16, 2010


by Douglas P. Davey
School Library Journal

STANLEY, John Nancy vol. 1. illus. by Dan Gormley. unpaged. Drawn & Quarterly 2009. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-77-7. LC number unavailable.
Gr 5 Up–Nancy and her pal Sluggo were popular characters in the mid-20th century, and this volume collects their escapades from the years 1957-1958. Designed by the critically acclaimed comics creator Seth, this full-color collection is beautifully packaged with a hardcover binding and heavy, tan-colored pages. These facts, along with certain elements of the content, make this book more likely to appeal to comics collectors and Nancy fans than to contemporary kids. Certainly her high jinks will still entertain, but, like many children’s classics, changing social mores and customs, such as the fact that much of the humor stems from Sluggo’s extreme poverty and resulting lack of education, mean that it will not have the same appeal it once did, and will leave some parents frowning. In the end, this is an elegant collection, lovingly assembled, that may find new fans but will more likely please the old ones.
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Nancy Volume One




Library Journal reviews HICKSVILLE and THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN

Updated November 16, 2010


Graphic Novels

By Martha Cornog & Steve Raiteri
Library Journal

Horrocks, Dylan. Hicksville. Drawn & Quarterly. 2010. 250p. ISBN 978-1-77046-002-7. pap. $19.95. f

Researching a biography of Dick Burger, the world's most successful comics creator, Leonard Batts visits Burger's hometown, tiny Hicksville, New Zealand. He finds a community where everyone is a comics expert - and the library circulates original copies of Action Comics #1 - but Burger is persona non grata. Only unemployed cartoonist Sam, Burger's childhood friend, shares information, but even he won't explain what Burger did to earn the town's censure. This reissue of a modern classic, originally published in 1998 and nominated for a Harvey Award, features a new introduction in comics form by Horrocks. VERDICT Referencing figures from Rodolphe T'ffer to Todd McFarlane, Horrocks displays a deep knowledge of comics history and a commitment to the art form's power, but also sadness at how comics creators (and characters) have been treated in the name of commercial interest. The moving stories of Sam and also Grace, a Hicksville expatriate returning to pick up the threads of a complicated life, provide indie credibility, but the book's focus on comics (superhero comics in particular) will appeal to some who would normally shun indie work.

Stanley, John (text & illus.) & Tony Tallarico (illus.). Thirteen Going on Eighteen. Vol. 1. Drawn & Quarterly. 2009. 336p. ISBN 978-1-897299-88-3. $39.95. f

This volume of D&Q's John Stanley Library (which collects 1960s comics by Little Lulu writer Stanley) reprints the first nine issues of an undeservedly neglected teen humor series starring two boy-fixated best friends, Val and Judy. Over the course of the jealousies, misunderstandings, and misadventures, Val's childhood-friend-but-not-quite-boyfriend, neighbor Billy, is supplanted in her affections by dreamy new kid Paul Vayne. Meanwhile, Judy dates the nerdy Wilbur but would dump him in a second if any other boy showed interest. VERDICT The artwork becomes more attractive when Stanley takes over from Tallarico with issue three, but it's Stanley's writing that gives the series appeal beyond the young girls it was likely targeting. Val's showy hysterics, her banter with older sister Evie, and Stanley's fine gags are a delight. Because of the unexpectedly opulent hardcover presentation, including excellent design by cartoonist Seth, who also contributes an introduction, and thick pages tinted to look like weathered old comics, the absence of the original cover illustrations (often good gags in themselves) is a surprising disappointment. Still, this is fun for tweens and older collectors alike.
 
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Featured artists

Dylan Horrocks
John Stanley

           Featured products

Thirteen Going on Eighteen
Hicksville




  The A.V. Club declares THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY "the real deal"

Updated October 19, 2010


Comics Panel:
October 8, 2010

by Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, Tasha Robinson, and Christian Williams
A.V. Club

In the vast population of kiddie-comic sidekicks, few top Tubby. As written and drawn by John Stanley especially, Little Lulu’s portly pal is a superb comic creation: an inveterate bumbler and dissembler who gets embroiled in all manner of wild adventures—some of them only in his own head—and then works his way out through a combination of guile and dumb luck. Little Lulu’s Pal Tubby: The Castaway And Other Stories (Dark Horse) collects four full issues of Four Color Comics and Tubby’s own title, each featuring lengthy stories in which Tubby gets tangled up with pirates, is mistaken for a midget bank robber, tracks a lion, meets space aliens, invents a chemical that makes him irresistible, and confounds some grotesquely cartoonish Native Americans. The stories are delightfully inventive, guided by Stanley’s usual method of backing his characters into a corner and then coming up with the most improbable exit. Stanley’s knack for visual comedy is on full display, particularly in his use of silent panels where the characters pause before doing something nutty. If Dark Horse’s packaging was as keen as the comics within, this would be one of the year’s most essential vintage-comics releases. But as with the company’s recent Little Lulu books, The Castaway looks atrocious. The source material is hardly pristine in its sharpness and color separation, but the plethora of recent kiddie-comic anthologies have proven that it’s possible to maintain the original’s imperfections without sacrificing readability. For example: The John Stanley Library: Tubby (Drawn And Quarterly), which also collects four issues’ worth of Tubby comics, is every bit as funny and energetic as the Dark Horse book. (Just for the panel where a magician refers to Tubby as “this egg-shaped little boy,” this volume is priceless.) But the image quality in D&Q’s collection is so much cleaner, even though the original comics were no less cheaply produced. The Castaway only roughly approximates what it’s like to read a Tubby comic; The John Stanley Library is the real deal. Little Lulu’s Pal Tubby: B; The John Stanley Library: A-
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Featured artist

John Stanley

          



Read About Comics reviews NANCY VOLUME ONE

Updated October 5, 2010


Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library

by Greg McElhatton
Read About Comics

I never really "got" Nancy. I’ve heard for years about Ernie Bushmiller’s original strips and how fantastic they were, but Bushmiller died right around the time I started paying serious attention to comic strips in the early 1980s. So I’ve never seen any of the originals, just the interpretations of other writers and artists over the years. I have, however, read some John Stanley comics in the form of Little Lulu, and I thought they were adorable. When I heard that Stanley had created stories for the Nancy comic years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would finally be my introduction to the world of Nancy that so many other people had raved about.

Stanley’s stories are all short and to the point, which considering that Nancy was originally just a four-panel comic strip, is probably not a bad thing. There’s a wonderful disconnect from the real world into Nancy’s in these stories; I hesitate to say that they’re "kid’s comic logic" because it seems unfair to label them as something so simple. Rather, Stanley is telling fantastical stories where product exchanges at the department store erupt into chaos, rich boys always lose out to the downtrodden in the way of love, and witches live down the street. It’s all very matter-of-fact as Nancy (and occasionally Sluggo) wanders through this landscape, the impossible erupting around them in a no-nonsense manner.

That’s not to say that Nancy, under Stanley’s care, is unflappable. It’s especially true in the stories co-starring Oona Goosepimple, the young creepy girl who lives in the mansion down the street and whose house is full of witches, monsters, and ever-shifting corridors that you can get lost in for years. Oona was Stanley’s own creation, and reading the first Oona stories here surprises me that no one else picked up the reins with her after Stanley left the book. While the Oona stories stand out as being particularly odd, I think in some ways they’re the best pieces in this first book because it’s here that Stanley is able to spook the normally blase Nancy. Nancy ultimately exits the Oona Goosepimple stories even more confused and dizzy than when she enters them, a fun state to watch our title character.

Stanley also avoids making Nancy ever saccharine or saintly; she’s anything but that, as it turns out. Her Aunt Fritzi seems continually exasperated with Nancy’s antics, regularly exiling her from the house in order to get some peace and quiet. While Nancy means well much of time, she’s still a child and Stanley occasionally puts a devilish streak into Nancy at which point you just need to back slowly away. Nancy is as much demon as she is angel, here, and it’s that mixture that helps keep the book fresh.

The art in Nancy was created with layouts from Stanley and finishes from Dan Gormley. It’s a nice, simple final look; I’ve heard artists over the years talk about the iconic look of Nancy, and you can see that in these drawings. With her perfectly spherical hair and full cheeks, she’s adorable looking and impish. Comparing her to the sophisticated look of Aunt Fritzi, or the slightly gaunt Oona Goosepimple, and you can see how carefully crafted Nancy and her friends are from Stanley and Gormley. A lot of the jokes depend on sight gags, and the pair keep everything moving swiftly and easy to follow.

