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Little Lulu #1
Written by John Stanley
Drawn by Irving Tripp (over John Stanley’s layouts)
Published by Dark Horse Comics; $9.95 USD

This book is the first of a series reprinting the entirety of John Stanley’s and Irving Tripp’s Little Lulu comic books, originally published by Dell Comics. First conceived by “Marge” Henderson Buell as a comic strip, it was Lulu’s adventures as depicted by Stanley and Tripp in these comic books which became sequential art classics. This affordably priced reprint series by Dark Horse, then, is easily one of the most important archival comics projects of the year.

Six issues of the comic book are reprinted here, with several short stories in each issue. Most of the stories involve Lulu and her friends embarking on a series of minor “adventures,” such as the first story reprinted, “Little Lulu Goes Shopping,” wherein the titular tot transforms an ordinary, everyday event into an opportunity for mischief. There are a couple of stories focusing on Lulu’s friend Tubby and his adventures, and a semi-regular feature wherein Lulu tells a fanciful story to the bratty Alvin. These “imaginary” tales are some of the book’s most charming, allowing Stanley and Tripp to break free of the more conventional settings in which the characters operate, so as to depict Lulu in more fantastic stories. She recounts the story of the Ugly Duckling in one such tale, with herself as the lead, and in another conjures for Alvin a particularly imaginative Frog Prince yarn.

All of these whimsical tales work so well because of the incredible amount of craft with which Stanley and Tripp depict them. There is a grace and flow to the cartooning that pulls you along with Lulu and her friends, who are rendered in a simple, almost iconographic style. While reading, I was reminded of some of the comments made by people like Scott McCloud and Chris Ware on the virtues of a simplistic, cartoony drawing style as opposed to more realistic or detail-oriented artwork. If such a thing as “pure cartooning” exists, I think Little Lulu may be a pretty good representation of it.

The book is not without its flaws, although they are minor. My main problem is with Dark Horse’s decision to publish these stories in black and white. I’m sure that the cost of doing so would have had to have been passed on in some portion to the consumer, and I suppose there are those who would advocate the “purity” of being able to see Stanley’s and Tripp’s artwork in stark black and white, unencumbered by color, but I think that bright color would have made this a more attractive package to the kinds of readers who I hope will be picking this up; namely, young children. There is even one story reprinted here that depends, in part, on color to achieve its effect. After Lulu decides to color her bathwater with green ink, the reader must rely on the reactions of her friends and family to guess at the extent of the results. I was also disappointed to find no explanation as to why the first five issues of the comic book were not reprinted in this first volume, apparently skipped over in favor of issues six through twelve.

As I said, though, these minor editorial gaffs do not detract very much from the extraordinarily high quality of the material itself. We’ll probably never see another comics creator quite like John Stanley or Irving Tripp, because the sort of material on which they honed their crafts has long since gone out of fashion. For this reason alone comics fans should be grateful to Dark Horse for bringing back one of the greatest comic books of all time, hopefully to be enjoyed by a new generation of readers. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Pat Markfort



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