Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
Harvey Comics was an American comic book publisher, founded in New York City by Alfred Harvey in 1941, after buying out the small publisher Brookwood Publications. His brothers, Robert B. and Leon Harvey, joined shortly after. From the Comic Book Historians Podcast, Alex Grand and Jim Thompson discuss the history of Harvey Comics with the grandson of Leon Harvey, Jonny Harvey, documentary filmmaker. From Harvey Comics’s humble beginnings in 1939, Al Harvey started Harvey comics from a business deal with Irving Manheimer and Worth Carnahan. His two brother’s, Robert and Leon Harvey joined and this family found success licensing characters for comics like the Green Hornet, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon and Paramount Picture’s Casper the Friendly Ghost. Harvey developed Casper into what we know today and also created original characters like Richie Rich. In 1958, Harvey purchased the rights to Casper, and got more characters like Hot Stuff printing comics for young kids. Despite its huge pop cultural success, The Harvey Family ceased publishing comics, and then sold the company in 1989.
How did this mighty empire collapse and leave us the legacy of Casper the Friendly Ghost?
#HarveyComics #Harvey #ComicBooks #Casper #HotStuff #superheroes #superhero #LeonHarvey #AlHarvey #JackKirby #JoeSimon
🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians, Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
A Brief History of Harvey Comics – Harvey Comics Legacy – Jonny Harvey Interview
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Harvey Descendant & Documentary Filmmaker
00:00:22 Comics in our generation
00:01:33 Harvey acquiring Speed and Champion Comics
00:04:00 Irving Manheimer, Green Hornet Comics, Holyoke
00:05:55 War Pamphlet Material Comic Book
00:07:40 Boys’ Ranch, Boy Explorers
00:09:19 Boy Commandos, Black Cat, Trina Robbins
00:10:55 Sid Jacobson, EC Comics
00:13:04 Licensing popular strips | Victor S. Fox, Fox Comics
00:14:54 Harvey and The Comics Code?
00:19:54 Adopting Hot Stuff
00:20:54 Famous Studios and getting the Casper
00:24:57 The 60s, 3D Comics
00:27:20 Harvey Thriller Line, 1965-67
00:29:14 Richie Rich character, Original Harvey Creation
00:33:00 The 70s, Peak for Harvey in 1974
00:34:48 Family business succession, Infighting
00:37:17 Stopped publication 1982 & Restructured in 1986
00:39:11 Deal with Marvel | Tom Defalco, Sid Jacobson
00:43:59 Star Comics: Harvey Operation
00:44:52 Royal Roy didn’t catch well?
00:47:23 1984 Steve Geppi paid 50k for Harvey’s original art
00:50:17 1987 Harvey sued Colombia over Ghostbusters logo
00:52:10 1989 Harvey sold to HMH Communications | End of Harvey family involvement
00:52:54 Casper movie, 1995 | CGI Protagonist
00:53:49 Geico – Casper Commercial
00:54:43 Ghost Empire: The Forgotten Story of Harvey Comics
00:59:22 Truly family-owned and run business
01:01:10 Mini-series vs Documentary
01:02:52 Everyone in the comic book was a character
01:04:13 American Splendor, 2003 is a film about Harvey Pekar
01:05:24 Ernie Colón
01:06:16 People I interviewed | Nightmare character
01:10:34 What’s the status of Ghost Empire documentary
01:12:49 Did your family unify on this?
01:15:44 When you release Documentary?
01:16:35 Wrapping up
#HarveyComics #JonnyHarvey #GhostEmpire #Casper #GhostEmpireDocumentary
#HarveyComicsHistory #ComicHistorian #ComicBookHistorians #CBHInterviews
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex: Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, I’m Alex Grand with my co-host, Jim Thompson. Today we’re going to discuss Harvey Comics. First, a quick background, now, Worth Carnahan published Champion Comics, and Joe Simon’s friend, Al Harvey acquired Speed and Champion Comics, which was a starting off point for Harvey Comics. After his two brothers Robert and Leon Harvey joined, they found success, licensing characters for comics, starting with the Green Hornet, then Blondie, Dick Tracy. Then in the 1950s, got another licensing contract with Famous Studios, under Paramount with Casper the Friendly Ghost, and they developed original characters like Richie Rich.
In ’58, Harvey purchased Famous Studios’ cartoon characters like Casper, and got more characters like Hot Stuff, printing comics of these characters. After a few decades Harvey seized publication in 1982, and was sold to Jeffrey Montgomery’s HMH Communications in 1989.
So today, we’re glad to have Jonny Harvey, a true Harvey in the legacy of Harveys, who will be at Wizard World Comic Con, New Orleans, January 3rd to 5th, doing a panel on Harvey Comics and talking about his documentary the Ghost Empire; check put their programming schedule online, to find the day and time, at WizardWorld.com.
Jonny, thanks for joining us today.
Harvey: Thanks for having me, guys.
Jim: Hi, Jonny… Harvey is not always on everybody’s mind, and Alex, let me as you a question first. Casper was dead by the time you were into reading comics? I mean he was dead and gone.
Alex: I was reading comics in… ‘86 is when I started reading. I was watching reruns of Casper cartoons, not really reading Casper comics, yeah.
Jim: And Richie Rich, none of those had a big imprint on you as a kid, right?
Alex: Well, Richie Rich did, as a cartoon, but not as a comic book. I was watching the cartoons but I was not anywhere near a Richie Rich or a Casper comic book. That’s true.
Jim: So, for my generation, this was the comics. I mean, I bought five different Sad Sack titles per month. I was buying, Richie Rich Zillionz, and Millions, and Billons, all of the different titles, Casper, all of that. There was a time, somewhere in between Archie, and then Marvel and DC, where that was my kids’ comics. And I think there’s a listener base out there that that’s we’re coming to when they hear, “Oh, we’re talking about Harvey.”
There’s an older generation that’s going to be more interested in… The collector base that’s going to be interested in Boys’ Ranch, and Stuntman… God, especially Stuntman, because those two issues are just glorious, and the stories in there.
Before we get in to your project, which is fascinating, you know what you’ve learned about the history of Harvey Comics, from beginning to the end, basically.
Alex: Something I’m curious about is, what’s your knowledge of how Al Harvey, acquired Speed and Champion Comics, through Worth Carnaham Publishing? Because he didn’t have the money to buy it, right?
Alex: How did he acquire that? What exactly happened there?
Harvey: So, to back up a minute, Al Harvey, who’s my grand uncle; he was the mover, the shaker, the visionary of the company. He was working at Fox Comics which you guys probably know very well, as the place where Joe Simon had really started developing skills. I was told that he actually was the one that set up here Joe Simon really started developing his skills. I was told that he actually was the one that set up Simon and Kirby, as partners.
Alex: Yeah, he did… And he met (Jack) Kirby at Fox.
Alex: They actually met there. And (Victor) Fox himself was the first King of Comics. He was self-proclaimed.
Harvey: Self-proclaimed. Yes, the king of comics… The three of them, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Al, developed a very, very strong friendship. Especially Joe and Al. Alfred, was working at Fox, and then decided he wanted to start his own publishing house because he realized that that was where the money was. It wasn’t in creating the comics, it wasn’t kind of being in the bullpen. It was actually owning, or at least owning the operation of a comic book company.
So, he actually, with the help of Joe Simon, even though Joe Simon was working for other publishers at the time, Joe Simon would secretly help Al under pseudonyms to get their comics off the ground. But he didn’t really have any money. He was a son of Jewish Russian immigrants. He didn’t have much to his name at all. But he was working with a guy named Irving Manheimer and Irving Manheimer gave him like $200 which seems like nothing today, but gave $200 to buy, I believe, that was Speed and Champ.
