Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 21, 2020

Henry Aldrich, Volume 1: Readers Collection (Gwandanaland Comics #534-A)

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henry aldrich 1

THE ALDRICH FAMILY began in the late 1930’s as a stage play and then a radio show (1939-1953), and by the late 1940’s, it had expanded to television (1949-1953). There was also a hit series of feature films—-11 of them built around Henry, the trouble-prone teenaged son, with Henry played initially by Jackie Cooper and then by James/Jimmy Lydon (star of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 Hamlet-rewrite STRANGE ILLUSION). Henry became the breakout star and featured character in the radio show. With the amazing success of ARCHIE COMICS beginning in 1942 (interestingly, Archie publisher John Goldwater observed that he was trying to appeal to fans of the Mickey Rooney “Andy Hardy” films, which are not that different from the Aldrich Family, so Archie taps into Andy Hardy, and Henry Aldrich taps into Archie….makes sense to me), it would seem inevitable that at the height of his TV and radio fame in 1950, Henry Aldrich would get his own comic book and that it would be echo Archie comics to some extent, although Aldrich (who, technically, pre-dates Archie) is a unique character with a unique family (much more emphasis here on the immediately family than in Archie) and unique quirky qualities, all of which are on display in the Dell HENRY ALDRICH comic books.

Dell published 22 issues of HENRY ALDRICH between 1950 and 1954, and all are in the public domain and available for free reading online at Comic Book Plus.

However, for those who want to hold a print copy in your hand, Gwandanaland Comics is reprinting the series in book form, and the first volume is out, containing issues #1-5. I purchased the “readers collection,” which is a euphemism for black and white transfer. These “Readers” collection are 1/3 or 1/4 the price of the color collections, and getting an 8″ x 11″ book of 250 pages, containing five 52-page comic books, for only $14.99 is too great a buy to pass up, especially since these are comedy and joke oriented stories. Just imagine watching Henry Aldrich on B&W television in the early 50’s while reading these B&W transfers.

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I published a review online of Henry Aldrich #21 (the next to last copy issued, from 1954) a few years ago at BTC, so let me reprint that write-up here to give you a better idea of what this appealing comic book series is like.

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HENRY ALDRICH #21 (Dell Comics, June 1954)

Among my recently acquired batch of fifty-cent comics was a cut-cover copy of the second-to-last issue of the HENRY ALDRICH series. THE ALDRICH FAMILY was a massive hit on radio (running from 1939-1953) and then in movies and in television, and the inevitable comic book adaptation came from Dell in 1950 and ran for four years and 22 issues.

I’ve heard about the radio show and the films, though I’ve never heard a show or watched a film, but fortunately, you do not need any background or backstory whatsoever to enjoy this comic book. The franchise is built around the character of quirky and bumbling but lovable Henry Aldrich, who is in his late teens, his parents and extended family and neighbors, and his best friend and neighbor Homer.

The best way for me to describe this comic book is to ask you to imagine a character who is like a cross between Archie and an older Dennis The Menace placed in a more slapstick-oriented version of the OZZIE AND HARRIET or LEAVE IT TO BEAVER family. In fact, I’ve never thought of this connection before, not being really familiar with the Aldriches, but Ozzie Nelson definitely was influenced by THE ALDRICH FAMILY in his creation of the OZZIE AND HARRIET universe.

It’s hard to do sit-com style comedy well in the comic book format —-the real thing relies so much upon timing, set-ups for jokes, tight back-and-forth editing, established personas of the regular characters which have to be understandable to first-time watchers while not repeating what the regular viewers already know, etc., and it can’t be TOO wordy though it relies on jokes–it’s EXTREMELY hard to do well and in a way that’s timeless and holds up 50 years after the fact….just look at the many un-funny shows of the 50’s-60’s era, some of which are still aired on nostalgia channels today), but HENRY ALDRICH #22 hits a home run in that department–it’s as entertaining and funny in the quirky-family-humor vein as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a Columbia BLONDIE movie, but etched on the comic-book page. The first story (the stories are not titled) deals with a family picnic to which various free-loading extended family members and neighbors (and their pets) invite themselves—the humor here has more of the sarcastic “bite” of an Edgar Kennedy short than the gentler feel of OZZIE AND HARRIET. The second (which could have been a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER or DENNIS THE MENACE episode) has Henry’s father having to get a client to sign an important contract he’s been reluctant to sign–Dad goes to the person’s office to find him, while the man comes to the Aldrich office and meets up with Henry, who is filling in for someone who is taking the day off, and whose quirkiness totally wins the man over and gets him to sign the contract. Next, Henry loans a two-dollar bill to his friend Homer, who offers to change it for him, but it blows out of Homer’s hand and in between two buildings with just an inch-or-so clearance and he has to fish it out somehow without admitting that that’s what he’s doing–the problem is that Henry needs that money in a few hours for an important date he’s got lined up for that evening. The final story features Henry’s pal HOMER in his own story. Homer overhears his girlfriend ordering a bunch of food items and party supplies for someone named “Bobby,” and of course he’s jealous and bumbles his way through figuring out what it is going on.

As stated earlier, this comic does a great job of doing 50’s family-sitcom style comedy–it’s as successful as a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode or Archie Comics at their finest. After all, doesn’t EVERYONE want a comic book as satisfying as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a DENNIS THE MENACE TV episode?

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All 22 of the Henry Aldrich comic books are all available online at Comic Book Plus

https://comicbookplus.com/?cid=1414

The Gwandanaland book version under review (containing the first five issues) is available at Amazon.

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