Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Archies (Dona)

Ah, sugar, sugar. No, I'm not writing about the song but the Archies did accomplish something not even the Flintstones or the Simpsons or the X-Men or Batman ever accomplished -- they are listed as the group on a number one single.


The Archie comic books are American touchstones, much more so than Richie Rich. I read both growing up (and more) and Richie often had an exciting adventure (I'm serious, if you didn't read the comics, you don't know what I'm talking about). But Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Reggie, Moose, Miss Grundy and the rest represented something different. Reading Richie Rich, a lot of us were reading about a kid -- a fantastically wealthy kid -- on our own age. Reading an Archie comic as a child of six or seven was thinking you were peaking into your own future. Would you be like Archie or Jughead or like Betty or Veronica?

(I longed to be a Veronica but always knew I was a Betty.)

You saw a calm and laid back future. A fantasy in fact. The only two high school girls in most of the comics are in love with the same guy but still manage to be friends? Did that happen in your high school because it sure didn't in mine.

I've recently written two pieces on the Archie comic books (here for December, here for February) and the e-mails just keep coming in on those pieces. I'm not foolish enough to think it has anything to do with my writing 'style' or 'talent.' It's the topic.

And reading the e-mails, it's amazing to me to see how much these comics have meant to so many people. It's especially surprising to me because I know comic book fanatics and they tend to roll their eyes when I bring up my love of the Archies and even within Third I'm the only one who loved and loves those comics.

Archie Meets KISS

But we love the Archies, those of us who read them. And as I read over the e-mails, I think about Meryl Streep on NPR's Fresh Air recently. She was talking about men and women -- of her generation -- and how until she did The Devil Wears Prada, no straight man had ever approached her to tell her he identified with her character. She spoke of Huck Finn and other male characters in literature that her generation grew up with and how it encouraged girls to identify with men but there was nothing similar encouraging boys to identify with women.

And I think that's been something the Archies has changed. I read a man who writes about how he identified with Betty because he never felt good enough for his first wife, for example.

I'm not arguing that was the goal of the Archie comics. I am saying when you have to create several comic titles a month with the same characters, Betty and Veronica just can't be standing in the background going: Yeah!

No, they have to be part of the action. And the Archie comics had to shuffle in a way that, for example, The Simpsons really doesn't. We get a Lisa-centric episode maybe twice a season. Even after all the Bart storeis told for all the years.

And maybe that's the greatest accomplishment of the Archie comics? Not just the equality of the male and female characters but the equality period?

Sly Stone sang, "Everybody is a star." But it's the Archie comcis that backs that up. To keep readers happy, they had to give Midge a star turn and Moose one and Mr. Weatherbee and Ethel Muggs and more.

And, on top of the characters we relate to, maybe that's why we embrace Archie so warmly? It argues that each of the 99% have a story worth telling.
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