Mar 22, 2015

The Gay Enchanted Forest of Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my favorite comics by far were the Harvey supernatural titles: ghosts, witches, and devils roaming an oddly-Medieval Enchanted Forest where same-sex desire was commonplace.

I preferred Casper, but in a pinch, I would read about Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, a ghost boy with a Brooklyn accent, freckles, and a derby (or, as he pronounced it,  “doiby”).  (Not to be confused with Charlton's far inferior Timmy the Timid Ghost).

But while Casper was a 1960s nonconformist with a gay-coded softness and sensitivity, the hawkish Spooky had no aversion to booing.

 In Spooky’s wild region of the Enchanted Forest, ravenous bears, ogres, monsters, and evil wizards leapt out from behind every boulder, so booing was an essential form of self defense.  But for Spooky, it was an all-consuming passion.  He specialized in complex, artistic boos, creating statements similar to the happenings and guerilla theater of the 1960’s art scene: he might boo a horse and rider into trading places, so that the rider runs off with the horse on his back, or he might boo a lake out of its bed so precisely that the fish remain, swimming in mid-air.

In “Once upon a Scaresday," Spooky explains how he took up booing in the first place.  As a child, he was a coward and a sissy, always running away from danger.  One day he was walking in the hills beyond Spooktown with some friends, when cannibalistic monsters called Ghostcatchers attacked.  Spooky managed to run away, but his best friend Googy was captured and dragged off to be cooked and eaten.  Distraught with guilt and mourning his loss, Spooky asked his grandfather for advice, and the elderly ghost taught him how to defend himself by booing.  He proved to have a great gift for this ghostly martial art, and soon he was able to seek out the monsters and rescue his friend just as the cooking-fire was being lit.

A same-sex relationship originally motivated Spooky to boo, and a heterosexual relationship now compels him to stop.  Spooky and Poil (his pronunciation of Pearl) are quite an adult couple, dating, dining at each other’s homes, and even kissing on couches.  Pearl forbids him from booing.  She claims that it is immoral, but her real reason is class-based snobbery: she considers booing boorish and vulgar, a working-class pastime likely to offend her high-society ghost friends (but they usually turn out to be closet booing fans).

Spooky is constantly promising to refrain from booing, to keep Poil from brow-beating or even leaving him.  Many stories involved his frantic but quite clever schemes to continue booing after such a pledge, either for self defense or to assuage his addiction: he throws his voice, writes “boo” in the sand, spells it out with smoke signals.  But why would Spooky even agree to cease a useful, artistic, socially-praised, and strategically necessary activity, just because Poil disapproves?  Obviously she offers something more valuable than any of these things, more valuable than any love, but what?  I was mystified; I could imagine giving up a bad habit or even an innocuous hobby at the admonition of a friend, but a career, a passion, a veritable calling?

I knew it had something to do with the girls who jumped their ropes and played their singsong games in the shadow of the school.  At recess, we boys were herded far away to fields to play baseball and dodge ball, and if ever once we tried to play jump rope, or merely sit on the steps nearby to avoid the midday sun, a teacher would scream wildly at us to stay put.  What danger lurked there, against the cool bricks?  What threat did girls pose that could force Tommy Kirk to forsake his buddies at Midvale College, or Alec to forsake the wonders of the Earth’s Core, or Spooky to forsake his booing?