Monday, December 30, 2013

One Tiny Step for Humankind

In the mid-1950s there were no regular, respectfully-portrayed African American comic book characters in mainstream American comic books, except for one. According to former Harvey Comics editor, Sid Jacobson, "Tiny was done consciously by us... our group... were socially conscious. Audrey was the only comic then with a black character. We even got an urban award for it" (Beck, 2009), p.11). According to Dark Horse's Harvey Comics Classics Volume Five: The Harvey Girls, Tiny's first appearance was in Little Audrey #30 in June 1953. This is apparently an error, however. In the same book there is a reprint of the Little Audrey story "Carpet Bagger" from Little Audrey #28, published in Feb 1953, which features Tiny. This appears to me to be the earliest story in which Tiny appears. Tiny is not featured at all in Little Audrey #25 (the first Harvey issue) and #26. The only story I have access to from Little Audrey #27 is "Prize Pup" reprinted in the Dark Horse book, and Tiny is not in that. So at this point it seems that Tiny's debut was in Feb 1953! Tiny actually featured on four covers in the original Little Audrey series - issues #35-#38. The only other cover to feature Tiny was Little Audrey TV Funtime #3 in the early 1960s. As has been noted by others, collecting a complete set of any Harvey kids' title is more difficult that putting together a complete set of Superman or Batman - they're just so rare - and finding precise information about these important publications is also very difficult.

Tiny's presence in comics was enhanced by Harvey reprinting their Paramount Little Audrey run, as well as the earliest issues of Playful Little Audrey, in the 25c giant size Little Audrey TV Funtime series in the 1960s. I believe at least the first 17 issues of this title contain Tiny reprints, and collecting these is the cheapest way to accumulate the complete body of Tiny stories, which includes appearances in Little Audrey stories, as well stories with Tiny as the main protagonist. The TV Funtime issues seem to reprint two of the original 10c issues in each one, so it is likely that Tiny is found in issues of TV Funtime well into the 20s. Many of the Tiny stories were drawn by the late Howie Post, and possibly written by him as well - they certainly contain some whacky humor and are of exceptional quality. Little Audrey is often spoken of in terms of being a cheap substitute for Little Lulu, but honestly from my point of view the stories are far better. But why not judge for yourself? Here are the two Tiny stories found in Little Audrey TV Funtime #17:

I suppose you could call that an example of slapstick humor! That and the next one illustrate Tiny's uncanny ability to 'fall on his feet'. In "Hair Today" you saw Tiny rewarded for being a good kid and accidentally helping others in the process. Tiny is a 'glass half full' guy most of the time - positive, happy - his childish innocence helps, and as you'll see in "Get Lost', Tiny often comes to everyone's rescue.

You can't buy new Harvey Comics any more - that hasn't been possible for a long time. But they still hold appeal not just for old comic fans like myself, but also the younger generation. I ran a test, and gave my 8 year old granddaughter a pile of over 100 old Harvey Comics, mostly Little Audrey, Little Dot, Richie Rich, and an assortment of others. It didn't seem to matter to her that the kids in the stories didn't have cell phones, computers, or play video games. She sat and read through the whole lot in a matter of weeks when she was round my house, and enjoyed them all. To people of my generation Harvey Comics were a significant influence, providing relatively wholesome conditioning. Harvey Comics normalized diversity at a time when prejudice was rampant. They empowered their young female readers by presenting strong, assertive, independent female protagonists like Little Audrey. They adhered to the Comics Code and produced comics that parents could trust at a time when comic books were regarded with suspicion.

The only recent publications featuring Harvey Comics are the fabulous and inexpensive reprint books by Dark Horse that I mentioned at the beginning - there are several volumes but just the one that features Little Audrey and Tiny. I highly recommend purchasing this one and the entire series.

But back to my original reason for posting about Tiny. There were a few respectful representations of African Americans in comics during the 1940s and into the early 50s, even some regularly featured characters. But by 1953 they were gone. Tiny was the only one for a while, then in the late-50s Dell re-introduced Our Gang as The Little Rascals, mirroring the re-packaging of the Hal Roach movies for TV. But Tiny was a pioneering move on the part of Harvey Comics. Tiny had his own feature, unlike the African American members of Our Gang/The Little Rascals, or John Smith, assistant to Balbo the Boy Magician in Fawcett's Master Comics. Harvey Comics' efforts at enlightenment during what was in some ways a bleak period in this country's history need recognizing and celebrating.

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