Melvin just wants to be good. John Stanley can’t help but be brilliant.
by John Stanley
Drawn & Quarterly
The latest in Drawn & Quarterly’s John Stanley library sports, as per usual, a truly gorgeous Seth cover and stunning design. It’s a beautiful looking book, even down to the authentically yellow tinted pages and muted colours of the strip’s reproduction.
And underneath the covers? Well, John Stanley is something of a forgotten man in cartooning in many ways, or at least he was for many, many years. These D&Q library volumes and a generation of cartoonists are doing there very best to put him rightfully in amongst the greats. His writing on Little Lulu established him as a major talent, but his cartooning is slightly less well known to the general public, especially outside the US. Yet amongst fellow cartoonists he’s an acknowledged master.
(Melvin’s just an abnormal little monster. From Melvin Monster Volume 2 by John Stanley, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
The first time you open Melvin Monster, you may be struck by how very British it all looks. His style, his line, his gags – are something that I’d be unsurprised to find in my childhood Whizzer & Chips or the like. It’s a wonderfully funny send-up of the 1960s monster craze, featuring the little monster boy who wants nothing more than to buck his nature and be good, go to school and can’t really see how different this makes him in his world; a non-conformist individual and anti-establishment figure where it’s Melvin’s sheer goodness and desire to be normal that marks him out as such a strange little monster. His unrelenting goodness and his cheery demenour in the face of relentless disappointment gives the book a cheerful innocence that’s almost impossible to dislike.
The puns are everywhere – Dad’s a hulking brute of a monster called Baddy, Mum’s a faceless mummy, wrapped in bandages, and then there’s Miss McGargoyle, the schoolmistress who does everything she possibly can to keep her school as nasty (and as empty) as possible – if only that annoyingly lovely little Melvin wasn’t so keen on enrolling.
(Every morning so hopeful, a very abnormal little monster indeed, from Melvin Monster Volume 2 by John Stanley, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
In Melvin Monster Volume 2 we get the strips from just 3 issues of the ’66-’67 Gold Key Melvin Monster comic series. Which means there’s no editorial best of thing going on here. And that makes the stunning quality of every single strip here, ranging anywhere from a couple to fifteen pages, some kind of comedy comic perfection. The writing is simple, yet never tiresome, the gags come fast and furious, from the simplest of setups to the deliciously surreal. And there’s always a smile, a grin or a laugh on each page.
But behind the surface simplicity there’s an insane cleverness, with Stanley finding wonderful new ways to get comedy mileage out of his simplest of concepts at every turn. And then there’s Stanley’s art; so simple of line, so economical, yet so expressive, every line contributes to the gags, every panel is beautifully drawn, every page a masterpiece of comic storytelling.
The terribly sad thing about John Stanley is that, despite his obvious genius, he left comics sometime in the late 60s, never to return and sadly died in 1993, never to see how beloved his work was, never to be able to enjoy the acclaim and adoration of a generation of cartoonists and readers who rightly hold his work up as a high point in storytelling and visual comedy that stands the test of time. Melvin Monster is pure comic gold.
My favourite strip of the entire book comes right at the end – a deliciously surreal three pager which I think says everything about just how good John Stanley’s work is…. and given the cover, maybe Seth likes it just as much.
(It’s brilliant anyway, a simple gag with a surreal twist. But it’s the “That’s Impossible ….. THUD!” that really pushes it into genius. from Melvin Monster Volume 2 by John Stanley, published by Drawn & Quarterly)