Melvin Monster, Volume One Hardcover – Apr 28 2009
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About the Author
John Stanley (1914-1993) was a journeyman comics scripter in the 1950s and 1960s. He is most famous for his scripts for most of the Little Lulu comics produced by Dell, and is considered by many comics historians to be the most consistently funny and idiosyncratic writer to ever work in comics. He left comics bitterly sometime in the late 1960s, never to return.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Melvin Monster was published by Dell from 1965-1969. There were only ten issues, and the tenth is a reprint of the first. This hardback, color volume includes the first three comics, so there could be two more volumes to cover the entire run. However, unlike the Another Rainbow Little Lulu Library, you don't get the original comic covers, only the stories. There are about a hundred pages of color comics, printed on quality paper, but which looks like the original newsprint, in a handsome, library quality 11 X 8 inch hardback binding. Certainly more archival than the original comics.
Collectors will still likely want the original issues, as some of the covers, at least, have Stanley art. Everyone else may be wondering what's the big deal about John Stanley? In the realm of humorous kids' comics, he was simply without peer, and most of the exceptions one might name turn out to also be by him. The last page in this volume includes a brief bio, and he turns out to be the motive force behind not only Little Lulu and Melvin, but also Dell's Nancy, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Woody Woodpecker, and a half dozen other titles. Not to mention his own teen comics, Thirteen Going on Eighteen, Dunc and Loo, and Kookie, in which he hit his stride, with a deft hand and easy style.
Melvin Monster is not to be confused with Atlas Comics' Melvin the Monster (Dexter the Demon), an offering in the mischievous kid genre, along with Marvel's Peter the Little Pest, neither of which were monster comics. Drawn and Quarterly lists Melvin Monster under "Comics and Graphic Novels/ Horror" but it could also be "humor", hailing as it does from the 'sixties, when the zany monster craze was at its height. Gold Key's The Little Monsters was another whimsical entry in the monster antics genre.
That said, Stanley's writing in Melvin is freewheeling, as few writers before or since, and his art style might be described as primitive. In the Halcyon days when Dell and Gold Key ruled the comics racks, however, it was merely perfect. What Stanley lacked in intricate artistry, he made up in vigor and verve. If this volume included the covers, I'd give it a five. That curious omission aside, here's the series Stanley fans have long waited for, and he may at last take his rightful place in comics history.
First of all, Melvin's family is the perfect picture of dysfunction. There is "Baddy" who can barely contain his disappointment and rage at having a son like Melvin. Then there is bandaged, wounded, remote "Mummy" who goes along with "Baddy" and gives no real support. The family pet constantly dreams of killing and eating him, so there is no comfort there. Even his relationship with his cute little witch girl friend is essentially a masochistic one- Melvin is so starved for affection that he puts up with the abuse. Even his guardian demon can't remember his name.
Then there is the fact that monster society (which runs parallel to human society like a monster "ghetto") is absolutely at odds with all of Melvin's instincts. He tries to do what he feels is right and good but it is always condemned as weird and abnormal. The best example of this is the way all "real" monsters are expected to hate school and play hooky. Melvin on the other hand loves school and shows up everyday- only to be punished and scorned by the teacher.
He doesn't fare any better in human "bean" society either. While his impulses should win him admiration and respect, he is instead automatically rejected and feared simply for his appearance and the fact that he is a monster...
That's the whole thing about Melvin, he follows his instincts and tries to do good but he is everywhere and every time rejected by a sick, dysfunctional society that he never made. There were a lot of baby-boomers that could identify with that situation...
I wonder if there wasn't a lot of John Stanley in pointy-headed little Melvin. After all, he worked hard for most of his life to do his best work in an industry that neither appreciated nor adequately rewarded his efforts. In the end he became "Baddy" and could not contain his contempt and rage at the system- even rejecting his own creations.
One last thing- Stanley is often criticized for a lack of originality. Some say that his best work was in embellishing other people's creations. Well, these stories are purely original. They are so original that I didn't even recognized they were his work for many years- and even as a kid I could usually recognize most artist's work even if I didn't know their name. For instance, I could always spot his work on Little Lulu and Nancy. Come to think of it though, I probably should have made the connection between Melvin and Stanley's "Oona Goosepimple" work in Nancy. They share the same sort of weird, wonderful originality.
