I’ve decided to make more of an effort to tackle some of the older items in the mountain of unread comics and graphic novels that has built up around me over the years, and while this book is far from the oldest unread book in my collection, it has certainly been sitting around unread for a few years now. In fact, I’m pretty sure I bought this sometime in 2007, the year it was published. I was unable to resist ordering it back then, and I have never been able to bring myself to sell it unread, but I really had to force myself to start reading it. Luckily, it wasn’t quite the chore I was worried it might be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed it.
Published by Dark Horse, this reprints nearly 500 pages of golden and silver age Casper The Friendly Ghost comics, originally published between 1949 and 1965. Casper was created by animators Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, who sold the character to Famous Studios in 1944 for $200 (Reit went on to become a successful writer, while Oriolo remained in animation and eventually went on to become the sole owner of – but not the creator of – Felix the Cat, so this isn’t yet another story of two young men selling the rights to an ultimately successful character and then dying broke). In 1949, after a series of successful Casper cartoons, St John Publications began publishing Casper comics, with Harvey Comics landing the licence to produce Casper comics in 1952, and buying the rights to character outright in 1959. These comics were produced by (un-credited) artists and writers from the world of animation, and the perfectly-inked pages have the slick, simple, professional look of animation cells.
This is certainly a very nice looking book. Published on glossy paper, mostly in black and white, these comics don’t look half a century old at all. In fact, only the two short colour sections in the book look dated, and that’s because the pages have not been re-coloured and the old-fashioned colour reproduction techniques date these pages badly. However, as much as I liked the look of this book, and the idea of reading it when I first bought it, the stories were aimed at readers so much younger than myself that it was hard for me to really enjoy them. Had I been 35 years younger, I may have enjoyed reading this more, but the 42-year old, cynical me, spoiled by reading too many ‘grim and gritty’ comics in the eighties, kept wondering what a modern writer might make of Casper, and why a comic about the ghost of a dead child was ever such a hit. Harvey editor Sid Jacobson apparently insisted that ghosts are purely fantasy beings, like giants and goblins, with ‘no past life beforehand’, but that is clearly bullshit. I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, so I guess they are fantasy beings to me, but everything I have ever heard about these fantasy beings implies they are the restless spirits (or something like that) of dead people, and Casper is the ghost of a dead kid if ever I saw one. Also, I wanted to know if religious groups were anti-Casper. These comics are almost sickeningly sweet, but most of the characters, even the good guys, are either ghosts or witches. That had to piss off some religious types, right? And I also wanted to know why Casper struggled to keep friends. He would spend whole strips flying around desperately trying to find some friends, would eventually find some... but by the next strip he was friendless and on the hunt for friends again.
See what I mean? I am just too old and cynical for this sort of thing, and the only strips in here I really liked were the strips about Casper’s cousin ‘Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost’ – Spooky being a little wiseguy ghost with a Brooklyn accent and a ‘doiby’ hat. If I had a kid, particularly a very young kid, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to them and I can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t enjoy it. But if you are over 10 years old and didn’t grow up reading Casper comics, you might want to give this a miss.
Cost: This has a recommended retail price of $19.95 (about £12.99?). It seems to be out of print at the moment but there are plenty of new and used copies available on Amazon. As I said, I bought my copy in 2007, and while I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it now, I do remember buying it from an Amazon Marketplace seller and think I paid just over £6.00 (which may or may not have included postage).