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"What's New" Archives: September 2011


September 9, 2011:



September 6, 2011:

Oskar Lebeck, John Stanley & Friends


September 9, 2011:


This site will be quiet for the next few weeks. I'll post again in October.


September 6, 2011:

Oskar Lebeck, John Stanley & FriendsOskar Lebeck

Oskar Lebeck's name is not one that many of today's superhero-sotted comic-book fans would recognize, but he was for me one of the greatest comic-book editors, if not the greatest. Not the noisiest, not the one who left his fingerprints all over everything that his company published, but the editor who best recognized and nurtured outstanding talent.

Lebeck, a native of Germany, was throughout the 1940s the New York-based editor for many of the comic books produced by Western Printing & Lithographing Company and published under the Dell label. Walt Kelly created Pogo on Lebeck's watch, in addition to turning out sweet and funny fairy tales, uproarious slapstick, exciting adventures, and what is surely the best comic-book adaptation of a Disney feature, the Four Color Comic version of Pinocchio, the comic book that asks but for very good reasons does not answer the immortal question, what the hell is the gleet? (You can look it up.) Lebeck assigned John Stanley, his neighbor in the Hudson Valley, to Little Lulu, an assignment that Stanley thought was fortuitous but turned out to be inspired. And there were many others, including Morris Gollub, Dan Noonan, and George Kerr, among the cartoonists, and Gaylord DuBois, the highly productive writer whose stories have held up very well over the years.

When I read the work of one of those people, and then read a story from a comic book that another company published around the same time, the effect is almost always the same: the non-Dell story is hackwork (even if it is well-illustrated hackwork), and the Dell story is much better than that—and often much better.

I've been exploring the careers of Lebeck and his gifted colleagues for my next book, on comic books, and in the course of my research k I've acquired a small collection of Lebeck photos, some of them with John Stanley. You can see a selection of them, with my comments, at this link.

And Speaking of Stanley...

Dan Noonan, who knew John Stanley when they were drawing comic books for Western Printing, said of Stanley that he “used to send ideas to The New Yorker, and Jim Geraghty, who was the cartoon director there, was so impressed with Stanley he wanted to give him a contract. Stanley wouldn’t have any of it; he didn’t want to be tied. Although I can’t think of any nicer way to be tied down than under a contract with The New Yorker.” Stanley’s ideas were “very sophisticated gag ideas, all of them,” Noonan said.

But: only one of Stanley's cartoons was ever published in The New Yorker, in 1947, but his gag ideas could of course have been bought to be illustrated by other cartoonists. The New Yorker's archives are housed at the New York Public Library, as are Jim Geraghty's files. I ran out of time before I could look at those archives on my last visit to New York, but the library's very helpful staff did some checking for me, and they came up dry—no Stanley correspondence in the Geraghty files, no evidence of him elsewhere. That's not conclusive, since the librarians inevitably couldn't make as thorough a search as I could, but still, I'm puzzled. Was Stanley exaggerating, or is there some other explanation? If anyone out there knows anything, I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, I'm planning to visit the NYPL the next time I'm in Manhattan.


From Jeet Heer: Great photos of Lebeck and Stanley. One interesting thing worth noting is that Lebeck clearly socialized with his writers and artists. That's very different than the situation at companies like National/DC or Timely/Atlas/Marvel where my sense is that management, staff and freelancers were socially segregated. The DC management never seemed to socialize in the 1940s and 1950s with their staff or freelancers.

[Posted September 9, 2011]