My early comic book buying and reading didn’t include a lot of “funny” comics. (There was Mad, but I don’t consider it a comic book so much as a magazine with a lot of comics in it.) No, not for me were the kid humor titles from Harvey (Casper, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, etc.), the teen humor of Archie and his brethren, or even the “celebrity” books (Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis) from my favored publisher, DC Comics. And while I eventually came to have an appreciation for the work of such great creators as Carl Barks, there wouldn’t be any Disney comics in my collection until after I became an adult. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy funny cartoon characters — I routinely watched them on TV on Saturday mornings (and occasionally on weekday afternoons). I suspect that at my advanced age of eight years, I’d decided that such characters were simply too “babyish” to spend my money on, if not necessarily my time.
But for whatever reason, in February, 1966, I made an exception — and it was for The Fox and the Crow.
Fifty years later, I’m not sure what exactly drew me to this book. The fact that it was published by DC Comics was probably one factor, and I think I may also have been intrigued by the secondary feature highlighted on the issue’s cover, “Stanley and His Monster” (though I’ll defer discussion of that strip until a little further on in the post). In any event, I’m pretty certain that I had no idea that the Fox and the Crow were well-established (if not front-rank) animated cartoon stars, having been created in 1941 by Frank Tashlin for Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems animation studio. The characters of Fauntleroy Fox and Crawford Crow made their debut that year in a short film called “The Fox and the Grapes”, inspired by Aesop’s fable of the same name:
DC licensed the Fox and the Crow as well as other funny-animal characters from Columbia, and began publishing stories featuring them in 1945. The well-off (but gullible) Fox and impoverished (but canny) Crow headlined anthologies such as Real Screen Comics and Comic Cavalcade before getting their own title in 1951, so by the time I made their acquaintance, they had over twenty years of comic-book stories behind them, that said, I strongly suspect that in form and tone most of those stories were pretty similar to the ones I read in this and later issues of their series.
There were three “Fox and the Crow” tales in issue #97. None were credited within the stories themselves, but the book’s letters page indicated that the regular writer was Cecil Beard, assisted by his wife Alpine Harper, and the regular illustrator was Jim Davis (not the one who created Garfield, in case you’re wondering). Each story finds the two leads in comic conflict, and though the plot’s generally driven by the street-smart Crow attempting to take advantage of the stuffed-shirt Fox, the Fox manages to get the upper hand on occasion, as we’ll see.
In the first tale, an old sailor gives a cursed black pearl to the Crow, who immediately has a run of extreme bad luck (washed out to sea, captured by pirates, etc.) before he contrives to palm it off on “Foxie” — the characters are rarely called by the names Fauntleroy and Crawford in these tales — who of course then becomes the recipient of bad luck in his turn (his house is blown away by a tornado, then his bank fails, leaving him homeless and destitute — hilarious!) The Fox strong-arms the Crow into taking the pearl back, but only after promising to renovate Crow’s home (which is in a hollow tree, by the way). Fox then begins waiting impatiently for the Crow’s bad luck to resume, not knowing that Crow has secretly “returned” the pearl to an oyster — so, Crow for the win in that story.
The second tale finds Crow pretending to be a multi-colored chick on Easter morning, and thereby tricking the Fox out of the bounty of eggs the Easter Bunny has brought him. Before that happens, though, we get this sequence where Fox explains the holiday to the inexplicably uninformed Crow (though since the bird has a thick New York accent, maybe it’s supposed to be because he’s Jewish? Hmm.):
(Foxie, we get it, you love Easter — but dude, get a grip, OK?)
Crow does indeed nab all the eggs — but after Fox catches on, he forces his nemesis to eat them all at once, so I’m calling that match for our vulpine friend.
The third story involves the acquisition of a new stretch limousine by the status-hungry Fox (who describes himself as a “zillionaire”, though his house appears to be a relatively modest bungalow, and if he’s so rich why does he choose to live next to the Crow’s run-down dump of a tree? Oh, well, never mind.). Not to be outdone, Crow fastens a string of junkyard jalopies together (though idle by inclination, he can be downright industrious when properly motivated), paints the result gold, and trades it to Fox for the latter’s limo. But Fox still has the last laugh:
Three stories, and the supposed straight man (er, straight anthropomorphic animal) Fox comes out best in two of them. That surprised me when I re-read these stories for this post, but on proceeding to peruse the later issues in my collection, I found that the creators kept the wins and losses pretty balanced between the two antagonists, as a rule. Whether or not they followed the lead of the original animated shorts in doing so, I have no idea.