He was able to do some of those characters from that, and he also owned I think, the Green Hornet. So, he was like, “Can you guys also do the Green Hornet Comics?” I think they started somewhere around like Green Hornet #6 or #7, or something like that. Like Holyoke maybe had the title or was licensing the title.
Jim: Yes, that’s right… And that was the first licensed property, right?
Harvey: I think so.
Alex: It is. It’s their first license, yeah
Harvey: Yeah. Yeah. From what I understand… A lot of the stuff like… It’s funny because I’m learning stuff every day.
I think that was their first license property. And then they started two lines, called Pocket and Spitfire. Pocket was literally a pocket-sized comic book, that was kind of an innovative thing that Al though of. And he literally kind of cut the thing in half… It’s just some an easier way to kind of digest the comic book and it would literally fit in their pocket.
Alex: And later, like in the Digest, that works out great. Back then, the newsstands, it would fall behind a bigger comic, and not be seen. That was the problem with that.
Harvey: Yeah, that was one problem, and then they also kept getting stolen. They’re really easy to steal, I heard. So yeah, it was like a really brilliant idea, that I guess was a little too soon. Or like wasn’t really well thought out.
So, yes, they were doing those lines but then they started, like when they were doing Green Hornet, they started licensing really, really famous characters from the syndicated strips. Alfred, meanwhile… 1941 America gets to drawn into World War II… Like a lot of comic book publishers, a lot of the big artists, and writers, and big name syndicated strip people went to the Pentagon to create war pamphlet material, comic book material, for the war effort. Whether that’s for propaganda or just informational manuals and pamphlets. Like teach somebody how to change out the rifle or cleaning the latrines or, things that…
Considering a lot of people in the war who were enlisted couldn’t speak English or read English, they were illiterate, immigrants of other countries, or what have you. It was a way for them to actually learn these things through the use of the pictures. That’s really what comic books are about. And so, Al met all these people there… George Baker, who was in Sad Sack, and a lot of different artists, at his time, at the Pentagon.
While he was literally at the Pentagon, Harvey Comics was still going. And so, he actually asked my grandfather Leon, who had studied art at Pratt, to kind of steer the ship in his stead. And so, Leon was pretty much the acting president while Alfred was there; and Alfred was just in DC so he’d be able to come back, every now and then, to just check on the business and do things.
I don’t think that Leon was doing anything crazy during that time. I think he was just kind of status quo like, “Let’s just get these books out.” Al was actually developing all these amazing relationships, especially with people at the Pentagon. Because after the war ended, everybody came back, and then there was a flood of all these new comic publishers that just hit the market.
But Al had connection to paper because the US government was controlling a lot of resources in America at the time, and one of which was paper. And so, Al had all these connections to paper, and Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby, were working for other people… I think they were working for Timely at the time, we now know as Marvel…
They were asking Al, “When are you going to get paper? When are you going to get paper? We want to publish these books, and Timely doesn’t want to do it.” And all of a sudden, he got access to paper and I think they put out stuff like Boys Ranch, and Boy Explorer, and a bunch of other books that people look back on. Even Joe had mentioned it in his biography that he felt like Boy Explorer and Boys Ranch were the best works that they had ever done. But I just don’t think they really were a hit. I’m just not sure that the market was flooded with all these different western books, and all these different adventure books. And it just was something that I guess didn’t take off in a way that they hoped.
But in hindsight though, yourself and a lot of other historians would consider that, some of Joe Simon gold right there.
Alex: I love Boys Ranch. I think it’s a like a preclude to even X-Men and stuff. I think Kirby brought some of the group dynamic that he had with Joe Simon, over to the X-Men books.
That’s 1950s, now you’re in the time frame of late ‘40s, kind of 1950s, okay.
Jim: We got to be fair that Simon – Kirby were doing, Newsboy Legion, and Boy Commandos, and all those, before he did Boys Ranch.
Alex: That’s right. And that was before his draft.
Harvey: Yeah, the Commandos was really successful. I don’t know which of like the four books that they were printing the Commandos was in. They were doing Black Cat, of course. I think Joe Simon actually did some of the cover art. Lee Elias was the main cover art guy.
But during the war, it was interesting, because I recently learned that if you talk to Trina Robbins, who’s a really big… She calls herself a herstorian of women in comics. She has a great book called Babes In Arms, and it talks about all these women. Of course, all these men, went to the Pentagon to create all that material for the war effort, so a lot of women in all these industry jobs in America kind of stepped up and taken the men’s jobs, and doing whatever it was.
There was a handful of women that were in comic books at the time, and two of the four women she features in her book actually worked for Harvey; Jill Elgin and Barbara Hall. And both of them are working on Black Cat, and it’s really interesting because Trina would argue that women actually draw women better than men draw women, for whatever reason. If you look at some of that Black Cat artwork, you can clearly kind of tell, it was drawn by a woman. Even though some of the covers, I think were still by Lee, and I think Joe Simon definitely did at least one.
So yeah, I mean, it was kind of interesting. They were really working with some talented artists at the time…
Jim: And then when you get to the horror stuff, they had the best stable of artists, except for EC probably. They were producing the quality stuff alternative to EC Comics, during that period.
But much, much more graphic and darker. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Harvey: I guess Sid Jacobson who was an editor for Harvey for a while almost kind of like, you know, became kind of like “the guy”. He started, I believe, doing the horror and the thriller books, and he loved it. He was like obsessed with it. He was like gory, and it was violent, and he didn’t really like… They were doing all those war books as well, but the horror, he just loved. And he really tried to emulate the EC line. Because EC at the time was the premier horror comic line.
And so really, they saw EC as the standard, and they tried to emulate that. And I think, if you look at some of the stuff, it really is up there like some of the top quality, at that time.
Alex: One thing I would say though, is that EC was almost, through Al Feldstein was almost unnecessarily gory.
Alex: Cutting off women’s heads and things. Whereas the Harvey stuff, they didn’t get that trashy about it. I think they were kind of a classy horror, if I were to make a comparison like that.
Harvey: Yeah, I think so. Even Black Cat, there was Black Cat Mystery, and I think there was some really gory stuff in there but they did it in a very classy way that still kind of felt like it was a Black Cat story. Of course, this was all pre-Comic Code. The Laws of Comics were very different in the ‘40s. So, yeah, they were doing a lot of that but at the same time, they were licensing really popular syndicated strips like Joe Palooka, and they were doing Flash Gordon, which is kind of weird to say that Harvey was doing Flash Gordon like, “What? That’s kind of an interesting one.” I mean they were doing Dick Tracy then they were doing Kerry Drake. They even did like a Babe Ruth comic.
They were licensing very popular names, and having a lot of success with it; Blondie and Dagwood, Terry and the Pirates. And it was the main artist and writers of the strips. Al was the kind of guy that made crazy deals with people, and bring them in. And sometimes, they’d split profits straight down the middle, 50-50.
Alex: He was a fair guy then, you would say, when it comes to those business deals.
Harvey: I think so. I mean, I think he worked at Fox Comics… And Victor Fox was a notorious business man. He was somebody that treated people like scum, I think Al saw that, and realized, “I could treat people a little bit better… It’ll be mutually beneficial for everybody. We’ll all get money, and we’ll get more popular and be able to build our brand name.” And I think he was right, because 10 years later, they were able to start licensing deals with Paramount in their Famous Studios, and they were starting Little Audrey, and they started doing Casper, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip.
And then by the time they had been doing those characters, just their licensing for a handful of years, opportunity sprung and they were able to buy those characters. And then Harvey just exploded on the map with the television shows.
