Archie is Dead — Long Live Archie!

This past month, comic book readers mourned the passing of Riverdale’s Archie Andrews  — at least, the alternative future version of the red-headed, freckled girl-crazy teenager living life as an adult in a recently rebooted version of the title Life With Archie. 

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by Jeff Shultz, from Archie, Free Comic Book Day edition, July 2003

This adult version of Archie was married — to the “girl-next-door” American sweetheart, Betty — or to wealthy, sophisticated and sometimes snobbish Veronica — depending on which alternative version of Archie’s life was being read.  Each issue of Life With Archie contained both versions of his married life.  The series ended this month following the aftermath of Archie’s death, which was the result of saving a friend, a recently-elected senator promoting gun control, from being assassinated.

However, Archie as a girl-crazy teenager still survives in the original Archie series, which continues to be published, 72 years after Archie first debuted in the comics.

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by Dan DeCarlo, Archie #337, September 1985

Archie started as an alternative to the many superheroes that were frequently featured in comic books after the success of Superman’s debut in June 1938.  Superman’s popularity caused a boom in comic book titles and many superhero imitations.  By the end of 1941, there were over 160 comic book titles, many featuring some form of superhero. Comic book publisher MLJ Magazines (named after its founders Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John Goldwater) was publishing patriotic superheros such as the Shield, the Black Hood, and Steel Sterling.

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by Rudy Nebres, The Original Shield #1, April 1984

As an alternative to superheroes, plus a possible way to increase female readership for its titles, the founders decided to create a normal, everyday teenager.  John Goldwater’s inspiration for Archie came from the radio show Andy Hardy.  Goldwater then created the rest of the Riverdale characters based on friends he grew up with in New York.  Archie’s best friend, Jughead, was based on Goldwater himself.

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by unknown artist, Archie #194, September 1969

Archie debuted in December 1941 as one of the additional stories in Pep Comics #22.  The story, featuring Archie, Betty, and Jughead, stood out since it was not a typical superhero adventure.  Over the next year, the rest of the regular characters would be added including Veronica, Reggie, principal Weatherbee and strict teacher Miss Grundy.   Archie received his own self-named title in Winter 1942.  (A copy of this premier issue would end up setting a record for the highest selling price of a non-superhero comic book, selling for $167,300 in 2011.)  In 1946, MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics Publications due to the character’s overwhelming success.

Former child vaudeville performer Bob Montana would draw the debut Archie and after World War II, regularly drew Archie until his death in 1975.  The earlier books kept Montana’s style ; freelance artists would be hired and told to draw like Montana.  One freelance artist, Dan DeCarlo, copied Montana’s style for one Archie book copy and decided to work on other projects instead, where he was given more freedom to draw in his own style.  The publisher of the book was impressed by DeCarlo’s work and wanted DeCarlo back, so he allowed the artist to draw the Archie characters his own way.

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by Dan DeCarlo, Betty and Me #147, September 1985

DeCarlo is credited for modernizing the characters and creating the signature look they are known for today.  DeCarlo would continue to draw for the company until 1991, and co-created other well-known titles, Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

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by unknown artist, Archie’s Joke Book #179, December 1972

Over the years, additional Archie-based titles were created, including Archie and Me (focusing on principal Weatherby), Archie’s Pals and Gals, Archie’s Joke book (featuring one page gag jokes), Little Archie (featuring elementary school tales), and the original Life With Archie (featuring longer adventure stories with the Archie gang).

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by unknown artist, Life With Archie #79, November 1968

While hair styles, clothing, and trends changed throughout the decades, the characterizations and personalities of the characters almost always remained the same. In the 1980s, the writers tried expanding Jughead’s character by having him suddenly have an interest in girls.  The fans expressed their dislike in this new development, so Jughead returned to his original ways.

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by Dan DeCarlo, Archie’s Pals and Gals #173, January 1985

In 2003, the writers and artist had fun with the concept of “never changing Archie” in the Free Comic Book Day edition.  An Archie fan, thinking he’s helping the characters break free of their routine, ends up radically changing everyone’s personalities.  By the end of the book, Riverdale is restored back to normal.

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by Jeff Shultz and Henry Scarpelli, Archie Free Comic Book edition, July 2003

So long live Archie and the citizens of Riverdale — whichever version of them you choose to read.

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by Dan DeCarlo, Comic Book Marketplace #52, October 1997

Credits:

All images are from the Center For Humanities Comics Collection.

Information about Archie came from:

Archie #1 sets auction record. Comic Book Resources.com. March 3, 2011.

Archie Comics Publications, Inc. History.  Funding Universe, 2004.

Dan DeCarlo. Wikipedia, n.d.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.