Friday, 13 January 2017
The 75th Anniversary of Archie
Pep Comics, the comic book in which Archie made his first appearance, was published by MLJ Magazines. The company had been founded in 1939 and took its name from the first names of its founders: Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater. Like many comic book companies in the early days of the Golden Age, they originally made their name with superheroes. Pep Comics #1 (January 1940) saw the debut of The Shield, the first ever patriotic superhero (he predated Captain America by over a year). MLJ Magazines would produce a few more popular heroes besides The Shield, including The Black Hood (who had a short-lived radio and his own pulp magazine) and The Hangman. By the time Archie first appeared, MLJ was already doing quite well in the comic book business.
Indeed, Archie was not even the first teen humour character published by MLJ. Wilbur Wilkin, made his first appearance in Zip Comics #18 (September 1941), about three months before Archie's debut. Wilbur differed from Archie in that he was blond, but that was very nearly the only difference. Like Archie, Wilbur was part of a love triangle, although Wilbur was dating a blonde while being pursued by a brunette. And like Archie he tended to be a bit clumsy. That having been said, Wilbur Wilkin never saw the success that Archie Andrews would.
Despite John L. Goldwater's claim to have created Archie, there is another who has also been credited with the character's creation. Quite simply, artist and writer Bob Montana drew upon his own experiences as a teenager (which in 1941 would not have been that long ago) to create Archie and his friends. From 1936 to 1939 Bob Montana kept a sketchbook of life at Central High School in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Evidence in favour of Mr. Montana's creation of the characters came when his daughters published the sketchbook online for a time several years ago. Yet more evidence supporting the claim that Bob Montana created Archie and the gang at Riverdale came in the form of film critic Gerald Peary's documentary Archie's Betty (2015), in which Mr. Peary sought to track down the real life people from Haverhill upon whom Archie and his friends may have been based.
Of course, it is possible that there is some truth to both John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana's claims to have created Archie, particularly given the collaborative nature of Golden Age comic books. As MLJ's publisher, John L. Goldwater might have come up with the initial idea of a comic feature centred around an ordinary teenage boy, drawing inspiration from Henry Aldrich, Andy Rooney, or both. It even seems possible that the character of Archie derived his name from one of Mr. Goldwater's childhood friends as he claimed. It seems possible that John L. Goldwater then assigned Bob Montana to produce such a comic book feature and Mr. Montana then developed the various characters based on his experiences at Central High School in Haverhill. It seems possible John L. Goldwater even had some input into those characters. Sadly, since everyone at MLJ Magazines in 1941 is dead now, it seems likely we will never know the whole truth behind the creation of Archie.
Pep Comics #22 not only marked the first appearance of Archie, but also blonde girl-next-door Betty and his best friend Jughead, as well as Archie's parents. Betty's friend and rival for Archie's affections, Veronica, would be introduced a few months later, in Pep Comics #26 (April 1942). Archie's rival Reggie would appear for the first time a few months later, in Jackpot Comics #6 (Summer 1942). Other characters, such as Moose and Midge, would be added over the next several years.
Regardless, Archie proved very popular very quickly. Almost from the beginning he was appearing as a backup feature in two comic books (Pep Comics and Jackpot Comics). With Pep Comics #36 (February 1942) he made his first appearance on the magazine's cover, although he shared it with The Shield and Hangman. With Pep Comics #41 (August 1943) he began regularly appearing on its covers, always with The Shield and Hangman. By Pep Comics #51 (December 1944) Archie had entirely displaced The Shield on the covers of the magazine. Archie received his own magazine in December 1942 with Archie Comics #1. In 1946 MLJ Magazines even changed their name to Archie Comics. The last vestiges of MLJ's superhero past would be swept away when The Shield G-Man Club (introduced with Pep Comics #15, May 1941) became the Archie Club with Pep Comics #66 (March 1948).
The continued popularity of Archie would see new comic books featuring the character as the Forties progressed. Black Hood Comics became Laugh Comics with issue 21 (winter 1946), another title featuring Archie and the Riverdale gang. The year 1949 saw the first spinoff from the Archie feature, Archie's Pal Jughead #1(January 1949). It would be followed by Archie's Rival Reggie (February 1950) and Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica (March 1950).
The appearance of the Archie characters would change with the Fifties. Dan DeCarlo, who had previously worked on Millie the Model at the company later known as Marvel Comics, had first started freelancing for Archie Comics in the early Fifties. In 1957 Mr. DeCarlo began working for Archie Comics on a more regular basis. Given permission to use his own style rather than trying to mimic that of Bob Montana, Mr. DeCarlo established the look of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and other characters with which most Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are familiar. Quite simply, Dan DeCarlo's style became Archie Comics' house style for decades to come. The year 2015 saw a relaunch of the "Archie" titles, complete with a more modern look for the characters.
The popularity of Archie would soon lead to the feature being adapted to other media. On May 31 1943 the radio show The Adventures of Archie Andrews debuted on the NBC Blue Network, only about a year and a half after the character first appeared in comic books. This initial incarnation of The Adventures of Archie Andrews would only last until December 24 1943. It would not be off the air for long. It returned only a few weeks later on the Mutual Broadcasting System as a 15 minute programme on January 17 1944. This version would last until June 2 1944, after which the show would be off the air for a whole year. It returned on June 2 1945 as a 30 minute show that was broadcast once a week on NBC. This time the show lasted until September 5 1953. In all The Adventures of Archie Andrews lasted nine years, a long time for any radio show.
