Invisible Ink: No 95 - Harvey Comics


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The Independent Culture

In the 1950s, EC Comics adapted horror, science fiction and suspense stories from authors such as Ray Bradbury, and were accused of damaging young minds by Dr Fredric Wertham.

The United States was having one of its periodic piques about the moral disintegration of the nation's youth, and Wertham described comic books as "bad paper, bad English and bad drawing". But then, he also thought that Wonder Woman's independent streak made her a lesbian. Just as parents were having fits about their kids reading pernicious muck, along came Harvey.

Harvey Comics featured Hot Stuff the Little Devil, Little Dot, Casper and Wendy, Sad Sack, and Richie Rich, a grotesquely wealthy blond boy who was forever carting around wheelbarrows full of giant diamonds. But they also had a dirty little secret: they published horror comics, and although the art wasn't as elegant as EC's, they had madder stories about killer scorpions and attacking jelly-people and talking shrunken heads. Somewhere in each tale was a screaming blonde in a wired brassiere and complicated corsetry, and a weird use of dated slang. When the hero of Walking Dead had an eye operation, his barman said: "I'm glad the sawbones fixed you up with new peepers."

In Grave On The Green, a man had a golf ball smash a huge hole in his skull. Further in was the murderer with green gloves crying: "Let the green gloves fill your powerless brain with madness and hatred!"

Where EC could be thoughtful and artistic, Harvey was crass, lurid and hysterical. Hardly a page went by without someone being attacked or going mad. And by some weird accident, they sometimes caught the sense of graveyard-reeking insanity that the great Gothic Victorian writers sought.

Not often, though. Harvey Comics were more interested in killer moths and skeleton cowboys. Nobody in their stories had any redeeming qualities. Men chased after their own weight in gold and hotter women than their nagging wives. Women lied and cheated, or were tied up, drowned, fed to beasts, sold to the Devil, or slowly stripped by mad doctors and killer apes. Kids wanted old hags chucking screaming accountants into open graves, voodoo rituals and half-naked girls screaming "Aieeeee!" as sinister priests bore down on them with big wiggly knives – and that's what Harvey gave them, courtesy of its anonymous authors. After half a century of invisibility, the whole collection is returning in beautiful slipcased editions from PS Artbooks.