Three panels from “Marge’s Little Lulu: Tubby’s Travels.”Courtesy Classic Media, LLC and Drawn & Quarterly.
I grew up in the golden age of comics: the nineteen-forties, and most particularly, the five years immediately after the end of the Second World War. Comics were one of the main sources of entertainment for children then: there was not yet much television, and, although there were Saturday matinées, most films were for adults. On Saturday mornings, groups of children would congregate around the stashes of comics that had been collected to have comic-book orgies. The comics were read and reread; they were also traded.
Among those collected and traded at our place were “Little Lulu”s. They were read by boys as well as girls— bratty kids were universally appealing to bratty kids, which all of us were, some of the time, in those years when kids were allowed to roam freely as long as they came home before dark. The things Lulu and her pals and frenemies got up to behind the backs of their oblivious parents were close to our own experiences, and being able to think your way out of a tight spot you’d got yourself into was a skill we all wished to have.
But Lulu had a special significance for me, because she had curls and so did I. Curly hair went in and out of fashion—Twiggy was to get revenge on behalf of the straight-haired in the late nineteen-sixties—but, in the Shirley Temple-dominated nineteen-forties, curls were at a premium, and it was horrifying for me to witness the Torquemada-like tortures inflicted on my friends’ heads by their mothers: their hair was twisted up in damp rags and secured with bobby pins at night, producing, in the morning, a few limp spirals of hair that would quickly wilt. Whereas Lulu and I were all set! Soon I would surely get a job selling that new consumer item, Kleenex, just like her. (This failed to happen.)
But Lulu had a few other things going for her, in my eyes. She was little, as was I, but this did not stop her for an instant. The eternal problem of the boys’ clubhouse—not being let into it, that is—was treated by her, by and large, with a phnuh. She had other, better things to do, and anyway, she—being the title character—was smarter, so there. And, in an age somewhat devoid of female title characters, she was the title character. One could therefore be little, and a girl, and nonetheless the title character. Move over, Jane Eyre!
But most of all Lulu was a storyteller. The episodes I remember most clearly were those in which Lulu resorts to tale-spinning in order to soothe the savage breast of the pesky and persistent Alvin. Her tales featured a poor little girl identical to Lulu who picked beebleberries and sold them, but frequently ran afoul of a wicked witch called Hazel. (Witch Hazel: get it? Lulu was not averse to puns.) Witch Hazel was a formidable adversary, but the “Little Lulu” avatar always won out in the end, through a mixture of inventiveness, deviousness, and trickery—joining a long list of female heroines from folktales and epics—and, more recently, novels—who have done the same. Lulu also indulged in a certain amount of snooping—hiding in the bushes and eavesdropping—and is thus in the line of famous female spies and detectives, from Sally the Sleuth to Josephine Baker. She is brave but not stupid: when in doubt, she runs away very fast. All of these are qualities to be admired.
Little Lulu made her stories up as she went along, which was the approach my brother and I took to the serial narratives we were in the habit of concocting, taking turns as we got tired. Like us, Lulu frequently left off in midstory, thus leaving Alvin clamoring for more. It was a good exercise in the value of suspense. Lulu is thus in the lineage of female wordspinners that includes Scheherazade, giving us the equation: Scheherazade is to the Sultan as Little Lulu is to Alvin. It’s a stretch, I know, but what the heck.
I loved the beebleberry stories as a child. Any berry you couldn’t identify became a beebleberry, and so it remains to this very day. The difference is that Lulu’s beebleberries were edible, whereas you should never eat my kind of beebleberries until you find out what they are. At which point they cease to be beebleberries.
Little Lulu never grew up. Like Peter Pan, another child trickster, she remained little. But I did grow up, more or less, eventually, though not enough to become tall. What would Bigger Lulu have been like? I now wonder. I prefer to think she would have been a writer of some kind; certainly a storyteller.
As one of those myself, I am frequently asked about my influences. I haven’t yet cited “Little Lulu,” but I will do so now. What were the life lessons taught to me by this diminutive but curly-headed prankster?
1. It’s O.K. to have curls.
2. It’s O.K. to be short.
3. It’s O.K.to be female.
4. Storytelling is a skill, and putting beebleberries, witches or witch substitutes, and suspense into the mixture definitely leavens the lump.
5. If you hide in the bushes and eavesdrop, you can learn some very useful things. Just don’t sneeze.
So, here’s to “Little Lulu”! Thanks to her for many hours of entertainment and instruction, and long may the beebleberries flourish.
See below for an excerpt from a new anthology published this month, “Little Lulu: Working Girl.” All images courtesy Classic Media, LLC and Drawn & Quarterly.
Fuente: / Source: www.newyorker.com
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