$19.95 479 pages
edited by Leslie Cabarga
Everybody knows that part of the allure of the comics form is its power to evoke nostalgia. Obviously this is not necessary for a good comic--for instance, Maus or Acme Novelty Library don't inspire any nostalgia in me--but it often carries what might otherwise be considered pure fluff on its back. So it goes with the new Casper collection that shipped this week: Harvey Comics Classics Volume One: Casper the Friendly Ghost.
During the Golden and early Silver ages of comics (roughly the 1940's and 50's), comics were an incredible hodge-podge of superheroes, funny animals, licensed characters like Bob Hope and The Honeymooners, horror books, etc. Remember that by the end of the 40's, the very idea of a comics industry wasn't even 15 years old yet! People saw comics selling and would try practically any idea to get something on the newstands and into kids' hands. Enter Casper the Friendly Ghost, a one-off animated short that almost immediately was turned into a comic book, and eventually became the flagship title of the future Harvey Comics, who also brought us characters like Richie Rich and Hot Stuff.
What started as a throwaway idea about a ghost who's lonely because everyone's too scared of him to be friends (surprisingly lonely in the very early adventures), turns into a morality tale by the end of the 50's. I grew up on Casper comics, and never found it odd that this undead kid had such a handle on right and wrong, even despite the jeers and mockery of his ghostly peers. And this is not even to say that it's so well-written that somehow you don't notice--it's more just that Casper is a very, very simple comic. This was not one of those books that broke wild new ground, or expanded the language, or whatever. It's just a funny book about a ghost and a bunch of animals that he's forever getting out of pretty low-key trouble.
BUT! There's something about Casper, I tell you. Maybe it's the incredible art, which by the 60's had turned into a strange hybrid of the studio-style animation of the forties, standard funny animal "round-head" art, and incredible technical draftsmanship. Or maybe it's the simplicity of the stories--I can say with some surety that much of my adult moral code (such as it is) I can see forming in these old stories. Casper always does the right thing; the worst he ever seems to do is using his ghostliness to scare some hunters away from say, a baby deer or something. And while that's pretty laughable when you set it against some of the imagery used in Alan Moore's Watchmen, or the extreme violence of something like Civil War, I think it's okay to be laughable sometimes. And these are--besides the incredible brush and linework, there's not much to these stories. But then again, Casper isn't for college professors to deconstruct; it's for young kids to cut their comics-reading teeth on.
If you're a young kid, or are looking for something good for a young kid, I highly recommend this book--and at twenty bucks for nearly 500 pages of high-quality reprints, including 2 color sections, it's pretty affordable. And if you're just some guy who still has a stack of beat-up, often coverless Casper's somewhere in your closet, you'll love sitting down some Sunday afternoon and time-travelling back to when you were young enough to feel bad for a poor little friendly ghost.