Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BOOK REVIEW! THIRTEEN "GOING ON EIGHTEEN" by John Stanley (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009)

Two-thousand-ten will definitely go down in the annals of time as the year in which I immersed myself extensively into a backlog of ancient (and not-so) comic strip/book collections of varying degrees and quality. It was inevitable that I would be getting a jump-start on a second childhood like this even if the first one hadn't quite run its course; after all, I had many youthful obsessions, comics being amongst them, that were the end-all and so ultimately important to my own well being and sanity which I discarded while traveling on life's one-way street only to get the urge to re-evaluate it all now that I'm heading into my twilight years. Not only that, but as of late I've been discovering a load of forgotten classics that I either poo-poo'd the first time around or totally avoided my radarscope, and with the number of reprinted titles being made available these days I gotta admit that there sure were a whole lotta downright classics that wooshed right by me! I will be brave enough to admit that these comics probably have more meaning to me (as an aging addled gulcher fan) now than they would've had I discovered 'em at age twelve...after all, what else is there to do these days?

And naturally my recent comic excursions have involved "looking into" such titles as THIRTEEN "GOING ON EIGHTEEN" which for the life of me I can't even remember seeing in the piles of flea market booty I've combed through during my adolescent comic book hunting days. Not that I was exactly looking for this "girl" title amidst the DC and Marvel superhero fodder that made this fine broth of a boy such a stew (although I was known to purchase the latterday MILLIE THE MODELs when Stan Goldberg was trying to turn it into a neet ARCHIE ripoff), but I must say that reading about THIRTEEN sure made it look like a title that just might appeal even to me given the "cult" that has formed around it over the years. And hey, if Carl Barks could have one why not LITTLE LULU writer/artist and THIRTEEN mastermind John Stanley...after all, Stanley was the one of the big names at the old Dell Comics line not only as the creator of this early-sixties title which I would assume was an attempt to capitalize on the ARCHIE-inspired teen anarchy market but the man behind the post-Bushmiller NANCY's as well as DUNC AND LOO, MELVIN MONSTER and that all-time forgotten fave CHOO CHOO CHARLIE! And with a resume like that, how can he miss with this teenage comic book that hit the racks at the height of teenage heaven otherwise known as the late-fifties to mid-sixties?

If THIRTEEN (GOING ON EIGHTEEN) was in fact an attempt to cash in on Archie's success as some have surmised it sure fell short of its goal. Unlike DC's BINKY or whatever title Marvel had out in the early-seventies there's none of that Stan Goldberg-styled Dan DeCarlo ripoff art to sucker the unaware kiddies in, not to mention the obvious ARCHIE-esque cover layout which I'm surprised never got DC or Marvel into hot water considering Archie Publications' litigious nature. In fact, without either an ARCHIE look or a licensed newspaper comic strip character easily recognized by the comic buying crowd it's a wonder that THIRTEEN lasted as long as it did. Maybe it was the inspired stories and art that had this title lasting long enough to the point where it would be remembered fondly enough for the Canadian Drawn and Quarterly publishing firm to reprint it as part of their "John Stanley Library", but stranger things have happened and in cases like this I'm sure glad they did!

THIRTEEN features the antics of pubescent pals Val and Judy, two young 'un's who sure get more than their share of grief dealing with the boys who they want to go out with and avoiding the ones who want to go out with them. Val's the slender blond ponytailed one just exuding early-sixties energy and excitement, while Judy's the fat pudge who in the early sagas seems more concerned with food than boys as well as with admiring herself in the mirror while flexing her bicep. Thankfully after a number of issues she slims down and the tiresome food and amazon jokes are abandoned making way for some funnier stories and gags that transcend the whole teenage girl comic schtick. At times THIRTEEN can become rather engrossing, interesting and downright high-larious even entertaining this guy who definitely is not part of the target audience Dell was thinking of inna first place, and really what other comic book could even attempt to do that here in the ultra-jaded 'teens!

But oooh, do the early ishes drawn by Tony Tallarico just gush sicky-sweet girl comics that no self-respecting red-blooded Amerigan boy with freckles on his face and boogers in his nose would DARE read! And hey, even "advanced" me felt just as creepy reading these as I did back in seventh grade when I ordered and received via the Scholastic Book Service a paperback of EMMY LOU comics based solely on her appearance on ARCHIE'S TV FUNNIES only to find it a saggy, frilly-fruity comic that was kinda like PONYTAIL only without the Hank Ketcham-inspired art and sixties suburban teenage gags. Hid that one in my messy desk out of pure shame though it's still in the archives here somewhere but anyway, THIRTEEN under Tallarico's pencilmanship is about as girlie-gooshy as being corralled into playing MYSTERY DATE with your sister which would figure since both items were aimed at the same icky girl crowd!

