Thursday, January 24, 2008
Fair Trade -- Harvey Comics Classics Volume 2: Richie Rich
Continuing on the mini-theme from the other day, I just recently finished this volume of Richie Rich comics, lovingly constructed by the good people over at Dark Horse comics. if you want to read about The Poor Little Rich Boy, then look no further than this tome.
And believe me, tome is the correct word. Clocking in at a whopping 400+ pages and weighing at least 2 pounds, this is a definitive collection of Richie Rich strips, from his earliest appearances as a backup feature in Little Dot through being the star of his own title (and later, many, many more titles) in the 1960s. Collected are 125 individual stories (the cover pictured above is an early version) which run the gamut from simple, worldess one-page gags to complex, multi-part adventures.
For what is at it's core a simple concept, the various creators who worked on Richie at Harvey got a lot of mileage out of the basics of the character which were there right from the start. The very first strip tells how privledged young Richie ditches his boring dance lesson to go play baseball with the neighborhood kids, then takes down a bully. These aspects -- the desire for normalcy and friendship, standing up for the less fortunate -- became the core of the character, and the stories would be built on this foundation for decades to come.
The book is divided into two halves, the Golden Age and the Silver Age. The Golden Age stories are never longer than five pages, and primarily revolve around Richie having fun with his poor friends Freckles and Pee Wee. The villain of these pieces is usually his greedy cousin Reggie Van Dough, a sadistic little SOB who takes great pride in showing off his wealth and having fun at the expense of others. Of course, he gets his comeuppance in the end, either in the form of Richie finally getting fed up and tricking him, or, just as frequently, Reggie's own arrogance and stupidity. The character of Reggie would soften up over the years, but he remained a constant in Richie's world even as late as the 1980s when I first discovered the character.
The Silver Age section focuses on Richie's own title, launched in 1960. The stories continue along a logical path, with Richie having fun with his friends and otherwise trying to be a regular kid. In this half, Richie's status as a headliner is put to good use, as we get a handful of multi-part stories, ranging from ten to fifteen pages, including the Johnny Quest-esque "Mutiny on the Oceanic." With this development, we also get to see a lot of zany inventions and creations, such as a camera that de-ages whatever it shoots. These never seem to work quite as expected, but usually get put to good use against the seemingly endless gangs of crooks trying to rob the Rich Estate. Also introduced is Cadbury, who at first Richie is skeptical about, but the butler's seeming knowledge and skills in every conceivable field soon win the young man over. Cadbury gets to take center stage in a few strips as well, as does Pee Wee in a few shorts. Irony the Robot Maid even pops up near the end!
The other important change in the Silver Age is the introduction of Gloria Glad, Richie's girlfriend. Though a lot of her stories are formulaic ("Don't spend so much money, Richie!"), they offer a nice contrast to the tales of fishing and baseball with Freckles and Pee Wee, and also allow for the love interest angle for the adventure stories. Gloria's father is a fun character as well, as we see his horrified reaction to the increasingly extravagant gifts Richie buys his daughter, seemingly driving him to a nervous breakdown. (This is ironic, since Gloria's father is nowhere to be seen in the Richie Rich film, but her mother, a minor character in the comics, has a substantial role.)
My favorite story from the book is a five-pager from the early 60's entitled "Anyone Who Sees A Psychiatrist Needs To Have His Head Examined!" The gist is that Gloria, in an effort to break Richie of his spending habit, gets him to see a shrink. Richie's sardonic commentary about his treatments are hilarious, as he comments that his doctor is more than willing to help him stop spending money -- by taking all of his money from him! It's strips like this one, that poke fun at more adult topics which fly right over the heads of young readers, which really make the character appeal to all-ages.
The trade itself is very handsomely put together, with nice glossy paper and heavy stock. There's 64 color reprodution pages, which accurately capture the feel of the old Harvey newsprint -- at least the handful which I still have in my possession. The balance of the book is in sharp, beautiful black-and-white, a real treat to someone who likes inked pages as much as I do. The stories look clean and almost modern in black and white, especially with the high-sheen paper. There is one oddity, though: due to how her eyes are colored normally, Gloria's eyes look a little... strange... in the black and white pages. Also included is a short (but informative) historical summary by Jerry Beck, as well as a two-page interview with artist Ernie Colon, one of the many who worked on the strip. Neither is all that long or in-depth, but at this point they're just gravy anyway.
With a list price of $19.95, this is a little more expensive than your typical black-and-white reprint trade, but it's also a much nicer package than your average Essential or Showcase volume. Richie Rich is one of the most enduring characters ever to grave the comics page, and with this volume, readers can discover (or rediscover) just what made The Poor Little Rich Boy so popular in the first place. A perfect volume for parents to read with their kids, or just to enjoy on their own.