Looking for light summer reading? Little Lulu!

Lulu

Looking for something to brighten the summer weeks?

In the pantheon of great mainstream comics, few came close to the popular Dell Comics run on Little Lulu, which writer/cartoonist John Stanley (though he only drew the earliest issues of Lulu, when they debuted as part of Dell’s ‘Four Color’ one-shots). Stanley scripted Lulu from 1945 to the end of the 1950s, a run almost as extensive as Carl Barks on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.

Stanley’s erstwhile collaborator was Irving Tripp, who came aboard once Little Lulu became its own series. It was initially a bimonthly when it was launched in 1948, but was monthly from 1949. That’s a lot of comics — and a ton of stories — from the amazing Stanley/Tripp team, and they remain among my all-time favorite comics for all ages.

Little Lulu was created in 1935 by Marjorie Henderson Buell (who signed her work ‘Marge’) in the pages of the popular newsstand magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Marge’s Lulu was usually confined to single-panel gag cartoons, with only occasional multi-panel gags, and these delineated Lulu as a scrappy, difficult child with a powerful tomboy streak. Though it’s important to honor Marge’s body of work on its own terms — and the monumentally successful career and international Lulu licensing empire (which included the Dell Comics series, animated cartoons, merchandizing and more) Buell springboarded from her Post cartoons — it’s also vital to acknowledge all that Stanley and Tripp brought to the character. Stanley and Tripp expanded upon Buell’s single-panel Lulu universe to create Lulu’s neighborhood and a diverse cast of characters unique to the Dell Comics series.

Primary among the cast were Tubby and Iggy and their circle of friends who were locked in an eternal gender-war with Lulu; she naturally bristled at the “No Girls Allowed” boys clubhouse Tubby lorded over, and Stanley and Tripp found infinite avenues to explore the ingenious means by which Lulu and her friend Annie persistantly challenged (and usually triumphed over) Tubby’s cottage patriarchy. The feud led to the invention of ‘Mumday,’ the first day of the week in which the boys weren’t permitted to speak to any female (including their own mothers), but it occasionally had to take a back seat to turf battles with the West Side Gang.

Stanley and Tripp also revelled in the imaginative life of their characters: Lulu’s Witch Hazel and Little Itch stories, told to terrify her neighbor Alvin; Tubby’s pulp-detective alter-ego The Spider, who more often than not targetted Mr. Moppet (Lulu’s poppa) as the culprit behind whatever crime was at hand. I think these stories are among my favorites, and Tubby is definitely one of the truly great characters in comics history — he’s a suburban Tuco, if you will, and the never-ending war-of-wits between Lulu and Tubby is possibly the most intensive manifestation of the Post-WW2 and Eisenhower Era arena of gender conflict. It’s certainly the most entertaining!

John Stanley’s dark streak also marks the Little Lulus. From his rare Raggedy Ann and Andy work for Dell to his post-Lulu run on Nancy and Sluggo and most of all his seminal scripts for Dell’s 1962 Tales from the Tomb and Ghost Stories #1, Stanley proved he could chill the spines of young readers as handily as he tickled our funny bones. The latter two Stanley-scripted classics, despite their erratic artwork, marked a generation of future cartoonists, including the Hernandez Brothers and yours truly. I had nightmares from those comics — as I did about the basement in Little Lulu!

Re-reading the Lulus, I was surprised to find direct parallels between some of the Lulu stories and Stanley’s Tales from the Tomb and Ghost Stories #1 scripts — including a chestnut about a dangerous rug, believe it or not! One of my friends in Montreal has traced some of these tales back to pulp writer Jean Ray (author of the novel Malpertuis); we’ll be writing about that sometime down the road. (Note: Maggie Thompson’s short articles on the correlation between Stanley’s horror comics and Lulu is worth checking out; it’s in one of the hardcover volumes of Lulu in the Schulz Library.) 

Lulupanel

I’ve already mentioned Lulu’s Witch Hazel stories, but Stanley and Tripp constantly played on childhood fears of dark basements and open doors — something lurked under beds and in unlit basements, vines could reach into bedroom windows and pluck hapless children out of their beds, and Lulu’s scary stories often involved manifestations of such terrors. Stanley’s later comics overtly played with this Lulu undercurrent: there was Oona Goosepimple’s haunted house brimming with weirdo kin and the nasty little Yoyos (which nested behind the fireplace) in Nancy and Sluggo, making the bed for Stanley’s delightful solo series Melvin the Monster (1965-69, 10 issues).

At one point Stanley and Tripp dared to reveal a decidedly phallic, monstrous Bogeyman lurking in Lulu’s basement in a story that never saw print in the Dell series, as Marjorie Buell nixed the completed story as being inappropriate. Thankfully, that never-before-published story is in one of the volumes we have in the Schulz Library. Worth a read, indeed!

Thankfully, we have a healthy collection of the Lulus in the Schulz Library, including at least a few volumes of the hardcover Another Rainbow boxed set editions and the more recent Dark Horse Comics reprint paperbacks.

