January 2, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
My grandparents had a cottage on an island in a river. In the cottage was a room with a single bed, and under the bed were several boxes of comic books, mostly from the late ’40s and early ’50s. Chilly Willies, Andy Pandys, Disney comics (heavy on the Scrooge McDucks), some old MADs, a Pogo or two, and lots and lots of Little Lulus. No superheroes.
The comic book room was usually claimed by an older sibling or cousin. When bedtime came, I would retire to one of the bunk-bed rooms with a small stack of Little Lulus — my favorite. I was imprinted, pre-literacy, with her banana curls and red triangle dress, the upturned wedge of her nose. All the possibilities of reading existed in the expressive range of her mouth: upside-down u of doubt, sideways half-moon of delight, black circle of surprise.
The Little Lulus were everyone’s favorite, part of our vernacular, our ongoing project of building a collective memory. Like the patched Fiesta bowls and the spoon jar ritualistically covered in Chiquita banana stickers, the striped towels draped over the rail of the footbridge, they belonged to the world of the cottage. I learned at some point that it was my grandfather who bought them — not my aunt and uncle, who would have been around the right age when they were new. He got them at a newsstand on his way home from the office. He confided to one of my cousins that he felt Little Lulu was him. Of course, Lulu is the audience stand-in, but my cousin and I nodded when she told me this, acknowledging a deeper truth.
We interrupt this memory for a theory break. “Some of the purest examples of irony,” James Wood says in How Fiction Works, “are found in children’s literature.” He gives an example from Make Way For Ducklings, when Mr. Mallard sees a swan boat in the Public Garden. “Just as they were getting ready to start on their way, an enormous bird came by. It was pushing a boat full of people, and there was a man sitting on its back.”
It is exactly in that opening — the space between naiveté and sophistication — that Little Lulu operates. Tubby’s crystal ball is a glass doorknob. Spirited treasure hunts lead to gold-painted rocks and exclamations of “phooey.” Some of the most indelible strips are the ones in which Lulu spins hep fairytales for Alvin, her bratty neighbor, who worships her imaginative power.
I think my grandfather’s easy identification with Little Lulu came from the fact that childhood is the invisible set point. The interplay between fantasy and reality is native and unremarkable. You even forget that they are children until Lulu shows up pushing her dolly in a carriage, or points out that Annie hasn’t learned to read yet, or — in a moment of frustration — sits down on the sidewalk, her mouth a sausage of misery, and says, “BAW!”
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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