Actually, the first appearance of the Wednesday Addams-like Oona highlights an important point about Stanley's approach to Ernie Bushmiller's characters. Having pretty much burned out on LITTLE LULU, Stanley was probably delighted to put a new set of "Lulu-esque" characters through their paces. The fact that Nancy, Sluggo, and company were well-established figures in a popular, long-running comic strip, however, must have given the creator some pause. Lulu, who began her career as a pantomime character in gag cartoons, had had plenty of room for development when Stanley began to flesh out her neighborhood. Nancy and Sluggo may have had shallow, uninspired personalities, but Stanley must have felt that he needed to hew to them, at least for a while, as he settled down to his task. One can therefore regard the eccentric Oona's appearance as something of a "sowing of the wind" with an eye towards reaping a later "whirlwind" of story possibilities. The rest of the early stories in this collection are fairly unremarkable, making Oona -- a black-clad girl with beady eyes who gives everyone around her a case of nerves and lives in a spooky house with a surprise (usually of the nasty variety) around every corner -- stand out all the more starkly.
Stanley's innovations in handling the NANCY characters didn't prevent him from borrowing liberally from the LULU "template." Rich kid Rollo Haveall is basically Wilbur van Snobbe, take two, while the crook Bill Bungle (aka Bill Bungler, aka Bill Bumble -- perhaps Bill's incompetence was catching) reflects Stanley's apparent delight in using an adult figure who is hopelessly inept at his supposed specialty, a la the truant officer Mr. McNabbem in the LULU stories. If the NANCY stories -- even at their best -- fall a little short of the quality of the LULU oeuvre, then one reason may be the lack of a strong "bench" of supporting players. In the stories collected here, at least, Nancy has no "girl sidekick" to compare with Lulu's Annie; eager though Oona is to make friends and do things with Nancy, she's essentially a walk-on oddball. Likewise, the annoying neighbor kid Pee Wee isn't nearly as memorable (or annoying) as Alvin of "Story Telling Time" fame. Given the raw materials that he had to work with, however, Stanley's NANCY tales are unexpectedly fun and entertaining.
The last page of this volume has a picture of John Stanley (in the company of his editor Oscar LeBeck, Dan Gormley, and other worthies at Western's New York office) and a brief biography -- which just happens to be the same one that appeared at the end of the earlier MELVIN MONSTER collection. What this Library really needs is a volume-by-volume, bit-by-bit biography of Stanley in the manner of the articles that appeared in Another Rainbow's LITTLE LULU LIBRARY. As long as Fantagraphics keeps reprinting the same two-page Charles Schulz bio in THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, though, I guess it would be hypocritical of me to complain about D&Q dropping the ball.