Thirteen “Going on Eighteen”
Written & Illustrated by John Stanley
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Thirteen “Going on Eighteen” was a humor comic book for young readers published by Dell Comics from 1961 until 1967, a total of twenty-nine issues (the final four of which had only reprinted material), entirely written and mostly illustrated by legendary John Stanley. Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s well-received John Stanley Library project, an ongoing reprint series dedicated to the work of the cartoonist, compiles the first nine issues of the run here in an immaculate, 336-page hardcover format.
I must admit, despite the clear quality of the stories and art, I’m somewhat surprised that Thirteen is among the longer-running, more commercially successful Stanley comics. I’m not sure exactly who the market for these stories was in 1961. I imagine, knowing myself as a young boy, that boys weren’t yet comfortable with the notion of girls to enjoy reading about them. And I can’t imagine that little girls would like a book that frequently painted them such a conflicted light. Perhaps this says more about my inability to understand the commercial market than anything else. Lord knows, the popularity of any number of movies or musicians continues to confound me.
Stanley handles the scripting with his usual aplomb; echoing the structure of his most famous stories, in the pages of Marge’s Little Lulu, each installment of Thirteen has two or three longer narratives (which frequently dovetail together as one issue-length storyline) complemented by several short one- or two-page gags. The series’ primary protagonists, two thirteen-year-old girls named Val and Judy, star in nearly every tale, either in combination or solo. Each story focuses on the various ways in which each girl strives to be mature and appealing to boys, (thus the “Going on Eighteen” of the title) or occasionally seeks to escape from unwanted boys. Each time out, the girls achieve a measure of victory, or they’re undone by their own immaturity.
The humor is broad and universal, simple but not simplistic. Stanley delivers a fair mix of outcomes, hoisting the girls on their petards regularly, but also giving them victories and moments of decency just as often. Val and Judy’s friendship is a mix of jealousy, respect, teasing and love, a complicated brew for a supposed children’s comic. Despite some clunky early stories, Stanley quickly finds each character’s voice, and the nuances come through in their broad, caricatured personalities.
Using his open, warm illustrations and pristine layouts, Stanley (abetted by uncredited assistants) provides a sort of all-American suburban saccharineness to the stories. It’s a nice effect, the legendary realm of the legendary American teen. Even novice comics readers can easily approach Stanley’s clear grids; the clean storytelling suffers only occasionally from awkwardly placed balloons that don’t read in sequence.
Sniping and taunting, forlorn and jubilant, John Stanley’s Thirteen “Going on Eighteen” is sharp an funny, a biting satire of teen behavior, treated with good humor and professional cartooning talent. It’s another winner from Drawn & Quarterly’s John Stanley Library line of all-ages comic books.
See also Caleb’s more timely thoughts.