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June 29, 2012


Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Richie Rich Million Dollar Digest

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We had enough comics around the house when I was a kid in the 1970s that reading comics could be said to be a primary kids activity within the house. When other kids came over to visit, they might read comics with us. When we were bored, we might be told to read comics. When we were in front of the television watching a movie or a favorite show, that might also mean we were reading comics. We had to be told not to take them to the dinner table, and only if there was something going on that made that meal something other than a standard one -- otherwise, we read them there, too. In terms of our generally paying attention to comics, the 1980s changed little. But comics shops and our becoming adults and their increased price and even quality meant we placed more significant attention on each individual comic book as something we might read in a very specific way.

Harvey Comics were the last comics in our house to resist that transformation. Those things were just around, it seemed like, well past the time when we might have been interested in the content of the comics themselves as anything more than a goof or way to pass a few minutes. If the Marvel and independent comics we owned were read the moment we got home and then re-read over the next couple of days before being put with the other comics of that type we had, the Harveys were read whenever the hell we got to them and spent the time between readings in giant piles that sort of changed and sort of didn't; they were comics that seemed to exist without our ever having purchased them. They didn't live in bags and boards; these were the comics in cabinets and drawers, perhaps piled on top of the Fisher Price stuff that somehow avoided the annual family garage sale. It's a very different reading experience, just having a bunch of comics that you might power through, completely oblivious to when they came out or in what order they existed or, really, to anything inside the covers other than the temporary distraction they provided. I would like to say that my brothers and I had a highly refined aesthetic palate when it cames to these comics, but that would be a total lie. I sure hope there was no Good Richie Rich Artist whose sussing out was dependent on the Spurgeon household, because if that's the case we have done the art form a grave disservice.

This particular series whose covers I recall were digests, which was an interesting form for comics at that time: a sign, I think, of the bottoming out that almost famously cracked the industry into not-to-be-recovered pieces. I think of digests in terms of Archie, but both DC and Harvey put some effort into publishing books like these, better-bang-for-buck and more-bucks-per-racking-exposure-inch issuances that could be sold in newsstands with Reader's Digest and TV Guide. It was a nice format for little kids and for really forcing one to focus in on the work; it wasn't always easy to tell what was going on with comics at that size, even ones as clear as the Harvey stuff. If there's any hangover to taking in so many comics of this type in addition to those from the mainstream model that was slowly transforming itself in the 1980s, it's that it maybe made humor comics easier to parse later on, not such a break with the "established" way of doing things. You don't get new comics that serve this particular function anymore, at least I don't think you do, but that function didn't depend on the comics being new. I imagine there are piles of comics out there in more homes than we think, and that some of those stacks may include these exact same books.
 
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