Let's go back to where it all started. To your personal history with comics. To your youngest comics memories. (Note: this will only be valid for Americans, unless it includes Canadians too.)
That's right. HARVEY COMICS.
HLA Roll Call: Casper the Friendly Ghost Wendy the Good Little Witch Hot Stuff That Little Devil Richie Rich the Poor Little Rich Boy Spooky (Casper's tough ghost cousin (cousin?)) Lil' Lotta (the world's strongest girl) Dot (no epithet springs to mind. She was a girl who enjoyed her whole dot motif, what's so hard to understand?)
And here's the thing about these characters and their titles:
THEY WERE EVERYWHERE.
Every time I turned around, there were Harvey Comics. Something about the infantile shape of these characters' giant heads just screamed safe to adults, I suppose.
I mean, talk about a cartoon tie-in. It all starts with Casper. For some reason, there were a whole lot of cartoons featuring ghosts once upon a time. Cute little boy ghosts with buttons on the buttflap of the sheets, as if they were wearing pajamas with feet for all eternity. And there were adult ghosts in these cartoons of the era, too... rough, drinking, gambling, wild ghosts in checkered cab-driver hats. All very tough and low-class... a racist pun on 'spooks' perhaps? Why were cartoons about the dead supposed to be such a big thing?
For that matter, what's with Wendy? The world's most Aryan little witch, always wearing the Red of the devil, Wendy and her broomstick helped rescue Casper from many a jam and vice versa. Again-- why the hell was this stuff allowed on TV? Was it the innocent-seeming size of their heads that made the religious right not speak about about this damned soul/pagan teamup?
Of course, I don't recall that Wendy ever had her own adventures or her own comic title very often, although today we have Sabrina in the Archieverse as we have for years with no problems that I've ever heard of. What's Wendy's origin, anyway? What's that wand made of? How old is she supposed to be? Are she and Casper dating or what?
Then there's Richie Rich, though his cartoons came much later. Here's the thing that I figured out even as a child about Richie Rich. Take all the money in the world, paper, gold, jewels, all of it in existence. Pile it up somewhere so you can get a sense of how much there is... on the moon, say. Fill a nice-sized crater with it, if you can. The Riches have more than that pile. Much more. In the Richieverse, the Planet Earth has more money. Much more money. And at least 99 percent of it is held by this one family. It was always pretty clear to me that everyone on the planet Earth except criminals are working and earning at the sufferance of the Rich family. On one hand, how do the Riches sleep at night knowing that there are poor people? Good Christ, they could afford to pay them just for the task of not being on their guilty conciences. On the OTHER hand, I understand perfectly well why there are so many criminals in the Richiverse. These people are FREEDOM FIGHTERS. I figure that Richard Rich Sr. just lets the world run itself and elect officials just to help draw assassination attempts away from him and his family. Let's also keep in mind that the Riches also have various distant relatives here and there who also have golden, jewel-encrusted toothpicks and napkins. This is quite an organization. The Rich family is basically the World Bank.
I figure Richie hangs out with Dot and Lotta and Gloria and that poor-seeming friend of his whose name I can't recall (Freckles and Pee-Wee Friendly, reminds my wife) because these children are the only ones who passed the extensive security checks. One can only imagine what sort of benefits these kids' parents are secretly drawing for letting their kids hang out at the Rich compund/estate which is, at all times, crawling with Freedom Fighters looking to do some kidnapping, theft, or corporate espionage. Or international espionage. When your dad is the World Bank, all espionage is both corporate and international.
Which brings us to Hot Stuff, that wacky little minion of, presumably, his infernal majesty. What the hell is that about? Not since C.S.Lewis's The Screwtape Letters was the demon himself anything even remotely like the protagonist. Witchcraft has long had an ambivilent place in children's pop culture, with ghosts not far behind... after all, ghosts are just dead people, and good people can die as well as bad. But Hot Stuff? I mean... a cute little devil-imp?
Let's look at some non-Harvey Comic Book antecendents.
1. That Millionaire Boy's Club that ran in DC's Famous First Issues thing for like two issues. 2. Sabrina, as mentioned. 3. Spawn. 4. The Spectre? 5. Bruce Wayne, one of the first heroes to fight crime with the power of his corporate bankbook behind him. 6. Ambush Bug. I keep seeing that page where Lil' Bug finds money in the tree trunk... 7. Vertigo. There's lots of crossovers with the magical characters and the non-magical characters but not between... mostly by editorial agreement that it would interfere with the mood of each world (like the window of disbelief isn't already so open that a little more wouldn't hurt). 8. Barb says Transmet, after hearing the above Rich Rant.
Again I reiterate: these comics were omnipresent. Once as a child I was on vacation and I was given a comic book by the airline (American, I want to say?) of Casper and Friends... It was a free giveaway on behalf of UNICEF, actually.
Final question: What's with those feet? Look at Richie Rich's feet. He's got feet like an elephant. He has no ankles. He doesn't exactly have toes. He has, of course, no visible neck per se. His nose is merely a squiggle so as not to ruin the gourd-like roundness of his head. He has no WRISTS. His fingers and hands are painfully dispoportionate with the rest of his body (well, his head particularly). Yet he always wears shorts. Black shorts. It usually doesn't depend on the weather, as far as I recall (I have no Harvey Comics in front of me to which to refer).
So. We've got a universe with at least 4 times more wealth, where witchcraft, magic, and the undead are mildly plentiful, as apparently are demons. Children's anatomy is consistently freakish. On the other hand, it follows a lot of normal comicbook rules. Crossovers between the magical world and the Rich world are not seen, but other than that, there are lots of crossovers on each side of The Friendly Magic Universe Wall. Guest shots lead to spin-off solo stories for various characters. Stories are self-contained for the most part but ARE sometimes are broken down into chapters.
Unlike other comic-book companies, these ghosts and witches and economic dictators were never seen as offensive by American parents. Was it some strange cultural blind spot? Did Richie represent this combination of Kennedy and little John-John? Was Hot Stuff a subconcious symbol for Nixon? Were Wendy and Lotta and Dot manifestations of ERA? Was Casper the volks-spirit of American feelings of isolation in the middle of the cold war?
Return to the Silver Age my ass. When we can convince parents to look at comic books as THIS safe again, we'll be fine.
Next time: why does Casper's little cousin smoke a cigar and wear a derby? And have a girlfriend? Is Lotta gay or what? Why the obsession with Dots? Is it obsessive-compulsive? What's with the Ghostly Trio? What's with Wendy's three aunts? Why is Hot Stuff in diapers? Does anyone remember Lil' Audrey's schtick?
The mind boggles. That's it for this time-- please look forward to next time...