Sunday, December 11, 2011

Those Archie comics (Dona)

I grew up reading the various Archie comic book titles, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Cheryl Blossom, Veronica, World of Archie, Betty and Betty and Veronica, among others. We do various comic features here and they please a large number of readers; however, there are a few, like me, who grew up on the Archie titles and always hope there will be at least one article devoted to them.

Merry Christmas.


Currently Archie & Friends Double Digest issue 10, Jughead Double Digest issue 175 and B&V Friends Double Digest issue 219 are on sale. The three books will offer a nostalgic reminder to fans of the titles who stopped reading some time ago. They'll also provide entertainment to new readers.

But before we get to any of that, let's talk about what's wrong with the Archie series.

B&V (Betty & Veronica) kicks off with a four-part series involving Sugarplum who is in Riverdale in tears because Santa has just fired her. Sugarplum is supposed to be quite the looker -- and will romance Archie in part two -- but what you notice (whether she's pixie size or human size) is how much she looks like Archie in a long, orange wig -- and they both look like Jughead's cousin Bingo!

They really don't know how to draw different characters. And Reggie looks like Alex, while Ethyl looks like Jughead and on and on it goes. It's like the whole Lucy and Violet twin-quality in Peanuts.

If the characters look the same, don't get me started on the storylines. It's not just that you will see them repeat from issues you remember long ago but you will see them repeat from digest to digest. You will also wonder why the heck Betty and Veronica are still fighting over Archie? Is he really that special?

Archie comics was created with the hopes of cashing in on the Andy Hardy film series -- a series of B-movies that Louis Mayer thought would teach morals. Mickey Rooney starred as Andy Hardy and Archie is, indeed, still drawn to resemble Rooney. But the Andy Hardy films are largely forgotten today and worth remembering only for Judy Garland's appearences in three of them (Love Finds Andy Hardy, Andry Hardy Meets Debutante and Life Begins for Andy Hardy). The Archie comics turned Garland's Betsy Booth in Betty. Both characters are the girl-next-door, pretty and nice and overlooked by Andy and Archie who can't take their eyes off the snobby Cynthia (Lana Turner) and Veronica.

When you realize that was the starting point, it's not all that surprising that little ever happened, after all, the film series could only come up with 16 titles and that included marriage and children.

But most people don't stick steady with Archie for decades. Many of its readers are new ones who discover the titles each year and, for those, the stories are fresh and new.

More importantly, for those who don't live in a city or town with a comic book store, Archie comics -- specifically the paperback digests -- may be all the comic titles they have regular access to. The graphic novel brought about many things including the death of the Comics Code Authority stamp. That's a good thing in many ways; however, in small cities and towns across the country where stores regularly put a plain cover over the latest issue of Cosmo, not having the stamp has meant many grocery and convenience stores that once carried comic books no longer do. (Kindle users may be thinking, "Comics can be viewed on a Kindle!" Those of us who have actually tried to do are aware that the process leaves a lot to be desired.)

So the digests can be all that can breed a love for comic books and, yes, for reading in many places. If you're wanting to visit the Archie world currently, I'd suggest you skip Archie & Friends. It's straight forward to the point of being dull. Jughead Double Digest, like its title character, is goofy and enjoyable.

The best one is B&V Friends -- and I say that despite the digest wasting entire pages with 'fashions' of Betty and Veronica. What makes this so successful?

While Archie really offers nothing but Archie and Jughead offers only a few alternatives, the B&V features not only Betty and Veronica stories but also Li'l Jinx, Cheryl Blossom, Tomoko, Sabrina and Josie and the Pussycats stories.

As an Archie fan, I've been trying to get a piece on them for over two years now. The idea for this happened right before Thanksgiving when a friend back home with a five-year-old son was telling me about how the digests -- available at her local supermarket -- had already started to fascinate her son and how she was planning a trip in January, for his birthday, to a comic book store (that trip will require an hour drive). And the point here is that the various Archie digests are available in many grocery stores, right there where you check out, on the rack above the candy. For many Ameican children, they remain not only their first exposure to comics but their only regular exposure.
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