Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Reading the Dark Horse reprints of the classic John Stanley Little Lulu stories makes me appreciate how much Stanley was able to do with his material. He worked with only a few characters who acted in a more-or-less closed universe (the "Luluverse"). Yet Stanley was able to be creative with variations of his theme month after month, year after year.
Lulu's friend and personal foil, Tubby, was someone I identified with. I was a chubby kid and even emulated Tubby when trying to solve some "crimes" in my neighborhood. (I nearly got punched in the nose when I accused a kid of being the one who broke into Bobby S.'s chicken coop in the caper I called The Case Of The Clucking Chicken. But I digress.) In the Dell Giant, Tubby And His Clubhouse Pals #1, which I bought off the stands in 1956, Stanley gave us some fantasy stories with Tubby, his friend Sammi and the little men from Mars, and then switched gears and introduced us to Iggy's Gran'pa Feeble.
Iggy brings Feeb to the boys' club because Feeb wants to join. But he's not a kid. He's an old man! That's OK, explains Iggy, "Feeb feels like a boy. Right up until noon, anyway." He goes on: "After that he gets younger and younger, until finally, along about eight o'clock, Ma has to catch him and carry him up to bed…boy! You ought to see him holler!"
Feeb is going through a second childhood. There is an initiation. Feeb has to put his hand into the knothole of a tree. No one has ever passed this part of the test but Feeb. In the knothole is a furry beast. It's actually a Davy Crockett hat. Feeb puts it on. "Oboy!" he says, "I bet I look more like Davy Crocker [sic] than Davy Crocker himself."
The last question in the initiation is posed by Tubby, "Feeb, do you like girls?" Feeb replies, "Why, of course I like girls!" The other boys scream, "No, Feeb! No!" To a gang with a motto, "No Girls Allowed," liking girls is heresy.
Feeb can't pass the initiation, so the boys rig it. Tubby, who as a junior detective often wears disguises, this time poses as a girl. It's cross-dressing done in a more innocent time. Tubby tricks him into hating girls, and Feeb is in the club.
When I originally read these Gran'pa Feeb stories I thought they were funny, but on rereading them I found them to be a lot like what I went through with my mother, now in an Alzheimer's nursing home. In the second Feeb story, "Injun Fighters," Feeb has to be introduced to Iggy. Gran'pa Feeble has Alzheimer's!
In the third story, "Gran'pa Feeb's Treasure Chest," Feeb goes through a siege of paranoia by calling Iggy to his room, asking if he's been followed.
Whew. The best writers show us some truth, and 50 years ago Stanley was showing me a comic book version of my future!
The Feeb stories are hilarious, because humor grows out of situations like this. We find eccentricities and old age rich fodder for comical situations. Unfortunately, if we live long enough, old age visits us and then it doesn't seem so funny. What scares me about Tubby And His Clubhouse Pals is that 50 years ago I was Tubby, but now I'm becoming much more like Gran'pa Feeb.