Alex: So, licensing was like their golden goose, pretty much.
Harvey: I think so. I think his relationships with all these publishers, whether it was King Features (Syndicate) or the actual artists themselves, if they had negotiated good deals. Yeah, I think that they were really drawn to Harvey to an extent.
Jim: I want to ask you a question, coming off of the horror stuff a little bit. The Comics Code, where was Harvey in relation to that. Did they embrace it as a way to better compete against things, like EC? Like other companies did. Or were they one of the ones that were resistant to that kind of control and censorship.
Harvey: As the hearings were happening with (Frederic) Wertham, I think that Harvey was very much like, “What’s the path towards least resistance?” They had a very eclectic catalog of things. They were doing Sad Sack which, interestingly enough, the senator from Indiana called Sad Sack, socialist propaganda. The attack on comic books was not simply because the comic books were gory and making children deviant by reading their books before they even before they even understood what the word deviant meant.
It was more broad than that. It was like any ideology that people didn’t agree with, they would blame these comic books. And so, I think that Harvey… I like to call these guys, the Comic Godfathers. Dell didn’t want anything to do with it because they were doing the Disney stuff. And Archie, Marvel, DC and Harvey, they came together as a group, and they were like, “Look, how can we survive together?”
Fortunately, Harvey was licensing those Paramount characters that we know of Harvey today, of Casper and Little Audrey. And I think that they realized it. Those characters were very popular and they could double down on those characters, and have a couple other titles that made sense for them.
Alex: Which is good to not have all your eggs in one basket. That’s a lesson there.
Jim: So, the Comics Code really was partly responsible for the directions that Harvey went into, in order to survive.
Harvey: Yeah, my grandfather was appointed the Treasurer of the Comics Magazine Association, I mean, they were right there in the
Jim: Oh, they were in it then. Yeah. That’s interesting.
Harvey: Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t say that they were (Louis) Silberkleit…
Alex: He’s an Archie guy, yeah.
Harvey: Yeah. I think he was the head of the thing. This was a close community of people, they all wanted to succeed together, and I think that they realize that they can all carve out their niche. Harvey was for the youngest of kids, by the time they have carved this niche out. They were attracting kids from, at the time they were learning to read at age four, through maybe early middle school, when you’re 10 or 11 years old, if you’re still reading some of the Richie Rich stuff.
And then you would graduate into something a little bit more mature. If you were a girl, typically, you would graduate to the Archie books. If you were a guy, typically, go would go to the Marvel-DC stuff. Which I understand, the DC stuff was more mature than the Marvel stuff at one point, and then the Marvel stuff was a little bit more mature than the DC stuff at one point. So, I think it just depended on what you gravitated towards as a kid.
As a reader, Jim, for the audience members that may not know, we actually interviewed you for the documentary to give a little historical context about where Harvey fit. And you had kind of mentioned that the Tweety Bird… You were obsessed by the cartoons but when it came to comics as a kid, you were obsessed with Harvey Comics.
Harvey: And I think there are a lot of people your age that really, for some reason, fell in love with the fantasy world that they created.
Jim: Well, one aspect of it was, during the Comics Code era, this was the only place you could get that kind of supernatural mythos. Yes, it was silly in a lot of ways, but there were horrific ghosts, the three uncles of Casper’s, the Ghostly Trio. And Wendy the Good Witch… you didn’t have a whole lot of witches, until later, when DC with (Joe) Orlando comes out with House of Mystery. But at this point, you had Hot Stuff which is a demon from hell.
Those things weren’t available… I mean, yeah, he didn’t have Zombie Boy, and you didn’t have a Little Vampire but the rest of it, the horror things, you had most of those, and I was really… And Stumbo the Giant, there were so many… And the Psychotic… I mean, if there was ever a serial killer in comics, it was probably Little Dot because he’s insane.
Harvey: [laughs] That’s the first time I’ve heard that.
Jim: So, for me it was fascinating.
Harvey: And I love it.
Alex: But that’s interesting that Hot Stuff would slip past the Comics Code, but I guess it was such under a kid friendly veneer, it just got through. I guess that was it.
Harvey: Yeah, and I think that Hot Stuff is just the kind of character that like Spooky, kind of felt like he needed to, with a stick, kind of poke and prod people and cause a little trouble, and I think he would learn lessons through the means of starting problems.
Alex: Yeah, that was one of those code requirements there, that if something happens, there ought to be some consequence or lesson out of it.
Jim: I mean, like that was how it would appear on the surface, but the hell’s angels and motorcycles gangs and things were adapting Hot Stuff as an emblem on leather jackets and on motorcycles and things.
Harvey: [chuckle] Still a very popular tattoo today.
Jim: So, it’s subversive in its own way… Okay, we’re in the ‘50s to the ‘60s. Harvey’s hit on television huge…
Alex: Do you know anything about Harvey’s relationship with Famous Studios and getting the Casper license? Tell us about that because I’m really curious
Harvey: Yeah, and we’re really going to lay this out really well on the doc. I’m really excited for this because this was some of the most confusing history that I’ve ever… How confusing the story was, this was one of the most confusing things.
Essentially, they were really strong anti-trust laws in this country. Believe it or not, there were not three companies that owned the entire media situation in America like it is today. In the ‘50s. Paramount produced and distributed… They had vertical integration, pretty much, with all of their stuff. With their cartoons, they were able to put it in their own movie theaters. That was a huge no-no, and there were all these studios that were kind of doing the same practice, but Paramount in particular was being singled out, and Harvey have been licensing their comic books.
Now, TV was just really getting in to the scene, in the late ‘40s, and ‘50s in a real big way. They really challenged the movie industry as a whole. And Paramount wanted these characters on television in some way, because they had a little imprint. And they thought, “Okay, Harvey has been doing our books. They’ve started to build themselves like a brand name. What if we sold Harvey the characters, and then Harvey put it on TV?”
And Harvey kind of jumped at this, because this was way more lucrative. They would be able to own the characters, do merchandising themselves, but Paramount still wanted to be involved, so the deal pretty much, was a wink-wink kind of deal, as I understand. Where Paramount went to Harvey and said, “Okay, we’ll sell these to you for such and such amount”, which Harvey didn’t have. Then they said, “But you’re going to hire us to do the animation. You’ll work hand in hand with the animators at Paramount, under the Harvey name. So, we’ll actually be getting the work to put these characters out, but you’ll get to own and merchandise, be the lead storytellers, and what have you.”
And it was an easy deal for the Harvey’s, and then they were able to put the characters on TV. It’s really after that moment when the Harveys bought Casper, that Casper took off. Because they changed Casper from a sad ghost that was in a cemetery, just moping around, looking for a friend to a ghost that lives in a haunted house with all these people. They created Spooky, and Wendy, and the Ghostly Trio. They created an entire fantasy world where Casper’s goal was to be a superhero and to solve people’s problems, and make a friend along the way. Teach lessons along the way. And so, Harvey really revolutionized Casper.
The Casper that everybody knows today, that is the Harvey Casper.
Alex: That’s the Harvey Casper. Right.
Harvey: Paramount, (Joe) Oriolo banking on the other co-creator of Casper like, yeah, they set the blueprint but Harvey took it and ran with it. Of course, and all the success, starting with Matty’s Funday Funnies which was a primetime weekend show on ABC, sponsored by Matty Mattel – Mattel Toys. It was huge. That was when Harvey, as a company, as a business, that’s when they took off. They were making an absurd amount of money, and I think the family thought it was going to last for forever. And then, of course, the industry, as a whole, changed a lot in the coming decades, and we can kind of get into that.
