Tuesday, November 06, 2018


Anyone who frequents junk stores or the so-called antique malls and peruses the printed matter for sale knows that the Harvey Comics line is not particularly in-demand. Oh, there may be SOMEONE out there who is willing to pay big bucks for a mint copy of the RICHIE RICH MEETS LEON TROTSKY “Giant” issue of Harvey Hits, but for the most part, there are so many variations on so few characters (Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Casper The Friendly Ghost, etc.) that if you find a comics dealer willing to deal, you can get a stack of Harveys for next to nothing.

Case in point: recently I got a stack (literally--about 25) of coverless comic books from the late 60’s and early 70’s for about 20-25 cents each, and most of them (the Harveys especially, though there were also Charlton westerns and some other items) had clearly never been read....or even thumbed through. The spines were tight and just waiting for some ten year old--or ten year old at heart, like me--to kill some time in the upbeat wonder-world of Harvey Comics (and yes, that K. Gordon Murray reference was intended). The covers had been ripped off and returned to the distributor for credit when the book’s initial selling period ended, maybe a month after its release, and instead of throwing the coverless books out, as the retailers were supposed to do, or letting the employees or good customers have them for free (or selling them at a steep discount under the counter, as the Convenient Food Mart on Bridge Street used to do for me as a kid), someone decided to save these books in a box somewhere, and who knows how many times that box got moved over the 51 years between this comic being discarded and my picking it up for a quarter. Yet, in 51 years, no one read it....until I did.

Fortunately, as with an obscure silent comedy short from the 1920’s or a lesser-known Bowery Boys film you’ve somehow missed, there is something timeless and pure and charming about this coverless Little Sad Sack comic book. Of course, it’s well known that the Harvey Comics incarnation of Sad Sack was nothing like the original, created during World War II by soldier George Baker for a military audience and reflecting, with a kind of black humor, the problems facing soldiers, addressed from one soldier to another. Harvey reinvented Sad Sack as a kind of kindler, gentler, more kid-friendly version of Beetle Bailey, but without most of the pointed workplace humor that adults appreciated so much in Beetle (and still do). A lot of the credit for the appeal of the newly re-invented Harvey Sad Sack goes to artist Fred Rhoads, who boiled the character down to its essence and favored an open, minimal art style that would pull the reader in. He also gave the comics a kind of wide-eyed brightness not unlike Disney comic books, but not as saccharin. As much as the character evolved when adapted by Harvey, according to online sources, creator George Baker continued to oversee the series and do the covers, and I vividly remember seeing those unique covers with the weekly comic offerings at the local newsstand or drug store as a child.

Harvey being all about spin-offs of the core “brands,” Sad Sack comics offered other lines focusing on Sarge, Sack’s dog Muttsy (!!!), Gabby Gob (the Navy version of Sack), and the comic under review today, LITTLE SAD SACK. This is basically Sad Sack as an elementary school-aged child. With a face only a mother could love, the child version of Sack looks like Leon Errol playing weather-beaten Knobby Walsh in the Joe Palooka movies, but put into a ten year old’s body (and if you’re not familiar with Errol/Walsh, think of Jimmy Durante, big schnoz and all, as a child....looking exactly like the adult Durante, but with softer facial contours!). The basic concept of this is so ridiculous that just looking at a page of LITTLE SAD SACK comics puts a smile on my face. It’s almost like the “adult baby” persona of Harry Langdon (see pic) if he had stumbled into the world of PEANUTS, had PEANUTS been created by Mort Walker of BEETLE BAILEY fame. Little Sad Sack’s adventures are not unlike those of Dennis The Menace, but toned down and gentler.

What I like most about this orphan comic book, abandoned and unread for decades, is the purity of its comedy, something not really seen today....or for the last 30+ years. It’s the same feeling seen when Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy will get a piece of paper stuck to their shoe, or get a fly annoying them, and spend a good 5 minutes developing and extending the situation. Time stands still and the world outside no longer matters. Jerry Lewis tried that kind of thing in his second “comeback” film, SMORGASBORD (aka CRACKING UP), the film he made after HARDLY WORKING, and it could not even get a US theatrical release as it was so out-of-step with the culture of that day, 1983 (it did well overseas and wound up on cable and late-night TV here). And to have that kind of simple and pure comedy served up by a character who looks like a grizzled old character actor, but in a ten year old’s body, makes the packaging even more appealing to me. He’s almost like an elementary school version of Shemp Howard, and who could not get excited by that prospect. It’s interesting that artist Fred Rhoads had worked as an assistant on Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, as Little Sad Sack has a kind of Snuffy Smith vibe to him. And like Snuffy Smith or Harry Langdon, Little Sad Sack does not have to DO anything to be funny. His face and his attitude say it all in a universal language a four-year-old could understand.

Just like the character of Sad Sack, the line of Harvey’s Sad Sack comics (and its endless variations) does not get any respect today. When I looked on some comic book history websites to get my facts straight for this review, I saw one of those listings (as you see for records on Discogs) where it states how many collectors have this comic and how many want it, and for this LITTLE SAD SACK comic, under the “wants” section, instead of a number, it sarcastically stated “who would admit to wanting this!” Hey, I want it! And thankfully, I’ve got it. The super-hero fanboys (and most are boys, whatever their age) who make up most of the comics-nerd world will never “get” Harvey Comics or Sad Sack, let alone Little Sad Sack, which is about as welcome in their world as a second-tier Columbia comedy short featuring, say, Monte Collins or the team of Eddie Quillan and Wally Vernon would be welcome at the Sundance Film Festival.

This comic book is certainly not what the popular historians would have you believe was happening in 1967. Reading this coverless orphan comic book today is like getting a breath of pure oxygen----oxygen that’s been waiting 51 years to be used by someone----after spending a day working outside in some polluted urban area. It’s exactly what I need after a day in the fetid and toxic and self-important world of contemporary society and popular culture.

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