Saturday, January 16, 2010

Richie's Ledger: Money Sex Power

The single-mindedness of Harvey Comics' characters -- Little Dot’s obsession with circles, Casper’s desperation to find a friend -- is matched only by the intense repetition featured in the design of Harvey comics. Nowhere is this better seen than on the cover of Richie Rich Bank Book$ #32.

Symbols for money – dollar and cent signs – appear 13 times, gems 6 times (9, if you count the 3 in "Richie Rich" in the upper left corner), and “Rich” appears 10 times. Add to this a glittering gold bank, a wad of bills in Richie’s hand (certainly not fives or tens), 2 bank books, and a very large account book in the shape of a dollar sign, with dozens, perhaps 100s of dollar-sign shaped pages (that's at least 34 representations [symbols, words, objects] of wealth).

A house ad for Harvey Comics in the issue ratchets up this financial frenzy even further.

During the month this comic came out (August 1977), Harvey released 13 different Richie Rich titles: Vaults of Mystery, Cash, Jems, Riches, etc . . . But as the weeks passed, the value went up for the "giant" comic in the final column: week one was Millions; week three Billions, and the final week culminated with a wealth so vast it couldn’t be named with a word that corresponds to something: Zillions (even the Zs echo the shape of a dollar sign.)

If the comic has a hero with riches beyond measure, the perfect antagonist must be a threat to this wealth, which was built on the energy of the workers. His antithesis:

It's no wonder that on the first page Richie expresses the capitalist-hoarder's worst fear -- a workers' revolt:

"Gasp! Have the estate workers gone crazy?"

Luckily, things are not what they seem. The workers are only carrying out Mr. Rich’s orders, no matter how crazy they are.

And what are we to make of the cover's exchange between Gloria and Richie, or perhaps more accurately, between her and his money book? Given that Richie Rich is a children’s comic, it might seem crude to suggest that the account book and its placement are sexually suggestive.

But children’s books are usually written by adults . . . If the characters were adults, we might say:

The phallic shaped book represents the male’s totemic power; he uses his superior access to wealth (his ‘inheritance’ as a male) as a form of seduction. The male occupies the literal ‘seat of power,’ sitting in a purple chair ( the color of royalty, which in the US means Rich People) and he is positioned in a Masonic mystic triangle formed by three gems. And the female is off to the side, looking on excitedly and admiring his ‘account.’ His masculinity is a form of exaggeration and ornamentation (gems even have their own tassles), like a male bird’s mating dance. Gloria’s face and hand gestures communicate her surprise at, and her appreciation of, the phallus/book’s ostentatious size and shape, saying, ‘I’ll bet I know what kind of book that is.’ She is responsive to the ritual display he enacts for her benefit -- and for us, as he looks at the viewers, for we are the third party in this love triangle. Had she placed a 'bet' as she suggests, she would have won. She certainly knows what kind of book it is in a literal sense: a book that records and displays the Rich family's riches. But does she know what kind of book it is in a symbolic sense? Like the superhero comic, the children’s humor comic can often explore an erotic power fantasy, playing out a cultural script about gender, money, and desire -- a sexual economy that the child (Richie, Gloria, the reader) intuits yet cannot articulate.

But they're not adults; they're just kids in a kid’s comic . . .

Money Aura