So, I think that in the ‘60s, of course the Marvel revolution was starting to happen, and that was when these superhero characters that became somewhat corny after the war because no one really wanted to read comic books about Hitler getting punched by Captain America after he was dead. For some reason, it became big again in the ‘60s.
Alex: Because of science fiction, I think.
Harvey: Yeah, that’s probably why. I think there was a lot of different factors, just a general re-interest in that. And so, Harvey tried actually to put out some superheroes while they were doing those kid lines.
Alex: Spyman, he did with Jim Steranko in the mid ‘60s.
Harvey: They were doing like Jack Q. Frost, Jigsaw, Bee-Man… Yeah.
Jim: Bee-Man would be an example.
Harvey: They were trying a bunch of different comics. I don’t know if they really took off.
Alex: Not really. yeah.
Harvey: Yeah. Not really. I mean, even in the ‘50s, they were trying weird stuff. They’ve gotten to 3D comics. I heard a great story where they thought 3D comics was going to totally up in the industry, and it’s going to be just 3D comics. Either Alfred or Leon, essentially made a deal with the distributor of the 3D lenses, like the actual glasses.
Alex: Right. Right. Right.
Harvey: To actually buy up all of them, so they would have a monopoly on the 3D glasses.
Harvey: Joe Simon came out with Captain 3D, and Adventures in 3D…
Alex: Captain 3D, yeah. I have that comic, that’s great.
Harvey: Yeah, that was a huge success. One of the two of them was a huge success at first. The first couple of issues, and they were like, “We got to get all of them.” So, they bought all the glasses, and they thought they were going to monopolize the market. Right as the third one came out, or something like that, the market completely crashed, and then they were just stuck with like hundreds of thousands of these glasses in their warehouse. Where when they pillaged the warehouse in the ‘80s, they just found reams and reams of these glasses. Harvey definitely had their successes but they definitely tried some things that didn’t work out.
Alex: The superhero line that they did from ’65 to ’67, that’s just to give the audience some background, that’s called the Harvey Thriller line. Joe Simon founded that, for Harvey. And there’s different people – Jack Kirby, Bob Powell, Wally Wood, Otto Binder and the earliest Jim Steranko works. So, it was actually… It wasn’t because of lack of talent that it didn’t do well. They had a lot of talent. But it just didn’t catch on like the Marvel characters were.
Harvey: Yeah, for whatever reason, it just didn’t. I think that Harvey, of course, had branded itself as the kid comic line. Obviously, I wasn’t alive for that time, but maybe people thought, “Okay, Harvey Comics is doing this thriller thing, like this kind of looks like a Marvel comic… Why don’t we just pick up a Marvel comic.” It was being done by a lot of the people, of course, at Marvel and hence, people at DC.
Jim: And virtually, every other company too, Jonny. And that’s… The one thing I would say is, none of them succeeded. I mean, Archie tried it…
Alex: The Mighty superhero group, yeah.
Jim: Tower tried it, and it was a temporary situation. Like there was… Every company has… Charlton had a little bit more longevity because of Steve Ditko’s genius, I think. But ultimately, none of them lasted, besides DC and Marvel.
Harvey: I also think there’s a little bit of impatience with the comic book. Sometime, you’ll never know how successful a comic book is until it’s out for a while.
Alex: Yeah, you let it run for a while.
Harvey: Yeah, seven issues down the road. And I think that if you’re going to try something new like that, you don’t really have the patience because you’re committing to this as opposed to another Baby Huey book or another Richie Rich book. Which of course, the Harveys has then started creating all these Richie Rich comics after Richie Rich kind of took off.
Alex: And Richie Rich just to clarify is an original character created by Al Harvey and Warren Kremer in 1953. That was an original Harvey creation, and that took off big time.
Harvey: Yeah, Richie Rich was interesting because they created Little Dot as well, in 1953, I believe. And he was like the backup issue of Little Dot. He wasn’t supposed to be a big feature character, but I guess they started realizing that he was actually becoming really popular. They gave him his first title I think in 1960.
So, it was after they bought all those characters, but they still kind of… If you look at Richie, he looks just like Casper. I think there’s a misnomer that out there, Casper is dead Richie Rich. Yeah, which is just not true. Harvey had a style, and it was Warren Kremer, who’s an amazing artist who really didn’t get credit he really deserved, on the books. The Harveys, like other publishers, really didn’t credit artists in the comic books, which became a problem down the line.
Richie Rich had a very popular outset, and then they kept writing on Richie. Eventually, by the early ‘70s, they came out with 32 different Richie Rich titles.
Meaning like there’s Richie Rich, there’s Richie Rich Millions, there was Richie Rich Billions, there was Richie Rich Dollars and Cents, there was Richie Rich and His Girlfriends…
Jim: It was insane.
Harvey: They came up with 32 different titles within a two-month period of time. In the early ‘70s, which was just kind of insane.
Alex: Jim actually noted that in the ‘80s. He became Ozymandias, I think, from Watchman.
Jim: I have pointed that out.
I have a question. Who was it at Harvey that… Richie Rich, I get, but there was a tendency, in terms of the male characters, to pick any names that begin and end, the first name and the last name begin Richie Rich was fine but what was it, Bart Bellhops?
Harvey: Jackie Jokers.
Jim: Jackie Jokers.
Harvey: Billy Bellhops.
Jim: Billy Bellhops.
Harvey: Jackie Jokers.
Jim: Those are crazy. Nobody…
Harvey: I have no idea… Little Lotta. I don’t…
Jim: Where’d you get to read a book about Bellhops? Billy Bellhops, it’s the worse idea.
Alex: [chuckles] It’s a blue-collar comedy, I figure.
Harvey: Blue-collar comedy… Sid Jacobson, in particular, definitely did not like Billy Bellhops, and thought it wasn’t a very good idea. I was told that one of the Alfred Harvey’s children came up with the idea, and they thought it was a good idea and they ran with it… I don’t know. I don’t know why they had the alliteration for all the characters. And then of course, down the lines, they came up with Royal Roy for Star (Comics) which was essentially the Harvey in print at Marvel, which we’re getting, a little down the road.
Jim: We’re going to…
Alex: That’s the ‘80s, we’re going to talk about that.
Harvey: We’re going to get there… Jim, I don’t have a good answer for you. I’ve no idea… But I think that they, for some reason, they thought it was spiffy. And maybe back in the day, in the ‘60s or ‘70s, ‘50s even, like the catchy little jingle’s a way for somebody just to kind of latch on to something. And maybe they saw Richie Rich was such a good title and it works for them, that maybe they were going to throw out some other names, and see what stuck.
Jim: Jackie Jokers does grow up to be the comedian in the Watchmen, so there’s a symmetry there.
Alex: Right. That’s right. That’s true… There is a symmetry, yes. But that being said, they had all that alliteration going on all through comics.
So, let’s go into the ‘70s and then in the beginning of the ‘80s then. So, tell us, you’re talking about the ‘70s there. Jonny, tell us more about some happenstance in the ‘70s that leads us into the ‘80s into their decline.
Harvey: I think the peak for Harvey was in 1974. Casper was named the control module of Apollo 16, so they did a huge… And they were sponsors of all these different groups like Casper’s the spokesperson for the Dentist Association of America, for UNICEF, for Boy Scouts. Richie was National Baseball League… To be the guy for the Apollo Mission was a really big deal for the company. And they did all this cross merchandising and comic book lines based on the trip to the moon. It was huge that Casper, literally, landed on the moon.