The pages of Nancy are printed in a slightly faded, old-comic look; at first I was a little surprised that they weren’t crisp and white, but by the end of the book I found myself liking the old, archived feel of the book. In general I’m impressed with the presentation of Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library. Seth created an iconic cover illustration of Nancy with the simplest of lines, and the end papers are just beautiful. Be warned if you buy one volume of Nancy, you’ll quickly want to buy more. And as for the Bushmiller original Nancy comic strips? It turns out collections of them start in 2011. I’ve got a lot of Nancy ahead of me.
 
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John Stanley

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Nancy Volume One




  Alex Carr writes on SETH, JOHN STANLEY and The Best American Comics Criticism

Updated September 14, 2010


Graphic Novel Friday: Seth, John Stanley, and The Best American Comics Criticism

by Alex Carr
Omnivoracious
September 10, 2010

The Best American Comics Criticism isn't entirely true to its title. For example, not all of the contributors are American (notably Alan Moore), and not all of it is criticism--see the transcribed conversation between Jonathan Lethem and Daniel Clowes (!). But the book is a worthwhile resource: a go-to supply of top-notch comics writing, split into five sections: “History,” “Fans,” “Appraisals,” “Reviews,” and “Interviews.” Naysayers exist, though, and publisher Fantagraphics bravely hosted a roundtable on the book over at The Comics Journal, the lengthy results of which are must-reads.

A few weekends ago, I read cartoonist Seth’s piece in BACC, entitled “John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy,” which is an updated version of the original essay first published in 2001. Seth is the writer and illustrator behind George Sprott: (1894-1975), one of our picks for Best Comics of 2009, among several other great works, and the designer of Fantagraphics’ Peanuts collections. I was fairly ignorant of John Stanley’s catalog, having read Little Lulu and Nancy a few times but never registered the connection. As it turns out, there is a wealth of material from the man, and what better way to get acquainted than a 20-page essay?

Seth covers a wide swath of books from Stanley, but what struck me most was his unabashed love for a 1960s “teen comic” called Thirteen Going on Eighteen, written and illustrated by John Stanley.

“To prepare for the writing of this article, I reread all 26 issues of Thirteen and it was a good experience…It begins weakly, builds to competence, then to inspired competence and finally the strip takes on a life of its own where it sparkles with the same sort of brilliance that Little Lulu did…I was laughing out loud and remembering why I so thoroughly love this comic. I really do.”

Sold! I immediately sought out Thirteen Going on Eighteen, which is newly published by Drawn and Quarterly as part of The John Stanley Library--all volumes designed by Seth, of course. I am happy to say that the book, which collects the first nine issues, lives up to the hype.

Thirteen follows Val and Judy, two young friends, Val’s older sister Evie, and a slew of would-be and would-not-be suitors and crushes. Imagine Betty and Veronica if they had actual personalities rather than two-dimensional traits not too far beyond mannequins (and I say this having read and loved many Betty & Veronica digests). Val and Judy are true friends. “They mock-betray one another and snip behind each others’ backs--but there is a genuine love between them….”

Val is the blonde, hopelessly boy-crazy and self-centered in the most teenage of ways. During a bad rainstorm, Val seeks shelter in the doorway of a nearby shop, but she is unable to leave without an umbrella for fear of ruining her hair, her clothes, and well, everything.

“Will it ever let up,” she asks no one and then immediately ramps to: “Do I have to spend the rest of my life in this miserable doorway?” This type of hyper-drama is typical of both Val and Judy, who can turn from happy hysterics to doomsday woes in the span of two panels.

The brunette, Judy, starts off as the overweight sidekick, who handles the barbs aimed at her size with unusual ease. In one scene, Val asks Evie for help in finding a gift to cheer up Judy.

“I want to bring her something nice, but I don’t know what!”
Evie suggests, “Flowers are the usual thing…,” but Val is quick to roll her eyes and make a joke at the expense of her friend:

“Too bad there aren’t edible flowers…”

Ouch. My favorite moment is in that same panel, when Evie exits the scene and casually looks over her shoulder as she says, “How about a cauliflower?”

This is the first page of the collection. Within the span of five panels, Stanley has already established the personalities of two characters: Val (the caring but cruel teenager) and Evie (the clever and aloof older sibling). As Seth notes, Judy soon sheds the extra pounds for reasons that are never addressed, and while a few of the easier gags are therefore cut short, the series benefits from dropping the obvious foil and giving Judy a personality removed from her weight.
I do disagree with Seth on one point, however. He is an obvious Stanley acolyte: “I’m a genuine fan of his clear, loose, brushwork and his sparse use of background detail.” Yet, the first two issues feature an artistic collaboration between Stanley and the unknown Tony Tallarico. Seth minces no words in his assessment of this dilution of Stanley’s contributions.

“This artist [Tallarico] is so incompatible that he effectively kills every gag…it’s as if everything is poured in concrete. It’s horribly stiff and dead…I feel bad knowing his name because I still can’t find a single nice thing to say about his work here.”
I opened the book expecting to slog through a few pages before I got to the issues that were 100% Stanley, but I really liked the collaboration. Tallarico’s work now looks very retrospective and dated in a nostalgic way. Evie is every bit the prim prom queen, while Val is expressive and elvish. Once Stanley takes over, yes, I can see the improvement and appeal, but it does lose some of the softness in favor of a much more kinetic angularity. No matter where your opinion lies, though, the stories only get better from there.

These nine issues are handsomely sewn into a sturdy hardcover, featuring Seth’s trademark fonts and simple cover image. This is the heftiest of all the volumes in The John Stanley Library and it is priced higher than the rest. But it’s worth it. The pages are never garishly remastered but remain faithful to the originals, with an occasional blurring of colors or lines. It feels like these pages were saved just in time and now carefully kept on sturdy stock. I read it over the course of a week and would have loved to crack the next nine issues if they were available. Seth fans will note that his aforementioned essay is condensed into the front matter of this first volume--it’s kept to the section devoted to Thirteen, whereas the full piece in BACC focuses in far greater detail on Stanley’s body of work.

Other volumes in The John Stanley Library include Nancy, Tubby, and Melvin Monster, the last of which I plan to start next. I'm not sure I ever would have stumbled across these if not for Seth and The Best American Comics Criticism.
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Seth
John Stanley

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Thirteen Going on Eighteen




Newsarama reviews THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN

Updated April 13, 2010


Review: Thirteen “Going on Eighteen”

by Michael C. Lorah

Thirteen “Going on Eighteen” was a humor comic book for young readers published by Dell Comics from 1961 until 1967, a total of twenty-nine issues (the final four of which had only reprinted material), entirely written and mostly illustrated by legendary John Stanley. Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s well-received John Stanley Library project, an ongoing reprint series dedicated to the work of the cartoonist, compiles the first nine issues of the run here in an immaculate, 336-page hardcover format.

I must admit, despite the clear quality of the stories and art, I’m somewhat surprised that Thirteen is among the longer-running, more commercially successful Stanley comics. I’m not sure exactly who the market for these stories was in 1961. I imagine, knowing myself as a young boy, that boys weren’t yet comfortable with the notion of girls to enjoy reading about them. And I can’t imagine that little girls would like a book that frequently painted them such a conflicted light. Perhaps this says more about my inability to understand the commercial market than anything else. Lord knows, the popularity of any number of movies or musicians continues to confound me.

Stanley handles the scripting with his usual aplomb; echoing the structure of his most famous stories, in the pages of Marge’s Little Lulu, each installment of Thirteen has two or three longer narratives (which frequently dovetail together as one issue-length storyline) complemented by several short one- or two-page gags. The series’ primary protagonists, two thirteen-year-old girls named Val and Judy, star in nearly every tale, either in combination or solo. Each story focuses on the various ways in which each girl strives to be mature and appealing to boys, (thus the “Going on Eighteen” of the title) or occasionally seeks to escape from unwanted boys. Each time out, the girls achieve a measure of victory, or they’re undone by their own immaturity.

The humor is broad and universal, simple but not simplistic. Stanley delivers a fair mix of outcomes, hoisting the girls on their petards regularly, but also giving them victories and moments of decency just as often. Val and Judy’s friendship is a mix of jealousy, respect, teasing and love, a complicated brew for a supposed children’s comic. Despite some clunky early stories, Stanley quickly finds each character’s voice, and the nuances come through in their broad, caricatured personalities.

