Sep 8, 2012

Richie Rich: It's funny because he's RICH.

See? It's funny because he's  rich.
So we're back to Harvey comics, and maybe I should explain why we even came here in the first place. I used to read Harvey comics when I was a kid. I loved them. I especially loved Casper and Hot Stuff -- and in fact part of my early learning to draw was copying and tracing images from old Harvey comics. I adored this material. I even liked their most popular character of all -- Richie Rich.

But then, fairly recently, after about 25 years of not bothering with Harvey comics I had another encounter with them. It was actually really neat -- I bought a Casper  trade paperback. It was a neat nostalgic trip, reading Casper stories, seeing them evolve... but... I didn't just leave it there, did I?

I had to read some Richie Rich too, didn't I?


It started with the covers. Ralph, owner of my local comic shop (whom I work for part-time, helping out in the shop), had a bunch of Richie Rich digests he was pricing. I browsed through them and discovered something. Every single cover -- every cover bar none -- had a money pun on it. All  the cover jokes were money puns!

It was impossible not to imagine Harvey comics staff sitting around designing these covers. We could just see the Richie Rich editors sitting there shaking their head over some, "Bad penny" reference that it's working -- an enormous wall chart of words you can use to make cash-based puns -- people getting angrilly yelled at for submitting cover gags that are puns on cheese... Imagining this sort of thing was certainly more funny than the cover gags themselves.

See what you have to remember is, it's funny because he's rich.

Because of these covers -- and this blog -- I decided I would have to buy and read the Richie Rich digests when Ralph was finished pricing them. Boy oh boy did I regret that.

Richie Rich is Harvey Comics' most successful and popular comic-book character. At the height of his popularity he even outstripped the arguably more famous Casper the Friendly Ghost. He had well over fifty titles to his name, and most of them were well over 28 issues long.  How is it even possible for such a simplistic, stupid character to be one of the most successful American comic book characters ever? My brain wants to revolt against any possible explanations.

The key is fairly obvious, but it's so obvious it seems too simple. Richie is a young boy who is insanely rich and who gets to use his money to have wild adventures, to buy any toy he wants, and to do anything he wants. He's a stand-in for the reader -- you're meant to marvel at his adventures and imagine how amazing it would be if you could do the same sorts of things.

Cutting edge graphics!
 Because Richie is meant to be a kiddie fantasy Harvey comics didn't muddy the waters with any real downsides to being rich. The tagline 'The Poor Little Rich Boy" implies that the concept might be that despite all his wealth (or maybe even BECAUSE of all his wealth) Richie still has problems, just like you and me. That (moooostly) isn't the case at all.

Richie Rich is perfect in every possible way. He's Rich, but he doesn't have any of the downsides usually associated with this sort of character. He's not stuck-up or snobbish or selfish like Veronica Lodge. Despite his clear obsession with money, he's not a miser like Scrooge McDuck -- he spends his money freely and generously. There's not even the child neglect that is a common trope of modern rich characters in fiction. Richie's dad is always there to support him, and goes on picnics with him and always has time for him -- and his mum does too.

In Richie Rich's world there are no negative problems that don't come from outside his perfect bubble of a world. His father (Mr. Richard Rich) is perfect, his mother (Regina Rich) is perfect, his butler (Cadbury) is perfect, his chaufer (Bascomb) is perfect. Even his robot maid blames outside forces for any sign of imperfection in her perfect awesomeness.

I spent about half an hour restoring this cover,
getting rid of a stamp from a second hand store.
I sure am glad I spent all that time on this anti-joke.
It's only when outside forces like evil accountants, thieves, spies and of course, mad scientist ghosts, invade Richie's world that he has any real issues. If there weren't all these greedy people trying to kidnap him and steal his wealth he'd have basically no problems. His only regular antagonist is his cousin Reggie Van Dough who is a naughty selfish rich boy, meant to both contrast against Richie and actually drive the plot by doing proactive (if mean) things.

Richie's best friends are the poor girl Gloria Glad (who sometimes gets mad at Richie for spending too much money on her! Oh that silly Richie), the poor kids Freckles and Pee-Wee Friendly, and various other Harvey allumni like Little Lotta, Little Dot and Jackie Jokers. He even regularly teams up with Casper the Friendly Ghost, but when he does Richie always assumes he's dreaming, since ghosts aren't real. There's not really any conflict to be found here among his vast cast of friends -- it's just that they do silly things sometimes which cause other silly things to happen, maybe.

Part of the reason adult me hates Richie Rich when kid me liked him is pretty obvious. My relationship to 'the rich' has changed. Rather than seeming like money can solve all your problems and make you happy, I can understand now that wealth can come with its own sets of the problems. I can also understand that rich people need to demonstrate that they're good people rather than just telling us they're good people.

By my adult standards Richie is a wealth-obssessed horror of a kid. He's held up as a paragon of virtue, and yet all the people around him are either antagonists, servants or dirt poor. Richie does nothing to help these people, just accepting their roles.

I mean, why are Richie's friends still living in poverty? They live in Richville, the town named for Richie's family. Why don't his parents hire his friends' parents? Why doesn't he give them a new house? Why does Richie invite his friends to play houses that are frickin' oppulent mansions when their families are living in hovels? While we're at it, why does Richie's father keep his money in giant vaults? Why does his estate have gem volcanos and oil geysers that AREN'T BEING MINED?! Why are these characters so fucking STUPID?
It's funny because he's ri... man, I just remembered --
Freckles lives in a hovel, and Richie has a private
railroad. *sob*.

I can definitely see why Richie Rich -- who was once one of the most popular comic characters in the world -- has completely faded from view since Harvey Comics' collapse in the 1980s. There's really not much there to revive. Compared to a nuanced, interesting (and imperfect) character like Scrooge McDuck, Richie is just an empty shell.

In the end I really kinda regret revisitting Richie Rich. If I'd just left him as a vague memory from my childhood I might still have a fondness for him. Instead he ends up in the same category as things like Voltron, or Scooby Doo -- things I thoroughly regret ever looking at again! Oh well. Since I hate the little bugger, at least I can share that hatred with the entire internets!

--Andrew S.
(At least until I run out of Richie Rich digests.)


  1. You have many valid and interesting points here, but I feel sad that you no longer love dear Richie. He's a nice kid, he means no harm, you loved him once, maybe you can again! I did just post a few stories on my blog that show him trying to him give cash to Freckles and Peewee, but they just don't want his fancy money. Come back to the light Richie again...

    1. Say I like Richie. By the way, do you know what issue shows Gloria dressed as a football uniform and plays football with the boys? Here's the link in case you need help:

  2. Say can you tell me what issue shows Gloria Glad playing football with the boys? Here's the link: