Archie Comics is a mainstay of the comic book industry. It’s been plugging away for decades telling simple stories of the joys of youth and the teenage experience through a colorful cast of characters that have become infused into the cultural landscape.
Created in 1941 By John Goldwater, writer Vic Bloom, and artist Bob Montana as an alternative to the superhero story, they decided to base a comic on the character Andy Hardy from the young adult films that were immensely popular at the time. The comic focuses on the misadventures of one Archibald Andrews – a red-headed everyman teenager type. Immediately Archie struck a chord with readers and became an instant hit. So much so the name of the company MLJ Publishing was changed to simply Archie Comics in 1946, just five years after he first appeared.
Along the way Archie was joined by a roster of stalwart companions: Jughead Jones – Archie’s girl hating, food-loving, crown-wearing best friend, Reggie Mantle – Archie’s the devious nemesis, and Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper – Archie’s infamous love interests and two women who couldn’t pass the Bechtel test to save their lives. And many, many more of course, from other teenagers to parental figures, to faculty at the local high school – all of whom serve as instigators and foils for the wacky high-jinx that occurs.
Archie is set in the fictional town of Riverdale that exists in a nebulous region of the United States that at times seems to be in the Mid-West but often is on the coast, it could possibly be in the South but is also very Northern – Riverdale is Americana exemplified and could be considered a character in its own right – it is the backdrop of the wholesome shenanigans that Archie and his gang get up to.
And those shenanigans change depending on the era that they are taking place in. Archie has a chameleon-like ability to adapt to the period it appears – seeming both of its time and a relic of the past simultaneously. This has allowed it to endure right up to the present day and garner praise and a loyal fan-base comprised of multiple generations. It has grown and spun-off into dozens of titles, newspaper strips, TV shows, movies, cartoons, and even a top 40 hit. Archie comics have done something quite remarkable for a young adult comic – it stayed relevant.
The stories we will be discussing today are from the Silver Age – and they are a travelogue of the fads and fashions of that time – from the swinging mods and rockers of the 60s to the groovy hippies and disco dancers of the 70s. And it tackles hard-hitting topics like: how to be a beatnik, the proper way to protest, and probably most important of all – what’s the deal with hot pants?
Archie Comics tells their stories in short narratives using sight gags, puns, one-liners and always culminate in vaudevillian punchlines – usually with a nod and wink at the reader. These are not – sophisticated – tales. But they’re not meant to be. They are not striving for any deeper meaning other than “kids be kids” and “parents don’t get it, am I right?” These stories are meant to appeal to younger readers at the moment; there is no far-sighted speculation on what the future will hold – no, it simply takes whatever is drifting through the pop culture zeitgeist at the time and crafts an easily digestible snack to chew on a sunny afternoon in a non-descript, non-threatening way.
Reading Archie comics is like sifting through a time capsule of ancient relics – pop-cultural artifacts of slang and music, fashion trends, social movements and causes, even politics – albeit on a very surface level.
And that may be the secret of Archie’s success. Archie comics never shied away from any topic – be it social, political, or even supernatural. And yes, all of these topics are treated with a certain innocence – even naivety – but they were always sincere and wholeheartedly earnest.
And that innocence is charming. That earnestness is refreshing. And even if the topics aren’t as topical and the punchlines don’t pack the same punch, Archie’s spirit remains simple and sincere. And that’s just kinda nice.