Using his open, warm illustrations and pristine layouts, Stanley (abetted by uncredited assistants) provides a sort of all-American suburban saccharineness to the stories. It’s a nice effect, the legendary realm of the legendary American teen. Even novice comics readers can easily approach Stanley’s clear grids; the clean storytelling suffers only occasionally from awkwardly placed balloons that don’t read in sequence.

Sniping and taunting, forlorn and jubilant, John Stanley’s Thirteen “Going on Eighteen” is sharp an funny, a biting satire of teen behavior, treated with good humor and professional cartooning talent. It’s another winner from Drawn & Quarterly’s John Stanley Library line of all-ages comic books.
 
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John Stanley

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Thirteen Going on Eighteen




  Bookgasm calls THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN, VOLUME 1 "an absolute joy"

Updated April 6, 2010


Thirteen Going on Eighteen, Volume 1: The John Stanley Library

by Rod Lott

An all-but-forgotten teenage comic book from the early 1960s gets collected in THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN, VOLUME 1: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY, and I wish I had known about it before I was going on 40. This is a warm, wise and wonderful series.

It may not share the name value of Stanley’s other efforts, such as NANCY or MELVIN MONSTER, but it should. Indie cartoonist Seth, who once more designed this handsome addition to Drawn & Quarterly’s line of Stanley’s work, provides a thorough introduction, in which he pegs THIRTEEN’s two female protagonists as like ARCHIE’s Betty and Veronica, only better. He’s right.

At the forefront of THIRTEEN are Val and Judy. Val is the skinny, pretty blonde who’s boy-crazy. Her girl-next-door looks belie an immature, physical awkwardness that occasionally brims to the surface. Judy is the fat, homely brunette who’s not-so-boy-crazy. The apple of her eye is food, and preferably not apples. This characterization may not be 100 percent politically correct in this day and age, but she’s not an object of ridicule; Judy’s tough-minded and can take care of herself, plus she magically drops dozens of pounds between two issues.

Each of the nine issues within begins and ends with super-short, conventional gag strips, bookending a few longer stories. As Seth notes, very rare is it that the characters leave their houses. Much of the action takes place under the roofs of their suburban homes, with many of the plots involving various friends coming over — or not coming over, as with the “are they or aren’t they?” relationship between Val and her neighbor, a friend since childhood. Rather than make things boring, the fairly confined settings endear the girls to the reader; you grow to feel as comfortable in their surroundings as they.

Val’s sporadic clumsiness aside, these stories aren’t slapstick; the humor comes out of believable situations that occur every day … well, at least if you’re still a teen around whom the world still revolves. We all remember what it was like to struggle with acceptance and other pangs of adolescence. I don’t mean to make Stanley’s work sound deadly serious, but it operates from a level that’s entirely relatable. Although situations are slightly exaggerated for the medium, they could happen. (My daughter’s only 10, but I see more of Val’s drama-queen antics in her each week.)

I trust you’d agree. Those hungry for excellent, but neglected comics from their heyday should invest in this one. The more, the merrier … not to mention a chance at a second volume. At 336 pages, it’s a meaty read that you’ll be all to pleased to get lost in for an entire afternoon. In other words, an absolute joy.
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Thirteen Going on Eighteen




THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN reviewed by Newsarama

Updated March 23, 2010


Review: Thirteen (Going on Eighteen)

by J. Caleb Mozzocco

The latest release in Drawn and Quarterly’s John Stanley Library line is closer to Melvin Monster than Nancy in that it collects a short-lived original series, rather than a popular series based on a preexisting character.

It’s unlike either in that it pulls back from the world of children a bit to focus on teenagers. Given the age of those teenagers—it’s right there in the title—that may not be a huge difference, but Stanley is tackling slightly more mature subject matter than in his better known Little Lulu and Nancy work: Romance, crushes, status awareness, fitting in and so forth.

It also means Stanley here has older, more adult characters to draw, and it’s a pleasure to see his quick, confident, concisely-placed strokes applied to the longer, lither forms of the teenagers. Thinking back on all the Little Lulu comics I’ve read, I’m having trouble thinking of any tall or skinny characters, as everyone in Lulu’s world—the older kids, the majority of the adults—have a soft roundness about him.

Here many of the characters are gangly and long-limbed, perfect figures for much of the running around and explosive histrionics they engage in.

The introduction by Stanley fan and Stanley Library designer Seth sings the praises of the characters much better than I can, so I won’t bother to attempt it here. Instead, I’ll simply quote him:

I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) but I have to say, these characters are weak ciphers when compared with Stanley’s lively creations. Val, Judy, Wilbur, etc.—these are not complex characters y any stretch of the imagination, yet they have an inner life lacking in the Archie gang. Can you, for one second, imagine Reggie alone in his room? What would he be thinking? It’s not very exciting, is it? You would not say the same thing about Val (of Thirteen). You would have no trouble imagining any of Stanley’s teens and their private worlds…In just twenty-five issues of Thirteen, I have a deeper sense of these characters as people than in the hundreds of Archies I’ve read.

…Stanley so ably breathed life into them that they seem to exist outside of the crumbling yellow pages of these old comic books. There’s a moment when characters become deep enough that they are no longer ‘Lines on paper.’ A wonderful alchemy occurs where they seem to continue living even after you close the book.

Seth feels Stanley’s Thirteen teens are among those comics character to achieve that independent life, and I’m not about to argue. That achievement seems all the more remarkable given how short-lived Thirteen was. It ran for just 29 issues, though the last four of those were reprint material.

So who were these characters?

The main ones are friends/rivals Val and Judy. Val is a somewhat vain, slim blond with a seventeen-year-old sister named Evie. Judy is a big, brash girl with the appetite and strength of a stereotypical big girl of the time, both of which she retains even when she mysteriously sheds a hundred or so pounds to more closely resemble Val between issues.

Val’s main love interests are Billy, the literal boy next door whom she grew up with and expects to always worship her, whether she’s seeing someone else or not, and the wonderfully named Paul Vayne. Judy is stuck with Wilbur, a boy she detests and who doesn’t seem all that crazy about her either, but neither of them can do any better.

Stanley has so well-realized these characters that they’re an awful lot like real teenagers. In other words, I don’t really like any of them. They’re all almost sociopathically self-centered and selfish, casually cruel to one another and certainly more fun to read about than to share a house with.

All of these kids are preferable to Judy Junior, however. While Thirteen is mostly devoted to strips of various lengths featuring either Val, Judy or Val and Judy, there’s another feature which never really interacts with the others—Judy Junior. She’s a little girl, and has the haircut and round shape of the teenage Judy, but it’s never made clear if this is her as a child, or her little sister, or her future daughter or just some unpleasant little girl who shares her name.

Judy is a bully who is always picking on a little boy named Jimmy Fuzzi, whom she always refers to by his full name (She calls his mother “Mrs. Jimmy Fuzzi’s Mother”). This feature retains the pleasures of much of Stanley’s kids comics work, but damn is Judy Junior a horrible little monster. I didn’t even really enjoy reading these strips, she was so unpleasant, although I can stare at the artwork in them all day.

Of all of the old Stanley work I’ve read so far, which is a lot easier for me than it must have been for Seth, given that Dark Horse and Drawn and Quarterly have been working so hard to make sure so much of it is easily available in collected form, this is perhaps my favorite, in large part because it’s so different than Nancy and Lulu and even Melvin, and yet still has the pleasant charm, endless variations on a few familiar joke plots, and lovely simplified but amazingly expressive artwork that makes a John Stanley comic a John Stanley comic.
 
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Thirteen Going on Eighteen




  THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN reviewed by Newsarama

Updated March 23, 2010


Review: Thirteen (Going on Eighteen)

by J. Caleb Mozzocco

The latest release in Drawn and Quarterly’s John Stanley Library line is closer to Melvin Monster than Nancy in that it collects a short-lived original series, rather than a popular series based on a preexisting character.

It’s unlike either in that it pulls back from the world of children a bit to focus on teenagers. Given the age of those teenagers—it’s right there in the title—that may not be a huge difference, but Stanley is tackling slightly more mature subject matter than in his better known Little Lulu and Nancy work: Romance, crushes, status awareness, fitting in and so forth.

It also means Stanley here has older, more adult characters to draw, and it’s a pleasure to see his quick, confident, concisely-placed strokes applied to the longer, lither forms of the teenagers. Thinking back on all the Little Lulu comics I’ve read, I’m having trouble thinking of any tall or skinny characters, as everyone in Lulu’s world—the older kids, the majority of the adults—have a soft roundness about him.

