John Stanley

I’ve always been aware of John Stanley, the comic book writer and artist best known for his classic Little Lulu stories (drawn by Irving Tripp). But until recently, I had no idea that any of Stanley’s work had been adapted to animation. Apparently two of Stanley’s Lulu stories were adapted (quite poorly and without credit) by Paramount’s cartoon studio in 1961 and ’62. Frank Young, on his excellent blog Stanley Stories, has compared the animated films to the original comics stories, showing up how poorly Seymour Kneitel understood comic timing while at the same time, showcasing how funny Stanley’s original source material was – and still is.

Here is Frog’s Legs (embed below), the second Paramount release from ’62, and Young’s post reprinting the original comic story for comparison.

Young also dissects the first cartoon, Alvin’s Solo Flight. It was through Young’s blog that I discovered Stanley also wrote hilarious stories for Tom & Jerry, Raggedy Ann, Andy Panda and other Western comics titles.

Animation director Yvette Kaplan (Beavis and Butt-head) not only grew up reading Stanley’s stories, but his influence has inspired her storytelling talents and her career as an animation director. I asked her to explain her passion for John Stanley’s comics and what animators can learn from his work. She responded with the following essay:

When I was a kid, nine, ten, eleven, I loved reading comics. “Archie” mainly, as the luncheonette down the block had a rack reliably filled with them. Betty was my fave. Sure, Veronica was rich and pretty enough, but I didn’t get her at all. How could I, growing up in working class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn? Couldn’t Archie see how great Betty was? Apparently not. Clearly, Archie was a jerk.

I liked Betty so much that I once even dreamt she had her own comic book! I was sad when I woke up and realized the dream wasn’t real. But guess what? Within weeks of having that dream, it came true! Betty suddenly had her own comic called ”Betty and Me.” I was amazed! Thrilled! But… if truth be told, I was bummed: my secret was out. I was jealous! She wasn’t ”my” Betty anymore. She was –(gasp!)– popular! So what did she need with me?

Happily, miraculously, the pain of my loss was eased when I found another comic that I loved even more. Starring (could it be?) another blond! She, and the comic book itself, was so funny it made me laugh out loud, and I found myself searching the comic racks day after day in hopes of more — usually in vain. This comic was scarce, not omnipresent like the Archie bunch. “Do you have any new Thirteen Going On Eighteen comics?” I’d ask Murray, the owner of the luncheonette. “What?” he’d bellow. I’d say it again louder; “Thirteen Going On Eighteen!” “What the heck is that?” he’d mutter. “Get an Archie.” But I was hooked. Having no other choice, I was content to read my few precious copies over and over and over, and soon I knew every panel, every line, and every crazy, energetic, life filled drawing by heart. Dog eared, worn down and shamefully cover- less, While a pile of Archie’s languished in a shopping bag in the back of a closet in my mother’s apartment, I’ve kept my Thirteen Going On Eighteen’s with me for my whole life; through high school, college, marriage, motherhood, 3 houses, divorce, and a cross country move. Over the years I managed to collect a few more issues — thanks to a dear comic-collector friend of mine who tracked them down. But it wasn’t easy, since hardly anyone seemed to know they ever existed. This was surprising especially since my comic-collector friend told me they were drawn by a famous cartoonist named John or Stanley something, I didn’t pay much attention at the time. Because I didn’t really mind that nobody knew about it. Not one bit. Because for all these years, all these wild, loud, crazy, funny, larger than life characters; Val and Judy, Evie, Billy, Wilbur, Judy Jr. and Jimmy Fuzzi have been unpopular, undiscovered and absolutely perfect. They’ve been my little secret. Until now.

I knew it was coming. With the recent publications of the other wonderful John Stanley collections, Melvin Monster, Nancy and Little Lulu, it was clear that the world would soon know about his somehow hitherto unacknowledged masterpiece, my beloved Thirteen Going On Eighteen. And the truth is, I’m delighted. Happily, I’ve finally matured enough to be able to share.

I first became aware that I had a knack for comedy timing in 1993 when I started directing on Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead series for MTV. Luckily for me, I had been reading John Stanley’s brilliant, and insanely funny, Thirteen Going On Eighteen for years. I have no doubt whatsoever that I learned, or more accurately, absorbed the essence of comedy timing from inhaling pages just like these:

Judy has convinced Wilbur that she just fed him his ratty old hat for dinner.

Note the:

Big reactions

Expressive poses

Unexpected pauses

Rapid mood swings


Lots of yelling

As far as I’m concerned, Wilbur stopping in the midst of his agony to stare pensively at a motorcycle is comedy timing at it’s best. A single panel, that’s all. He doesn’t notice it as he passes, doesn’t turn around and go back. We don’t see him stop, he’s just there. (cue the soundtrack of your choice; sometimes I hear a soft whistling, sometimes crickets, sometimes muzak) And then he’s screaming his head off again a panel later. Ah, the beauty of manic behavior!

And in this one, Judy has just informed Val that she saw Val’s boyfriend Billy with her dreaded rival Janie Kilboy. Cool as ever, Val feigns indifference, but then…

Note the:

Thinking characters with an unedited inner life

Zen-like self-obsession and commitment to a cause

Flailing limbs

Oblivious bystanders

Gratuitous violence

And lots of yelling

And on the very next page of the same story (above), Val’s search for Billy and Janie Kilboy; one of the funniest, most effective and definitely most economical time passage I have ever seen:

Note the:

Instantly understood body language

Obsessive, compulsive behavior

Deadpan expressions

Periods of relative inactivity

The surreal and the downright silly

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more, lots more. Thank you John Stanley, from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know what I’d have done without you and your wonderful cast of delusional egotists. And to everyone else out there, those who already know and especially those who don’t, I welcome you to fall in love with my favorite comic book of all time.

We recommend all three volumes of Drawn and Quarterly’s excellent hard bound John Stanley Library: Nancy, Melvin Monster and Thirteen Going On Eighteen.