A BIRTHDAY SALUTE: Archie Comics’ co-president makes his picks…
The late, great Dan DeCarlo was born 102 years ago on Dec. 12, 1919. Who better to pick 13 COVERS from his voluminous Archie Comics output than the company’s co-president and editor, Mike Pellerito?
None better, I say!
So dig this groovy guest column by Mike – and as a bonus, click here to check out a complete Dan DeCarlo-illustrated story from 1966.
By MIKE PELLERITO
The best debate in Archie Comics, to me at least, is not the eternal question of “Betty or Veronica?” I think the better question is “Who is your favorite Archie artist?”
There have been a lot of great artists over Archie’s 80 years, like Bob Montana, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, Rex Lindsey, Dan Parent, and on and on, but any way you decide, DeCarlo’s name is always near the top of that list.
He could draw beautiful girls in the best fashions (he was unbelievable at this actually), get the most out of funny scenes, and show the characters’ feelings. He’d do the most perfect pose of the kids sitting at Pop’s, or at a desk, or on a bed, and it would look real. There’d be a page where you’d think that’s exactly how a kid would sit — kids never sit down perfectly straight in a chair; all those mannerisms he’d observe about people in real life seemed to make it onto the page and make the kids of Riverdale all that more believable.
Now, long before I ever thought about a career in comics, I loved comics, constantly read them, constantly drew them. One time I was allowed to bring some comics and some paper with me as my dad took me for our haircuts. Our barber saw this and wanted to know if I had ever heard of Archie Comics. I answered with a quick, “of course!” The barber had a quick side conversation with my dad, then got on the phone with a guy named Danny, asking him if this kid could come over.
Danny was Dan DeCarlo.
A few days later, we pulled up to the DeCarlo home in Scarsdale, N.Y., a beautiful house and, in the front yard, the very first thing I notice is the tree. You know those trees that are always in Archie Comics? Those white trees with the black horizonal lines (I had never seen a birch tree in real life before) was right there in his front yard, right outside his studio window!
I met Dan and his wife Josie, and they couldn’t have been nicer, sweeter, or more open with their home. I had a quick tour and then Dan took us up to his studio. He had these huge pieces of artwork with the Archie characters (I didn’t realize original art was drawn on 11 x 15 paper). He showed me the tools he used, how he did it. He had asked that I bring my drawings (wow!) and he gave me a ton of pointers, some books on anatomy, and a pile of art paper (stamped Archie Comics — how cool!) to practice drawing my own comics. It was perfect.
We stayed in touch, not as much as I could have or should have, but he and Josie always remembered me as the kid from the barber. So, that’s my comic book origin story, and for the past 20-plus years I’ve been working at Archie. Over the last couple of years, I started editing classic Archie books again, after years of working on licensed books, the horror titles, the reboots, and so on.
It’s been really nice to get back to where it started and over the last couple of years we’ve had a huge renaissance, sales are high, and the stories are great, but still, even today, we look to DeCarlo and the folks like him that made so much of what we love about the Archie stories memorable!
OK, so now here are my 13 FAVORITE DAN DeCARLO COVERS – in no particular order — to celebrate the great one himself!
Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #286, 1979. Please, notice those white birch trees. This cover is by one of the most perfect parings of Dan with Rudy Lapick, one of the best inkers on Dan’s work. Rudy would do an entire comedy routine every week he’d drop off his work— tons of impressions, some great, some not so great, but all funny in the way he delivered the jokes. And the hand lettering on this was by Bill Yoshida; there are not enough nice words in the English language to cover how I felt about Bill. Between the three of them they had to have done tens of thousands of stories.
Archie #300, 1981. I just picked this one up recently at Aw Yeah Comics in Harrison, N.Y. How they didn’t put a happy triumphant Archie on the cover is fascinating to me. There is a way to make it work too with the story, but still, it makes a fun cover to look at how Dan handles body language and, of course, that Archie blimp in the sky would show up on covers and in stories from time to time and I always LOVE that!
PEP Comics #226 from 1969 might be the very first Archie comic I ever read. I think I won it at a school fair with a bunch of other comics from the ’60s. But I remember vividly asking my mother a ton of questions on this one. After a lot of answers about Tiny Tim and “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” I honestly still have questions. Also check out the fashion on the guys especially; Dan was spot on with the clothing trends. A lot of that had to do with his wife Josie.
Of course, I had to have Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch on the list and went with #4 from 1971, the first appearance of rival Della. We had a poster of this up in the office and I’d always marvel at how well this scene was staged. Especially how, with the cover over her right foot, you can tell Sabrina was just waking up. Little touches like that really are the magic (pun intended) to DeCarlo’s work.