Here many of the characters are gangly and long-limbed, perfect figures for much of the running around and explosive histrionics they engage in.

The introduction by Stanley fan and Stanley Library designer Seth sings the praises of the characters much better than I can, so I won’t bother to attempt it here. Instead, I’ll simply quote him:

I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) but I have to say, these characters are weak ciphers when compared with Stanley’s lively creations. Val, Judy, Wilbur, etc.—these are not complex characters y any stretch of the imagination, yet they have an inner life lacking in the Archie gang. Can you, for one second, imagine Reggie alone in his room? What would he be thinking? It’s not very exciting, is it? You would not say the same thing about Val (of Thirteen). You would have no trouble imagining any of Stanley’s teens and their private worlds…In just twenty-five issues of Thirteen, I have a deeper sense of these characters as people than in the hundreds of Archies I’ve read.

…Stanley so ably breathed life into them that they seem to exist outside of the crumbling yellow pages of these old comic books. There’s a moment when characters become deep enough that they are no longer ‘Lines on paper.’ A wonderful alchemy occurs where they seem to continue living even after you close the book.

Seth feels Stanley’s Thirteen teens are among those comics character to achieve that independent life, and I’m not about to argue. That achievement seems all the more remarkable given how short-lived Thirteen was. It ran for just 29 issues, though the last four of those were reprint material.

So who were these characters?

The main ones are friends/rivals Val and Judy. Val is a somewhat vain, slim blond with a seventeen-year-old sister named Evie. Judy is a big, brash girl with the appetite and strength of a stereotypical big girl of the time, both of which she retains even when she mysteriously sheds a hundred or so pounds to more closely resemble Val between issues.

Val’s main love interests are Billy, the literal boy next door whom she grew up with and expects to always worship her, whether she’s seeing someone else or not, and the wonderfully named Paul Vayne. Judy is stuck with Wilbur, a boy she detests and who doesn’t seem all that crazy about her either, but neither of them can do any better.

Stanley has so well-realized these characters that they’re an awful lot like real teenagers. In other words, I don’t really like any of them. They’re all almost sociopathically self-centered and selfish, casually cruel to one another and certainly more fun to read about than to share a house with.

All of these kids are preferable to Judy Junior, however. While Thirteen is mostly devoted to strips of various lengths featuring either Val, Judy or Val and Judy, there’s another feature which never really interacts with the others—Judy Junior. She’s a little girl, and has the haircut and round shape of the teenage Judy, but it’s never made clear if this is her as a child, or her little sister, or her future daughter or just some unpleasant little girl who shares her name.

Judy is a bully who is always picking on a little boy named Jimmy Fuzzi, whom she always refers to by his full name (She calls his mother “Mrs. Jimmy Fuzzi’s Mother”). This feature retains the pleasures of much of Stanley’s kids comics work, but damn is Judy Junior a horrible little monster. I didn’t even really enjoy reading these strips, she was so unpleasant, although I can stare at the artwork in them all day.

Of all of the old Stanley work I’ve read so far, which is a lot easier for me than it must have been for Seth, given that Dark Horse and Drawn and Quarterly have been working so hard to make sure so much of it is easily available in collected form, this is perhaps my favorite, in large part because it’s so different than Nancy and Lulu and even Melvin, and yet still has the pleasant charm, endless variations on a few familiar joke plots, and lovely simplified but amazingly expressive artwork that makes a John Stanley comic a John Stanley comic.
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Thirteen Going on Eighteen




Bookgasm dubs NANCY: VOLUME 1 a

Updated February 9, 2010


Nancy, Volume 1: The John Stanley Library

by Rod Lott

All hail Nancy! Ernie Bushmiller’s creation had her heyday on the funny pages, but it was her comic-book misadventures that ingratiated the character to me. Thus, Drawn & Quaterly’s NANCY, VOLUME 1: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY is pure pleasure.

“But, wait,” you ask, “who’s this Stanley character? You said Bushmiller!” I answer: Stanley scripted the comics for Bushmiller, who kept at it in the newspapers. The resulting Dell comic ran for several years in the 1950s, with five complete issues comprising this hardcover collection. All that’s missing, sadly, are reproductions of the covers.


Happily, everything else rules. In the strip, Nancy always struck me as — I’ll be blunt — kind of a bitch. In the comics, Stanley gets to tell stories, whereas Bushmiller had to settle for telling jokes. With pages instead of mere panels, the character is developed. She’s likable, even lovable, and any mischief comes from misplaced intentions, rather than malicious intent.

As a slightly chubby, not-so-cute girl, Nancy’s obviously not the most popular kid in school. She lives with her hot aunt, Fritzi, and her so-to-speak sidekick is Sluggo, a bald kid who’s so poor, he lives in a shack whose walls aren’t completely enclosed. It’s more than a little surprising to see a character like this in a children’s humor comic, who skips school because he’s ashamed of his clothes, and is so hungry, he’ll take a bite out of a book.

In the first story, we’re introduced to a new character, Oona Goosepimple, who looks a little like Wednesday Addams and, appropriately enough, lives in a spooky, backwards house with monstrous family members. It’s a strange element that never would’ve worked for the strip, but plays out well here, sowing the seeds for Stanley’s later work on MELVIN MONSTER.

Another highlight finds Nancy trying to luck into some money to go to the movies. Her lack of funds is a recurring theme in the stories, as is her efforts to weasel out of doing chores. Sluggo also gets his share of the spotlight, too, inadverently outsmarting a burglar and becoming a de facto bank president.

One unintentional creepy moment arrives when Nancy is mistaken for a TV personality, and a boy asks her, “Can I touch you, Nancy? For a penny?” But all the other laughs in the book are on purpose, and if you doubt Stanley’s gift for timing, check out the story about the stray cat. Artist Dan Gormley rises to the challenge when the tabby goes into attack mode; I dare you not to smile.

As with D&Q’s MELVIN MONSTER collection from Stanley, the covers and endpapers have been designed, exquisitely, by Seth. It’s not that this treasure needed to be any more special, but I’ll take it.
 
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John Stanley

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Nancy Volume One




  NewsOk thinks NANCY VOLUME ONE would make a fantastic gift!

Updated December 7, 2009





If you have a comics fan in your life, there’s a plethora of gift possibilities on shelves at comic-book stores and other retail outlets. Most comic stores should have staples including comic-book collecting supplies, graphic novels and even gift certificates.

The following is a selection of some gifts that should please a discerning reader.
For kids, a purchase that should provide hours of reading enjoyment is "The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics” ($40). This is one of the best collections of classic children’s comics, primarily from the 1940s and 1950s. These comics are aimed at young readers and have been selected for quality and relevance by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly.

John Stanley (Little Lulu), Sheldon Mayer (Sugar and Spike), Walt Kelly (Pogo) and Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge) are among the creators represented.
John Stanley fans can also read the creator’s work in the ongoing John Stanley Library selections from Drawn and Quarterly. Stanley’s "Nancy” comics have much of the same charm of his "Little Lulu” comics, and "Nancy: Volume One” ($24.95) is designed by Seth ("It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken”).

Not sure what you want to read in comics? Comic-book writer and "Comics Buyers Guide” columnist Tony Isabella is full of suggestions in "1000 Comic Books You Must Read” ($29.99). Isabella takes a decade-by-decade approach, highlighting what he felt to be the best comics of each era. You’re sure to agree with some selections and disagree with others. That’s part of what makes a project such as this so much fun.

For a closer look at the early work of a master, check out "Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1” ($39.99). Edited by Blake Bell, who wrote the recent Ditko retrospective "Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko,” "Strange Suspense” offers 200-plus pages of pre-"Amazing Spider-Man” art from Ditko.

Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, is a reclusive innovator who worked with Stan Lee in the early days of Marvel. This collection contains macabre stories from Ditko early in his career, in the pre-Comics Code era of 1953 and 1954.

For an often-humorous, always enlightening look at the stories behind the comics, check out Brian Cronin’s "Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends” ($14). Cronin, a columnist for Comic Book Resources, investigates the truth behind many of the comic-book world’s urban legends.
Fans who want a full-featured reference to the characters of Marvel Comics may like the newly updated "Marvel Encyclopedia” ($40), which covers everyone from The Abomination to Zzzax, and provides a decade-by-decade Marvel chronology as well.



