- Posted by Johanna on October 25, 2007 at 7:33 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books; $19.95 US
After enjoying the first volume in this series, the one featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost, I was looking forward to this next collection, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The high production values continue with a heavy feel in the hand and thick, glossy paper. Like many readers, I read these characters when I was a kid, but I’d never thought about or seen the earliest, best stories. Those first tales are what established Richie as someone who could last for decades, between the premise (who doesn’t love the idea of having more money than God?) and the good-humored feel of a super-rich boy who just wants to be friends and do the right thing.
This volume is a lot lighter on explanatory material. Jerry Beck provides an introduction that establishes historical context, as in the previous book, but here, it’s only two pages. (There’s also a two-page interview with Ernie Colon, an artist on the strip.) That’s probably how they upped the story count, with 125 to Casper’s 100. (The cover shown here is an earlier version.) And that’s ok, because the stories speak for themselves.
While Richie looks like the traditional English-influenced, prissy, pampered rich kid, he’s really an all-American guy, using his attributes and assets to do good deeds and help others. In his first story, he only wants to play baseball with the neighborhood kids, where he stops a bully. He’s willing to throw a race to help the disadvantaged or risk his life to catch a thief.
I was surprised to see how plain nasty cousin Reginald Van Dough was in the earliest appearances. Like many kids’ characters, it looked like he’d been softened, with all the rough edges removed, by the time I’d seen him. Here, though, he was not only filthy rich, he was bent on humiliating poor kids Freckles and Pee Wee in every way possible — until Richie taught him his lesson or he reaped the natural effects of his meanness.
There’s something undemocratic about that, about how the two rich guys, good and bad, fight over the poor, who can’t help themselves and are simply pawns. On the other hand, it’s good to see the message that no matter how wealthy you are, you should still do the right things and be a nice guy. And there is a heartwarming story included where Freckles and Pee Wee think Richie’s lost all his money, and they share the little they have with him.
If we’re looking for real-life lessons, there’s also the subtext of money begetting more. In one wordless story, Richie just wants to go fishing, but everything he does winds up bringing him more money, ending with him throwing away his rod in frustration… which pierces the ground and strikes an oil well. The rich always get richer.
Richie’s humanized not only by his friends but by his girlfriend Gloria. We see him interacting with her before she’s first introduced, given the arrangement of the few color sections in the book, but her dislike of ostentatiousness and desire for the simple things make her just the right match for Richie. By the end of the book, the stories featuring her have become more formulaic, with her saying “don’t spend money on me” and him doing so anyway. It’s not a very attractive relationship, looked at closely.
Unfortunately, there’s an error in the book. The story beginning on page 77, “Oil’s Well”, is missing a page. All of the stories at this point, which originally ran as backups in Little Dot, are five pages, but as reprinted, this one’s four. More obviously, at the end of page three, Richie promises to tell his friends while they’ve chosen to climb a palm tree, but the answer’s never provided.
The second half of the book covers from 1960 on, when Richie got his own title. At that point, there’s more action in the comics, along with the humor, as thieves seem to be constantly trying to gain the Rich riches. There’s also ridiculous inventions and more exaggeration, as everything gets bigger and fancier, almost fantastic. The earlier stories are better.