My children have been reading through a trove of their father’s childhood comics, which includes a number of titles from the old Harvey Comics imprint. You’ll remember Harvey — home to Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Little Lotta, Little Dot, Playful Little Audrey, and their friends. Casper and Richie were childhood favorites of mine, but I ended up with a surprising number of Wendy, Lotta, Dot, and Audrey comics in part because a friendly bagboy at the grocery store where I bought my comics as a little boy used to give me issues left over at the end of the month, and in part because I was such a voracious comics reader that I would buy almost anything sold at garage sales. I was not such a Little Dot fan, for example, but I read those comics, because … well, why not? I read every comic I could get my hands on.
My two youngest children love Harvey comics, and read them constantly. This weekend, I picked up some of my worn, tattered copies from the early 1970s, and flipped through them. They’re pretty awful. I mean, the art is engaging and pleasant, and for me, quite nostalgic. But the stories are really lame. I know, I know, I’m 40 years removed from the six-year-old child under my roof who is now reading them. Still … wow. Richie and Casper aren’t all that bad, but the minor Harvey characters, like the girls? Blecch (to use a good old Mad magazine word, which came to mind again when the aforementioned six year old daughter started walking around the house saying, “Bletch.”)
Harvey World is just weird. Take Little Lotta, an obese, compulsive eater who happens to be as strong as an ox. At the risk of sounding like a fourth-rate stand-up comedian, what’s up with that? I realize now that Little Dot had OCD, hence her obsession with polka dots. Even so, check out this snarky analysis of a Little Dot storyline. Excerpt:
That little sack of radioactive dust loves you too, Dot. It loves you so much that it’s sending out little rays of love that are gettin’ it on with your cell structure, and soon that love will present itself to you in new and wonderful ways. And afterwards they will bury you in a lead-lined coffin somewhere in a government approved facility.
And think, if you can stand to, about the staff meeting at Harvey at which it was decided to create a new friend for Richie: a child stand-up comedian named Jackie Jokers. Here’s another of those snarky analyses, though be warned, this one drops the f-bomb. Excerpt:
But really, how appropriate is it for a ten-year-old kid to be going to nightclubs every night? They don’t even allow children into most nightclubs, because it’s filled with drunk people. Which I guess is just as well, since you’d have to be pretty damn drunk to find a tux-clad little kid telling knock-knock jokes suitable entertainment. Still, I’m almost positive child labour laws are being broken here.
I had that Jackie Jokers issue from which this is taken. Never was a Jackie fan, even though as a kid, I was entirely undiscriminating when it came to Harvey world. If you couldn’t sell Jackie Jokers to me, then you couldn’t sell Jackie Jokers to anybody. Which is no doubt why he never took off.
I am happy to say, however, that until encountering the Stupid Comics site, I was innocent of the existence of Billy Bellhops. Where in the world could this character possibly go?
Let’s not even consider the utter bizarreness of the Richie Rich comics, which celebrate the massive wealth of a little boy, upon whom it rains jewels and dollar bills and things. I imagine there has been many a turgid Marxist analysis of what the Richie comics said about the American character, written by childhood Richie fans who grew up to pursue master’s degrees in English literature. Richie was by far my favorite Harvey character, because he lived out a childhood fantasy: What if you had all the money in the world? It’s a kind of super-power.
Anyway, I wondered over the weekend what had happened to Harvey. Turns out it went belly-up in the 1980s, though it exists in some form today. Take a look at this site if you’re as nostalgic for your own Harveyfied childhood as I am.
Finally, watching my little ones read Harvey comics got me to thinking about how I acquired comics as a kid. They were sold on the shelf at our local grocery store, and at the drugstore. When did that end, I wonder? If Harvey were still around, there would be no place in town to buy them, or to buy any comic. Where do kids who don’t have comic book stores in their town get comics? Do they still?
Up next: considering the world of Archie, including the theory that Jughead is a closet case who crudely sublimates his sexual anxieties into compulsive eating.