Those of you who follow me on social media and/or get my mass email updates, may be wondering, WHY am I spending all this time trying to get on a Casper The Friendly Ghost comic? Is this all a gag? Is it simply bullheadedness? After all, you’ve never seen me go after something in this fashion. You’ve seen me hint at things, tease upcoming work, but never seen me go after work in a no holds barred fashion for anyone to see who cares to look.
And all ages stuff isn’t really my thing. The work I’ve done for Mad Magazine is as close as I’ve come to that…and that was borderline most of the time…
But no, this is not a gag, and I have a pretty long list of people I’d be riding on the internet before American Mythology, if this was some personal bullheaded thing.
A short answer to “why” would be as simple as “six year old me told me to”. Casper and other Harvey comics where some of the first I read. But you didn’t come here for syrupy sweet tales of a younger version of myself, and that answer/reason is actually the “why” of the “why”. Not the actual “why”
To understand the “why” you are looking for…we have to step back and understand what Casper is…and was…and where the comic book industry is.
We’ll start with the industry first, briefly, since I’ve been over this already. The day is fast approaching when this medium will no longer be getting billions of dollars of free advertising from Hollywood. AND even if that was going to continue it is still facing completion for dollars, and fandom from entities and mediums and outlets the likes of which it never faced before. and even if none of that were the case…you still are facing the law of all laws. That is- the law of diminishing returns. Meaning you either continue to get new people or you wither away and die.
The upside is new people are being made every day and in a few years those new people learn how to read. You want to get those new people into comic books…then you better have a comic books for them, and they better be good. They better be good because believe it or not, kids know the difference between something good and something half assed…the entertainment they input is ALL they have to worry about. AND it better be good because they have just as many options to be entertained with as adults do.
Harvey comic’s Casper was , for decades , the gateway drug into comic books for many of us. Why Casper? why do so many of us have fond memories of the Harvey line of comics as opposed to Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny or any dozen other cartoon properties that were briefly unsuccessful comic books? Because Casper, and the Harvey Comics were really good. and even as kids, even if we couldn’t quite explain why, we could tell.
Harvey got the rights to Casper which was at the time a D list cartoon.
Harvey didn’t take the name and crap out some stuff and hope the name recognition would make a few bucks. They made it into a really good comic book. So good, that the comic book form of Casper and cast overshadowed the cartoon. This was because Harvey was not in the licensing business…they were in the comic book making business. They had a line of books of some success before they grabbed up Casper. They knew what they were doing and how to do it right and they had a solid staff.
I mentioned before that these comics are solid examples of comic book storytelling. Let me show you what I mean. Leading the readers eye with page composition is job 1. You read from left to right, top to bottom. Having the pictures, motion, composition, follow that same path is extremely important. If you don’t do this the brain becomes disinterested, unfocused, taxed, pulled out of the story. That little bit of dis-harmony can completely break up the connection of the reader to the world and story that he/she could be engrossed in.
That flow/harmony is especially important if you are dealing with someone who is new to reading at all.
So…here’s a Casper page.
Simple stuff, right? Not exactly…. I have taken the liberty of adding some arrows for the sake of explaining things, look again…
…the musical notes lead you from panel 1 into panel 2. the witch leans into the direction of panel 3. the ghost points to the word balloons, after the balloon the figures are leaning and pointing towards panel 4, the can of grease is lifted towards panel 6. It can’t be done much better than that. Simple but effective. That phrase must have been chiseled into the wall at the Harvey office. Here’s another page…
Just flat out by the numbers sequential storytelling making up a flat out great comic book page. The characters are well drawn and charming, the backgrounds are just enough, the important info is obvious without hitting you over the head.
The use of the sound effects (musical notes in this case) to help with flow composition, I didn’t know who started doing that first, but the whole industry made great use of it after Harvey perfected it. and Keep in mind that it is subtle. It isn’t a giant “kablam”. There is a lot going on in these pages that is subtle. It is deceptive in how fully fleshed out they are. Let’s look at that establishing shot again,
There is a lot of information there about the environment. The floors are not just wood, they are old wood that is warping up. The windows have been broken, the window shade is old and has been repaired, the wallpaper is stained and torn, the picture frame is tilted and…oh for crying out loud….I just NOW noticed something. Remember what I said about the path of the eye…look at the lines of the floor
The direction of the flooring changes to flow with the direction you want the eye to go in.
I learned a lot from Harvey Comics and I don’t just mean how to read… Here’s a cover of Archer and Armstrong I did for Valiant Entertainment
…maybe I learned more than I even realized, since I can’t say I’ve ever
actually seen wallpaper peeled back like that in real life, only in Casper comics and yet there it is.
People tend to think of these as glorified coloring books…this establishing shot (below) is in perfect three point perspective and the inking is all done with a brush…these were not illustrators who thought they were competing with coloring books…
They did plenty that was not subtle. They did some wild
exciting pages…that seemed even MORE wild and exciting because of the contrast/set up, of previous pages.
Any good comedian or horror writer can tell you that a big pay off is nothing without contrast and discipline before hand.