But months later, one of the Harvey brothers, Robert Harvey… Robert was in charge of the business side, and all three brothers had a third of the stake of the company. So, family business – Alfred was the visionary, the entrepreneur, he was the president of the company. My grandfather Leon, he was the editor in chief. He was the guy that, every comic book had to go through him. He signed off on every comic book before it went to the market. And Robert was the accounting, the money guy. When Robert dies suddenly of a heart attack, the inner workings of the company, everything changed.
Alex: What year was that, when that happened?
Alex: ’74, okay.
Jim: And I heard, Jonny, in an interview, you compared this to HBO’s Succession, which I thought was [chuckle] pretty funny. Was it really, did it become a family in turmoil, at that point and that was where the infighting was coming from?
Harvey: Our new producer, Patrick Meaney, we’re thrilled to have brought on… He has done The Image Revolution documentary about Image Comics. He makes comics. He’s done Chris Claremont’s documentaries. He’s done Neil Gaiman’s…
Alex: Cool. He did that with Mike Phillips then, right?
Harvey: I believe so, yes. He’s really been around the comic book doc scene, when we’re starting to work together, in the outset, instantly, we went to Succession, for his com. And then I watched Succession, and I saw what he meant. It was a family business that was a huge media… I call it an empire, they were really successful merchandising, they were on television, they were in publishing… Casper was huge. Casper was one of the most popular characters in the world, and Richie Rich was one of the most successful comic book lines for children of all time.
In the sense of Succession, the whole plot of Succession is what happens when the visionary, the leader of a company, his leadership comes into question, because of his health or because of ego and dynamics that happen within the family itself.
And Robert dying, was something that really frayed the family. Because one, there were three brothers, and now there was two brothers and the representation of the third brother. And they felt like, “We got to get our fair share of this.” And they were too busy trying to work that out.
There was a little bit of infighting, and it wasn’t a very pretty scene but they weren’t really able to look into the market, what was happening in the ‘70s, As you guys well know about what was happening on comic books, and the publishing industry as a whole in the ‘70s, and how that was changing dramatically. They didn’t have the people in charge that were able to really look at the industry and make those changes. And so that really set them back to when they figured out a restructuring of the business. It may have been, too little too late.
So, officially, they stopped publishing in 1982, which Alex had mentioned earlier. And it was originally like, “We’ll be right back. We’re going through a rebranding or something like that.” And then it took about three years, and they kind of restructured the business. Robert Harvey died, and there was an agreement to put my grandfather Leon in as president of the company, and I don’t think Alfred was very thrilled about that. They were running, it was fine. Everything was doing okay but they were not really making any big deals. There were some movie deals that were flubbed. Like thing just really weren’t…
Alex: So, it was because of conflict between Al and Leon, right?
Harvey: Their relationship started to fray after Leon was appointed president. And then in the ‘80s, they stopped publishing in ’82, and they restructured the business again, so that the children of the original three brothers will take the mantle.
So, Alfred’s first-born son, Alan Harvey was co-presidents with one of Robert’s sons, Steven, and my father was appointed, I guess, vice-president of the company. I don’t think he was intensely involved. I think he was more of a board member, to an extent. And they tried to essentially bring Harvey back… I think it came back in ’86 or ’85…
Alex: They were printing Digest and some reprints then, in 1986.
Harvey: In ’86, yeah. They had a little success… The company was in tremendous debt at that point. They really just didn’t have their pulse on the market.
Alex: Let’s go through the ‘80s, because this was basically when it all kind of breaks apart and splinters. So, 1982, we’ll talk about the Marvel thing because executive editor Tom DeFalco was coordinating with Harvey editor Sid Jacobson to continue publishing Harvey Comics. And then, it’s said that Al and Leon disagreed on something in the deal and then the whole thing fell apart. What happened?
Harvey: Yeah. So, we’re definitely getting into this in the doc because it’s an interesting story of like what if the Harvey properties were in the Marvel Universe.
Essentially, Tom DeFalco who we’ve interviewed for the doc was very concerned when Harvey stopped publishing, that the youngest readers would stop getting their intro to comics. And then that would throw the market off in a way that they weren’t prepared for. Because he likes to call it a step ladder. He was concerned for the industry. These four publishers they lived in harmony together. The Marvel – DC, maybe they were considered competitors, but Harvey never considered any of those publishers competitors. They were industry partners and they carved out their niche and of course, Joe would go in and out. Joe Simon would go in and out of Harvey, for his own personal reasons because Alfred would always have work for him.
Marvel was concerned that the youngest readers were going to not get their enter to comic books which would really screw the market up. Tom, when to his powers that be at Marvel and said, “Hey, can we buy Harvey? Like they’re not publishing, maybe we can get a deal with them.”
Sid loved that idea because Sid had all these people that needed work, and there was a deal kind of in place with Marvel. I’m not sure that the deal was really what the Harvey properties were worth, but it was a way just to get these characters off their hands. It was pretty much a done deal. It was going to happen.
The story that we’ve been told is that Sid and Tom, they all went to the Harvey offices to just show everybody around. “This is where we’re taking over. This is the office. Sid’s obviously been there, He’s going to be leading the charge. We’re going to start work, Monday morning”, or something like that. Sid, said they’ll come down to the Marvel offices, take everybody over there. They got there in the morning, and they’re like, “Hey, so we got a little bit of a hiccup, you guys just wait around. We’re just working out some final things.” And they’re sitting around all day, kind of just waiting, waiting, waiting. And then all of a sudden, they said, “Hey, the deal didn’t go through. We’re not going to do the Harvey stuff anymore.”
And Sid was devastated because he really wanted to continue the Harvey art. I think Alfred didn’t really want to part with the company yet. I think that he still really cared for these characters, and didn’t feel that this was the right deal, that they were getting fair value out of it. And I’m speculating a little bit because I never got to meet my grand uncle. From our interviews, I think that’s what I’ve gathered. Sid may argue that there’s a little bit of spite involved against Sid; I can’t really speak to that from a factual perspective. But I do know the two of them had a little bit of conflict.
Alex: Sounds like Leon and Sid were all for it, but Al wasn’t.
Harvey: I don’t know if Leon was like a 100% gung-ho with it. But at that point, in Al and Leon’s relationship, it wasn’t very strong. It’s unclear, but my side of the family was really ready to move on from that chapter of their life. They thought it might be a good situation.
There were other potential buyers besides Marvel, to be clear. The Hurst Company wanted to buy the company and the properties. Coca-Cola, I’ve been told, wanted to buy the company. There were some huge brands that were like, “Casper’s available, potentially? Casper’s out there in a way that it was? How is that possible? How can we get in on this?”
Harvey: And Marvel was closest to the time to do that. But the Marvel deal didn’t happen, and Tom DeFalco was still like, “We just courted all these Harvey people. We need to start a kids’ line… Can we still do a kids’ line?” They’re like, “Yeah, we’re still going ahead and do a kids’ line. There’s a problem, we’re not allowed to use the Harvey name, and we don’t want to call them Marvel Comics.”
I guess at the time, people felt like, comic books stores had started to come out, and I guess comic book buyers didn’t want to only buy Marvel Comics. I think that they felt like it was the only option, so they needed something else. And so, they created a brand name called Star Comics, which was essentially the Harvey operation, all the editors, all the artists, maybe some people from the Marvel group that were in the house, and essentially did a spin-off of Harvey Comics for Marvel. They did a comic book called Royal Roy, and a handful of other characters that you may think like, “Oh, that’s the Harvey style.” They brought over Warren Kremer who was kind of the main Harvey artist.
Jim: That was thing, wasn’t it? I mean, when they brought him over, and then they just starred Richie Rich under a different name, to some degree. That didn’t sit well with Harvey, right?
Harvey: No, it didn’t. I mean, they felt like that was a blatant infringement of their copyright of the character.