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John Stanley

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Nancy Volume One




NANCY VOLUME ONE on Chicago Time Out's Gift List

Updated November 30, 2009


Books Holiday Gift Guide

by Jonathan Messinger

Old-school comics
It’s a story that’s reached mythic proportions: Famed indie comics imprint Fantagraphics was in dire financial straits, until it was saved when a savvy, smartly packaged reissue of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts sold like crazy. Since then, Fantagraphics has tried to recapture that lightning with a Dennis the Menace reissue, and now Drawn & Quarterly collects John Stanley’s classic Nancy strips from 1957-58 in Nancy: Volume One (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95). We cracked it open on a lark, and it is seriously charming, funny and at times downright weird.


 
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John Stanley

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Nancy Volume One




  The Walrus reviews MELVIN MONSTER VOLUME ONE

Updated November 23, 2009


Encore! Encore! Recent Comics Reprints!

by Sean Rogers

Four-Colour Words returns from a Toronto International Film Festival–induced hiatus — if you can, catch up with Face and Trash Humpers, both of them brassy, unabashed image-making of the first rank — to examine a few important comics that have resurfaced lately. Newspaper pages have shrunk and pamphlets have retrenched to the point of insignificance during the years since these works were published. With slim-to-no chance of them reappearing in their original contexts, these comics have instead been scanned, compiled and stitched into book spines. What does it mean for them to revive now? In what new contexts do readers experience these strips thanks to this moment in publishing history? Read on, and we’ll discover the answers together.

Like many big mid-century cartoonists — Kirby, Barks, Kurtzman — John Stanley’s comic books were so quintessentially comic booky that it’s strange to imagine them, and slightly odd to encounter them, in any other format. Melvin Monster Volume One, the first in a series of texts devoted to Stanley’s late career, compiles a mere three issues from his short run on the title, preserving the quick and compact experience of the original comics. (The next volume in the series, collecting some of Stanley’s work with Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, has just arrived on stands.) Drawn and Quarterly’s repackaging also nudges the material into the more traditional territory of children’s picture books, where Stanley’s sensibilities seem perfectly at home.

As with some of Stanley’s other humour comics, Melvin Monster indulges in the sort of light-hearted fright-mongering that kids adore. The stories in this collection describe a rotund, green-skinned misfit who is terrible at being a monster. Melvin wants to go to school, hates playing with his pet alligator, and dares to call his elders “kind-looking,” much to the chagrin of his Mummy and Baddy. He fits in no better in the land of “human beans,” where his nicest qualities only throw humankind’s monstrous behaviour into ugly relief. All the while, Stanley relates Melvin’s adventures in his instantly identifiable fashion, filling them with misunderstandings, silly running jokes, and quick reversals of fortune scored with cries of “Yow!”

From Stanley’s career-defining work with the licenced Little Lulu character to “Jigger,” an odd little contribution to the new, eye-opening TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, the cartoonist’s tales move along with such pleasing economy that it sometimes seems less likely his stories were ever consciously created than that they already just existed somehow. Melvin Monster, one of the few titles to which he provided both art and script, urges us to reconsider his capability with images too.


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John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume One




NANCY VOLUME 1 reviewed by Star Tribune

Updated November 23, 2009


Holiday books: Graphic novels

From "Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness" to "Bob Dylan Revisited" to "Nancy Vol. 1"

Nancy Vol. 1 by John Stanley

First off: The design of this hardcover collection is amazing. Nancy was the young star of a classic Sunday comic strip by Ernie Bushmiller (imagine Charlie Brown but with more attitude). Nancy later appeared in comic books by children's master John Stanley, and those stories are given the royal treatment here. The strips appear in their original halftone glory on faux newsprint pages. The cover (designed by Seth) is a simple but stunningly bold graphic of Nancy's trademark puffy black hairdo. The stories will entice older nostalgic fans and entertain young readers.
 
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John Stanley

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  Comic Book Resources review NANCY and THE BOOK ABOUT MOOMIN, MYMBLE, AND LITTLE MY

Updated November 9, 2009


Robot reviews: Another kids' comics round-up

by Chris Mautner

When faced with the challenge of adapting Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic strip to longer comic book format, John Stanley's response was simple and economical: Turn her into Little Lulu.

That's the only conclusion I can come to after reading this collection of stories in D&Q's ongoing "John Stanley Library" project. Nancy is pretty much Lulu with frizzier hair, Sluggo is a thinner and slightly more benign Tubby. There's even a snotty rich kid and bratty little boy similar to Wilbur and Alvin. Stanley even repeats one of his Tubby stories involving a burglar almost note for note.

That doesn't make Nancy a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. Mediocre Stanley is still miles above most people's best work. The best stories here though are the ones involving Oona Goosepimple, an odd, Wednesday Addams-type girl who supernatural antics cause no end of anxiety for poor Nancy. It's those stories where Stanley -- freed of the Bushmiller formula -- really gets inventive and inspired. If the ratio of Oona stories increases as the volumes do, then I'll keep buying these books as long as D&Q are able to get them out.

Reviews of Moomin, Amulet and more can be found after the jump ...




The Book About Moomin

The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My
by Tove Jansson
Drawn and Quarterly, 20 pages, $16.95.

I'm a sucker for die-cut books -- anything that plays upon the whole "Oh, it looks like it's part of the page, but look closely and you'll see it's a window into the next one" thing gets extra points from me. And D&Q has already won me over on Jansson with the wonderful job they've done reprinting her Moomin strips, so it's not like I had to be won over with the company's first entry in their new kids Enfant line. The only real surprise here is Jansson's lovely use of limited color and composition on these expansive two-page spreads. So yeah, it's a great book that will be sure to please the young and old at heart. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.


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Tove Jansson
John Stanley

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Nancy Volume One
The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My




Comics-and-More loves MELVIN MONSTER

Updated November 2, 2009


The John Stanley Library: Melvin Monster

by Dave Ferraro

With Halloween fast approaching, I couldn't think of anything better to read than this classic. The first book in Drawn & Quarterly's line celebrating a cartooning legend, The John Stanley Library, features a little green monster named Melvin who lives in Monsterville with his Mummy and Baddy. To be honest, it took a few comics to grow on me, but once it did, it wasn't too hard to see why people have enjoyed these stories for decades. Melvin Monster is a charming naive little guy who wants more than anything to be a good boy, but Monsterville (and certainly his Baddy) won't have it. It's a Bizarro World of sorts, with morals flipped around so that anything he does that's not destructive or cruel or painful is considered bad behavior. And since he's grown up in such a foul environment, when he visits a city in the human world and is treated horribly, he thinks nothing of it. This really is a cute comic, with obvious echoes of Casper the Friendly Ghost and The Addams Family, and is drawn fantastically, with clear storytelling and top-notch cartooning. It is a little old-fashioned, but I think it still holds up and kids anywhere would probably love to read this sort of book. I know I certainly did. It's just a charming, endearing premise and there's plenty of opportunities with it to do some great things, which Stanley obviously realized and took advantage of. One of my favorite ongoing gags is of the monsters' pet crocodile Cleopatra who lives with them in their run-down mansion. Melvin's parents think that Cleopatra just adores Melvin, especially since she's always in a hurry to see him when she hears him, but it's really because she wants more than anything to eat him, which Melvin realizes and thwarts her attempts every time. This may not be for everyone, but if anyone's looking for a silly comic series to read for Halloween, and perhaps share with the family, this is an ideal title.
 
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John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume 2




  The A.V. Club discusses NANCY VOLUME ONE

Updated October 26, 2009


Comics Panel

by Zack Handlen, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, And Tasha Robinson

"The Seth-designed “John Stanley Library” series continues with Nancy (Drawn & Quarterly), which collects five Stanley-penned issues of Dell’s comic-book version of Ernie Bushmiller’s classic newspaper strip. The stories here are very good—classic kid-comic adventures that usually start with Nancy trying to accomplish something simple that eventually spins out into accidental mischief and outright absurdity—and the book itself looks fantastic. But as with the Melvin Monster volume of the JSL, the effort to frame the Nancy volume as an artifact out of time gives the shaft to those interested in the story behind the stories. Why these five issues? Why only five issues? Why not reprint the covers? How do these comics fit in with the rest of the Dell line, or with the rest of Stanley’s work? It may seem ungrateful to gripe about such a delightfully packaged collection of hard-to-find comics, but the lack of contextual material in these John Stanley Library volumes is starting to become more outright annoyance than eccentric affectation… B+"
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John Stanley

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MELVIN reviewed by PopMatters

Updated August 12, 2009


A satirical take on the 1960's

By Sarah Boslaugh

In 1965 America was awash in comic monsters. On CBS Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo and Al Lewis were camping it up on The Munsters, while their ABC rivals The Addams Family featured John Astin, Carolyn Jones and Jackie Coogan in a series based on the New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams. Boris Karloff performed Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s novelty song “The Monster Mash” on Shindig! and cartoonist John Stanley, best known for his work on Dell’s Little Lulu comics, produced the comic Melvin Monster which featured a little monster boy who is a disappointment to his parents because he want to be good.

