I'm temporarily postponing my review of the June issue of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, and for a darn good reason. This past Thursday afternoon, I received one of the biggest surprises of my 30-plus years as a card-carrying comic-book fan when I got a phone call from former Harvey Comics artist Sid Couchey. Sid -- the definitive artist for LITTLE DOT and LITTLE LOTTA comics in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and a regular delineator of RICHIE RICH stories during those years as well -- certainly wasn't the first pro with whom I'd ever exchanged words, nor even the first Harvey creator; I'd both spoken with and written to RICHIE RICH comics great Ernie Colon back in the early 80s. What made this contact unique was that I'd never had any dealings with Couchey whatsoever.
Sid was responding to my most recent RICHVILLE RUMINATIONS column in issue #70 of Mark Arnold's fanzine THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!. In that piece, I corrected an error made by Jerry Beck in the introduction to the RICHIE RICH volume of Dark Horse's ongoing HARVEY COMICS CLASSICS series. Jerry had claimed that "Couchy" (sic) drew the first RICHIE story in RICHIE RICH #1 (December 1960), when, in fact, Ken Selig did the honors. The goof struck me as especially peculiar because, as I noted, "Couchey's artwork is so distinctive that it's practically impossible to misidentify, even if one tries." Here's a sample of Sid's angular, uniquely stylized -- er, stylings -- from the 60s RICHIE tale "It's a Wild Idea":
In an earlier THFT! column, I'd labeled Couchey "the Grandma Moses of comics," and hopefully you can see why. Sid brought that comment up, by the way, but not to criticize me for it... simply to note that his home in upstate New York is not that far from the real Grandma Moses homestead.
Sid is pushing 90 but is still quite active locally and is preparing to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. (If you can believe it, he actually proposed to his wife Ruth through the medium of a LITTLE LOTTA story in a 1960 issue of LITTLE DOT.) I'm glad that he has gotten some attention for his work in these latter days, especially since most of his comic-book labors were devoted to characters who were, shall we say, not among the most inspired creations Harvey ever midwifed. As a loyal RICHIE RICH reader, I certainly saw plenty of the dot-loving Little Dot and the food-guzzling, super-strong Little Lotta, but only as five-page backup features in the RICHIE books. Couchey hardly got to do any 10- or 15-page adventure tales with these characters; one of the very few exceptions was a clever DOT story produced during the heyday of The Beatles, entitled (logically enough) "Dot's Rock 'n Roll Adventure":
Most of Sid's RICHIE RICH efforts were five-page quickies as well, but occasionally he'd be called upon to pen a longer story, and he did produce some excellent ones. At the top of this list is "Crash Landing" (RICHIE RICH #43, March 1966), a frankly weird, yet unsettlingly memorable, tale in which Richie and some companions crash on a Communist-run island. Without tearing down a single wall -- or even rhetorically urging the Commie leaders to do the same -- Richie and friends convince the government to reform itself. Don't laugh; Sid and his writer somehow made it all work. (How else were they supposed to pull it off -- by liberal use of radioactive cigars and poisoned beard trimmers?)
During our brief chat, Sid came across as a thoroughly nice man. I am flattered and grateful that he was moved to contact me, and I do intend to keep in touch with him. I've said it before in other venues, and I'll say it again: "My life as a fan" has led to some of my most cherished friendships and some amazing encounters. This one, though, truly knocked me for a loop.