Needless to say there was a marked improvement when Stanley took over the artwork. His expressive, bold look now resembled something closer to what I would want in a fun 1962-era comic strip than the kinda art you'd find on a Barbie Doll box, and even the stories were improving with wilder plots and even a few bizarre twists that I'm surprised didn't earn this title a huge following amongst "serious" comic book freaks a lot sooner. And like I stated earlier it was a smart move of Stanley's (or his higher ups at Dell) to thin down Judy even though she retained her innate tough-gal character (as well as her nerdy boyfriend Wilbur with the Pork Pie hat and glasses) pretty much coming off as a Patsy Kelly-ish foil to Val's Thelma Todd, and naturally I'm going to spare you the comment that you all think I'm going to make about that particular arrangement!

It's also plainly obvious that the Stanley-delineated Val, Judy and their world are well older than the "thirteen" the title suggests, with the pair being extremely well-versed and knowledgeable about boys not to mention looking way too developed for their age unless they're from the South where women sprout up when they're ten. And one would wonder about just how inexperienced these girls really are given how Val really had her share of boys if one tale where she valiantly tries to hide (or divert attention from) all of the graffiti coupling her name and a myriad assortment of suitors while on a picnic with a new boyfriend (one of the better of the batch!), is any indication. Pretty active thirteen-year-olds, eh?

But whatever their ages there are some rather guffaw-inducing moments in THIRTEEN which transcend the audience they were obviously aimed at. The story which begins with Val fantasizing
about being on her death bed and, just when she is recovering her will to live thanks to the arrival of her boyfriend, gets doused with a sprinkling can fulla water by her rival had me in stitches along with everybody else who was cryin' their eyes out just a few panels earlier! THIRTEEN rarely reaches those heights of genius but it does come close enough for me. I still get a kick outta 'em at least for that early-sixties feeling that seemed to quickly vamoose from the scene once the layabout no-good kids started getting positive media coverage sometime in the early-seventies while the "older generation" who created these great, innovative and downright perfect comics and entertainment were suddenly put out to pasture as if the past seventy years of comics and general fun/games didn't mean anything anymore.

What really makes me give THIRTEEN a top-notch BLOG TO COMM rating is the backup series entitled "Judy Junior". It's not clear whether this featurette is about Judy as a child or perhaps her younger sister whom we never see otherwise, but waddeva it's a pantload-inducing enough tale about this rotund six-year-old girl who is always tormenting the scrawny sissy boy across the street who goes by the name of Jimmy Fuzzi. I know that I should hate this comic on pure principle alone...after all, there were kids like this in my neighborhood who used to bug the bejabbers outta me and tease me to no end and a lotta 'em were girls making me feel LUCKY that I didn't turn out to be a homo given the quality of females that I was surrounded by when I was in my formative years (and afterward come to think of it)! Judy reminds me of this certain skinny little girl of dago heritage (the worst kind) who always used to bother me (I believe her name was Judy as well)...she used to call me "cupcake" and although my mother thought she meant it in a sweet and endearing way she said it was because I was big and fat! I remember telling her not to eat the M&M's she found in a plastic bag on the sidewalk because they could be germ-y and who knows where they had been, though in retrospect given the way she treated me I wish I had forced the things down her scrawny throat just so'd she'd get the worms!

Hmmm, I better shut up or I might start HATING these comics kinda like the way I hated certain songs and television programs from my kid days I associate with utter humiliation, but I would be lying to you if I said that I didn't induce any pleasure outta the sadistic streak permeating these sagas. In fact, I like 'em enough that I actually posted a couple stories that I found on the Drawn & Quarterly blog (which is why they look better'n the comic page reproed above) just so's you'll get a sweet taste of exactly what I'm layin' at'cha here. Don't think they'll mind...might help 'em move one or two more copies and hey, I find a shrunken-down Judy a whole lot more entertaining than I did "Li'l Archie" which I thought not only looked grotesque but came off even worse than some of the less-exciting teenaged Archies that were being pumped out in the early-seventies. Whatever, if you want to get an idea of some of the things that have been flibbenin' my jib as of late here are a couple of items for perusal!

1 comment:

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Hey, do you think Alex Chilton was inspired to write the song "Thirteen" by this comic? Probably not.


Another nail in the coffin of The World We Knew: David Nelson, the last surviving member of the Ozzy and Harriet nuclear family, has passed away.