By Rusty Keele
I grew up in a small town among the deserts and red rocks of Southeastern Utah. This was the backdrop for many Hollywood movies (still is, in fact) and provided many wonderful vacations for my family. My father loved to take us on road trips using the camper on the back of his pick-up truck while pulling a camp trailer. Ah, I have many good memories of spending my summer vacations traveling to little known corners of the Southwestern United States to see obscure geologic formations or camp in lonely spaces among the forests of not-so-well-known mountains.
Us kids would pile into the camper with our books, toys and Sony Walkman music players while my parents rode in the cab of the truck, completely cutting off the noise and complaints that we frequently made. It was on these long trips that I learned to read - from comic books no less! We had an abundance of Harvey comics, most of which were Richie Rich, and some of my earliest memories come from looking at the art in those books - even before I could read. I enjoyed the stories without understanding the words - Richie Rich was very much a kids' book and it wasn't hard to figure out what was happening from the facial expressions and actions of the characters.
After learning to read I remember going through all our comic books again and being totally fascinated by how much the words added to my understanding of the story. In several cases I found that my interpretation had been completely wrong. (Imagine that!) I didn't see that as a problem, though - it was like reading a totally different book and I enjoyed both methods.
Our camper and camp trailer both had storage areas which amounted to nothing more than a hole with a lid on it. We would yank the doors open and stash our comics in these deep, dark bins. (Years later, when I began to seriously collect comic books I was horrified at how we had carelessly stuffed these treasures into the storage areas. I once spent an entire day carefully pulling out the books, smoothing their covers and pages, and putting them into mylar bags with backer boards.)
Anyway, one summer trip that especially stands out in my mind was a family reunion at Brownie Lake, high in the Uinta mountains, when I was 8 years old. Brownie Lake was a long drive from our house, and as we got ready to go my father discovered some problem with our truck. To our disappointment we found that it wasn't road worthy and there was no time to fix it if we wanted to attend the reunion on time. My parents decided that we would take the family car instead and just load our tent and camping equipment into it. Not only was that an unappealing thought, but we had so much stuff that we had to really cut back - and even then the thick foam sleeping pad had to be rolled up and stuffed in the back seat area. My brother and sister rode with other extended family members, and I was the lone kid who got to ride in the back seat, sprawled out on top of the foam cushion. Yippee.
With little room for playing with toys, and having exhausted the few comic books I brought with me, my mother graciously decided to buy me several new comic books when we stopped at a convenience store in a small town en route. I was very excited as she brought back an armful of Harvey comic books from the spinner rack in the tiny store. Among them was Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers #34, which was exciting because I always got a kick out of Jackie Jokers and his shenanigans! Not only was Jackie a fun character, but it always seemed like Richie Rich "let his hair down" whenever Jackie was around. This issue was no exception, and in it we got to see Jackie practice for his movie roles of detective and character actor. It also included a hilarious parody of two popular TV shows of the time: The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. In that story, entitled "The Fantasy Boat to Love Island" Jackie and Richie took on roles which allowed both of them to impersonate famous actors as well as deliver several corny one-liners. It was great fun to read, and I figured if I couldn't watch TV on that cramped camping trip then at least I could read about it!
Fast forward, if you will, to a time over 30 years later. My love for comic books has never completely gone away, but it has waxed and waned throughout the years. These days the Internet seems to have taken over as the preferred form of entertainment among adults and kids alike. Yet all these digital bits flowing back and forth really seem to have strengthened my love for physical comic books – you know, the actual books. It all started with eBay when I discovered that I could fill the glaring holes in my old comic collection – holes that still bugged me after all these years. I then moved on to comic book news sites, forums and blogs – most of which offered reviews of new comic books. These were all fine and dandy, but I longed for the good old bronze age days!
So, when I discovered a few other bloggers who were talking about the comic books of my youth, I decided to join in the fray. While browsing though my collection I saw the hundreds of Richie Rich books from my childhood, and I knew I would most likely never re-read these gems... unless I decided to blog about my experience. That was my “aha” moment - it was right then and there that I decided to put all my boxes of 70s and 80s comics to good use! Now I read and review a couple of “old” comic books each week, and I still start the reading session like I did all those years ago – by savoring the scent of old comic books while lightly flipping through the pages. Mmm... I really do enjoy those books I read as a kid! I like to think that the many creators, writers and artists of Harvey comics would be pleased to see their work being enjoyed (immensely I might add!) by a 40 something man many years after their comic company went under. More importantly, I like to think that Richie Rich himself would be pleased, because after all the time I spent with him as a kid I can't help but think of him as an old childhood friend. I believe that reading, reviewing and sharing these stories with others is a way to honor that old friendship.
Anyway, now every time I see this Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers comic book in my collection, I am reminded of sweeping vistas, tops of mountains, long hours of uncomfortable driving and some really great road trips! And that's what good comics really do, don't they? The remind us of better times. Yeah... I know this one sure does.