Thursday, August 02, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #214: Tubby, Vol. 3 by John Stanley with Lloyd White

First up: I'll repeat what I said when I looked at a Nancy volume by John Stanley, also part of "The John Stanley Library": these are handsome, well-designed packages that badly fail at telling the reader where they fit in the overall picture. This is the third Tubby volume in the series, but that number 3 only appears in small-print "indicia" on page ten; this book doesn't even have a copyright page.

(Also, they have comics pages reproduced with a yellowed, age-faded look: I don't know if that's a deliberate design decision or forced on them by the age and condition of the materials they have to work from. So I'm not going to complain about it, but I will note it: I always find it distracting, and it is often used as a design decision to show that "this stuff is old.")

Anyway, if you dig down to that tiny type on page 10, you'll discover that this book is actually Tubby, Vol. 3: The John Stanley Library and that the stories in it were all written and laid out by Stanley, and that some of them were drawn by Stanley and some were drawn by Lloyd White. You will also learn that these stories originally appeared in issues 9-12 of the Tubby comic -- and you'd have to do other research elsewhere (on the Internet, perhaps) to find out that the comic's title was actually Marge's Tubby, that "Tubby" started off as "Joe" in the syndicated Little Lulu strip by Marge (the professional name for Marjorie Henderson Buell), and that it was Stanley who turned him into a major character in his Little Lulu comics in the early '50s, which is why Tubby got a spin-off.

This all annoys me, because reprints of archival material are supposed to explain stuff like that -- at least quickly in an editor's note somewhere. This book is going to sit on the shelves in a thousand libraries for possibly dozens of years, and who knows how many people will stumble across Tubby through this book? A publisher has a duty to explain the basics. (Drawn & Quarterly is usually really good about the publishing stuff, but their Stanley books have basic information entirely missing.)

Anyway, Tubby is a fat, scheming kid, living in that vaguely utopian post-war suburbia that so many comics/movies/TV shows presented for twenty years or so. Kids have lemonade stands, there are zoos and live theater and woods within walking distance, and the kids mostly live in their own world -- there are parents and other adults, who get involved now and then, but there's no serious demands on these kids' time. So the stories are about clubs that keep girls out, and birthday parties, and liking that one girl who likes the rich boy better, and low-key fighting, and similarly low-key playing tricks or schemes on each other. Oh, and then there's Tubby's miniature alien friend who can do just about anything plot-driving with his tiny ray guns, because it was the 1950s.

Stanley is good at keeping these stories moving and making them funny, but they are all very frivolous and low-stakes, even within their own world. Tubby's not in danger of getting spanked, or grounded, or seriously beat up -- just of being embarrassed by being seen in public without his pants or kicked out of his boys-only club by taking his beloved Gloria on a canoe ride.

I suspect it all would seem like very weak tea to the Younger Generation -- and I count myself and most of Gen X in that category. Oh, it's definitely funny, but it's the kind of funny based on an artificiality that we've seen an awful lot of for a long time.

Your mileage may vary, though -- and these are definitely squeaky-clean stories, so appropriate for readers of any generation or current age. (Assuming they don't consider the title fat-shaming, which I guess could happen.)

1 comment:

Steve Chaput said...

I loved the Little Lulu comics as a kid. Went out a few years ago and bought about a dozen copies of Tubby just to reread them. Before the reprints began.

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