I’ve no doubt we’ll be latching onto the upcoming D&Q John Stanley collections, which reportedly will include his 1960s teen comics collaborations with artist Bill Williams, Kookie (two issues, 1961-62) and Dunc & Loo (8 issues, 1961-63), which were among his final mainstream comics works. I naturally hope these will also reprint the comics Stanley wrote and drew in this period (Thirteen, Going on Eighteen; 26 issues, 1961-67, and of course Melvin the Monster) — time will tell!

In the meanwhile, though, soak up some Little Lulu!

 

- Guest post from Stephen R. Bissette

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17 responses to “Looking for light summer reading? Little Lulu!

  1. Cole Moore Odell

    I first picked up one of the Dark Horse Lulu reprints at Comic-con a few years ago, and I was bowled over. It’s not just me; my kids adore the strip. I’m happy that after a short hiatus upon completion of the black and white Another Rainbow material, Dark Horse has picked back up by collecting subsequent issues in full color volumes. It’s a couple of bucks more than the previous format, but more than worth it.

    I also just got the first Melvin Monster collection; while it’s a little slight at three issues collected, the comics are charming and the book design is wonderful. MM’s not quite as sharp as the best Lulu material, maybe in part because the premise is so narrow. I do like how all of the various short stories in each issue add to that issue’s bigger story, and Stanley’s madcap internal logic from Lulu is fully intact. Also, I’m a sucker for scans of the original comics’ colors, which they’ve done here. I can’t wait to see the teen comics.

  2. Ah, Melvin’s out! You’re right, it’s not up there with the LULUs, but still, it’s a fun read and I love it for its place in the early ’60s monster boom. It was also far superior to MILTON THE MONSTER, showing what Stanley brought to even his most frivolous work compared to the rest of his contemporaries.

  3. I’m a licensed psychotherapist, and loved Lulu. I tell “women of a certain age” (my age) to get in touch with their inner Lulus, which they almost always have! What was the name of the NUTS that the witches used, in addition to Beebleberries? And do you know where I remember them from? Thanks! Best! XX Peter

  4. Is the “decidedly phallic, monstrous Bogeyman” lurking in the basement anything like the decidedly phallic monstrous bogeyman who lives in the closet in one story? I vaguely remember a green, cucumber shaped bogeyman in a Mexican translation, wonder if it’s the same?

  5. That’s him! Was it a Mexican translation of the reprint volumes, or a vintage comicbook, I wonder? This story was blocked from US publication by Margie Buell during the original Dell series run — you’ve now sparked my curiosity whether it was printed in foreign editions during Buell’s lifetime!

    • A vintage comicbook, I’d say. I remember that comic from sometime in the late 60s, and the translation would have been from an older comic book.

  6. Was Little Lulu the girl who always wound up over her Daddy’s knee?

  7. My Dad, Irving Tripp passed away on Nov. 27, 2009 in Haines City, Fl.

  8. My God, Bill, this is heartbreaking news. We send our prayers to you and your family — and we wish you all the best. Thank you for visiting this humble venue, and as you can see, we treasure your father’s work immeasurably.

  9. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theledger/obituary.aspx?n=irving-tripp-bud&pid=136659775

    “IRVING “BUD”
    TRIPP, 88

    HAINES CITY – Irving “Bud” Tripp, 88, of Haines City, FL passed away peacefully of cancer on Nov. 27, 2009 at Palm Terrace Hospice House in Lakeland surrounded by his children.
    He was born in Poughkeepsie NY, June 5th, 1921. Bud served during WWII in the Philippines with the U.S. Army. Following WWII he was an illustrator for Western Publishing until the early 1980′s. He was best known for his illustrations of Little Lulu comics. He was internationally recognized and respected for his art work in the comic book industry.
    He is survived by his son’s: Bob and his wife Mary Margaret of Westport, MA; Bill and his wife Paula of West Point, NY; Steve of High Point NC; and a daughter Linda Tripp-Corbin of Raleigh NC; 4 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, and his devoted friend Louise Gayle of Haines City, FL.
    A memorial service will be held at the Central Church of Christ on Monday, Nov. 30th at 1:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Central Church of Christ, 1232 Robinson Drive, Haines City, Fl. 33844.”

  10. Pingback: Irving Tripp, R.I.P. | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  11. children’s heroes now are decidedly ‘goody-two shoes’ obsessed with doing ‘the right thing’. Whatever happened to the comic characters of my childhood, the rebels who invariably wound up over the nearest authority figure’s knee?

  12. grace schrafft

    Please accept my love and appreciation for the happiness and fulfillment i got from your father’s Little Lulu comics. i’m 68 but remember all the characters and their names and personalities very clearly: Annie, Alvin, Tubby, that mean old witch Hazel, Little Itch, Mr. McNabbim, Gloria, et al. I didn’t go much for dolls except for my Little Lulu doll that i got for x-mas in the second grade.

  13. I am so sory for ur lost I luvv his cartoon little lulu but don’t snob for so long becuzhe is in a better place I bet he his watching over u right know life is to short to cry you’ll see him soon sory for ur lost.

  14. There were so many delightful little cartoon minxes in the 60s and 70s who wound up getting a well deserved spanking; Teacher’s Pet, Minnie The Minx, Nancy, Little Iodine, Little Dottie to name but a few.

  15. Hello there! I just wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for your great
    information you have right here on this post.
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