The backgrounds, objects, characters, and even text/word balloons all have
the same feel to them. Everything feels like it exists in the same world,
everything works together…these are not just pages that you read, these are pages that take your imagination to a place. That is the goal that all of us in every single genera strive for. And it is spot on in that Casper page. Everything worked together in these books, lines, words, compositions, they made it look easy.
20 solid pages, times several books, times 12 months…that is two or three
movies worth of solid G rated storytelling a year….for decades.
Let’s not gloss over that G rated part. Because that is also part of the answer for “why Casper”. Much of the Casper content was directly aimed at very young kids…but some of it was entertaining for anyone. That is not easy to do.
You may have heard of the documentary “the Aristocrats”. It about a standard joke in stand up comedy that any comedian can take and try to make his or her own. It’s a bare bones template of a joke…and the challenge it to tell it your own way. Basically it’s this- guy walks into a talent agency says he has a new act. The act is the part of the joke that you make your own. The punchline is that the act is called “the Aristocrats”. The funny comes in by describing the act…generally it is described as something so over the top horrific or pornographic or disgusting that when it is given that name you can’t help but laugh at the contrast / absurdity. Also the delivery of the name by the agent can help the joke…sincerity, earnestness, obliviousness to the contrast. You get the idea. It’s a challenge in joke telling.
Casper, to me, presents this same type challenge. It is a bare bones concept, and it needs to be G rated and timeless. That strips away all the crutches, strips away anything you can hid behind, strips away the furthest outliers of punchines, strips away any assist you can get from outside references. It is just – can you tell and entertaining story with words and pictures..or can you not. And that is a challenge that I can sink my teeth into.
The whole notion has gears in my brain spinning. It has been awhile
since my brain has gone to work without me telling it to. By that I
mean, writing stories without me sitting down and deciding to do so. I
have arrows in the quiver for Casper stories and I didn’t even mean to
yet…my synapses just produced them after the notion of such a
challenge crossed my mind.
That same type challenge goes for the illustrating itself. This is a style that is simple but charming. With heavy emphasis on both. There isn’t a lot of details and depth to hide mistakes in…you either got those lines right and gave it charm or you did not.
and they spent decades getting it right. Even the covers were brilliant in their simplicity.
That cover has everything it needs in just the right amount and
nothing more. and those colors…proof that often less is more. you can
make something really amazing with only a few tools.
Get a load the grace of these brush lines.
At first glace they seem to be simple lines…but they are not. Look at the individual lines, different widths, curves, angles all for an overall purpose. The charm and energy comes from the calligraphic effect of the changing line widths on the outline on Wendy and Casper, in contrast to the consistent line of the box and internal details
…AND is that not just the most adorable f*cking thing you ever saw?
an how about this one…
…actually, that one’s f*cking terrifying. Those dead eyes in his…skin? suit? what the fu..
let’s move on.
Gah! I don’t know which cover is more unsettling. That sh*t is not cute, and it’s making me ask questions there are no answers to.
But what am I talking about here? Oh yeah, the point it when you are dealing with a large canvas like a comic book cover, and you’re dealing with very simple figures and line-work… it is sink or swim. Can your simple composition/concept grab a persons imagination or can it not. You look at these covers as an adult, they are cute…competent…but look at them again as a child (stopping and looking at the faces and objects and postures), and you’ll see more personality and imagination grabbing imagery going on than the last 48 Xmen books
so…that’s the why’s.
There’s nothing insincere about all this. and you can understand better now why I’m not going to take “no” for an answer.
This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a wee lad, something, specifically, I can do better than just about anyone else walking the planet..and an opportunity to pitch in making sure this industry doesn’t go the way of stamp collecting once all the Hollywood advertising goes away. I mean hell…as much as I’ve been warning we have a fight coming, I might as well put some brass knuckles on and pitch in ( although…I have in fact my entire career been chipping in since Arsenic Lullaby draws people into comics who are fans of horror and stand up comedy). and isn’t this a country (patriotic music playing) where an idiotic child can become engrossed in something and set the course of his life in a direction and…blah blah blah…chase your dreams…blah give back blah blah blah. Youknowwhatimtalkingabout.
To be absolutely clear…here is my offer to American Mythology-Initially I think I suggested doing a small story or a cover, but if it makes things simpler, and easier to find a way to fit me in, I ( respected, multi award nominated, veteran who’s done work for comics as well as tv) will write, draw, letter, and color an entire issue..as well as promote it across 6 social media platforms on my own website (which facts being facts, adds up to a hell of a lot more traffic than they get on their own…3 to 5 times more…and those are fans of Arsenic Lullaby. That’s a “cult fan base”, meaning enthusiastic and motivated) and promote it on my mass emails, not to mention the interviews I would do on it’s behalf on comic book websites , podcasts and youtube channels. All they’d have to do is publish it. That is a hell of a lot of promotion (which stores like to see) and an opportunity to publish an issue of Casper that is bit of an industry event (which fans like to see). That is win-win for them. and a bit of a win for everyone.
If the goal is to make good comic books and get them into the hands of more people, then this is a no brainier.
or not…I could just go do other things…and they can pass of the chance at a glut of new, enthusiastic and motivated fans.
When Douglas is not complaining, he and his work can be found here
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