The John Stanley Library from Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly has been the talk of 2009, as fans look forward with eager anticipation. The first volume, Melvin Monster, is out at last, after a 32 page teaser comic for Free Comic Book Day that was half Melvin/ half Nancy. That comic gave a pretty good preview of things to come. Like the Library, it was designed by Seth, who gave such a retro look to the Peanuts hardback sets The Complete Peanuts 1950-1954 Box Set. Unlike the Peanuts sets, however, the Melvin cover depicts a stylized design by Seth, rather than Stanley cover art.
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.