While Archie would see success both on radio and newspapers, success on live action television would evade Archie and the Riverdale gang. In 1962 a pilot titled Life with Archie was produced for ABC. Life with Archie starred Frank Bank, best known for playing Lumpy on Leave It to Beaver, as Archie Andrews. Former child actor Jimmy Hawkins played Jughead, while Barbara Parkins (later of Peyton Place) played Veronica and former Mousketeer Cheryl Holdridge played Betty. The pilot failed to sell because the prospective sponsor, American Tobacco Company, could not see Frank Bank as anything but Lumpy on Leave It to Beaver.
The Seventies would see two more live-action pilots for TV shows based on the "Archie" comic book feature. Once more both pilots were for ABC. The first of the two pilots, simply called Archie, aired on December 19 1976. David Caruso (later of N.Y.P.D. Blue and CSI: Miami fame) was set to play Archie Andrews, but a contract dispute before rehearsals resulted in the part going to Dennis Bowen, who had the recurring role of Todd on Welcome Back, Kotter. Audey Landers, later a star on Dallas, played Betty. Hilary Thompson, who would later appear on the sitcom Operation Petticoat, played Veronica. Derrel Maury, who played Jughead, later went onto appear on the TV shows Apple Pie and Joanie Loves Chachi. This pilot did not sell and a second pilot with the same cast was made. This pilot, titled The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show, aired on August 5 1978. It did not sell either. Both pilots were a mixture of sketch comedy, situation comedy, and music. Neither are particularly well respected today.
While no live action series based on the "Archie"comic book feature would emerge in the 20th Century, the 21st Century will see a TV show based on Archie and his friends. Riverdale is set to debut on The CW on January 26 2017. Riverdale looks to be a much darker take on the world of Archie and his friends than the original teen humour comic book feature. Indeed, comparisons have been made to Twin Peaks.
The Archie Show proved enormously popular. It would even start a prolonged cycle on Saturday mornings of cartoons centred around fictional bands, including The Cattanooga Cats, The Hardy Boys, The Brady Kids, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids, and yet others. Even Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! owes something to The Archie Show. As originally conceived, it would have been about a rock band that travels around the country solving mysteries. In the end Hanna-Barbera dropped the music angle entirely. The Archie Show led to two more Archie Comics properties making it to television. Hanna-Barbera, looking at the success of The Archie Show got the rights to Archie Comics' title Josie to create Josie and the Pussycats, which was another show with a fictional band. Filmation themselves got the rights to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and introduced her in segments during The Archie Comedy Hour in 1969. She received her own series in 1971.
Ten years later, in 1987, DIC Entertainment produced a new Saturday morning cartoon based on the "Archie" comic book feature. The New Archies centred on Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and other characters when they were attending Riverdale Junior High. The series only aired for one season on NBC, although it would be repeated in 1989.
It would be another 12 years before the next animated series based on the "Archie" comic book feature. Archie's Weird Mysteries was produced by DIC Entertainment and initially aired on weekday mornings on the broadcast network PAX starting in 1999. Afterwards the series was syndicated to local stations throughout the United States. Archie's Weird Mysteries differed from many adaptations in that it featured Archie and the Riverdale gang investigating monsters and supernatural creatures ranging from a sea monster to vampires. It ran for 40 episodes. A tie-in comic book began in February 2000 and ran for 34 issues.
Archie's Weird Mysteries would result in the only feature length film to feature Archie and his friends. The Archies in Jug Man was a TV movie that debuted on Nickelodeon Sunday Movie Toons and was afterwards released on DVD. In the movie a new, underground, geothermal heating system inadvertently thaws out a frozen Neanderthal who looks a lot like Jughead. The film was produced by DIC Entertainment and used the same cast and many of the same crew as Archie's Weird Mysteries.
In 2013 a new animated series, It's Archie, was announced. The series was to be produced by The MoonScoop Group and would centre on the Archie characters when they were in middle school. Unfortunately since 2013 no new information has been released, so it seems possible that It's Archie might never come to be.
Archie would ultimately outlast the many other teen humour comic book features that proliferated from the Forties into the Sixties. Archie outlasted Archie Comics' own Wilbur, Marvel Comics' Patsy Walker, DC Comics' Leave It to Binky, and many others. There were many periods during the past 75 years when the Archie titles were the only teen humour comic books being published. Indeed, as pointed out above, along with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Archie is one of the very few characters to have been published continuously since the Golden Age.
There are probably several reasons that Archie has lasted all these years when other teen humour comic books did not. Much of the reason for Archie's success is most likely the classic love triangle of Archie, Betty, and Veronica. After all, here was an average teenage guy, who was not particularly good looking himself, being pursued by a knockout blonde and a drop dead gorgeous brunette. This scenario was bound to appeal to young boys just discovering girls. It also provided for a great deal of conflict, as Betty and Veronica plotted various means of drawing Archie's attention away from the other.
Another reason that Archie proved to be such a success is that the various Archie titles lacked the sort of gender boundaries that existed for many comic book titles in the mid-20th Century. It is true that there were girls who read superhero titles and boys who read romance titles, but for the most part during the mid-20th Century comic book genres were drawn along lines of gender. Boys read superhero comic books, Westerns, and war comic books. Girls read romance comic books and the various career girl titles (such as Millie the Model). Teen humour titles in general and the Archie titles in particular differed from other comic books in that they appealed to both sexes equally. Quite simply, there is something in the various Archie titles that appeals to everyone, whether they are male or female, still a teen or long past their teenage years.
This past December Archie celebrated 75 years of existence, far longer than many other comic book characters. He has appeared on radio, in a newspaper comic strip that continues to this day, on live action television, and in several animated TV series. In the end Archie has proven to be the most successful teen humour character in any medium. After all, most people today don't know who Henry Aldrich or Andy Hardy are, but they certainly know who Archie Andrews is. One has to suspect that Archie will be around for another 75 years.