By Robert Lamberti
Casper the Friendly Ghost and Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Wendy the Friendly Witch and Baby Huey. They’re just a few of the famous titles that made Harvey Comics a household name decades ago.
Founded in the 1940s by Alfred Harvey who was then followed into the business by brothers Robert and Leon, they specialized on funny character and teen humour comics that survived until the 1990s. A few titles appeared in the 2000s, but not until after litigation over copyright issues.
It’s a label that seems to garner fluctuating attention among super-hero obsessed collectors. The smart ones however keep a watchful eye for any sightings among Harvey’s stable of crime and super-hero titles, including characters such as Black Cat, B-Man, Dick Tracy, Fighting American, and Fly-Man.
Other key titles with the Harvey label include what are among the most coveted books: Harvey Comics Hits, Harvey Comics Library and Harvey Hits.
Harvey Comics Library was a short-lived, two-issue title. Number 1 however garnered the attention of the anti-comic crusade of the now discredited Dr. Fredric Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent: Teen-age Dope Slaves as exposed by Rex Morgan, M.D. The comic guides for about $3,600 US in Near Mint.
Harvey Comics Hits ran for 12 issues starting at Number 51, and included a number of licenced characters such as The Phantom, Steven Canyon, Mandrake the Magician, Mary Worth, and Rip Kirby with art by Alex Raymond. The most sought after issues of this title are number 60 and 61, which boasts the third appearance of Baby Huey and the second appearance of Casper, and first appearances of Herman and Catnip and Buzzy the Crow.
Joe Palooka by Ham Fisher ran for 118 issues under the Harvey imprint between November 1945 and March 1961, with numerous appearances in other comic titles. A key Harvey item would be Joe Palooka visits the Lost City, a one-shot publication printed in 1945 with 164 pages. It reprinted the Palooka strips and was probably the longest comic story printed in the era, according to the Overstreet Price Guide. It retails for about $3,500 in Near Mint.
Harvey’s horror comics were inspired by the times, an era of no-holds barred violence and icky tales of fright until the Comics Code Authority became the arbitrator of taste in 1954. They included titles such as Chamber of Chills (which later became Chamber of Clues), Witches Tales and Tomb of Terror.
Chamber of Chills ran in a confusing way, numbered from issue 21, which is really number 1, to 26 between 1951 and 1954. It was Blondie Comics previously and then a short two-issue run of Chamber of Clues, numbers 27 and 28. (It was cheaper to change the title of an existing that it was to create a new title with licencing authorities.) This run made it’s, ahem, mark as they were cited for excessive violence, everything from melting people to the atomic bomb.
Of course they control a significant amount of interest among collectors of horror books.
Tomb of Terror, like Chamber of Chills, contained violent story lines that ran for 16 issues between 1952 and ’54. And like Chamber of Chills, highly coveted by collectors. With number 17, it became Thrills of Tomorrow, a four-issue run until 1955,
A key book among Harvey’s non-funny character titles is Captain 3-D, a one-shot edition that contains the third published work by comic artist Steve Ditko, along with work other comic artist giants, Jack Kirby and Mort Meskin.
Harvey pumped out quite a few titles during its existence but I remember them mostly for the funny books, and in particular Sad Sack. Like the other funny books, there were numerous offshoots to the Sad Sack line. The character created by Sgt. George Baker appeared in comic strips in Yank, the newspaper for the U.S. Army, in 1942. Sack first appeared in comic book format in True 55, in 1946. It was only a short half-page strip but it would launch the fumbling G.I.’s career that lasted decades.
Harvey Comics’ Sad Sack Comics ran for 291 issues between 1949 and 1993, and the character was the basis for the 1957 movie The Sad Sack starring Jerry Lewis. The early issues had him eking out a civilian life, but with issue 22, he returned to the army and stayed there. Number 1, which also contains the first appearance of Little Dot, retails for about $3,500 U.S. in Near Mint. But for aficionados of the character, his dog Muttsy, Sarge, his cousin Saddie Sack and uncle Sod Sack, there should be plenty of reasonably priced low-grade books around.
Harvey Comics aren’t often on the top of collectors’ lists, but the funny titles are readily recognizable and adored by the older crowd, especially if they’re cheap because for them grade is secondary to the stories and memories.
But there is quiet but fairly strong interest in the horror, sci-fi and licenced material, like Dick Tracy. Whenever I had them for sale, there was always one in the buying crowd who’d stop, look and walk away happy with book that wasn’t on their want list.