Our friend Ed Catto reflects on Archie Comics’ inimitable legacy in this love letter to Riverdale’s finest:
By ED CATTO
Often when we think of iconic comic characters, our mind’s eye conjures images of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But just as iconic, and as legitimately Americana, are those teenagers from Riverdale – Betty, Veronica and Archie.
I was a young boy who read way too many comics at home. But Archie Comics were always part of my dentist and doctor’s office experiences. They made the waiting room so much more bearable. I don’t think the waiting room was ever “fun,” but reading those issues of Archie sure was.
Years later, my Aunt Elissa, my dad’s very-much-younger sister, bequeathed her Archie comic collection to my brother and me. It was a box full of wonder and excitement. And by “wonder” I mean intriguing. You see, up until then, for me comics were superheroes punching bank robbers. The Archie books were all about girls and dating and all that stuff. Coincidentally, at that time in my young life, all that type of thing was becoming less and less “icky” for me.
Today, Archie Comics, as brand, publisher and mythology, is stronger than ever. I’m happy to report the company is producing some great comics. Many of their current comic titles are very familiar, while others stretch the Archie brand into new and different areas. Oftentimes, it’s as if Archie Publications is saying, “We’re trying something different — c’mon along for the ride.”
Mike Pellerito is president of Archie Publications, and he’s the perfect guy for the job. A big bear of a man, he exudes passion for his brand, but there’s also a spark of youthful mischief evident every time he talks. I asked Mike why he thought Archie and the Riverdale gang are both so enduring and endearing.
“Now, more than ever, it’s a true Golden Age to be an Archie fan,” said Pellerito.
“Archie has always enjoyed a wide and diverse group of fans, from the young to the young-at-heart, but never has a more diverse group of offerings been available.”
With a little prodding, Mike also spoke to some of the recent launches under the Archie banner. He beams like a proud father after junior has learned to ride his bike. “From new characters like Kevin Keller to the mature horror of smash hit Afterlife with Archie to hardcore superhero books like The Fox there’s something for everyone.”
Next I cornered Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics’ Publisher/co-CEO for his insights. “Archie will always stand the test of time because the characters are so relatable and they continue to adapt to their surroundings. Although Riverdale continues to evolve, the core of who Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest are will always stay the same. Fans of all ages have loved Archie for generations for this reason.”
Victor Gorelick is a long-time Archie employee and is currently serving as Archie Comics editor-in-chief/co-president. Instrumental at creating the magic, and keeping the storylines fresh and exciting for so many years, Victor has a one-of-a-kind perspective on Archie and the reasons for Archie’s success.
“What I like best about Archie Comics is that we’ve been entertaining new and old readers for over 70 years,” said Victor. “I see parents and grandparents buying Archie comics for their children and grandchildren. They buy them not only because they grew up reading Archie, but they know our stories are good, clean, wholesome fun through the medium of humor.”
But Victor says the key to Archie’s success is not complicated. “Why I think Archie is so enduring and endearing is simple. Archie is about the importance of home, family and friendship. The town of Riverdale, where Archie and his friends live, is a nice, safe place to go to whenever you need some cheering up. The characters are warm and friendly and care about each other. They live in a world that used to be, might be, or is the way we would like it to be.”
Paul Kupperberg is a longtime professional who spent much of his time charting the adventures of a few Kryptonians and Amazons. To newer readers, he’s probably best known as the writer of the 2012 Eisner Award and 2013 Harvey Award nominated Life With Archie, The Married Life series. This is a fascinating comic that explores alternative futures spurred on by two big questions: “What if Archie married Betty?” and “What if Archie married Veronica?”
Paul gave some thought to the enduring popularity of the Riverdale gang. “I think Archie’s enduring legacy is because Riverdale and all the characters struck a realistic chord that made them so easily identifiable by readers. They quickly established themselves as America’s iconic teenage characters and have avoided stereotyping because they’ve always managed to keep up with the times and stay fresh and relevant.”
I probed a little further and was curious how Paul deals with the big questions in his two ongoing Archie series. “Writing Life With Archie gives me the chance to explore Archie and the gang at a much greater depth and make use of the 70+ years of character development,” said Paul. “You can do so much more with these guys than just play off the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle or Jughead’s eating disorder or Moose’s jealousy of Midge. You can actually build complex long term stories around them and not have to second-guess yourself as a writer because the Archie gang are so well-developed, you just know how they’ll react in any situation.”
One of the brilliant artists at Archie is the talented Dan Parent. (Full disclosure: He’s a favorite of my daughter, Lacy Rae.) But Dan’s more than just someone who can draw a pretty face, and he offered some good insights. “What I like best about Archie Comics is the timelessness of the characters,” said Dan. “Whether it’s a story from 50 years ago or today, you can relate to the characters. And the reason Archie is endearing and endures is simple: good characters. People know these characters and they’ve been part of Americana for decades.”
And Craig Yoe, comic book historian and a true Renaissance man, is also the co-editor, along with Victor, of the newest Archie hardcover coffee-table book. It’s a beauty called “The Art of Archie: The Covers.”
“Archie keeps the ‘comic’ in comic book,” muses Craig. “The so-called ‘comic’ industry would be lost without him and his pals ‘n gals. Speaking of gals, a hot blonde and a jaw-dropping brunette vying for a guy who couldn’t himself place in a beauty contest, that’s sure what makes Archie enduring and endearing to me — and gives me hope!”
I also caught up with Jersey boy Paul Castiglia. He’s a passionate Archie team player, having researched and edited the Archie Americana series of classic reprints highlighting each decade of the company’s existence, and a writer of many Archie tales himself, most notably the popular Archie’s Weird Mysteries comic based on the animated series of the same name.
“Archie has hit upon a magic formula: the characters and stories depict the timeless trials and triumphs of growing up while simultaneously reflecting the fads and fashions of the times in which they are published. Their storied past informs their present yet they always have an eye toward the future. I call them retro-modern comics!” said Paul.
Another recent title from Archie is The Fox. This superhero debuted in the wake of Superman way back in 1940, and has been revived a few times since. It was during one of those revivals that The Fox inspired a young Dean Haspiel. Now, as brilliant artist and Emmy-Award winner, Dean Haspiel has relaunched The Fox again with Mark Waid, bringing a unique and fresh voice to this character for an exciting new series.
“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to do my version of The Fox when I saw/read Alex Toth’s iteration in the mid-1980s,” said Dean Haspiel. “When I … learned that Red Circle was relaunching their line of superheroes I threw my hat in the ring and got lucky. I got even luckier when Mark Waid agreed to script my ‘Freak Magnet’ story.” Dean also sees that even the supporting characters and ‘other heroes’ are both endearing and enduring to fans. “Rummaging through ye olde Mighty Crusaders mythology, I’m excited to bring back Inferno and the Marvel. I also have a soft spot for a character called Blackjack, and there’s something morbidly undeniable about Hangman.”
They all spoke about the timelessness of a love triangle, our culture’s obsession with youth, and the solid storytelling that Archie has been delivering all these years. The honest optimism that Archie’s gang embraces provides the platform for the intricate relationships and the simple fun of a girl band dressed as tigers.
In the end, over-analysis isn’t needed, and perhaps we, like Archie, should just enjoy a root beer float and the company of a couple of girls who smile at you.
This piece first appeared in print in Main Street Magazine, in a slightly altered form. This is the first time it’s been published online.
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