Alex: And so, they sued Marvel. What do you know about that lawsuit?
Harvey: They sued Marvel, and Marvel was like, they just done an issue or two, or something like that. And they’re like, “This just isn’t worth this at all.” So, they dropped the lawsuit, and they said, “We’ll stop publishing Royal Roy.”
Alex: And it didn’t do well, anyway. It seized after the six issues, and lawsuit was dropped. Royal Roy didn’t catch fire like the way Richie Rich did.
Harvey: Sid would argue, and Tom would argue that as a whole, Marvel had never had success doing kids’ comics before. And this was their first actual look into potential success. There were some lines like Top Dog, Wally the Wizard, and some things that, I think, were doing okay.
Back to our conversation, it’s hard to judge a comic book character, based on just less than 10 issues, if it’s going to catch on.
Alex: Right. Six isn’t enough.
Harvey: I think, what if they stopped Richie Rich after like Richie Rich #7? Like, I don’t know what those sales numbers were, exactly. Obviously, they found a lot of success in Richie in the later years, because they let the character go and there was more brand recognition.
And the Marvel guys, they would argue, “Royal Roy was a prince and he was learning about solving problems within his own kingdom; dealing with his immense wealth in that way.” So, they would argue that his character wasn’t fueled by money. It wasn’t. Whereas, Richie, he solved every problem with money.
Alex: That’s funny.
Harvey: So, they would argue that it was different but they just didn’t feel like… Sales numbers probably, I guess, weren’t like crazy. And it just didn’t feel like it was worth it. Marvel at the time probably didn’t want to go through something like that, so they said, “Okay, fine, we’ll drop the character.” And that was that.
Alex: 1984, Steve Geppi payed 50,000 for Harvey’s entire original art archive of Sad Sack, right?
Alex: And that created a little bit of something, didn’t it? Because all that original art, they could have used to make new comics, or even sell later, and then there were some conflict there. That’s a part of the company, kind of falling apart there, isn’t it?
Harvey: Yes. One side of the family wanted to get back into the market, and the company was in some debt, of course. And they were losing money off of this warehouse that they were just kind of paying for storage. This warehouse had all the original comics. They had a box of each comic, had like 200 issues of each comic they ever printed. Everybody says it was kind of like a kid’s candy store, walking in this place. It wasn’t very well organized, as I understand, but it had all of Joe Simon’s original artwork, and all of his original artwork outside of the actual issues of the comics.
One day, Steve Geppi is in his comic book store, and in comes one of the Harvey relatives, Warren Harvey. He’s like, “Hey, so, I’m one of the Harvey brothers…” Steve’s like, “Wait, what?… We got like one of the Harveys in my store…” And they’re like, “Yeah. We going to sell this warehouse of original art to somebody that’s involved in pricing this stuff. Can we get some quotes on the value of the stuff?”
He was like, “Well, I would love to buy it.” And they were like, “Oh, great.” And he made two deals with the Harveys to buy the original artwork, which I think he bought for about 50grand, and then all of the comics. But he was really concerned about the artworks, in particular. But it was everything. It wasn’t just Sad Sack stuff. Sad Sack was included. So, he made two different deals, and both were 50K each. But if you tally all the artwork that was there and all the original issues that were done… We’re talking of stuff from like 1939.
Today, of course, that would be worth a lot more than what he paid for. Some individual art pieces of that original work from George Baker, and Al Capp, and some pretty famous people, and some pretty beautiful stuff. But, of course, they didn’t get fair market for, but they wanted to start publishing again, so they were trying to get rid of some of debt that they felt like they had, and that was one way that they could get some money, which was sell this warehouse.
So, that was how they were able to get back in the market. In hindsight, a very short-sighted move, considering the company, the new Harvey Comics, really didn’t last very long.
Alex: And then in 1987, Harvey sued Columbia because of the Ghostbusters logo. They thought that there was infringement against Casper’s character, Fatso.
So, is this basically like, “Look, things aren’t going well.” Were they grasping at straws or is that legitimate, you think? And the court ruled in Columbia’s favor because Harvey didn’t renew the copyrights on the early Casper stories. So, that’s what happened. But what’s your impressions of motion and events there.
Harvey: That’s a really good question. I haven’t really been asked that in that way… I think that they genuinely thought that they were infringing on the Fatso copyright. And by they, I think that Alfred’s family, one of his sons mentioned to us that one day they saw the logo for the new Ghostbuster movie, and he as a kid was just like, “That looks like Fatso.”
Alex: Oh, really. That’s funny.
Harvey: And that was like… It’s a story he told me, and Alfred was like, “Yeah. I think it does too.” I mean, I think it was a genuine, “This looks just like out character, and they seem to be profiting from it, like we should take a stand.” But I don’t really think that the entire family, as a whole, was unified on that front. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because they didn’t renew their copyright. The judge even, of the case kind of said to them, “Even if you guys did, only so many ways to draw a ghost, and depict a ghost.
Jim: Yeah, that’s the quote, “Only so many ways to draw a ghost…”
Harvey: I think that they would have lost the case, regardless. It is a kind of a larger insight of how disorganized this group was in the ‘80s.
Alex: Right. And then, in ’89, Harvey was sold to HMH Communications, and it became this new entity, Harvey Comics Entertainment. They started some comics line; Marvel was publishing some Casper stuff in the ‘90s. So, that’s basically the end of the Harvey family’s involvement, right?
Harvey: Yeah. They sold it to an entrepreneur, who was 24 years old, just graduated USC. Pretty amazing story, that we’re going to detail on the doc. About how he got the money, and he went out and moved to California and finished the Richie Rich movie with Macaulay Culkin, that was kind of already had started. Then made that Casper movie with (Steven) Spielberg, and that was a huge hit. One of the most successful kids’ movies of all time.
Alex: And that was in ’95, that Casper was a hit.
Harvey: ’95, yeah. First film that actually had a CGI protagonist.
Alex: That’s right, CGI protagonist.
Harvey: And it was a huge milestone for film. And it was massive, it was the number one movie in America, and foreign. In today’s dollar, it made $500 million at the box office, and another $500 million, in today’s money, in merchandising sales after that.
Alex: I think that movie introduce Casper to my little brother. He was born in ’88. He was seven when he saw that.
Harvey: Right. That was the same, I think, for a lot of people that were born in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and even the early 2000s. I think that is the Casper that people know.
Jim: Casper is back. Have you seen that?
Harvey: The Geico commercial? [chuckle]
Jim: He’s on the Geico commercial now.
Harvey: That day that it came out, was I think the day after Rosh Hashanah or it’s Rosh Hashanah Day, and I was actually with my grandmother who’s married to my grandfather, she’s still alive. I’m just having breakfast with her and I see on the TV Casper’s on it. It was a very haunting thing for me. But then that day was just a flood of texts and emails being like, “Have you seen this?… He’s back! It’s great.”
It’s a cute concept. It’s really heart-warming, especially Geico understanding how to utilize nostalgia, and trustworthy characters. That was very heart-warming that they took a chance on that.
Jim: It was fun. It got the character right. I enjoyed that.
Harvey: I agree.
Alex: And then just a little industry background, is that Casper and Richie Rich was all done through Universal, because they own 20% of this HMH company, and that became HCE. And then HCE sold Harvey to Classic Media. So, now it’s changed hands a few times, and now, this is basically the disintegration, not of the characters but definitely of the Harvey family’s involvement in this.
So, that leads now to your journey, in basically, in a way, reclaiming for the public record, a history of what happened through your documentary that you’re working on, called Ghost Empires. Is that correct?
