TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Declaring Harvey Comics Classics Volume One: Casper The Friendly Ghost [Dark Horse; $19.95] crucial research for the book I'm writing, I finally got around to reading the 480-page tome from the summer of 2007. The trade paperback reprints 100 comics stories from 1949-1966, featuring Casper, Spooky, Wendy, Nightmare, and the Ghostly Trio.
The collection kicks off with Jerry Beck's informative intro and then lovingly presents its carefully-restored stories. Editor Leslie Cabarga seems to favor the earlier comics over the far more inventive fantasies of the 1960s, but his choices are unfailingly entertaining with several gems among them. Among those choices are the first appearances of Spooky (the Tuff Little Ghost), Wendy (the Good Little Witch), and Nightmare (the Ghost-Horse With No Title) from 1953 and 1954.
My favorites? I was tickled by a short tale wherein Casper meets Little Bo Beep and foils the Big Bad Wolf. There are two longer stories in which Casper interacts with the artists who draw his comics, one a disgruntled frustrated assistant who tries to remake Casper's world via a series of dumb changes.
Witches play major roles in three of my favorites. There's a sexy witch from 1955 who could be a ringer for Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched. There's the Weevil Witch who frightens other creatures of the supernatural. And, scariest of them all, there's the Witch of the Mountain Top; she sends a human hunter into the Enchanted Forest, armed with special ghostly gunpowder. In that one, Casper is the one in serious peril until his forest friends come to his rescue.
For just plain laughs, I'd also mention "How To Be Nice" - in which Casper trains the Ghostly Trio for a visit from their kindly Aunt Softy - and "The World's Biggest Bore" - in which Casper befriends, ah, the world's biggest bore.
I was a latecomer to Richie's adventures. I read a smattering of his comics just prior to my going to work for Marvel Comics in 1972 - determined to break into comics, I was reading every then-current comic book I could get my hands on - and didn't read any more until I became the owner/operator of a comics shop in 1978. At the height of his popularity, Richie headlined 40 titles. I could sell a dozen copies of each, mostly to African-American women who saw in Richie's love of family and friends over material wealth the same values they cherished. It was an enlightening revelation and a message not as prevalent in today's comics as it should be.
The biggest revelation of this 480-pages-thick collection was that Richie was far from an overnight success. For seven years, he appeared as a back-up feature in Little Dot, not getting his own title until late 1960. The first half of this book reprints nearly three dozen of those short stories and a handful of one-page gag strips.
These are wonderful little tales which prove, over and over again, that not just Richie, but also his pals Freckles and Peewee, know what's important in their lives. None of them, not the boy who has all that money can buy or the two brothers whose family struggles to make ends meet, is swayed by the Rich Family wealth. They would rather have a pick-up baseball game in a field than play with the fabulous toys given to Richie by his doting parents and relatives. These stories also introduce Reggie, Richie's nasty cousin and invariably the least interesting character in the cast, and Gloria, Richie's beautiful, sensible girlfriend.
Once Richie got his own titles, many of his stories took on a more adventurous tone. The coming of Cadbury, the Rich family's almost superhumanly-talented butler, made the transition to this type of story natural. But, thanks to the talented writers and artists of these tales, the adventure and the comedy coexisted in an equally natural manner.
"From Riches to Rags" - in which Freckles and Peewee think the Rich family have lost their wealth and immediately turn to the task of helping out their friends.
"Living It Up" - in which the boys entertain a sick Richie in the latter's fabulous mansion.
"Any Luck?" - a hilarious short story told without words.
"The Boy and the Butler" and "Our Man Cadbury" - two early Cadbury appearances.
"Atoman" - a super-villain story that wouldn't have been at all out of place as a Batman comic book of the late 1950s or early 1960s.
"Mammom's Money" - Richie meets the god of wealth.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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