Looking for something Halloween themed while also looking to branch out into fresh genres and publishers, I figured there would be a ton of Halloween stories of Casper the Friendly Ghost out there, right? Two birds, one stone? But my research has revealed otherwise. In fact, there may be more Christmas-themed issues of Casper than Halloween ones. But there are some Halloween issues, and I just so happen to own one: “The Littlest Trick-or-Treater” from Casper #170 (Nov. 1973), which I’ll be looking at today in honor of the holiday.
I bought Casper and other Harvey titles (particularly Hot Stuff) frequently when I first started buying comics. While superhero books were always my predominant purchases, I still bought some Harvey stuff here and there and would continue to do so (well after I had outgrown them) until they stopped being published regularly circa the early 80s.
Casper on Television
My first introduction to Casper was not the comics, however, it was via television, where his old Paramount film shorts were packaged for syndication. I was a lonely kid through much of my childhood (especially during my earliest, pre-K years) and Casper was a character that was defined by his loneliness and desperation for companionship, so I identified with him immediately and would watch his show every day. His cartoons made me feel less alone in the world somehow—and I’m sure there were a whole lot of other kids out there with similar feelings.
When Harvey ceased regular operations, I was approaching my teen years and was probably just about ready to give up on Harvey anyway. I didn’t give much thought to Casper or Hot Stuff or any of Harvey’s other characters for several years. Then, at some point in my twenties, I came across a fifty-cent box (or possibly a quarter box; maybe even five for a dollar) of old Harveys in a comic store or at a convention, felt the pull of nostalgia, and bought some. Then I started seeing more and more of them, usually selling cheap, and continued to buy them. It’s safe to say at this point that most of the Harvey comics I have in my collection (and Archies too, along with other kiddie fare) were purchased by the adult me as back issues dirt cheap in the 1990s and 2000s. It was during this period when the subject of today’s post, Casper #170, “The Littlest Trick-or-Treater,” was purchased.
“The Littlest Trick-or-Treater”
Technically, the title of this comic is The Friendly Ghost Casper. Seriously. Bust out one of your old Casper comics (assuming you have them) from the 60s, 70s, or 80s and check the copyright text at the bottom of the first page. More on this later.
In any case, it’s Halloween and the Ghostly Trio are off to do some tricking as well as collect some treats. Casper implores them “not to be too scary tonight,” as he stays home to greet any potential trick or treaters with a bowl full of apples, peanuts, popcorn, and raisins. (If I had ever trick or treated at Casper’s house as a kid, I would have been painfully disappointed.) Then a young boy named Terry arrives at the house in a clown costume, collecting for UNICEF.
I was aware of this UNICEF thing when I was a young trick or treater, but never saw a kid out on Halloween collecting for the charity. There’s only one time I can recall any personal, firsthand experience with it and that was when someone had a UNICEF box out at their house, collecting change from the adults who were accompanying their children as they tricked and treated. Never met an actual trick or treater who was looking for anything but candy for Halloween, but this Halloween-UNICEF connection is apparently still a thing in the present day and age.
Back to the story: it’s a bit of a mystery how Terry managed to end up in the Enchanted Forest. He was supposed to go out with his big brother Charlie, but Charlie ditched him and Terry suspects that this is because they are competing to see who can who can collect the most for UNICEF. And Terry observes that the littlest trick or treater (which would be himself) usually gets the most.
So Casper does what Casper does: he makes friends with Terry and goes trick or treating with him in place of Charlie. This is a bit of a complicated enterprise in the Enchanted Forest, however, especially since Terry is looking for coins for UNICEF as opposed to the more traditional Halloween treats. UNICEF is a concept that the monsters of the forest have difficulty grasping—some think it’s a unicorn-type monster, while others think he’s looking for “Eunice and Seth.” After Terry explains that UNICEF is “the United Nations Children’s Fund” and that they need this money to help children all over the world, the monsters begin to catch on.
The hobgoblins and banshees proceed to collect all kinds of things, including a basketball stand and ball, pool tables, sandboxes, trampolines, wagons, and swing sets—“a whole pile of things children love!” This is all very well and good, but Terry is still looking for coins.
The more benevolent creatures of the forest, including the talking animals, are a bit more helpful in this endeavor, as most of them have gathered up coins lost in the forest over the years. Some have quarters, others have dimes, and some give pennies. Finally, with his box full of coins, a kindly witch gives Terry her broom so he and Casper can fly straight to the United Nations to drop off his money. As he’s leaving with Casper, the hobgoblins and banshees show that they’ve arranged all their equipment into a playground, whose penny admissions will be donated to UNICEF the following year.