Melvin Monster is definitely a kid’s comic: there’s nothing subtle about the bad puns and simple gags which are its very life blood, nor does Stanley’s art display any great sophistication (he was better known as a scripter). But it’s fun for adults as well: Melvin Monster offers a chance to be a kid again for a few hours, to be delighted by silly jokes and enjoy Melvin’s relentless good cheer as he makes his way through an obstacle course of hazards, from a pet crocodile who sees him as lunch to a parents who send him into a cellar from which no one has ever returned. Of course Melvin does return: this is the kind of comic where you understand from the beginning that nothing really bad will ever happen

But Melvin Monster is more than just a series of gags. Melvin lives in an inverted universe where parents complain about television programs which don’t include enough crime and violence and kids worry that Melvin will give their neighborhood a good reputation. This setup offers Stanley a chance to satirize contemporary society without seeming heavy-handed. Melvin is a nonconformist who wonders why he’s expected to be like everyone else in Monsterville, but instead of expressing his individuality by becoming a juvenile delinquent he does so by being a respectful kid who wants to go to school and do lots of homework.

Melvin’s parents Mummy and Baddy are satirical takes on standard-issue parents from 1960’s popular culture. Mummy looks like a cross between Jane Jetson and Laura Petrie, complete with an exaggerated feminine figure and helmet hair, except that she’s completed covered in bandages like the kind of mummies you see in museums (or in movies starring Boris Karloff). This doesn’t keep her from fulfilling the traditional female role (no women’s liberation in this comic!) which includes cooking, keeping house and deferring to her husband. Baddy is a simple-minded monster who chews up tables and wall plaster when he’s not consuming enormous platters of eggs, and is prone to fly into rages when he doesn’t immediately get his way.

Melvin escapes to Human Being Land (also referred to as “Humanbeanville”) several times, and is always disappointed by what he finds there. He thinks humans are always nice and kind to each other, unlike monsters—until an impatient pedestrian knocks him down a manhole, a fat lady hits him with her purse and kids turn him into a spinning top. Melvin is then rescued by a Milburn Drysdale-like character (complete with a carnation in the buttonhole of his pinstriped suit) whose real purpose is to capture Melvin for his private zoo. In a later episode, a wealthy couple sunbathing in their rooftop garden amuse themselves reading about crime victims. However the man is interrupted in mid-gloat—“How I enjoy hearing about the misfortunes of the riff-raff down on the streets! It makes me appreciate more the peace, quiet and security of our penthouse paradise“—by the arrival of two robbers in a helicopter.

You can have fun spotting the references to monster culture throughout Melvin Monster. In the first issue Melvin wakes up from a nightmare that “A crazy bunch of humans with torches were chasing me through a swamp-“ which you will recognize as the fate of Frankenstein’s monster. And Melvin is awakened each morning by a hand which reaches out of the wall next to his bed, rather like Thing T. Thing from The Addams Family but with more hair.

Melvin Monsteris the first in a series of Drawn & Quarterly volumes which will present much of John Stanley’s work. Handsomely designed and edited by Seth in an 8.25” x 10.75” hardcover volume, it contains two series of five stories each, plus several one-page bonus comics.
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Rating:
— 11 August 2009
 
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  MELVIN MONSTER reviewed by The Post Standard

Updated July 24, 2009


COMICS
"MELVIN MONSTER,' "DOCTOR WHO' MAKE SUMMER FUN
JEFF KAPALKA CONTRIBUTING WRITER
719 words
7 June 2009
The Post-Standard
SYRC
Final
21
English
(c) 2009. The Post-Standard. All rights reserved.
Summer is approaching, and that means vacations, sitting out in the sun, sipping iced tea and reading comics. That's what it means to me, at any rate.
Back in 1965, '"Melvin Monster" debuted on the stands. A deceptively simple strip featuring a little boy monster who is constantly disappointing his parents by wanting to go to school and doing good deeds, it was written by master comic scripter John Stanley.
"Melvin Monster Volume 1,"Drawn & Quarterly; $19.99.
You may remember Stanley from his work on "Little Lulu." I prefer his run of "Nancy & Sluggo." Drawn & Quarterly is celebrating Stanley's work with "The John Stanley Library," a series of hardcovers, the first of which reprints the first three issues of "Melvin Monster."
As a kid, I enjoyed it as silly fun. Now, a bit older, I can appreciate Stanley's comic timing and flair for visual comedy. Note to D&Q: Bring on the rest of the Stanley Library as soon as possible.

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John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume One




MOOMIN AND MELVIN MONSTER reviewed by High-Low Comics

Updated July 24, 2009


Monday, July 6, 2009
Digging Deeper: Melvin Monster and Moomin
Rob reviews two intriguing reprint projects from Drawn & Quarterly: MELVIN MONSTER VOL I and MOOMIN VOL IV.

In this, the Golden Age of Reprints, we've started to get all sorts of heretofore unlikely and obscure comics getting loving reissues. While Fantagraphics' reprinting of PEANUTS kicked things off and there have been other long-running and beloved series getting rereleases, this is also a time when publishers are taking chances and printing some less obvious choices. Drawn & Quarterly in particular has been issuing forgotten series or comics unfamiliar to American audiences for quite some time. Indeed, the Drawn & Quarterly anthology in years past reintroduced such classics as Gasoline Alley as well as the work of Doug Wright.

D&Q has really gone to another level by taking a risk and reprinting Tove Jansson's classic MOOMIN series, with great success, as well as starting the John Stanley Library. Seth's design for Stanley's shorter and lesser-known comics is not unlike a prestige children's line of forty years ago, complete with an embossed cover, a "John Stanley Library" seal on the back, playful endpapers, etc. Rather than reprinting the series on glossy paper (the bane of many reprint series, especially when originals can't be found), it's on paper that uncannily mimics the original pages. As a designer, Seth sets the emotional tone for his projects with the endpapers and repurposed images from the original art. For PEANUTS, he's reclaimed the strip's contemplative and melancholy aspects, using dark tones in the endpapers and stripping the characters away from familiar background shots. PEANUTS, partly through it being so thoroughly marketed over the years, had become shorthand for sentimentality as opposed to more complex emotions, and it felt as though Seth needed to correct for this.

In MELVIN MONSTER, on the other hand, Seth seems to be attempting to create an alternate reality where John Stanley's books have always been children's classics, read by millions in perpetuity. It's as though we've reached through a time machine to pluck out a newly-published volume from 1965. The first endpapers we see reinforce the "JSL" brand with lots of funny drawings of the title character; it's both slightly stuffy (indicating to parents the brand name) and endearing (letting children know the emotional tone of the book). The next few pages tell the reader that while this comic is funny, it also involves monsters and vaguely disturbing images--the way Seth has black-ink drawings on charcoal-gray backgrounds, with only the eyes colored bright white, creates an atmosphere that is somehow both goofy and slightly scary.

Getting to the stories themselves, the hook of the series is a young monster boy who is a constant disappointment to his parents because he wants to be good, go to school, not be destructive, etc. Stanley gets a lot of mileage out of this very simple shtick, as the indomitable Melvin has to find ways to outwit his parents and everyone around him. The situational gags are better than some of the cheaper visual gags. It's funny that his mother is "Mummy" and is dressed up in bandages and his father is "Baddy" and is a hulking Frankenstein-like monster; it's funnier to see him innocently outwit the parade of creatures (and people) trying to kill him. It's even funnier when he winds up in "human bean land" where "everybody is nice and kind", only to be tossed down into a manhole, chased by a car and whacked by a woman carrying a purse. The punchline layered on top of that betrayal is that Melvin interpreted these actions as people trying to make him feel at home!

