Homework Assignment: Before reading this entry, please read this posting by Joe Torcivia. You'll thank me in a minute.
In reading this collection of stories from LITTLE LULU #112-117 (October 1957 - March 1958), one can definitely sense John Stanley suffering an attack of the "chafes." Stanley was still a couple of years away from abandoning the title for good, but a certain restlessness is evinced by his busting out of the long-established "mold" in one or two places. Stanley busts the string of "poor little girl" story-telling stories with a vengeance in #117's "Bedtime Story," in which little Alvin insists upon telling Lulu a story for once. Not surprisingly, Alvin comes off as the "hero" and Lulu as a fallible sidekick. Witch Hazel appears at the end, but only for a bit of self-referencing humor as she wonders why Lulu isn't in control of the story. The tale has more of the feel of a FRACTURED FAIRY TALE than do most of the increasingly mechanical "story-telling" exercises than had immediately preceded it.
Alvin's seizure of the controls in "Bedtime Story" pales in comparison with the preceding issue's "The Secret Girl Friend." Here, Stanley takes his apparent mental inquietude into a whole weird new area. Lulu becomes convinced that Tubby has bought her a beautiful Valentine with the message "To My Secret Sweetheart." After working herself into a state of mild hysteria, Lulu is crushed when Tubby's gift proves to be nothing more than a simple, "generic" card. The heartbroken Lulu plots revenge until she visits Tubby's house and... learns that Tubby's "secret sweetheart" is his MOTHER.
Now you know why I wanted to "soften you up" with that creepy BUGS BUNNY story. Stanley's version, however, is, if anything, even creepier. Lula Belle is, after all, a teenager, whereas Tubby is a LITTLE BOY. Sufferin' Sophocles! The implications are staggering. Even if you regard "sweetheart" as a more neutral term of endearment than "girl friend," there's still Stanley's choice of a story title to consider. A scenario like this is even stranger coming from a well-established, generally "well-behaved" writer like Stanley than from some anonymous scrivener who took on the BUGS job as only one assignment among many. It leads me to believe that Stanley was beginning to "mentally check out" of the LULU "universe" long before he actually did so.