HARVEY COMICSPrimary Product: Comic Books
Producing Since: 1941
Noted For: Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Little Dot, Little Audrey, and more.
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In the early 1940s, Harvey Comics (founded by brothers Leon, Robert and Alfred Harvey) was a very small, but otherwise very typical comic book publisher. It started by acquiring a two-year-old
faltering title, Speed Comics, from an even smaller publisher, Brookwood Publications. Speed was a typical comic of the time, an anthology title headed up by superheroes — in this case, Shock Gibson, Captain Freedom (a flag-wearing type like Captain America or The Shield), and others equally memorable. Other anthologies Harvey added to its line, Champion Comics and Pocket Comics, were similar, except they didn't last as long. The only character to come out of them that hung around any great length of time was The Black Cat, a Hollywood starlet who became a sexy superhero — she lasted into the 1950s.
In 1942, Harvey took over publication of The Green Hornet, which starred a radio hero who seemed made for comics. (The first half-dozen issues had been published by Holyoke, another minor player in the comics field.) This was its first foray into licensed characters, which it began to pursue seriously in the late '40s. By 1950, licensed titles formed the bulk of its output. These included regular comics about Joe Palooka, Blondie, Dick Tracy, and other stars of newspaper strips, some of which lasted until well into the 1960s.
It was 1951 before the company licensed the characters of Famous Studios (Baby Huey, Casper the Friendly Ghost, et al.), and that's when it finally found its niche. Before long, it was releasing characters of its own along the same lines — Wendy the Good Little Witch, Richie Rich, Little Dot There were half-hearted attempts to diversify in the mid-1950s, early '60s and mid-'60s, but the oddball kid characters have been Harvey's mainstay from that day to this.
In 1959, the publisher stopped licensing the Famous Studios characters, and simply bought them outright. In 1963, it started making cartoons of its own — Harveytoons, with Casper as their main character, have been televised sporadically ever since. By 1967, the licensed titles were phased out, and Harvey was doing nothing but its own characters.
By the 1980s, comic book sales in general were down, especially for publishers that didn't have well established superheroes on the market. Harvey suspended publication from 1982-86. During this period, there was even talk of licensing its own characters out to Marvel Comics. When the comics returned, there weren't as many of them, but they still managed to hang on until the mid-1990s. Following a 1989 change in ownership (in which the Harvey family retained ownership of only two characters, The Black Cat and Sad Sack), the company (now re-named The Harvey Entertainment Company) went through another flurry of publishing properties licensed from other companies. Among their licensors were Hanna-Barbera and MGM. This lasted only a couple of years, however, and since then they've dealt only with their own characters.
Today, the Harvey comics are once again dormant. The characters occasionally turn up in movies, e.g., Richie Rich in 1994 and Casper in 1995. There was a spate of syndicated TV animated versions in the mid-1990s, as well as several direct-to-video movies in the late '90s. The company has ambitious plans for new movies and TV series featuring the old characters, as well as a new one here and there, but we shall see what comes of this.
Harvey Comics articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: