Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Land of Harvey [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

There is a fantasy realm that was important to my formative years, and it existed in an unusual place. I call it the Land of Harvey. "Harvey Comics?" you wonder. Isn't that Casper and Richie Rich? Yes, indeed, we are talking about the company that gave us the Poor Little Rich Boy and the Friendly Ghost who couldn't find a friend. These comics were very much a part of my youth as they were for millions back in the 1950s to 1980s. Like Archie Comics they are one of those phases you went through, eventually abandoning them for bulging superheroes or Catcher in the Rye.

In our world of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, World of Warcraft video games and fat George RR Martin bestsellers, it is easy to forget that in the past we saw fantasy just a little bit differently. That mythos that doesn't get any recognition at all, the Land of Harvey, was a fantastical realm where Casper, Spooky, Wendy, Stumbo the Giant, Nightmare, and other characters dwelled. It was a fairly consistent vision of a pastoral and wooded realm with a medieval flavour, though it transcended dimensions as well, like Lovecraft's Dreamlands, lying only a step away from demons and horrors or our comfortable suburban backyards. There aren't any maps or Tolkienesque guidebooks but the Land of Harvey existed all the same in those back issues of old comics for four decades.

Harvey Comics was created in 1941 by Alfred Harvey and published a wide range of comics, though the bulk were for children. The superheroes and newspaper characters fell by the wayside so that by the 1960s Harvey meant the characters we all know, such as Casper and Richie Rich. The company continued on, despite shrinking markets, until 1982. The writers and artists worked anonymously for decades and remain largely unknown today. Unlike their superhero brethren names such as (writers) Sid Jacobson, Lennie Herman, Stan Kay, and Ralph Newman, and (artists) Warren Cremer, Ernie Colon, Sid Couchey, Dom Sileo, Ben Brown, Steve Muffatti, and Joe Dennett did not become recognizable like Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. These men gave us the Land of Harvey, even if only one small piece at a time.

Now there are simply too many individual comic stories to cite from the 400 Casper, 300 Spooky, 120 Wendy, and 1000 Richie Rich comics that were produced between 1941 and 1982. Still, within all those comics certain types of stories become evident.

The first evidence of the Land of Harvey came from another fantasy source, the fairy tale. The earliest Casper comics often relied on fairy tales or nursery rhymes for their characters, as did the cartoons upon which the first comics producers looked for guidance. These fairy tale stories included "Little Boo Peep" in Casper the Friendly Ghost #14 (November 1953), "Little Red Riding Huey" in Casper the Friendly Ghost #13 (October 1953), and Mother Goose in "Mother Ghost" in Casper the Friendly Ghost #19 (March 1954) and "Wolf Call" in Casper the Friendly Ghost #21 (June 1954). Later issues reused the Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks stories but also introduced Mother Nature, Snow White, King Midas, the Sandman, the Fairy Queen, Merlin, Sleeping Beauty and elements from the Arabian Nights. The writers even rose to Greek mythology with a Ulysses special in "The Wanderer" in The Friendly Ghost, Casper #9 (May 1959).

Another favored theme was the quest. These stories would appear in three parts throughout the issue. Most involved a new location in each segment, including castles, forests, and cloud realms. For example, the three episodes, "When Magic Words Fail You," "Monsters and Demons and Stuff Like That," and "The Land of White Magic" in Wendy, The Good Little Witch #89 (August 1975) begins with Wendy's evil aunts turning Danny the Dwarf into a fish. This Macguffin sends Wendy on a quest to find a cure from the Land of White Magic. Her journey takes her into a creepy cave at Mount Happiness where the Scorpion King and his Grabniks try to grab her. She flees into the Demon Hall where demons chase her into the Dragon's Lair, then the Plant People Land, the Land of the Lonesome Ogre, and finally to the Land of White Magic. There she has to work her way through the bureaucracy, but eventually sees King Goodheart, who gives her lodgings, then a cure to the spell. Wendy lays a trap for her aunts when they try to turn Danny into a fish again. This time their spell gives him a big bag of gold. This is typical Harvey quest, following a structure as old as Gilgamesh.

This story features one of the Harvey Comics favorite gimmicks: magical lands. Others include the Land of Make-Believe, Joker-land, Land of the Soap Bubbles, and even the Land of Shangri-La. Other common elements are knights, dragons, castles, giants, ogres, witches, wizards, talking animals, and gnomes. Comics like Stumbo the Giant and Casper and Nightmare were set entirely in this world that never existed. Others like Casper's Ghostland or Spooky Spooktown were a mix between supernatural settings and the fantasy realm of Harvey.

From this you can see the Harvey writers were fond of adopting props from traditional fantasy. While this is true, they did not preclude the existence of the modern world. A motorcar might become lost in that wood or one of the fairies or other creatures might visit our world. The line between them is never really explained, just as scenarios featuring the Wild West, the arctic, jungles, and desert adventures also exist, despite being long since gone from the world. In short, the writers were willing to cadge just about any genre scenario to fill one more issue.

It strikes me that these comics formed part of the basis upon which I continued on into the fantasy genre; the other being old films like The Magic Sword (1962) and Disney cartoons like Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Sword in the Stone (1963). Afterwards, I would read the Oz books, the CS Lewises, the Tolkiens, later-classics like The Last Unicorn (1968) by Peter S Beagle, and lesser fare like The Sword of Shannara (1977). It was the 1970s and fantasy wasn't hard to come by on paper. But before my fantasy experience became truly literary I had sharpened my teeth on these comics. (Not surprisingly, the majority of the fantasy episodes come after 1965 when the Tolkien explosion was beginning in America. The writers at Harvey may have themselves been expressing a fascination with Middle Earth through these comics.) I look back at the Land of Harvey with a fond nostalgia; an appreciation for the consistency of its look and feel. It's a fantasy world I wandered with an uncritical eye and a few quarters in my pocket.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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