Dec 17, 2015

Lesbian Subtexts in the Harvey Girls: Little Audrey, Little Lotta, and Little Dot

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I loved Harvey supernatural comics: Casper the Friendly Ghost, with his brave nonconformity to ghost society; Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, who had a homoromantic back story; and Hot Stuff the Little Devil, who had homoerotic potential.

I didn't care much for Richie Rich, until he began bulking up in the mid-1970s, and I never bothered with the "girl only" titles: Little Dot, Little Lotta, and Little Audrey.

But I recently bought an anthology of Harvey Girl comics in the interest of completeness (I already had the other volumes), and in retrospect, those girls had a lot to offer.

No quiet, sweet, well-behaved "little ladies,"  they were intelligent, resourceful, and daring.  They gleefully surpassed the boys in every masculine-coded activity, from playing football to catching crooks, and their adventures usually had a satiric edge.

1. Little Audrey was named after a series of 1930s jokes about a girl who got into a terrible, morbid, or dirty situation, then "laughed and laughed" before delivering the punchline.

She had an African-American friend, Tiny, a first in 1960s comics, and a working-class boyfriend:  Melvin, who wore a spiked fedora and spoke Brooklynese.  Middle-lower class friendships were often forbidden, lending their bond a queer subtext.

2. Little Lotta was fat, a compulsive eater, yet very strong and athletic.  She had a small, eyeglass-wearing, feminine-coded boyfriend, Gerald, reminding one of the old blues song "Masculine Women, Feminine Men."

Some stories involved Lotta saving the day from bullies, but mostly they were extended gags with the gay symbolism that must have appealed to preteen lesbians:  Lotta's parents, teachers, or friends complain that she is inadequately ladylike so she unsuccessfully tries to "femme" it up.  In the end they decide that she's just fine the way she is.

3. Little Dot had two claims to fame: an obsession with dots, and an endless proliferation of uncles and aunts, who took her on secret-agent and science-fiction style adventures.

 In the 1950s stories, she had a boyfriend named Red, but by the 1960s, Red was forgotten, leaving Dot the only Harvey Girl who doesn't display any heterosexual interest.  She is the most feminine-coded of the trio, however, interested in "girly" fashion.

Dot and Lotta were best friends; the two often shared a story as well as a bed, giving them a nice butch-femme lesbian subtext.