Harvey: Yeah, it’s absolutely correct. I started this, literally the day of my graduation ceremony from Tulane University. I’d done a lot of journalism in school and I studied business. I was a marketing major. And I’d really wanted to make a documentary when I graduated, and I’d decided, maybe this Harvey story I something that’s worth exploring.
My grandfather died before I was born. I didn’t know the Alfred or Robert sides of the family. I just hear stories, asking who is my grandfather? And then, my grandmother being like, “Well, actually, we owned this comic book company that owned Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Richie Rich, and all these other characters that you know and love. And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” That doesn’t make any sense to me. And she was telling me some of these stories, so I thought, maybe there’s a story here. Now, it doesn’t seem like a lot of people know about the Harvey story. They seem to be a really big deal.
My graduation day, I just told my grandmother. I said, “Hey, I think I’m going to make a documentary about the family business. Can you just tell me, the stories that you’ve been telling me for years? Just to know what you remember.” And she just went. I followed her leads and I found people that were alive today, that were there during that time, and talked to them. I start talking to historians who’d done their own research throughout the decades, on Harvey, and different people that worked there.
And then, I really didn’t realize the scope of how huge this company was.
And how amazing the story was, from just an American history perspective. So, for a little over two years, I’ve been kind of on this journey on discovering what the heck happened to Harvey Comics, and why isn’t it around in a way that it was. And we’ve worked on this documentary, we’ve now titled, Ghost Empire: The Forgotten Story of Harvey Comics. We think it’s going to be a really amazing story about the rise and fall of a really amazing American media empire.
Alex: Right. And it’s also a metaphor for just families in general because there’s this golden age of a family. Like watching The Godfather, I, II, and III in a way, right?
Alex: It’s like you have the family’s central key figures… It’s almost like a beloved patriarchy in a sense. Then they kind of age, become in a way, somewhat lesser versions of themselves, are old, cranky and don’t communicate well, not as organized, and then it kind of starts to crumble. Then you have their kids coming in, and then it’s even more disorganized. Entropy kind of takes over, and it’s going to be, I think a really interesting documentary because I think that happens in families in general. It’s almost like this natural thing that just happens in families. So, I think from a family perspective, I think a lot of people would be able to relate to it.
Harvey: Yeah, I think everybody in their own right can identify with a dysfunctional family. [chuckle]
Harvey: And to be fair, this family at one point is a very functional family. A perfect storm for them, of different events, had happened that they just weren’t able to overcome… It’s a sad story in a way, but a lot of it is really inspiring. Sons of Russian Jewish immigrants who couldn’t find work and reputable jobs, and carving out their own industry, and that’s a lot of what comic book history is. People really just realizing that, “Hey, I can provide for my family, and make it in this country.” And they did. It’s kind of unbelievable that my grandfather was able to influence millions of kids around the world.
Jim: Is there a comparable family… I know… All right, Goodman, of course, had… Stan Lee was a relative, but is there anything that’s as much a family business as Harvey was? I’m trying to think of…
Harvey: Not to my knowledge.
Alex: Just comics, or just in general?
Jim: No, in comics.
Alex: Not as significant as Harvey was.
Jim: Because this is a truly family owned and run business. Not just like a figure head and then some hanger-ons. It’s a real family business.
Alex: That being said, I mean the early days of Timely, and Marvel, Archie, these guys were just hiring relative. Martin Goodman, especially, was really only hiring cousins and brothers, and things like that. And it was like that for like 20, 30 years. Chip Goodman was supposed to have taken over Marvel, but Stan Lee was kind of the not blood relation person that maneuvered and took that away from Chip. But I think, probably it was well deserved because Stan Lee did create the Marvel brand with those other guys like Kirby and Ditko. But it was a family thing before Stan Lee and Perfect Film & Chemical kind of took over it.
Jim: Atlas. Atlas might… In the ‘70s, may be the closest thing to it, when you think about (Larry) Leiber, and Chip (Charles Goodman), and Martin (Goodman).
Alex: And that’s basically just a continuation of the Timely people, just kind of more modern, and trying to fight back against Marvel and Perfect Film & Chemical, and Stan Lee, and then failing, right? That’s what happened there.
Jim: But Harvey’s it.
Alex: From beginning to end. Yeah.
Jim: That’s a narrative hook. I mean, this could be a mini-series, as much as it could be a documentary.
Harvey: Yeah. It’s 80 years of history that I have to cover.
Alex: You know what you should do, Jonny, get the guys that made that Saddam mini-series, [chuckle] Saddam Hussein mini-series. Have them do the Harvey Family, that’d be awesome.
Harvey: Oh, wow. Okay.
All right, you’ll produce that one. How about that?
Alex: There you go.
I’m getting those guys one the phone for you, man.
Harvey: Yeah. Please. Please… Thanks.
I’m sure my family would love that. Yeah.
Alex: [chuckle] “You’ve seen their work before; they did the Saddam Family. Yeah.” Jim’s right though, that is a great idea for a mini-series. I mean, I would watch it, easily.
Harvey: Are you talking about narrative or are you talking about like a documentary mini-series.
Alex: Narrative… Like a narrative.
Jim: No. No, a narrative.
Alex: Have Ghost Empire become the success that it should, and will be… then it gets the attention of the narrative people, and then make a mini-series on Netflix or something. Ghost Empire is the first step. I mean you got to get that done.
Harvey: All right, Alex, you’re my agent. You got the job.
Alex: All right.
Harvey: Yeah, that’d be my dream… It’s, of course, like Mad Men. The similar thing of people just throwing darts at a board and seeing what hits in advertising, and that world that was, the ‘50s in publishing, and TV advertising. Everyone in comics books was a character. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.
Danny Fingeroth just did Stan Lee’s book. I was at… I guess both of you were there, at his book signing. And we’re in one of his events in LA, and somebody in the crowd asked, “Was Stan Lee like he was? How he portrayed himself in the media? Like was he this comic book character, like larger than life?” And Danny was like, “I mean, he was who he was.”
These people didn’t fake anything. They were compelling characters in their own right. And they made these characters that I think, influenced a lot of people in the world.
Of course, we’ve all seen what Marvel’s done with their characters. And we’ve seen what DC has had their success with. They’d been able to make these characters of any generation… They’ve allowed every generation to experience these characters for the last 80 years in a different way. Jim experienced these characters, as a kid and in a way that you didn’t. But then, of course, your brother experienced Casper in a way that…
Alex: He got it CGI, me, I just got cartoons in the ‘80s, along with The Smurfs and whatever else was on.
Harvey: There’s something to that. Yeah, I’m surprised, honestly, that there hasn’t been already, something that been made from a narrative perspective about comic books. Outside of Harvey… Kurtzman… Is that right?
Jim: Oh, yeah. That was… Absolutely. That was great.
Harvey: But it was kind of a… I’m blanking on the name of it… American Splendor, but it was a quasidoc because they had the real people in it.
Alex: It was about the…
Jim: Harvey Pekar.
Alex: Yeah. Harvey Pekar… Is that who you meant to say?
Harvey: Oh, Pekar… That’s who I meant to say.
Jim: Yeah. That’s who he meant.
Alex: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m like Harvey Kurtzman? Wait a minute.
Harvey: Sorry about that mix. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, my spider sense, you kind of violated it for a second.
But it’s fine. I need that every now and then.
Jim: And you know Kavalier and Clay is getting the full treatment.
Alex: I think that’s going to be the beginning of these comic narratives. But you got to get Ghost Empire going, then ride on the success of Kavalier and Clay. So, this will the next Kavalier and Clay, check out Ghost Empire… Look. That’s fine… I’ll make the calls for you. Don’t worry Jonny, it’ll be fine.