The best sequence of the book is where his parents send him to the cellar as punishment--a place where even they don't go. Stanley throws all sorts of sight gags in, like being told to watch out for a steep third step, only to find that there are no steps at all after the third one. Melvin wavers between being a scared little boy (calling for his guardian demon, whose help is dubious) and an invincible innocent, stumbling into adventure after adventure and inadvertently escaping harm. When his father winds up in the cellar later on, it's sweet (but unstated) revenge. The stories in this volume (reprinting the first three issues of the original comic book) vary from longer adventure stories to shorter bits that establish life in Melvin's house, like the furry arm in his wall that acts as his alarm clock but also plays checkers with Melvin during the night.

Stanley the writer is clever, but what sells the work is Stanley the artist. His line is simple and his figures are delightfully cartoony. His characters are remarkably expressive despite the simplicity of their design; like Schulz, Stanley, with just a squiggle or two, could completely change the mood of a page. In the Monsterville sequences, Stanley throws in eye pop after eye pop (Will Elder-style), punning on monster cliches with either funny drawings or funny labels. What I like best about his art is the way he propels Melvin from scene to scene, creating constant but seamless action. I'm really looking forward to future releases in the Stanley library, especially his teenager comics. There's a breeziness to his character design that I find irresistible, and such comics are really in his wheelhouse as a cartoonist. It's a tribute to his skill and ingenuity that he was able to pull off a slightly more visceral and wacky style in MELVIN MONSTER.

This was the first volume of the collected MOOMIN strips that I'd read, and as it turns out four of the five stories were written by Lars, as opposed to Tove, Jansson. Tove still drew the stories that were featured in a British daily newspaper, and they still possessed a remarkable amount of gentle charm and wit. Jansson's line is remarkable simple and graceful in creating her family of hippo-like Moomintrolls. She got more out of less than any cartoonist this side of Charles Schulz. Unlike Schulz, Jansson's work also had a number of clever decorative touches. In many of her strips, she used things like umbrellas, canes, flutes, pens and lamps to form the vertical interior panel borders, subtly reinforcing the story's themes. Jannson first gained fame as a children's book illustrator with her Moominfamily, but these strips were actually aimed at adults.

While restraint was certainly Tove's watchword as a cartoonist, the stories themselves had a surprising amount of bite. While "Moomin Goes Wild West" is the weakest of the five storylines in this book (due in part to the reliance on stereotypical western humor as the Moomins go back in time), it does wind up redeeming itself by revealing that the wild west adventures they experienced were all part of a cynical, money-making con. "Snorkmaiden Goes Rococo" is another slightly formulaic story spoofing the overromanticization of the age of enlightenment. The book really picks up with "The Conscientious Moomins", a hilarious spoof of manners and "duty" that felt like a direct blow to philosophers like Kant. Jansson depicts a great deal of chaotic bufoonery in her drawings, yet her strips were always clear and never cluttered. Like Schulz, Jansson rarely relied on funny drawings to get across her gags, preferring to let her art tell the story and the gags flow naturally from character and situation.

The book saves its best for last with "Moomin and the Comet" and "Moomin And the Golden Tail". The former is a surprisingly grim, apocalyptic tale of how the various denizens of Moominvalley deal with the arrival of a potentially deadly comet. The satire of parasites, opportunists and last-second religious converts is pointed but still gentle; even the biggest phonies in these stories tended to be treated more with pity than scorn. The latter story was written by Tove and is incredibly rich in characterization and acidic in tone. When Moomin accidentally acquires a golden tail and receives unexpected fame, he has to face the negative consequences such a life brings. It's obvious that this was a commentary on Jansson's own life as an unexpectedly huge international success; the cutting remarks on managers and worldwide merchandising rights sounded like they were coming from the voice of experience. Despite that success, it was obvious that Jansson related much more to the carefree, bohemian lifestyle of the Moomins and their friends rather than any attempts at "bettering" themselves or putting on aristrocratic airs.

Rescuing these strips from obscurity was truly a public service on D&Q's part. It's encouraging that this big risk has paid off so handsomely for the small publisher; the Moomin books have become their biggest sellers. It's interesting to see a boutique publisher like D&Q suddenly flourish in the book market, especially with collections aimed at children and old-time strip fans. It's only logical that the publisher will branch out and starting reprinting Jansson's actual children's picture books, which will be a departure of sorts since they've rarely strayed far from comics in their publishing history. I think the biggest reason why their reprints aimed at children have been so successful is that these have been labors of love that have paid off for both designer and publisher, rather than cynical money grabs. The care and detail in these projects shows and no doubt draws in the curious reader. With more Stanley volumes and Jansson reprints on the way, readers will have much to look forward to.

 
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Tove Jansson
John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume One
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book Four




  MELVIN MONSTER reviewed by Worcester Magazine

Updated July 21, 2009


Melvin Monster by John Stanley (Drawn & Quarterly)

A great one for the kiddies as well as the adults! The antidote to antiseptic children’s comics of the 1950s, but unlike EC horrors, this one meets the goody-two-shoes on their own level. The inspired creation of John Stanley, who otherwise found renown for his work on Little Lulu, Melvin Monster is a bit of dark tomfoolery with a smart edge about a young ghoul who doesn’t want to be bad. Unfortunately for monsters, bad is good — and his Mummy and Baddy want him to be very bad. Melvin mixes with the human world and contends with the absurd elements of the monster in his quest to get through life with as little gruesomeness as possible.
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MELVIN MONSTER reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 29, 2009


Issue: July 1, 2009


Melvin Monster: The John Stanley Library.
Stanley, John (Author)
May 2009. 108 p. Drawn & Quarterly, hardcover, $19.95. (9781897299630). 741.5.
About half a decade after ending his long run on Little Lulu, comic-book creator Stanley launched another
kid comic. Publishing only nine issues between 1965 and 1969, it had the same fresh, quirky humor that
distinguished Lulu, which it resembles stylistically, confirming Stanley’s domination of the art as well as
the scripts of his work. Superficially, it is as different as Bizarro is from Superman. Lovable monsters were
in the air, what with the short-lived yet hugely influential TV series The Munsters and The Addams
Family. The kids in those clans, however, were ancillary (who wouldn’t be to Al Lewis as Grandpa or
John Astin as Gomez?), whereas pudgy little Melvin easily steals scenes from his gauze-wrapped Mummy
and hulking Baddy. Melvin’s adventures indulge topsy-turvy humor far more than the stories of that old
witch, Hazel, that Lulu tells in her comic. When Melvin wants to go to school, not only does Baddy
explode with disapproval—his Hazel-like teacher keels over in shock! Such stuff seems timeless, as
delightful now as it was in the sixties.

— Ray Olson
 

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John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume One




  MELVIN MONSTER reviewed by Anthem Magazine

Updated June 10, 2009


05/28/09
Comic Critic: Melvin Monster

Text: Nik Mercer

Imagine the Addams Family merged with Donald Duck and you've got Melvin Monster. The short-lived 1960s Dell Comics series by John Stanley centered around an exuberant young monster named Melvin whose world was upside down. The green adolescent played with grimey monster folk, watched violent television, called his father Baddy and his mother Mummy, and did everything else a child of 2009―or any other year, really―would never do. Melvin was, for all intents and purposes, an opposite adolescent; the antithesis of your middle-of-the-road youngster. And such was his appeal.

Stanley―best known for his work as the Little Lulu's scripter―unfortunately died about 15 years ago, but his macabre wit and backwards sense of humor lives on today. Many of the Dell Comics authors―namely Scrooge McDuck's creator Carl Barks―incorporated some sort of warped, demented aesthetic into their plots, and Stanley is no exception. While the man was, for the most part, confined to working anonymous jobs with big studios, he did, on occasion, have the opportunity to pursue his own work, and Melvin Monster is perhaps the best example of this. Thank goodness that his iconic work has been reprinted for this generation by Drawn & Quarterly. Oh, and the fact that the whole tome's laid out by comic genius Seth does the publication no harm, either. Grab a preview of the blood-boiling sucker right here.


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Melvin Monster reviewed by CBR

Updated June 10, 2009


Melvin Monster Vol. 1 (John Stanley Library)
by John Stanley
Drawn and Quarterly, 184 pages, $19.95.

Melvin Monster is a bonafide hoot; the kind of comic that, though intended for kids, can be enjoyed thoroughly by adults without an ounce of embarrassment or awkwardness. This is the rare book that actually lives up to its “all ages” description.

