By many and various (Archie Comics)
There’s an American TV show which embraces everything about the culture. It’s called Man vs. Food and in it a roguishly charming gentleman travels the nation, sampling the fare of many wonderful and beguiling independent eateries. The climax to each episode occurs as the narrator pits himself against a speciality dish: one either vast in volume, toxically spicy or in some other way simply too much good stuff for any individual to handle safely in one sitting…
Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers that jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly adding Top-Notch and Pep Comics to their bill of fare. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.
After a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming but crowded market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were nudged aside by a far less imposing hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.
Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed boy showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Inspired by the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.
The six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the idyllic small-town utopia of Riverdale.
The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of stinking rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (the aforementioned Man of Tomorrow being the first).
By 1946 the kids had totally taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring most of its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.
Its success, like Superman’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles and led to a multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when “Sugar, Sugar” – a song from their animated TV show – became a global smash. The wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.
Archie is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door – with all that entails – who loves the ginger goof in spite of everything, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…
The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…
This perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (antagonist Reggie Mantle, boy genius Dilton Doily and school jock Moose amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the American Cultural landscape.
Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of ever-changing youth culture, the army of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.
Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing those core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.
Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (over the years the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.
And here’s where I’m going to throw in the towel…
This current sublime confection of Man vs. Comics is just too much for even me to consider listing here – and I’m one of the most tedious, picky and longwinded comics-bores still regularly dog-earing pages…
So brace yourself for an abbreviated review: there are more than 100 stories in this mammoth, meaty, mirth-filled monolith and by mentioning some it will seem as if some are better than others. That’s not the case. They’re uniformly fabulous but there are only 24 hours in a day and my hands are getting tired…
Amongst the torrent of long tales, short stories, half and single page gags, fashion pages, puzzles and so much more comedies, fantasies, love stories and even crime capers: such outrageous episodes as ‘The Nature of the Beast’, ‘Bee Well?’, ‘Shirting the Issue’, ‘Testy Taste’, ‘Babyproofed!!’, ‘She’s Too Bossy’, ‘It Takes Two to Tangle!’ and ‘How to Meet Boys!’
Moreover you’d be amazed at the antics of ‘Blade Bummer!’, ‘Flick Pick!’, the dubious ‘Genius of Love’ or ‘The Big Chance’ and suffer from ‘Virtual Frivolity’, ‘The Dance Flaw!’, ‘Spring Fever’ or ‘Telling it Like It Is!’.
Especially cool are such sharp parodies as ‘The Puff Piece’ (a la the Powerpuff Girls) and numerous keep fit fad lampoons like ‘High Impact Shopping!’
With contributions from Bob Bolling, George Gladir, Bill Vigoda, Bill Golliher, Stan Goldberg, Frank Doyle, Jon D’Agostino, Fernando Ruiz, Bob Smith, Al Milgrom, Henry Scarpelli, Al Hartley, Kurt Schaffenberger, Barbara Slate, Mike Esposito, T & Pat Kennedy, Paul Kupperberg, Holly G!, Chic Stone, Dan Parent, Jeff Shultz, Rudy Lapick, Kathleen Webb, Jim Amash, Mike Pellowski, Rich Koslowski, Craig Boldman, Rex Lindsey, Steven Butler, Doug Crane, Dick Malmgren, a dynasty of DeCarlos and many more, this is a true gem of perfectly crafted all-ages fun.
Featuring vintage stories (including much spectacular and formative material from Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #2, 3, 4, 6 and 13 from 1952-3) and up-to-the-minute modern mini-masterpieces, this is an ideal book for kids or grandparents on the beach or in the car this summer – and once they’re playing in the surf or snoozing in the sun you can snaffle it for yourself…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.