Melvin Monster by John Stanley

October 23, 2017 4:04 pm by Crocodile

Melvin Monster collection
By John Stanley

John Stanley was a cartoonist and comic book writer active from the 40s through the 60s, he wrote a lot of the Little Lulu comic books, and a grip of other stuff as well in various funny animal books and in the comic book versions of Nancy & Sluggo and Krazy Kat. Like Carl Barks he worked anonymously, and for years the only way you could tell a Stanley story was that it had more and better jokes than it had to, and that it contained a few of his trademarks, like characters who exclaim “YOW!” and laugh like “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”. Drawn and Quarterly collected some of the titles he lifted big weight for, and put them out in a handsome hard-bound set, labeled “The John Stanley Library”. Included in the set are the Nancy comics he did, a book focusing on Little Lulu’s friend Tubby, the incredible Thirteen Going On Eighteen, and a 3 volume set of Melvin Monster.

Melvin comics originally came out in 1965, prime time for the monster craze– Addams Family and the Munsters came out in 1964. Melvin is a good little monster, a constant disappointment to his Monster Family and all other monsters in the monster society in which he lives. The storyline is kind of a double-switcheroo– with Addams Family et al, there’s a sort of inverted sensibility at play- bad stuff is good, good stuff is bad. Melvin goes one more where his world is bad-stuff-good but he isn’t. He would rather not, for instance, jump into a thorn bush, or eat a broken glass sandwich, or wrestle with an alligator, which makes him an outcast to his family and peer group. He’s a problem child. On this beautiful framework John Stanley hangs an unending set of great gags pitched at an incredible pace, all of which serve the story. And on top of that, Melvin is truly a great character- whereas other writers might make a similar character just a  one-dimensional goody goody, Melvin is sweet-hearted and endearing, with a subtle sadness that never dulls his deep joy of life. Almost no one else in this field (1960s funny books) was putting nearly as much care into their work, and as a result these books glow like embers in a field of ash.

There are sort of a lot of Nice Reprints on the market right now, and some Not So Nice. One argument I see about reprint books is how pristine to make them- they were originally printed poorly and they were designed to be printed that way, so cleaning them up too much can be detrimental, and can leave them looking garish. On the other hand you don’t want to read a blurry mess. The John Stanley Library books are ideal- they look like the cleanest possible version of the original printing as you could get, and the pages are colored to look like the crummy paper the original comics were printed on.  They look great, the lines are clear, the colors are muted in a pleasant way. Also they aren’t bogged down with scholarly essays or sanctimonious errata. Perfect for kids of all ages.

The only thing I don’t like about these books is the covers- mononymous Canandian cartoonist Seth (not to be confused with the mononymous spiritual guide of the same name) did a good job with the overall design and cover lettering, but the pictures on the covers on the covers are pretty much all bad. Is there a legal or licensing reason he had to redraw the characters for the covers? The entire John Stanley Library is this way. The best covers are the ones where he redrew the characters close to the original style. The worst are the ones rendered in crisp geometric shapes. I understand the sales tactic of having a bold cover, and the desire to do a close-up on a character’s face, but in comics, don’t you want to have drawings that are full of life? All these dead eyes staring out at you… yuck. I mean it’s not a big deal, but if the books are lying around on the table I definitely turn them face down. That said, the rest of the design is really good! The books look and feel great, like an old children’s encyclopedia, and all the blurb / UPC / price info is on a sticker on the back that peels off easily and goolessly, leaving you with a timeless classic. Very thoughtful!

The Nancy one is ok, the Melvin one is not so good, and the Sluggo one is straight-up Wrong.

These books were $24.95 originally, and there are 3 volumes of Melvin Monster. The books are really great and I’m not saying they aren’t worth $24.95, but I waited patiently until I could find them at my local remainder shop for $9.95 each. I would strongly recommend these to anyone that likes old comic books and/or monsters, especially those interested in the 1960s wave of monster hysteria (aka 2nd wave American Monsteria). Unlike the Carl Barks reprints, Melvin Monster is OK for kids, as there isn’t any weird racist shit. Although the dad is an abusive rage-filled maniac, so I wouldn’t give these to a kid with an abusive rage-filled maniac dad. Or maybe it would help? I don’t know, read it before you gift it.

For more on John Stanley I recommend the very excellent stanley stories blog, which has lots of scans, plus commentary and background info. Stanley really is the best ever kid’s comics writer, and the fact that he worked anonymously and in a wide variety of different titles is almost a blessing to the fan- new Stanley stories are getting discovered constantly. Once you get the bug you’ll find yourself flipping through the absolute shittiest-looking comics looking for a lost Stanley. Keep an eye out for:

  • people yelling “YOW!”
  • people laughing like “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
  • sound effects appearing in word balloons (for instance a door that “says” KNOCK KNOCK)
  • there are more jokes than there need to be
  • the jokes are good

Happy Halloween!



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