5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Thanks to the success of Dark Horse's LITTLE LULU volumes, Stanley "stock" is up, and now Montreal-based D&Q is joining the frenzy with the first of a promised series of volumes collecting Stanley's non-LULU works. MELVIN MONSTER dates from the mid-1960s, by which time (1) Stanley was working for a Dell Publishing outfit that had split off from Western Publishing and was attempting to establish itself as a comics-publishing contender; (2) Stanley was drawing, as well as writing, his stories; (3) Stanley was working entirely with characters of his own creation; (4) Stanley's attitude towards the comics industry was rapidly souring (he would quit altogether by the end of the decade). All four factors have a heavy influence on MELVIN, which, while entertaining enough, doesn't quite measure up to Stanley's peerless work with Marge's characters.
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.