Thursday, July 19, 2007

REVIEW :: Casper The Friendly Ghost

$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.


Andy Mansell said...

The book is a gem, but I have to confess I was a Richie Rich guy. Now that was a fantasy I could sink my chops into as a child. The next volume will show the sheer fun of the Richie Rich adventures. Both Casper and RR are a perfect book shelf partner for Little Lulu!

Todd Harlan said...

Anybody who's a Harvey fan needs to go read "Tiny Tyrant" by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme (I just picked it up myself and am loving it!). Imagine being a kid who is not only as wealthy as Richie Rich, but a sovreign head of state. IMO it compares favorably to the Harvey studio art style. Andy, Anya would love this book. I mean, almost wish I had a kid to give this to (Dusty, don't you start!).

Dustin Harbin said...

I, too, am a Richie Rich fan, of all the Harvey books. In fact, I'd go a step further and say that Richie Rich is ALMOST on a level for me with the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge's, in terms of my childhood comics pantheon. Uncle Scrooge is obviously much better as an adult, but those old Richie Rich's have a similar thing going on--lots of short adventure stories, and a surprising level of violence, albeit only occasionally.

I read in the intro to the Casper book that Casper first appeared in Little Audrey, which was created because someone lost the Little Lulu license or something, and they had these unused stories lying around. Very interesting. Little Audrey? Not so interesting.

Jason Wheatley said...

You know what I like about Richie Rich? The kid had a machine that would put his clothes on for him. Now that's a concept I can get behind.

Dustin Harbin said...

Somebody should get Jason an electric toothbrush for his birthday.

Daniel Von Egidy said...

We'll need to introduce him to the concept of the toothbrush first.

Jason Wheatley said...

Please, Daniel...the sparkle of my teeth is second only to the sparkle of my eyes.