By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
MLJ were a publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders, beginning in November 1939 with Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. 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 their blossoming 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 goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from 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 goofy 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 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 rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman being the first).
By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, a chain of restaurants and in the swinging sixties a pop hit as “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show) became a global smash. Their wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.
With such a successful format, naturally the company tried to add supplemental stars to their four-colour firmament, Wilbur Wilkins (1994), Suzie (1945), Ginger (1951) and Seymour, My Son (1963), with varying degrees of success. However another 1963 debut did catch and hold the readers attention. Her name was Josie and she was created by Dan DeCarlo as a veritable female clone of Archie.
With issue #45 (1967) the titian-haired ingénue and her best friend Melody formed a band and the title was changed to Josie and the Pussycats. Fame, stardom, a TV cartoon series, a major motion picture and two soundtrack albums later the band were only occasional visitors in the Archie universe until someone had a cunning idea…
Most of her supporting cast was introduced in the first issue, including best friend Pepper, boyfriend Albert… and Melody. Spoiled rich kids Alex and Alexandra Cabot soon joined the cast and the book changed its name with issue #45, and that it remained until the final issue in 1982.
One other fact about Archie’s publisher’s is that they certainly know how to create different publishing events that capture the attention of the general public – as anybody who saw the 1994 Archie Meets the Punisher inter-company crossover will attest…
The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats collects a storyline from 2009-2010 wherein ‘It Starts with a Kiss!’ as the two clean-living bands are signed to tour together, and our red-headed star and the Pussycats’ African-American bassist Valerie are drawn irresistibly together.
After a stolen kiss during a late-night song-writing session the attraction grows stronger in ‘More Than Words’ as hapless Archie tries to concentrate on his daily life – and Betty and Veronica – but can’t get Val off his mind. Moreover, the normally “sensible one” in Josie’s band is similarly distracted…
Luckily for all the tour soon ends and the girls are bound for Europe and a series of solo gigs, but the tearful farewell proves the attraction has grown into something far more serious. All the while the Pussycat’s rat-bag manager Alex Cabot has been trying to scotch the situation and now goes into overdrive in his scheming.
The 2-part ‘Love Smackdown!’ follows the separated and lovelorn Archie and Valerie as distance, daily drudgery, temptation and Alex all operate to keep them apart. After a misunderstanding leaves the couple acrimoniously separated forever events a new combined tour seems destined to rekindle the fire – but do Betty and Veronica want Archie for themselves or do they want him to be happy…?
Moreover, what’s the deal with Valerie’s old flame Declan McCord? He says he’s just a fill-in musician, but does the charismatic Celtic pop-star have plans to win Valerie back for himself…?
Star-crossed love and nigh-torrid melodrama combine with classic Riverdale slapstick in this delightful young romance that shows a burgeoning slice of maturity in the world’s favourite teenager (and don’t quibble: Justin Bieber has a limited shelf-life but Archie has been a teen heartthrob for seven decades) and the tale ends on a fascinating and intriguing open note…
This snazzy tome also has some impressive extra features including writer Dan Parent’s ‘Liner Notes’, full background and histories for The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, and ‘Once More With Feeling’, 8 pages of penciller Bill Galvan’s art and unused covers reproduced before inkers Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash worked their own particular magic upon them.
All the world loves a lover, and this satisfyingly enticing down-to-earth comedy-drama is a solid example of the kind of comics there just aren’t enough of these days. Remember, “Superheroes aren’t the only fruit” – despite all the tights and stuff…
© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.