Harvey: Right. All right. Good. Amazing.
Alex: It’ll be fine. It’ll be just fine.
Jim: Jonny, if you can tell us… Because I wanted to ask you about the people you’ve interviewed, besides me. How did the people that actually worked at Harvey… Did you get to talk to Ernie Colón before he died?
Harvey: I did, but we didn’t get to film him.
Jim: Oh, no.
Harvey: I interviewed him, but unfortunately, he got sick, when we had planned to interview him on camera.
Alex: Oh, bummer.
Harvey: Yeah. It was pretty upsetting. That’s kind of why I wanted to do this, as quickly as possible.
Alex: That’s what you got to do.
Harvey: Because I just didn’t want a situation like that happening. And there was another person that unfortunately died before we were able to film him, and that’s definitely been the most disappointing…
Alex: Yeah, this stuff is blowing away… It’s evaporating. You got to capture it in a bottle
Harvey: Yeah, it’s pretty intense, I’m not going to lie… We’ve interviewed Sid Jacobson, a man named Stan Harfenist who was there in the ‘50s. He was Alfred’s kind of understudy who was essentially doing the advertising for the company, and kind of has the insight of how the business operation was happening. We’ve interviewed a lot of the artists and people that were working there in the ‘70s. Angelo DeCesare who also worked for Harvey in the ‘90s. Paul Maringelli who’s a pretty vocal person on the Harvey social media. A woman named Jean Novitz she worked for the business as well. A lot of different perspectives from people in the business. I’ve have talked to three different family members on camera, specifically.
A lot of different historians, we filmed 28 people on camera, to be clear, a handful of historians to give different context to a lot of different things. Of course, we’re interviewed Danny Fingeroth, and Mark Evanier. They gave a really amazing insight about the early years of Harvey, and Joe Simon’s involvement, and how that was working out. We’ve interviewed people like Karen Green of Columbia, and Heidi MacDonald to kind of give more like a wholistic, from just a historical comic book perspective, what these comic books meant to people, especially to women, which I was not aware of at all that they were really the only group that was making comics for young girls that weren’t about sexual relationships, like the Archie Comics were.
Jim: And Nightmare is a tremendous character for girls as well. Don’t underestimate that. As sort of a comic horse authority, I just want to say that…
Harvey: [chuckle] You are on the Nightmare Island, if you will. Like you’re selling real estate, and you’ve been buying for years. You are the…
Alex: That’s right. Jim owns Horse Island. [overlap talk] island for sure.
Harvey: Right. [chuckle] Yeah. And I know he’s got a great five-story building, that’s got Nightmare at the penthouse or something like that. I know that you are the aficionado…
Jim: Howard Post… That’s a key character.
Harvey: Yeah, Howard Post… We’ve interviewed the people that took over Harvey in the ‘90s. We interviewed the man that bought the company from my family, who kind of disappeared. It was kind of a big deal finding him. He told his tell all, if you will… Which is really amazing and has never been told before, I cannot stress how amazing his story is. I mean, it’s really unbelievable. We talked to his two aides at the company, his Executive VP at the company, Barry Blumberg who had a very successful career at Disney, afterwards.
We interviewed the people who actually were the show runners, and producers on the show, the new Harvey Girls Forever! show at Dreamworks, to kind of get the perspective of where is Harvey now? What’s been going on? And how have they tried to reinvent the characters in their own way? To kind of attract the new audience of kids, and whether or not that has been successful or not.
We’ve interviewed a lot of different people to give a really, really wholistic view of what happened in the family, what’s happening at the company, what was happening in the industry at the time. We interviewed a psychologist. Well we interviewed Steve Geppi, of course. Gave us a [overlap talk]…
Alex: Oh, you did? That’s cool.
Harvey: Oh, yeah. We got the Geppi take on everything. It’s a little like Mr. Rogers to an extent. The characters were kid characters. Characters geared for young kids to be able to be able to learn lessons in a productive way. And it’s an interesting in hindsight to really think about what content kids are having now. Like what is appropriate content for kids to have, or to be consuming on a regular basis.
So, we really attempted to get a very wholistic view of Harvey as the company, the industry perspective, the family perspective, what happened after the business was sold, and what’s happening with Harvey now.
Alex: That’s an exciting project. We’re all excited about it,
Jim: Is it getting closer to… Because I interviewed with you, it was a good year and a half or so ago, wasn’t it?… You got a new producer on it. Is it being recut? Are you still filming? What’s the status on it now?
Harvey: We’re in post-production. We’re definitely still in the process of seeing just the shape of the film. To an extent, you know, is this a movie? Is this a limited series? Where is the “l’chaim” going to be? We’re at the stage where we really put together our story. We’re going to be looking for investment still, for finishing funds. To really make this thing is like amazing as you’ve kind of heard me tell.
We really want it to be visually amazing, musically thrilling, and to be on the right helm. So, we’re trying to just… Now, we bring Patrick Meaney on, who’s been able to package docs in all these different ways, the project’s in really great hands because he as a really good pulse on where this might be, and what form it should take. And it’s been really amazing to just get somebody in, not only that he’s been doing docs for 10 years, but specifically comic book docs for 10 years.
Right now, it’s great just to bring in this guy in, taking a couple of steps back, and just dreaming like what could this be, and then trying to achieve that. And I think that we’re on the right path. I will say, it’s not going to be coming out next month. It’s not going to be coming out in a few months.
Alex: Right. [overlap talk]
Harvey: It’s a living, breathing entity, and we got to do it right. I’m thrilled to be working with people that are just guns blazing, who want this thing to be one of the greater documentaries really, of course, comic book docs. But from an American history perspective, we really think that this is going to invite a lot of other people that maybe have experienced Casper from their childhood, or just are kind of fascinated by general American history family stories. So, yeah, we’re hoping it’s going to kind of invite a lot of other people besides the comic book community.
Jim: Is your family unified on this? Or is there anybody that’s thinking, one uncle is, or a grand uncle isn’t getting enough attention, or that the story is being told, slanted towards anybody. That one person’s a bad guy. Is everybody in your family, behind you, doing this? Or is there any kind of disputes.
Harvey: I’m not going to speak for my relatives but I would say, generally, everyone’s been very supportive, and thinks this is a really important story that should be told. And I think there’s a lot of emotions when it comes to who said what… And it can become a he said, she said thing, as a lot of comic book stories have become.
There’re some relatives I’ve met for the very first time that went on camera, and poured their heart out. And talked about business, and their father, and people involved in this company, with just incredible emotion, and have been so supportive. We’re able to kind of give their take of the situation, in their perspective, and I think they were honest and raw, and real, and they didn’t have an agenda.
I had to get my grandmother’s blessing on this. I had talked to her once. She was a little skeptical on what I was doing. I mean, my grandmother is the kind of woman that was like, “Jonny, you got a marketing degree, why don’t you get a marketing job? What are you doing this thing for?” And I had to explain to her that I felt this was a really great way for me to get into documentaries, and for me to tell a story that I think is really important. And it became a self-discovery thing for me. I said, “If you’re not comfortable with this, I’ll stop.” She gave me her blessing. But I think that the family is done with conflict. They want to move on with their lives. Maybe this will help a lot of people move on from that time in their life. Maybe.
Alex: Well, this has been great, Jonny. Thanks so much for joining, Jim and I, today. We really enjoyed having you with us to describe and tell… Almost deconstruct, and then reconstruct the history of Harvey Comics, and the Harvey Family. Thank you so much for being with us today at the Comic Book Historians Podcast.
Harvey: Thank you, guys. This was a great conversation, Hopefully, I can come on again when the doc’s about to be released.
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