When I was in first grade, there was a book in the library that I wanted to take out for weeks and weeks, but someone was always beating me to it. I remember the cover of that book so vividly I could probably draw it now from memory. The book I wanted so desperately was called, I believe, The Big Red Rock Eater Joke Book, which included the joke, “What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big, red rock eater.” This book also had the joke about firemen wearing red suspenders and what happened when you threw a white hat into the Red Sea. I mean, we are talking the absolute introduction to jokes of any kind. It is even possible to conclude that before I got this book I had never heard about the chicken crossing the road. It’s hard to believe that there really was a first time that we ever heard those jokes, and yet there must have been. But the part I also remember is that when I finally got to take the book out of the library and read those simple jokes over and over there was this vague disappointment that I couldn’t quite figure out. Was the book just not what it was cracked up to be? Was I already becoming jaded by the world’s oldest jokes?
Somehow that brings me to comic books. I suppose it’s because comic books are so rarely comic, much like jokes. But that doesn’t make them wrong. It was just my luck that the father of one of my best friends growing up owned a candy store in our neighborhood. This was back when you could get pretty much anything in a New York City candy store, including egg creams, but most especially comic books. And my friend got pretty much every comic her dad had in the store, and as a result, had boxes and boxes of them in her room. There were comics in those boxes that we read over and over again and comics we probably never got to. Now it’s quite possible that she had superhero comics, but we never got to those. It was the Archie comics that we spent hours poring over (and the occasional Richie Rich). I hardly remember any of the storylines, but every girl I knew liked Betty better than Veronica. The stories were all so outdated and so completely removed from our lives. And yet they appealed.
Which brings me to my own daughters’ fanatical love of Little Lulu comics, which we have lots of and in book form. The other night when we were eating spaghetti, my younger daughter said, You know, once Tubby ate an entire plate of spaghetti in one bite! And I found myself laughing not exactly because of what Tubby did, but simply because we all know who Tubby is.
It turns out that the very first Little Lulu comic strip appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1935. They went on for years and years and then stopped. And then in 2004, Dark Horse Comics began reprinting Little Lulu comics in book form. And a couple years after that, one of my dearest friends happened to give us a book of Little Lulu comics and that was how it all started.
You don’t need to know too much about Little Lulu to see why the books appeal so much. Lulu is pretty damn clever and she and Tubby are always solving mysteries in the neighborhood. Or when Tubby’s being a jerk with all the other neighborhood fellers in their clubhouse, Lulu enlists Annie to help get back at them. Do my girls laugh at these comics? Hardly ever. But have they read them so often that there are loose pages floating all over our house? Absolutely. And all of this was not just to say that I'm thrilled that my kids are reading. The thing is, I'm thrilled that they're reading comics.
A few minutes later...
My younger daughter: Did you know that Lulu and Tubby could get ice cream every single day? It only cost a dime!