Richie Rich Writer's Rules

By | Thursday, December 15, 2022 1 comment
For many books and shows that have several creators working on them, the creative leads will sometimes develop a bible or style guide for the other creators to follow. That way, the characters don't stray too far from the basic design or premise. Below are couple of photocopied ones for 1970s-era Richie Rich I came across on ebay about a decade ago, and I thought they were worth sharing here.

First off, the three pages that we have scans of...
These seem to actually be from two different documents. The first two pages (from a six page document) are specifically for writers, and the third (from a three pager) seems to be geared more for artists despite the title at the top. Interestingly, it's the writers' document that bears artist Ernie Colón's signature. He was a letterer for Harvey initially, so that's likely his handwriting as well. More interestingly, Colón was not creditted for most of the stories he drew for Harvey Comics, and yet he's able to sign this as the publisher's seeming authority on the character.

The first page here does make a point of noting that rules are meant to be broken, and it is up to the creator's discretion how/when/where to break them. Although it should also be pointed out that an eight-panel grid has been pre-printed on all the art pages. Colón can be seen to write/draw through the panel borders repeatedly, though he still maintains and follows that underlying grid. One can scarely imagine breaking the page up into three columns, much less a wild Neal Adams layout.

It's worth noting that the both the panel structure and the written rules on the first two pages emphasize a regular story beat. Every story is going to open the exact same way, both visually and dramatically. Plus, there's a good chance the story is going to unfold with the same pattern.

I can see why a company might do this. It does provide a sort of continuity for readers. Different from the continuity that Marvel and DC had long established by then, but the regular rythm of the story -- of every story -- lets readers in on how the world of Richie Rich works. Certainly Harvey's other comics like Casper and Little Lotta had similar such guides. And, in thinking back on the stories I read back in the 1970s, I suspect they did something comprable over at Archie as well.

Some people have called Marvel's and DC's past adherence to continuity a crutch, and that it was preventing new readers from coming to and enjoying their books. That's certainly where the New 52 came from. I wonder if that stricter adherence to continuity is what hurt Harvey? If their creators were so saddled with the continuity of format that they couldn't creatively break out and do anything besides what had already been done before. They kept telling the same story over and over again in five page installments, and burned themselves out. I mean, look at where Harvey is now. (They ceased publishing comics in 1982.)

I can't help but wonder if Marvel and DC are heading down that same path; it's just taking longer because their stories last longer than five pages, and it therefore takes longer to notice the repeating patterns.
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Ted Dawson said...

These are awesome! Thanks for sharing them. This is just gold

I think the stricter structure was important for young readers, and it also made it where new readers could just jump in any time. Harvey published so many books, they utilized lots of reruns, so the structure also made older stories not stick out as much in comparison to the new ones. These kinds of things are also what made them "Harvey" comics.

Shortly before Harvey closed shop, Richie Rich alone had over 30 different titles, either monthly or bimonthly. Their sales were incredible. What led to their demise, as I understand it, is infighting. The Harvey brothers had such disagreements that they just shut everything down and sold most of their properties. Totally nuts. That's when many of them went to Marvel to work on their Star Comics line, but I think the Harveys sued them for being copycats and ruined that as well.

I think the 1960s Marvel guys must have had some similar rules they followed. It also made their comics very accessible to new readers. It's not much different than the way a sit-com or many other TV shows work; they follow a pattern each week, and folks like to know what to expect. The surprises and plot twists can still work effectively within a strict structure... maybe even better.

For folks like me, this makes writing and drawing easier. Sometimes being formulaic feels uncreative, but on the other hand, it gives you specific things to be creative with. I don't have to start from scratch with every darn splash page, I follow the rules and focus my energy on stretching them and making it as interesting as I can, and same with writing.

Then you can go to the Other Guy like Ernie did and write and draw Amethyst or Doom Patrol to exercise your other creative muscles.