This also a well-designed book. The scan really does not do it justice. The silver lettering on a black background is sharp, as is the emerald green graphics by Seth. There is no jacket, it is all printed on the leatherette cover of the book. There is an especially nice large silver seal on the back cover for the John Stanley Library. Oh yes, this book also has more nice custom endpapers than I have ever seen on a single volume. The paper is thick and of good quality- there is no "yellowing"- any background coloration appears to be an exact reproduction from the original newsprint.
At first glance, MELVIN appears to be drawing upon the same zeitgeist that gave rise to such contemporary TV series as The Munsters and The Addams Family. The title character is, after all, a monster and interacts on a fairly regular basis with humans (or, as Melvin calls them, "human beans"). A closer examination, however, suggests that the character of Melvin owes just as large a debt to that of Casper the Friendly Ghost. To the chagrin of his square-shouldered, hulking, overbearing "Baddy" and bandage-wrapped "Mummy," Melvin wants to be as close to a normal boy as one can possibly be in the abnormality-riddled community of "Monsterville." His attempts to actually attend "The Little Black Schoolhouse," as opposed to buying into the "normal" practice of playing hooky -- thereby scandalizing the "teacher" (a dyspeptic witch) on duty -- are particularly funny. Melvin's attitude towards "fitting in" veers between mild defiance and stoic acceptance (e.g., when he agrees to slide down his slide into a "daggerberry bush" without screaming, only to take refuge in a cave after the fact and painfully give forth with the requisite number of "Ow!"s). The family pet, a crocodile named Cleopatra, is perpetually trying to eat him. Even his "guardian demon," who's supposed to protect him from harm, is fairly useless. Given all of the above factors, Melvin is an easy character for whom to root and should make an appealing hero. His milieu, however, is not as well-defined as it ought to be, and much of that is Stanley's fault.
In the absence of the experienced editorial hands that had been employed by Western, Stanley appears to have had some trouble deciding how, exactly, Melvin should relate to the human world, or even how his work should be organized. Issues #1 and #2 consist of single narratives broken into distinctly titled parts (shades of Harvey Comics' 10- and 15-page stories) in which Melvin takes a "detour" into "Humanbeanville" along the way. These stories plainly suggest that humans live in, so to speak, a different dimension than monsters. With issue #3, we get a paradigm shift: the stories are now stand-alone, and Melvin runs into humans as a matter of course (even getting tracked by "monster hunters"). This is a bit disconcerting, to say the least. In both manifestations, the humans (whom Melvin appears to admire on principle) do behave pretty much the same -- namely, like jerks. A rich owner of a "private zoo" wishes to add Melvin to his collection (where are Superman and Lobo when you need them?); several human kids spin Melvin like a top; a rich couple living in a penthouse mock the "riff-raff" below; and, of course, there are the "monster hunters." The adult characters in the LULU stories never came off as badly as this. Creeping cynicism, you suggest? So do I.
Stanley's artwork in MELVIN reflects a comment that I recall him making about Irving Tripp's artwork on LULU (for which Stanley provided scripts and pencil roughs) being overly "static." Stanley's work is much livelier, if a bit inconsistent: the monster characters are very cartoony in appearance, while the humans look as if they've stepped out of a New Yorker cartoon. Melvin straddles these two extremes, being neither realistic-looking nor overly stylized. Again, a better editor might have suggested that Stanley bring the two disparate styles a bit closer together. Occasional misspellings in Stanley's lettering -- plus an awkwardly-placed caption that appears to have been shoehorned in at the last minute -- lend further credence to the theory that Stanley, working on his own, needed more editorial help than when he was part of a creative "team."
Subsequent volumes of the JSL will reprint Stanley's comic-book work on NANCY -- which, it goes without saying, will probably look and "feel" a lot more like LITTLE LULU -- and such additional all-Stanley enterprises as THIRTEEN, GOING ON EIGHTEEN. It will be interesting to see if the theory that I've posited here -- that Stanley was better working with established characters that he could "embellish" than with original creations -- continues to hold true. Hopefully, D&Q will also include ancillary material that goes beyond a sticker affixed to the back of the volume.