R. C. HARVEY is an award-winning cartoonist/journalist as well as a comics chronicler. He’s written histories of cartooning but he doesn’t think of himself as a historian; "chronicler" is better because his writing embraces contemporary as well as antique cartooning. Harvey has drawn in all the medium’s forms—comic strips, magazine gag cartoons, and comic books as well as editorial cartoons. His longest stint at professional work was several generations ago (1978-1983), when he freelanced cartoons to magazines.
He began cartooning at about the age of seven. He blamed his father: “A talented artist himself, my father used to draw Disney characters for me. Once I asked him to copy a cartoon character I saw in a comic book, and he, being busy at that moment, said: ‘Draw it yourself.' And so I did. And have been drawing by myself ever since, for over 77 years at the last accounting.”
Harv was the school cartoonist in high school and the campus cartoonist in college. In the Navy, he was the All-Navy Cartoonist one year, and the next, he was at sea, drawing cartoons in the monthly magazine of the USS Saratoga, a giant aircraft carrier, where he was otherwise occupied as disbursing officer.
After the Navy (“I left because it was only a fleeting thing with me”), he tried to sell into syndication a couple of comic strips. No luck. Needing gainful employment, Harvey started teaching English in high school and kept after it for five years.
Being an English teacher is somewhat like being a carrier of the plague. As soon as his occupation became known in mixed company, whatever throngs were within earshot would immediately clam up and begin looking nervously over their shoulders for split infinitives, dangling participles, off-color adjectives, and similar kinds of disorderly grammatical conduct (all of which, Harvey stoutly maintained, are entirely permissible between consenting adults.)
“It’s demoralizing to be thought of as the watchdog of everyone else’s language,” Harvey said. “Not only that, it’s lonely. So in an attempt to demonstrate that I was just one of the fellas on the corner (like everyone else), I began in my spare time to draw cartoons about sexy girls— some of them in broken English, some of them in nothing at all.”
After five years in front of a classroom, Harvey joined the headquarters staff of the National Council of Teachers of English, where he served as convention manager for nearly 30 years.
During that time, he briefly moonlighted gag cartoons to men’s magazines, trying desperately to make barenekkidwimmin funny. Eventually, he started writing about cartooning, and by the mid-1980s, he’d all but given up drawing cartoons (except for Christmas cards and an occasional allegedly comical illustration) in favor of writing about them.
Harv’s first foray into expository text was with a column in the fondly recalled Menomonee Falls Gazette (a weekly newspaper of comic strips) in the fall of 1973. A couple years later, he launched his Comicopia column in No.130 of the Rocket’s Blast - ComiCollector, which, by then, had been taken over by James Van Hise from Gordon Love, the founder. For RB-CC, he created a mock comicbook superhero, Zero Hero.
In March 1980, Harvey abandoned early columns and started writing for The Comics Journal, with a new effort, The Reticulated Rainbow, starting in No. 54 and continuing regularly under various titles for an insufferably long time. By the time he was in his eighties, Harv’d become, probably, the Journal contributor with the greatest longevity.
For the online Journal, his column is entitled Hare Tonic, invoking the bespectacled rabbit with which, for years, he signed his occasional cartoons. He calls the rabbit “Cahoots” even though that’s not the rabbit’s name; his name, of course, is Harvey, an allusion to the Jimmy Stewart movie in which one of the central figures of the production, a six-foot rabbit, usually invisible, is the title character, "Harvey."
Says Harvey (not the rabbit but the cartoonist/chronicler): “My stratagem was that readers would see the rabbit in my drawings and think— immediately, as a virtual knee-jerk or Pavlovian drool— ‘Harvey!’ Clever, eh? Well, I'm only five-foot-eleven-inches tall, but I have aspirations.”
Over the years, Harvey has authored more than a dozen books about comics and cartoonists. He collected three volumes of Cartoons of the Roaring Twenties (1991-92) about magazine cartooning (two have been published by Fantagraphics) and has written The Art of the Funnies (1994), an aesthetic history of newspaper comic strips, and its sequel, The Art of the Comic Book (1996), plus several biographies—Accidental Ambassador Gordo: The Comic Strip Art of Gus Arriola (2000); Meanwhile: A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon (2007); The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson (2003), which he ghosted with Anderson. His most recent book is Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creators (2014).
All of his books that have not sold out are described (and sold) at his website, RCHarvey.com, where, since 1999, he has conducted Rants & Raves, a fortnightly online magazine of comics news and reviews, cartoon history and lore, and it’s still going after more than two decades, Rancid Raves all the way, making it, possibly, the Internet’s longest-running regularly published online periodical on comics and cartooning.
Harvey has contributed numerous cartoonists’ biographies to Oxford University’s American National Biography (both online and in print) and has written over 150 short biographies of cartoonists in his Gallery of Rogues: Cartoonists’ Self-caricatures (1998). And his book about the infamous feud between Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka) and Al Capp (Li’l Abner) has appeared in serial form in the online Comics Journal (Hubris and Chutzpah: How Li’l Abner Kayo’d Joe Palooka and Both Their Creators Came to Grief ).
Harv was associate editor for comic strips at the earliest incarnation of Inks, a scholarly journal about the arts of cartooning (a title lately revived). He also curated a comic art exhibition for Seatle’s Frye Art Museum (September-November 1998) and assembled the catalogue for the show, Children of the Yellow Kid: The Evolution of the American Comic Strip (1998). He published interviews regularly in Cartoonist PROfiles, the profession’s most venerable publication, until it ceased, and he did a column, Funnies Farrago, in Comic Book Marketplace, until it ended. Hare Tonic has proven more persistent: it’s still being prolonged.
In addition to being the All-Navy Cartoonist in 1960, Harvey has been awarded the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists’ Ink Bottle Award "in recognition of dedicated service to the Association and distinguished efforts to promote the art of editorial cartooning," 2013; and the San Diego Comic-Con International Inkpot Award "for achievement in comic arts," 2018. And when he was a senior in high school, he won a Certificate of Merit for Achievement in Cartooning Art from Scholastic Magazines.
Finally—yes, he wrote all this himself in a shameless spree of flawless modesty.