Marvel and DC are the comic book brands that suck up nearly all the air the culture allots the form. But let us turn our attention to the late Harvey Comics and the excellent new Harvey-themed cartoon series streaming now on Netflix.
Harvey had a stable of superheroes — you all remember Bee-Man? Red Blazer? No? But it is best-known as the home of children’s comics about children, notably Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Richie Rich and three girls whose names took the same adjective: Little Audrey, Little Dot and Little Lotta — the Harvey Girls, not to be confused with The Harvey Girls, a Judy Garland musical.
Minus the “Little,” Audrey (voiced by Stephanie Lemelin), Dot (Kelly McCreary) and Lotta (Lauren Lapkus) are the stars of Harvey Street Kids, in which they are neighbours on a key-shaped cul-de-sac. (Dot and Lotta would cross over in the comics, but Audrey is new to this team.) With newly forged or refined personalities roughly reminiscent of Powerpuff Girls Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles, they are unofficial but generally recognized keepers of the peace in the neighbourhood, except when they are disturbing it. They have no superpowers — but they do have power.
“Let’s right the snot out of this wrong,” says Audrey, about to get serious about a local social injustice. (“Yes, but no snot,” counsels Dot, the cautious one.)
Audrey, a scamp in the comics (and in the Little Audrey theatrical shorts on which the comic was based), is a daredevil hothead. Dot, who will rock a polka-dot frock but lacks her predecessor’s mania for circles, is brainy and mathematical (and black here). Lotta is not the glutton she was on the page — Lotta in Foodland was the name of one of her series’ — nor is she as strong, but she’s strong enough, and additionally brings the power of cuteness; she is fond of bunnies and has many at home, all named either Audrey or Dot.
Girls are at the centre of the action; besides, Audrey, Dot and Lotta, there are Frufru, who is self-obsessed; Lucretia, who is obsessed with the Harvey Girls; and the Bow (like the Edge), who is Addams Family-strange. (Grey Griffin voices them all.) Boys — including Audrey’s comic-book companion Melvin (Atticus Shaffer, in his first role after the end of The Middle) and his pals Pinkeye (Roger Craig Smith) and Fredo (Utkarsh Ambudkar) — act as antagonists, accessories and occasionally a subject of romantic fascination, but are secondary to the action in a way that female characters often have been.
More attached to the girls than the guys is Tiny (Danny Pudi), an African American character who appeared, without comment, in Little Audrey comics back into the mid-1950s.
The Dreamworks Animation series is run by Brendan Hay (Dawn of the Croods, Robot Chicken) and Aliki Theofilopoulos, who worked on Phineas and Ferb and directed a personal favourite short of mine, Doctor Lollipop, about a unicorn surgeon, his raccoon nurse and an ailing dinosaur, for the online Cartoon Hangover.
It is elegantly designed and expressively animated, incorporating just enough of the original characters’ look — oval eyes, stood on end and slightly slanting, a tipped-over “c” for a nose, iconic hairstyles — to feel true to its roots. As with most cartoons nowadays, it adapts more than half a century of graphic ideas to its own ends.
And also, as cartoons tend to be nowadays, Harvey Street Kids is intelligent and clever and not exclusively aimed at children.
Stories, accomplished in the traditional 11 minutes, include Lotta’s fear of trick-or-treating (she doesn’t like the odds), Dot’s dislike of pets (they’re “dirty, destructive and they make humans act dumb”); the collapse of a local trading economy (“Capitalism has failed us”); and Audrey’s campaign to keep playing past dusk — “Ah, nighttime, we meet again, my arch jerk stinky-faced enemy” — and show the night “it’s not the boss of Harvey Street.” After midnight, tired kids become zombies, more or less.
There are nice, oddly slanted lines throughout — “Friends go with every outfit, like a crisp button-down white shirt,” “As your best friends we respect your feelings so much we will change them entirely,” “When the Harvey girls want something and it’s within the rules of the game to do so, they take it.” But there are also jokes about boogers and farts.
No adults are in sight.