Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with my career as a self-publishing cartoonist. It’s afforded me the freedom to tell my stories my way, and craft a finished product that reflects my sensibilities without the intrusion of outside ads or editorial mandates. But if there was any publisher I could see my work fitting in with, it would be Harvey Comics of the 1970s.
Harvey titles were the perfect bridge comic to take readers from newspaper strips and prepare them for longer, more involved drawn narratives. They had simple, easy to follow panel layouts, clear storytelling, and crisply-drawn artwork. Each issue stood on its own, with short stories and one-page gags giving a good-sized amount of comic entertainment for your money. The down side of that package– as I was reminded recently while reading Dark Horse’s 450+ page Hot Stuff collection– is that the stories had a real sameness to them that eventually wore thin. Missing any deeper level of character development and continuity, readers would eventually move on to find that in other titles (my own window reading Harvey Comics in the 70s was very small), much like readers move on to more complex prose forms as their reading tastes grow. But back in the 70s that worked out just fine, since there were always new readers just discovering the magic the spinner rack held to take their place, and Harvey’s bright and clever covers certainly were appealing to new readers! The familiarity (and harmlessness) of their stable of characters would no doubt appeal to the parents of those young readers, too.
I’ve really come to enjoy picking up vintage Harveys when I find them– especially as a 50-cent find– and I don’t mind when they’re a little beat up. That certainly comes with the territory for these well-read comics! I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity and clarity of the artwork in these kids comics, by Warren Kremer, Ernie Colon, Howard Post, and other uncredited artists. Considering the disposable nature of kids comics of that era, Harvey artists brought a high level of craft to their work, and their polished linework is on great display in the black & white reproductions in the Dark Horse collections.
As a style experiment, I want to try and bring a little of that polish to my own work. My “Watusi” strips have really settled into the comfortable groove of my natural cartooning style– nothing too flashy, but clear and simple; what I like to call my “coloring book” style. Whenever I’ve tried to more fully render the characters, it just feels “off” to me (even though I’m amazed at how many of the Watusi jam creators could effortlessly pull it off!). So for my next (super short) Watusi storyline– “Dance party on Barker Avenue”— I’m going to modify my artwork somewhat to see if I can channel some of the Harvey style, while using my own tools and character designs. Check out the results this month and let me know what you think!
Finally, a well-deserved tip of the hat goes to once– and hopefully future (?)– Moon Knight artist Greg Smallwood, without whom my reworked Watusi cover mockup wouldn’t have been possible. His excellent tutorial on how he creates a faux-vintage look can be found on his website.