Sometime in the early 1980s I read an interview with Robert Crumb where he said that John Stanley's comic books, especially Little Lulu, were some of the finest and most influential comics he read as a child. I can't find that interview, but here is an excerpt from the Summer 2010 issue of The Paris Review's interview with Crumb where he mentions Little Lulu:
Were you watching cartoons before you encountered comics?
It was at the same time. I was reading Little Lulu, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse, Felix the Cat. Often they were very bad. I never knew who the artist was, they didn't give the names of the artists at all in those comics. I gradually started to get more discriminating about comic books and got interested in Donald Duck creator Carl Barks. Donald Duck and Little Lulu turned out to be the outstanding story comics of that period.
What was it about Little Lulu that stood apart to you?
The stories. The drawing in Little Lulu was very simple, hieroglyphic, but the stories were very sophisticated–it was a literary comic. Carl Barks was a cartoonist who was both very powerful visually and as a storyteller. The stories were great in those Donald Duck comics. I still enjoy reading them.
I tried to buy some Little Lulu comics in the 1980s, but they were too expensive. I eventually shelled out $(removed) for a 4-volume anthology of Little Lulu, published by Bruce Hamilton's Another Rainbow Publishing (There are a total of six 4-volume sets in the Little Lulu Library, and some of them are still available), and understood what all the fuss was about. These timeless comics reveal and revel in the secret world of kids: clubhouses, campouts, tall tales, jealousy, rich kids vs. poor kids, outwitting bullies, vacant lot adventures, and all the intriguing schemes and rivalries that kids cook up.
I started reading Little Lulu to my daughters when they were old enough to comprehend them, and my 13-year-old daughter still enjoys them. My 7-year-old tears through them in the morning while the rest of the family is asleep (she's an early riser). Even my wife, who never read many comics besides Love and Rockets, likes Little Lulu.
There are a couple of ways to buy Little Lulu comics affordably. The cheapest way is Dark Horse's paperback anthologies.They cost between $(removed) and $(removed) for each 200-page volume, which is a great bargain (some are out of print and you'll have to pay more to buy second-hand copies).
The other option, which is a little more expensive, but well worth the extra cost is Drawn & Quarterly's John Stanley Library. These hardbound volumes are designed by the cartoonist Seth, and are just beautiful. The library includes other John Stanley comics, including Melvin Monster, Nancy (which was created by Ernie Bushmiller, who did the newspaper strips while leaving the comic book version to other artists and writers), and Thirteen Going On Eighteen.
I have most, but not all of the Drawn & Quarterly books, and about half the Dark Horse books. I'll probably eventually get them all. But I would also like to be able to buy PDF versions of these comics, because I really like reading comics on my iPad.