October 26th, 2003
I have--and have always had--my very own set of specialized rituals, and when it comes 'round to this time of year, there was one thing I could always count on when I was growing up back there in the sixties--sometime, in the last few days just before good ol' Halloween night rolled around and it was FINALLY time to once again don my outrageous outfit de jour for an exhilarating evening of Trick or Treating, I'd first faithfully re-read my three treasured Dell Giant editions of LITTLE LULU AND WITCH HAZEL HALLOWEEN FUN as sort of an inspirational warm-up for the big, big event itself!
And even after I'd stopped annually trolling the streets on October 31st evenings, I'd still find time to sit down and relive all the thrills and laughs found in these oversized 1959, 1960, and 1961 editions (which, confusingly enough, went by the names of LULU AND TUBBY HALLOWEEN FUN in '59 and LITTLE LULU AND WITCH HAZEL TRICK N' TREAT in '61, with the 1960 edition having been published under the aforementioned name...).
For years, experiencing these familiar, beloved tales was as much a part of my late Octobers as getting candy corn stuck in my teeth. Each one was a collection of short stories, stories that were nonetheless connected loosely by a shared purpose and a specific progression of time--i.e., finding a pumpkin, choosing a costume, having a party at school, having another party at either Tubby or Lulu's house (or sometimes both), taking to the streets to Trick or Treat, returning home as the night ends, and finally, turning in for bed as the realization that Halloween is over again for another year painfully yet inevitably sinks in.
Readers got to vicariously experience in those stories what had to be the most exciting night in a young kid's life, the one night you were unabashedly let out of your parents clutches to freely roam the dark streets of your neighborhood--all while dressed up in some way cool outfit! What could be better? Well, these Lulu comics may not've replaced the actual thrills of going door to door in search of sweets, but they did an admirable job of mirroring the heady experience from the beginning of the process on off to it's natural conclusion. This was no small accomplishment. Halloween may've permeated the land each October, but curiously, fiction based on it's many quirks and joys had mostly been ignored in the popular culture of the time. Oh sure, there were--and always have been--horror tales, ghost stories, and the like, but that's hardly the same as writings ABOUT All Hallow's Eve and all the wonderment that surrounds it.
These comics, though, had all that and more. More, because they not only beautifully captured the essence of the day, but additionally they were just masterfully produced pieces of comic art. And why shouldn't they be? To my way of thinking, the Little Lulu comics scripted and laid out by the genius of John Stanley over much of two decades commencing in the forties (mostly, but not always, featuring the precise, crisp line of Irving Tripp on finished art chores) are among the very best--and my all-time personal favorite--in the medium's entire history. Now, that said, there's been some question as to whether or not Stanley was still on board when these issues were churned out, but you know what? I just love 'em so much, I'm inclined to believe that they were indeed the fruitful products of his brilliant comedic imagination! And if I'm wrong--well, they're STILL great comics!...
How can I help but not smile thinking about the school truant officer, the aptly named Mr. McNabbem, dressing up as the Pied Piper in the ultimately vain hopes of corralling a passel of wayward students? Or Tubby's desperate and always demeaning attempts to appease the West Side Boys, a group of hardened bullies who demand from him a specially prepared Halloween feast in the Gang's precious clubhouse under the threat of it's imminent destruction should he not come up with a menu to their liking?
Or Lulu's dad, dressed as a witch as a special Halloween treat for the kids--his wife's idea, natch--taking the whole group of kids to a magic show downtown, all the while trying to desperately avoid some business associates while in that ridiculous outfit? How about the party game that pitted the boys versus the girls in a hard fought scavenger hunt?
Then there was rotten rich kid Wilbur's lavish party--with just a touch of unwelcome sadism thrown in on the part of the host towards his reluctant guests? Or Tubby and smaller, identical cousin Chubby, causing farcical confusion to a hapless costume store salesman, who can't help but think the two are one and the same due to some well-timed wandering in and out of the panels by the pair, having no choice but to wonder just why his potential customer seems to keep changing sizes each and every time he brings out an outfit for him (them?) to try on?
And then there's the many, many yarns Lulu is forever spinning in a seemingly never-ending attempt to get that annoying little pest, Alvin, to pipe down! Ol Witch Hazel and The World-Wide Halloween, Little Itch and the Scary Pumpkin, Ol' Witch Hazel's Halloween Party, and a score more of similarly themed whimsical flights of four-colored fancies. And that, folks, only scratches the surface of what's contained in the nigh on hundreds of pages these three ad-free Dell Giants amassed. Quality AND volume--geez, how could I NOT absolutely revere these choice pulp paper Halloween treats, I ask you?
But don't take my word for it, at least not entirely. As my own special Halloween gift to you, I've scanned in one very special story for your reading enjoyment. There were, obviously, so many delightful entries to pick from, and while I would've loved to have chosen one featuring the whole gang, any one of that sort that I considered somehow seemed to be diminished without being able to include the accompanying stories that surrounded it. Finally, then, I decided it would be best to share one of Lulu's many Alvin-placating tales with you, though not one with the Hazel and her niece, Itch. No, this particular story--called "Good Night, Alvin!"--instead stars a thinly veiled version of the pesky redhead himself in place of the witch duo.
The final six pages in the 1959 edition, it deals with a little boy who, like Alvin himself--and no doubt many of the audience reading the book as well (me?)--wished Halloween would never, ever come to an end. But since this is a fairy tale of sorts, that's exactly what does happen--or more to the point, DOESN'T, as living in a land that celebrates Trick or Treating every day, day in and day out, turns out not to be the utopia one might think it would be. In other words, Lulu's cautionary tale echoes that well known saying--watch out for what you wish for, gang, because you just might get it, dig?...
While the art was provided by one of several illustrators who supplemented Stanley's main collaborator and not by Tripp himself (names, anyone?), the episode is no less effective in it's poignant conjuring up of a sense of melancholy at the inevitable prospect of the imminent all-too-soon ending of a much anticipated event--in this case, Halloween, and it's many unique charms--all the while gracefully making the point that all good things MUST be allowed to come to their natural conclusions, elsewise the joy they impart could easily turn to despair when stretched beyond their inherent limits. Or something like that. I don't know--I just like the story is all. And I hope you will too. You'll find it nestled over in the "More" section, the initial entry in a brand-new category I couldn't help but call "Stuff I Had Nothing To Do With"!


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