PS Publishing has just released ‘Black Cat Mysteries’, a Harvey Comics anthology for which I’ve just written the forward. In the 1950s, EC Comics caused a sensation for their horrific content after Dr Fredric Wertham published damning pieces about the corruption of innocents, and there was a moral panic.
Wertham described comic books as ‘cheap, shoddy, anonymous. Children spend their good money for bad paper, bad English and…bad drawing’, but then he also thought that Wonder Woman’s independent streak made her a lesbian.
My mother had let me read the ECs because there were stories by Ray Bradbury, whom she recognised as a serious writer. Of course, this was in the sixties, when they finally reached England, and anyway, nobody in our country seemed to mind about them at all.
I had started my first horror phase, sending away for shorts of films like ‘The Giant Claw’. I had an 8mm projector and gave horror film shows even though the bloody thing kept giving me electric shocks because it was improperly earthed.
Eventually the film arrived, and it was a fifteen minute cut-down of the feature, AND it was black and white, AND it was god-awful because it featured cheap model jets firing sparklers at a goggle-eyed puppet with highly visible strings that belonged on a cancelled kiddie show.
I turned to comics and found Harvey, featuring Baby Huey, a stupid giant yellow duck in a nappy. When this character proved unsatisfying I switched to Hot Stuff The Little Devil, Little Dot, Casper and Wendy, Sad Sack, and Richie Rich, the adventures of a grotesquely wealthy blond boy who was forever carting around wheelbarrows full of giant diamonds. Even at an early age, I knew this comic was wrong.
But Harvey had a dirty little secret. They published horror comics that somehow had snuck themselves onto the wire rack at my local tobacconists. And although the art wasn’t as singular as the EC comics, they had madder stories about killer scorpions and attacking jelly-people and talking shrunken heads. And somewhere in each story was a screaming blonde in a wired brassiere and some kind of complicated corsetry that looked like it could only be removed with a chainsaw. And there was a weird use of slang that was dated long before it appeared in the comics. When the hero of ‘Walking Dead’ had an eye operation, his barman said ‘I’m glad the sawbones fixed you up with new peepers.’
Harvey attempted no realism. They favoured killer moths and skeleton cowboys. Nobody in their stories had any redeeming qualities at all. Men chased after their own weight in gold or hotter women than their nagging wives. Women were there to be tied up, drowned, fed to beasts, sold to the Devil or slowly stripped by mad doctors and killer apes.
Even the ads were weirder in Harvey’s world: 20 perfume vials for $2.00! A horrible description of the spread of Athlete’s Foot! And in issue 33 of Black Cat Mystery there’s an ad for switchblades and roses. I mean, WTF?
Sometimes you just don’t want to be preached to. You want honest-to-goodness wrong-end-of-town low-rent what-have-I-got-myself-into smut and cruelty. You want old hags chucking screaming accountants into open graves, and voodoo rituals and half-naked girls screaming ‘Aieeeee!’ as sinister priests bear down on them with big wiggly knives, and that’s what Harvey gave you.I popped my peepers on that artwork and it looked like it was going to leave filthy marks on my brain.
It’s good to have the series back.