That’s it for the Fox and the Crow in the #97th issue of their comic — but that’s not it for the comic itself. As noted earlier, the book includes an installment of a “back-up” feature, “Stanley and His Monster”. This feature, which had gotten its start just a few months earlier (in issue #95), concerns a young boy named Stanley Dover and his “dog”, a pink-furred, tusked, timid monster that Stanley has found hiding in a sewer and brought home to live in his bedroom. Stanley’s parents, who’ve told him he can’t have a dog until he’s older, assume that Stanley’s new pet is imaginary. But while Stanley knows for certain his friend is real, he does occasionally entertain some doubts about his bona fides as a member of the canine species, as seen in this sequence from #97’s “It Just Ghost’a Show Ya!” (written and illustrated by the feature’s creators, Arnold Drake and Win Mortimer):
The main action of this story involves the Dovers’ acquisition of an antique French clock which turns out to be haunted by a ghost claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte. (Of course, the ghost only appears to Stanley and his monster, never to Stanley’s parents.) The monster is unimpressed with this spirit, whom he’s sure is a phony (a phony Napoleon, that is, not a phony ghost) — but Napoleon eventually wins the creature’s grudging acceptance by promising to help maintain the ruse that he’s a dog.
Incidentally, I put “back-up” in quotes above for a reason — this story is actually the first in the issue, taking pride of place over the three featuring the titular stars. According to the Grand Comics Database, “Stanley and His Monster” took the lead position in The Fox and the Crow with the feature’s first appearance in #95, and never let it go. That would turn out to be a harbinger of worse things to come for the book’s long-time headliners.
My eight-year-old self may or may not have found The Fox and the Crow #97 laugh-out-loud funny (for what it’s worth, my fifty-eight-year-old self just finds it mildly amusing), but I must have enjoyed it enough to consider it worth the 12 cents, as I would eventually pick up several more issues. However, one entire year passed before I bought another one (#103 [April-May, 1967]), and there had been changes in the interim, as may be seen in the cover shown at left. “Stanley and His Monster” no longer had just an insert illustration on the cover — instead, the feature now had the whole cover to itself. What was more, the feature’s name had been added to the masthead, with a new logo lettered the same size as that of the book’s traditional stars, the Fox and the Crow.
Things had changed within the “Stanley” strip as well, with the monster — now christened “Spot” — and Napoleon’s ghost having been joined by an Irish leprechaun named Shaugnessy and a German gremlin named Schnitzel. (Of course, Stanley’s parents remained as clueless about these diminutive green-skinned gentlemen as they were about their son’s other uncanny companions.)
The book continued on in this vein for several more issues, but by #109, the transition was complete. After over sixteen years of comic conflict, Fauntleroy Fox and Crawford Crow had been evicted from their own comic book.
It’s not terribly hard to understand how and why DC did what they did. The Fox and the Crow were licensed characters, but they hadn’t appeared on the big screen since 1950, and it didn’t make a lot of sense to keep paying that licensing fee unless the book was selling really well — which we may safely assume it wasn’t.
The newly-rechristened Stanley and His Monster #109 brought additional changes to the feature besides the book’s title change. While Arnold Drake stayed on as writer, Bob Oskner took over from Win Mortimer on the artistic end. Oskner’s style, while humorous, was slightly more realistic than that Mortimer had used on the strip, and he redesigned most of the regular characters, some more drastically than others. His Stanley, in particular, seemed at least a year older than the previous version (though this was probably also due at least in part to Drake’s dropping of the kid’s annoying lisping speech pattern). The general effect was to make the comic book itself seem like it was aiming for a slightly more mature audience.
Alas, even with these changes, Stanley and His Monster failed to connect with a large enough audience to sustain its continued publication, and the book was cancelled with the 112th issue, in 1968. Of course, the characters weren’t completely forgotten, and since they, unlike the Fox and the Crow, belong wholly to DC, they’ve reappeared several times over the decades, beginning with writer-artist Phil Foglio revealing Spot’s heretofore secret origin in (what else?) Secret Origins #48 (April, 1990). This tale revealed that Stanley’s monster was in fact a demon from Hell called “The Beast With No Name”, and tied in his backstory with characters and situations from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Foglio continued in this Vertigo-with-laughs vein in a 1993 four-issue miniseries; afterwards, the characters lapsed back into obscurity, until in 2001 filmmaker/comics writer/media personality Kevin Smith brought them back as part of his Green Arrow story arc “Quiver”. Like Foglio, Smith provided a dark, demonic backstory for Spot, though with different particulars. Now fully integrated into the mainstream DC superhero universe, a grown-up Stanley and his monster went on to appear as members of a magical Justice League in an alternate future in Cullen Bunn’s “Sorcerer Kings” story arc in Superman/Batman (2011).
To the best of my knowledge, Stanley Dover and Spot have yet to make an appearance in the rebooted “New 52” continuity that DC introduced later in 2011. However, one must assume it’s only a matter of time. After all, nothing in comics goes away forever. Were it not for the fact that they still belong to Columbia-Screen Gems (or to whatever corporate entity may have ended up with the rights to the studio’s characters), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fauntleroy Fox and Crawford Crow show up in the DC Multiverse sooner or later, whether on “Earth-26” or elsewhere. And who knows — it still might happen, one day.