Saturday, December 14, 2013

Catching up with Archie Week!

Growing up, my sister and I had hundreds of issues of Archie comics around the house and in various rooms. Stacks of floppy pamphlets as well as single and double digests were easily within arms' reach if we needed some quick entertainment or just felt like passing the time with some light reading.

The company that would become Archie began in 1939 as MLJ Comics, named for the first initials of magazine publishers Morris Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John Goldwater. Their initial offerings were of the popular genre of the day superheroes. The comics were largely derivative of more popular characters, though they were groundbreaking in introducing the first patriotic American superhero The Shield.

Eventually, a red headed teenager debuted in a back-up story in Pep #22 drawn by Bob Montana, and soon enough he proved so popular he not only got his own title but they named the company after him.

Archie Comics has long prided itself on its family values and strong editorial leadership. MLJ/Archie was one of the prime movers behind the creation and work of The Comics Code Authority, which for decades promised a level of quality of comic books according to some or perpetrated willful and retaliatory censorship according to others.

Also, because of the strong role of editors the company has a reputation (perhaps unearned) of not always being so generous with their creators. For instance, John Goldwater is credited with creating Archie sometimes, though other accounts give complete credit to artist Bob Montana and writer Vic Bloom. After Montana's death the main artistic duties fell to Dan DeCarlo, who created the very familiar Archie house style still used today and was the first artist to draw popular characters like Josie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Eventually, DeCarlo brought a lawsuit against the publisher over the characters of Josie and the Pussycats specifically, as DeCarlo claimed to have created them (he named Josie after his wife) and been shut out of licensing deals over the years.

The cast of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, Moose, and Dilton have been around for decades, providing sitcom style humor and dating situations for younger readers. Their stories have been long associated with safe, homogenous entertainment that will offend none but amuse all.

As I have documented before, they have made overtures to update their characters some, by using YA authors to write stories or providing some more historical context and backstories, but lately they have made even bolder moves. For the next week, I will be looking at what the company has been up to in the recent past. I will be looking at various updates they have been doing to their characters, from introducing a more diverse cast, to venturing into producing more YA comics, to them even marrying Archie off and letting him be a grown-up. They even now have a series that is a straight-up horror book called Afterlife with Archie where zombies are slowly picking off the Riverdale cast, but I will get at that one perhaps at a later date once it's been collected.

It will be an interesting ride, so make sure you check in!

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