Aside from the one-pagers, two other stories fill out the issue. In one, Casper tricks the Ghostly Trio into protecting a village of gnomes as opposed to terrorizing and terrifying them. In the other story, Casper and Wendy help protect a living forest from unwanted visitors.
I don’t know who to credit for any of these stories. Warren Kremer might be a safe bet for the art (he certainly did the cover, as I understand he did all of the covers in those days), but then it could also be Ernie Colón or even another Harvey artist drawing in the Kremer house style. The writer? No clue. Even The Grand Comics Database doesn’t know. It was certainly edited by Sid Jacobson, that’s the one and only thing we can be sure of here.
Casper the Friendly Ghost was originally conceived by Seymour Reit and illustrated by Joe Oriolo sometime in the 1940s. The character was originally intended to be a protagonist for a children’s book, but the pair of creators could not find a publisher. While Reit was serving in World War II, Oriolo sold the rights to Casper to Paramount Pictures for 175 bucks. Paramount’s Famous Studios would go on to produce fifty-five cartoon shorts of Casper between 1945 and 1959. These shorts would later be packaged for television in the 60s and 70s, which (as mentioned) was my own introduction to Casper.
The first publisher to adapt Casper to comics was St. John, which published the first issue of Casper the Friendly Ghost in late 1949; their last issue was #5 (Aug. 1951). That’s when Harvey Comics got the license from Paramount. Harvey, which had been founded in 1941, took its name from its owners and operators, the Harvey brothers: Alfred, Robert, and Leon.
The Harvey series begins with Casper the Friendly Ghost #7 (Dec. 1952). Why was there no sixth issue? I have no idea. The series would be cancelled with issue #70 (Jul 1958) and then re-started the following month with The Friendly Ghost Casper #1 (Aug. 1958). The last issue was #260 (Jan. 1991), but this run had major gaps that went on for months or more after issue #242 (Sept. 1985). It was actually three years between issues 253 (Jun. 1987) and 254 (Jul. 1990)!!
Now, as far as that weird title switch in ’58, something similar happened with Little Audrey about a year earlier. This title was cancelled with issue #53 (Apr. 1957) and started back up two months later as Playful Little Audrey #1 (Jun. 1957). In both cases, the cover logo designs remained essentially the same, so most readers probably didn’t notice any difference. One commonality between Casper and Audrey was that both started as properties of Paramount Studios, and Harvey had just purchased them outright from Paramount (along with several others) right around this time. So some legalities related to this purchase must have had something to do with the titles stopping and immediately restarting the way they did, right?
Nope. According to Alan Harvey (son of Alfred), it had something to do with renewing second class postage permits. This information courtesy of Mark Arnold’s “A Family Affair: The Harvey Comics Story” from Comic Book Artist #19 (Jun. 2002). Anyone looking for a broader, more extensive history of the Harvey line of comics, the digital edition of this issue of CBA is still available at twomorrows.com.
The Casper series led to successful spinoffs like Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost and Wendy the Good Little Witch. While these characters would go on to appear in some of the Casper film shorts afterward, their lives began in the comics. Also, like many other popular Harvey characters, Casper would go on to headline a large number of additional comic titles, such as TV Casper and Company, Casper’s Ghostland, Casper in Space, Casper Strange Ghost Stories, and Casper TV Showtime. Then there were all the “team-up” style titles in which Casper participated, including Casper and Spooky, Casper and the Ghostly Trio, Casper and Wendy, Richie Rich and Casper, Casper and Nightmare, and Nightmare and Casper. (No, that’s no error. Casper was in two different titles with the ghostly horse, Nightmare.)
As mentioned, Casper and the other Harvey characters began to be published sporadically in the early to mid-80s before disappearing altogether by the early 90s. Marvel briefly published a few issues of Casper and Friends Magazine in 1997 before the properties disappeared again for another decade. Dark Horse put out some slick reprint trades in 2007, followed a couple years later by Ardden Entertainment’s Casper and the Spectrals. This was supposed to be a modernized revamp of the classic Harvey characters, but it flopped. American Mythology put out some new comics featuring Casper and Hot Stuff between 2017 and 2020, but it’s unclear if or when they’ll be putting out anything else with any classic Harvey characters.
“The Littlest Trick-or-Treater” was a sweet and pleasant story. I believe young children today would still enjoy stories like this—and it’s a great way to get them started as readers. I can only hope we haven’t seen the last of Casper & crew in comics form.