What’s interesting for me is just how frenzied and manic these stories are, especially compared to the comics Stanley is better known for, mainly the Little Lulu series. While those classic tales are equally funny, they have a bit more of a structured feel to them. An equal amount of time is spent in the set-up as it is in the delivery of the gag.

Here Stanley just piles one gag on top of another in the best Mad magazine tradition. That suits the book’s fanciful premise (little boy monster wants only to be nice, horrifying his parents — and the larger monster community — in the process) just fine, and leads to some inspired and thoroughly ridiculous bits, as when Melvin inadvertently blows up his school, much to the joy of his “Mummy” and “Baddy.” A lot of the jokes move along familiar lines and stereotypes — the dull-witted sidekick who says “duh” a lot for example — but Stanley’s talent and sense of timing make it all seem fresh and engaging.

My only gripe is the lack of any background information or introduction. Seth’s design is lovely and I appreciated the decision to give the reproduction a yellowed look, as though you were reading the original, aged comics, but I was frustrated that I wasn’t provided any insight, however minuscule, into the origins of this series. Was Melvin a point of pride for the author or just one more comic out of hundreds of others? It would have been nice to know.
 
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  Melvin Monster reviewed by Newsarama

Updated June 10, 2009


June 7th, 2009
Author J. Caleb Mozzocco

One of the great things about reading comics today is that we’re well past the point in the medium ’s history where they were all for kids, and finally getting past the point where so many of their adult readers felt compelled to reflexively, defensively declare that comics most definitely are not for kids anymore.

Melvin Monster, a ten-issue series Dell published in 1965, was most assuredly a kids comic. It wasn’t all-ages, or a comic for teenagers or young adults like Marvel’s comics of the period, but for children.

But Melvin Monster Vol. 1, the first collection in Drawn and Quarterly’s John Stanley Library line, is for both children and adults, addressing both audiences in different ways simultaneously. I think that, in itself, is pretty cool. As cool as it might have been to be nine-years-old in the mid-‘60s and buy an issue of the series off the spinner rack in the drugstore, it’s even cooler to have this gorgeous, hardcover objet d’art in my hands as a grown man, and be able to appreciate it as a member of whichever audience I feel like reading it as, or to be able to hand it over to one of my nieces (provided her hands are clean) or a friend whose as interested in art and illustration and know either one of them are really going to dig it.

John Stanely is, of course, the influential (and ingenious) cartoonist responsible for Dell’s Little Lulu comics (which Dark Horse has been pumping out in delightful black and white digests), and, during his 20 years in the medium, working on characters lik Nancy and Sluggo, Woody Woodpecker, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Krazy Kat and more.

Melvin Monster was a kids humor series similar in tone and aesthetic to Little Lulu, although it was much less grounded in the real world.

Melvin was a little monster boy who lived with his Mummy, a face-less, fully-bandaged mummy wearing a dress, apron and a fashionable head of red hair, and his Baddy, a hulking, ape-like monster with huge sloping shoulders and arms made for strangling. Melvin was a very good little boy which, of course, made him a very bad little monster, and his insistence on going to school, doing homework and practicing good deeds infuriated his father, teacher and most everyone else in his home town of Monsterville.

Not even Melvin’s pet crocodile Cleopatara liked him; she spent all her time trying to devour him.

Despite his put-upon, outsider status, Melvin remained cheerful, and Stanley mined humor out of the simple inversions of human society and monster society, and the clash between Melvin’s goodness and his community’s badness.

This book features the first half of the comics run, in which Melvin tries to go to school despite his teacher’s attempts to keep him out of Monsterville’s little black school house, a couple of trips to the human world, some pretty painful playing in the backyard, an encounter with some particularly fierce mice in the pantry and several situations in which our hero needs help from his incompetent guardian demon.

These stories are pretty timeless—more timeless than the Little Lulu ones, given the more fantastic and foreign setting make them harder to place—and I imagine they would be as perfect for a kid in 2009 as they would have been in 1965 or 1985.

The large, hardcover format, however, makes the book seem geared towards an adult audience, and while adults might not enjoy the stories in quite the same way a child might, they’re quite charmingl, and the book has a great deal of value as a historical record and an example of some flat-out amazing cartooning.

The stories are a ton of fun to read, but, if you’re interested in things like the mechanics or comics or character design, you can literally flip to any page at random and just stare at Stanley’s accomplishments, and try to disassemble them in your mind.

And Drawn and Quarterly certainly paid attention to the book-as-three-dimensional-piece-of-art aspect. It’s designed by John Stanley fan Seth, and has a smooth, leather-esque feel to the cover (Sorry, I don’t know enough about book design and production to know what material it actually is; I just know I like touching it). It’s all green and black, like Melvin, with a close-up image of the little monster boy on it, and raised, silver type on the title. The inside covers feature a check-pattern in which squares of Melvin making a variety of expressions alternate with squares of the John Stanely Library logo, and there are several pages of Seth playing with the contrast between white eyes and dark figures in a cartoonish monster in the dark setting. It’s really just a gorgeous looking book.

The stories themselves bear the slightly yellowed, pulpy look of old comics, so that the end result is a little like someone simply bound some of the old Dell books, and Seth illuminated the pages before and after them. Which I guess is kind of what happened.

It certainly bodes quite well for future John Stanley Library collections.
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Melvin Monster Volume One




JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY profiled by Newsarama

Updated April 3, 2009


Inside D+Q's John Stanley Library: Melvin Monster
By Michael C. Lorah
02 April 2009
NEWSARAMA


Many comics readers were absolutely thrilled when Dark Horse Comics recently published a series of books collecting all of the highly regarded Little Lulu comics by John Stanley and artist Irving Tripp. They’re likely to be equally excited by the announcement of Drawn & Quarterly’s John Stanley Library project.

Spearheaded by editor Tom Devlin, who is consulting with Stanley’s son Jim Stanley, the John Stanley Library is set up to collect Stanley’s most popular non-Lulu strips into hardcover editions. April will see the first volume of Stanley’s Melvin Monster arrive in stores.

Jim Stanley, son of the legendary cartoonist (and himself a graphic designer for an environmental planning firm who freelances in website design/programming and print advertising, and who lives in New York with his wife Joan and two kids: Isabel, 7 and Adam, 16 months), answered some email questions for us about this reprint project and growing up Stanley.

“The Library is a project of Drawn and Quarterly completely. Tom Devlin, the editor, contacted me and described the scope of the project and asked if there was anything I could contribute for the pre-publicity,” Stanley explained of his involvement. “I had some early photos of my father that they liked and used on their website.

“I don’t know why they started with Melvin,” he offered of the line’s inaugural title, “but I think it’s an excellent choice. Melvin is at the top of my list of his best work. There ... that answers your last question too!” Stanley responded, indeed pre-empting a question about which of his father’s strips was his personal favorite.

Asked about what continues to attract new readers to his father’s work after so many years, Stanley told me, “I think the answer to that is the same for any enduring material that continues to draw new generations of fans: good writing that is basically funny/scary/moving enough that most can relate to it, regardless of their age or background.

“I first realized he had a following when my friend and I tagged along with him to Boston Comic Con in ’76,” Jim said of realizing how influential his father was among comics fans. “Besides having the time of my life being fourteen and running around with no supervision, I remember him on the dais, answering questions with Carl Barks. Later on, he told me about a few hard-core fans who would write him regularly and I noticed a fanzine sent to him, The Stanley Steamer. By then it had sunk in.”

Despite the cartoonist’s reputed complicated relationship with the comics industry, Stanley says that he remembers his father having great pride in his comics work. “I recall him telling me he worked on Nancy and Sluggo among other things. He mentioned himself that he worked on so many things, he could never remember them all. Melvin was always around, way back from my earliest memories. He was proud of it, and I did get the feeling he was somewhat disappointed that it didn’t make it.

“I’m delighted to see the appreciation of his work. Some of the terms thrown around in describing his work and contribution to comic history are stunning to me,” Stanley wrote when talking about his feelings on the recent upsurge in publishers reprinting his father’s work. “He was a very modest and had a self-deprecating side to him. I wish he were around today to enjoy the new appreciation of his work; I think he would enjoy it.”

In recent years, Jim Stanley has talked about establishing an Internet presence that would commemorate John Stanley and his comic book work. “There is some movement in that area, and few domain names lined up. I’ll let you know when I have something up,” he said. Until then, readers can appreciate Dark Horse’s Little Lulu editions and D&Q’s upcoming John Stanley Library.
 
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Featured artist

John Stanley

           Featured product

Melvin Monster Volume One





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