Sep 25, 2015

Little Lulu: The Perils of the Gay Child's World

During the 1960s, when Bill, Greg, and I zoomed into Schneider's Drug Store to blow our allowance on comic books, we zeroed in on the Gold Key jungle titles (Tarzan, Korak), Disneys (Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge), or maybe Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig as swashbuckling adventurers.  I had to go back later to pick up Little Lulu, since my friends would rib me for liking a comic that was "just for girls."

But Little Lulu offered something that no other comic book or tv program or movie of the 1960s had: cute boys running around completely nude. Stylized, cartoon nudity, but still exciting for a preteen who had a vivid enough imagination to fill in the blanks.

I didn't know that I was reading reprints of comics written by John Stanley in the 1950s, and originally based on single-panel strips published in the Saturday Evening Post.  So, like Out Our Way, I was mesmerized by this kid world so different from my own.

1. At Denkmann Elementary School, boy-girl friendships were discouraged, but Lulu Moppet had friends of both sexes: the self-assured Tubby (left); timid Annie and her brother Iggy (right); spoiled rich kid Wilbur; the haughty Gloria.

2. Some of the plots involved Tubby wanting to kiss Gloria or Lulu getting valentines from boys, but not many; mostly boys and girls were completely oblivious to heterosexual desire, a pleasant surcease of the girl-crazy boys on tv during the 1960s.

3. There was little of the gender segregation of my grade school.  Boys had no qualms about appearing in girls' clothing.  Girls excelled at boy-only pursuits.

4. They had remarkable freedom to go wherever they liked without parental supervision.

5. They lived in a urban neighborhood, a short walk from downtown shops that were curiously specialized (meat, vegetables, bread, and candy all in different stores).  There were also woods, a lake, caves, and a swamp nearby; the beach was a short bus ride away.

6. There were many inexplicable dangers.  Spankings, often for things they didn't do.  Truant officers who wouldn't listen to reason. Goblins who stole your identity.  Parental abandonment ("I found a little boy I like better, so you'll have to leave").  A witch who would turn you into a stone or a lead pipe and leave you, immobile and helpless, forever.

These dangers mirrored those of gay kids who tried to negotiate the straight world, following  nonsensical rules, knowing that the slightest slip-up would mean disaster.