I always love the “pile of junk” Archie covers; it might be a messy room, messy desk, whatever, but it’s fun to look at all the little details. And here with Everything’s Archie #21 (1972) you get all the different textures of the water, the dock, all the junk the boys are carrying; it’s just fun to look at. Plus, in this cover you get all the physical acting of Arch and Jug struggling under the heavy weight, even sinking the boat (with C-rations no less), and Betty and Veronica walking up with the best looks on their faces. It’s like a funny Norman Rockwell painting with an entire story in one image.
Now, this one isn’t credited to DeCarlo on anything we had, but it has a lot of the hallmarks of a Dan piece. Everything’s a team project so a big thank you goes to Carlos Antunes and Jamie Rotante at Archie Comics for helping to make the guess. Carlos oversees the archives and putting together the digests, a massive undertaking! And Jamie wears many hats, like writer and now editor, on a ton of the new modern Archie and horror titles. Check the Archie’s Holiday Magic Special and the new Chilling Adventures in Sorcery — great stuff! Sorry, shameless plug!
When I first started working at Archie, in one of the hallways of the office was a framed cover of Archie & Friends #16 from 1995; I think it had won a newsstand award. Anyway, at the time of this cover there were these Calvin Klein ads that were seemingly everywhere, and kinda ridiculous, to me anyway. I loved that DeCarlo was still not only following trends and fashions but poking fun at stuff, too. I mean, look at Jughead — he’s the best.
Love this cover; it’s just so different and has a fun break-the-fourth-wall feel. Everything’s Archie #109 from 1984 really is visually striking: the layout, the stadium in the background framing the lower area of the image leading to the girls (that Archie Blimp again), and the image of a triumphant football warrior Archie, is all really terrific, like a classic J.C. Leyendecker illustration. I’d love to do a cover like this again, but have fun with Archie’s strengths, not his weakness like they did on this.
I think I like Dan’s art a lot on the She’s Josie books because it’s such a work-in-progress, getting to where it was eventually going: the monster hit of Josie and The Pussycats. She’s Josie #5 from 1964 captures all the wild fun of a party and it’s filled with great acting by the characters, with a variety of outfits and silly gags. It’s a charmer.
I love when we have Betty in pigtails; it’s not often, but it’s cute. The cover of Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #153 (1968) really plays off the similarities of the girls but also how different they are. Veronica, of course, has a designer potato sack for races! It’s such a relatable event for a kid, and everyone is having a fun time, except that poor kid who crashed on her face — oof! And notice those birch trees again!
What’s not to love about Jughead hating on Reggie in Laugh #12 from 1989?! I love stories where Jughead shows how smart he is, especially when going toe-to-toe with Reggie or Veronica. He can handle those two so well, sometimes to help his pal Archie, or just because he needs something to do — but you do not want to mess with Jughead. Now, by this time Dan had been working with Archie for decades and he was still at the top of his game. Look at the outfits, hair, expressions, all so great. I wanted to point out this one was inked by Dan’s son, Jim. Both sons — Dan Jr. and Jimmy — worked with Archie for years with their father and on their own.
Given that it’s December and Christmas covers are such a big thing at Archie, I had to include one of DeCarlo’s best, Archie’s Christmas Stocking #2 from 1994. DeCarlo always captured the fun of the teenage years and this one really is about as classic as you can get. It’s such a clever cover idea and their happy faces really capture the fun.
The last two choices come from the same issue, Archie #658 from 2014. I actually love DeCarlo’s pin-ups a little more than his covers.
Years ago, there was a Jughead pin-up where he was eating a burger. The way Dan had Jug’s hands and fingers wrapped around the massive burger, his feet wrapped around the kick bar at Pop’s to stabilize himself, was really well done. Apparently, Dan had a little more freedom and time to do what he wanted with the pin-ups and when he was inspired, it showed.
A lot of the pin-ups would be a one-page gag, or something cute, and it could really feature anyone in the cast, not just Betty and Veronica. So, we were kicking around ways to do some kind of throwback and we retooled some pin-ups as new variant covers. These were colored by Rosario “Tito” Pena, who is on staff and colors almost all the classic covers. His coloring on the classic stuff is always amazing; modern but perfectly handled. Also, look at all the beautifully intricate patterns on the bathing suits; great fashion was always part of Dan’s talents.
Mike Pellerito is co-president of Archie Comics.
— Dig This Rare 1968 REGGIE Christmas Tale Drawn by DAN DeCARLO. Click here.
— Dig This Groovy BETTY AND VERONICA Christmas Tale Drawn by DAN DeCARLO. Click here.