200804090121Shaenon K. Garrity cuts straight to the quick of John Stanley’s Little Lulu in this piece:

The thing about the Little Lulu reprint project is that, brilliant as Little Lulu is, no one really needs 19 volumes of it. It’s a very repetitive comic. The adventures of Lulu Moppet, Tubby Tompkins, and their many small neighbors were published in a time when kids read their comics and threw them away; a month later, they were ready for more of the same. John Stanley and his nameless assistants worked out a series of reliable formulas which play out, often with only slight variations, in issue after issue after issue:

If you want a succinct disquisition on the strengths and weaknesses of Lulu, this is it.

The kids in Little Lulu have the kind of freedom modern middle-class American kids can hardly imagine: they have the run of the town, they play in the woods unsupervised, they pick up stray dogs and skate on thin ice and run errands for local shopkeeps that take them into the homes of friendly strangers. In one story, Lulu and Tubby play mountain climber and scale the outside of a brownstone with ropes tied around their waists. In another, Tubby teaches the West Side Gang “riding the pookle,” which involves swimming for miles through an underground drainage pipe. (It’s a ruse, of course; you know Tubby.) Kids today could never do anything remotely this dangerous. And if they did, you couldn’t draw a comic about it. The Scholastic Book Club would have your ass on a platter.

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  1. Psst… kids do stuff like this all the time. They just don’t tell adults because there will be heck to pay. Behind my house there was an old creek that was converted into a flood drain. Every 200 yards or so, you’d find a big concrete pillbox drain sunk into the ground, and a sewer cap on top. Of course we explored it (when rain wasn’t forecast). We ate cat dry cat food, we told dirty jokes, and, since this was the Reagan `80s, we knew not to get caught.

    Yeah, America has changed a bit since Little Lulu. Of course, it’s a comicbook, so the characters have more leeway in what they do. However, in Small Town America, everyone looks out for everybody (or eavesdrops), so mischief is tolerated (“I did something like that when I was a kid.”) as long as property isn’t damaged, nobody gets injured, and laws aren’t broken.

    And doesn’t Scholastic publish all sorts of books about kids in trouble? Stories where kids DIE? Now if they published “The Young Anarchist’s Cookbook” (Kids! Always use adult supervision!) there might be concern. (“Well, at least Tommy is learning SOMETHING…”)

  2. It’s been a long time since I read a Lulu comic. But it seems for the description above that the stories took place in a small town, where kids HAVE woods and frozen ponds nearby.

    Is that why there is more “adventure” that does not involve shopping at the mall for Brand Names, going on Play Dates, and all the other stuff we see kids doing now on tv? Or maybe this is just the urbanization of America…

  3. I think it’s worth noting that the author goes on to write:

    “No one absolutely needs more than one or two volumes of Little Lulu. And yet I’ve got 15 of them. Repetitive as they are, they’re just that good.”

  4. “Psst… kids do stuff like this all the time … and, since this was the Reagan `80s …”

    But then, the writer said TODAY … and Scholastic Books. Not the Reagan 80s.

  5. C’mon guys, cut her some slack. As someone in the ripe old age of 20-something, I’m sure Garrity is a perfectly reliable authority on what it was like to be a kid in the 50’s.

  6. All I can say is, I enjoy each and every volume of Little Lulu (I’m 53, and I read a lot of them back when I was a little kid), and my now-13-year-old son has been reading them since he was 9 years old and he STILL loves them. Young kids (first graders) in my school love Little Lulu. And about the repetition – have you looked at the book series being published for young readers? They ALL follow their own specific formulae – and they’re incredibly popular. Kids don’t mind this at all. And, frankly, based on the repetitive story lines in so many mainstream comics, I don’t think adults mind it much, either. (The same holds true in prose book series as well, otherwise how do you explain the popularity of Harlequin romances and all the other ongoing series out there?)

  7. Hey everyone, STOP PICKING ON SHAENON! Read the whole link before you jump. I am second to no one as a Lulu fan and I thought this was one of the most insightful looks at the series I’ve seen…especially SINCE Garrity comes from a different generation.

    Lulu is great, it IS repetitive. I’ve said this myself in MY reviews of the books. It’s like a big bag of chocolate chip cookies. You can dip in whenever you want, but you can’t sit there eating chocolate chip cookies all day.

    I personally find the changes in a kids life in the Lulu days and today fascinating. I think i wrote about this on the Beat somewhere else, but as a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s I was fascinated by LITTLE RASCALS/OUR GANG reruns. I knew they came from an older time period and life was different but I still related to their adventures. Those adventures would have come out 30 years before.

    An equivalent time lapse today would be today’s kids reading comics from the 70s.

    So let’s get it all in perspective.

  8. Fifteen, Twenty years ago when I was around this age I had similar adventures – sewers, woods, railroad tracks, climbing buildings (churches with the rocky facade were especially good for this), and kids DO still do it. I can’t imagine being a kid without being able to ride one’s bike all over (once you’re eleven or twelve, at least), whether the areas were permitted distance or not.

    There’s this ridiculous idea that the world is getting more dangerous – poppycock. Kid disappearances and abductions, sexual assaults, etc, have all dropped significantly in the last ten years. Do they still exist? Of course. But they existed in the time of Lulu, too, it’s just that when kids disappeared then it was often just that – a disappearance.

    The 24-hour/internet news system has made it SEEM more scary, but it just ain’t the case. Everyone, since the beginning of time, has insisted that things are more dnagerous than when they were young, and that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. But I know that (at the protestations of my wife, I’m sure) my kids will have the run of the neighborhood, should we be in a non-urban enviroment.

  9. Heidi, the guy who was spoofing me at THE PULSE is also spoofing me here. I have not posted on this site until now. A friend informed me that I was being spoofed here.

    — Matt

  10. Lulu was so ahead of her time. The imagination, brains, and creativity of Marjory Buell, John Stanley, and Irv Tripp will live forever. I read it as a kid, my kids read it and it’ll always have that “pull” that great storytelling is known for. Lulu rules!

  11. Lulu was so ahead of her time. The imagination, brains, and creativity of Marjory Buell, John Stanley, and Irv Tripp will live forever. I read it as a kid, my kids read it and it’ll always have that “pull” that great storytelling is known for. Lulu rules!

  12. Lulu is not repetitive in a boring way. The stories always are refreshing. The writers presented storylines about many different and interesting subjects. There are too many stories to mention any in particular, but even if kids in those times, threw their comic books away after reading them, it was around 70% less than now that we have so many disposable items, like pampers, paper plates, plastic utensils, etc. I can’t believe anyone would say that Lulu was repetitive, unless the person never read Little Lulu comic books because they were not at all repeptitive. Granted, the characters were always the same, but that is because the writers were so gifted, that they realized people don’t change, and it was more realistic for them to remain the same. It’s kind of ironic to make a comment like that because in today’s world, everything remains the same; love, hate, we get up every day(hopefully) go to school, to work, whatever, eat something, sleep, do our necessities, so the Little Lulu comic books portrayed life in a funny, yet realistic form. We all have a Gloria in our lives, the beautiful girl most girls love to hate, a Tubby, the nice guy who is a loser in love and a winner in something(like the Spider cases), a Lulu, the girl that outwits everyone and is always ahead of her time, and others. There is a twist in most of the stories. Today’s kids could learn a lot from reading them.