How Archie Grew Up Into a Sexy Scary Comics Company

first_imgStay on target For decades, American kids have been picking up the adventures of teenage redhead Archie Andrews, his vixenish love interests Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper, gluttonous best friend Jughead Jones, and arch-rival Reggie Mantle, in digest-sized comic books at supermarket checkout lines. Archie has almost always been a corny relic of a long-gone time — so how did a company born in the 1940s miraculously reinvent itself for the 21st century? Come with us as we get ready for Netflix’s Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina with a trip down memory lane.Teen DreamsFirst, a little backstory. In 1939, publisher John Goldwater founded MLJ Comics, which put out a slate of mostly superhero books. A few years later, Goldwater and artist Bob Montana tried something new — the adventures of an everyday American teen named Archie Andrews and his friends in the fictional city of Riverdale (based on their own small-town upbringings). As an attempt to capitalize on the successful “Andy Hardy” movies of actor Mickey Rooney, Archie Comics mixed humor and romance into a formula that would remain nearly unchanged for 80 years.If you’ve read one Archie, you’ve read them all and know the drill, but here’s the gist: Archie is torn between two women — the devoted, blonde Betty and the spoiled, raven-tressed Veronica (with an occasional third thrown in for good measure). Jughead couldn’t care less and Reggie is scheming for the affections of whichever girl Archie is more interested in at the moment. Throw in the supporting cast that includes super-genius Dilton Doiley, lunkheaded Moose, and a handful of adults and you have a clearly realized fictional world that plays host to wholesome hijinks.Sex AppealSo here’s the thing: Archie is never explicitly sexy. The furthest the Andrews boy ever goes with either of his love interests is a chaste kiss. But there’s a tremendous undercurrent of horniness that has percolated beneath the pages for almost the franchise’s entire history. To find out the source of that horniness, we need to head to the Archie offices at the end of the 1950s when a young artist named Dan DeCarlo walked in the door looking for work.DeCarlo quickly became Archie’s go-to guy as his clean, open style replaced the more primitive look of Bob Montana. The pulchritudinous physiques of Betty and Veronica under DeCarlo’s pen came to define the characters looks — wasp waists, wide hips, and some serious D-cups. Sure, the look wasn’t very “teen,” but it stuck.Dan DeCarlo’s knack for drawing sexy girls wasn’t honed at Archie — before he started with the company, he’d drawn literally hundreds of bawdy gag cartoons for men’s magazines like Humorama featuring buxom babes in the same style. DeCarlo even drew smutty pin-ups featuring Betty and Veronica for private collectors. We’re sure the brass at Archie knew about his mature portfolio, but realized that a dose of sex appeal would bring the book to a slightly older and more hormonal audience. In an amusing story, when DeCarlo was forced out at Archie in the 1990s for younger, cheaper talent, he did an X-rated parody for Penthouse Comix and Archie immediately hired him back to prevent their iconic artist from sullying the brand any further.A Giant StepIt’s fair to say that the tipping point for Archie’s modern-day transformation came in 2010, in the pages of Veronica Issue #202. In it, Veronica turns her affection to a new kid in town — hunky Army brat Kevin Keller — only to find out he’s not interested in her because he’s gay. Kevin was the first openly gay character in Archie history, and the formerly staid company discovered that not only was their audience ready for them to take risks, but they were also guaranteed good publicity. Sure, a few moral scolds complained, but overall Kevin Keller was a tremendous success.From there, bringing the timeless world of Riverdale into the 21st century became Archie Comics’ new mission. Sure, the old-school reprints would continue, but the company was dedicated to modernization and diversification. They’d dabbled in different kinds of books before — most notably a few ill-fated superhero lines — but this was different. They wanted to take the core of Archie and make it something 21st century kids could relate to.Over the next few years, Archie Comics would essentially split their business in half. Long-term artists and writers like Dan Parent would continue producing the same general stuff they had been — lighthearted teen tales in the classic vein. But they would also reach into a wider talent pool, bringing in critically acclaimed names for a fresh, new approach.July 2015 saw the launch of Archie #1, written by Mark Waid, with art by Fiona Staples. This book looked and read like nothing the company had ever published — it was effortlessly modern and new-feeling while still hitting the key notes, and it was soon followed by spin-offs that did the same for most of the cast. Suddenly, Archie had gone from background noise to the talk of the comics industry.Horror BusinessIn 1962, writer George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo added a new figure to the Archie universe — Sabrina Spellman, a young half-witch who lives with her aunts and her talking cat in Greendale (which is somewhere around Riverdale, naturally). Sabrina’s adventures let the company dabble in fantasy, and the character quickly became a hit. Sabrina anchored her own book, a 1970s cartoon series and more. In 1996, a live-action TV series based on the character premiered and ran for seven seasons with Melissa Joan Hart in the title role.Naturally, these were all pointed directly at the tween-age market that Archie had cultivated for half a century. But as part of the big pivot in the early 2010s, things changed for Sabrina as well. The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina series by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack takes place in the 1960s, with a teenage Sabrina dealing with the consequences of magic. That series spun out from 2013’s sleeper hit Afterlife With Archie, which told a surprisingly dark story about a zombie apocalypse overtaking bucolic Riverdale.The fact that the company was willing to put their iconic characters in these strange and mature situations was a big deal, and what came to be known as the “Archie Horror” line grew with books about a vampire Veronica and a werewolf Jughead. The new Sabrina book is the direct inspiration for the Netflix series of the same name, starring Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka.Getting RealIn 2014, the CW announced that showrunner Greg Berlanti — who had already caught lightning in a bottle with Arrow — was working on a new comic book adaptation, this time away from the DC universe. Titled Riverdale, it would be a live-action drama targeting older teens, and it would start with a murder. Riverdale High quarterback Jason Blossom drowns in Sweetwater River, but when his body is found with a gunshot wound in the head it kicks off a twisted tale of intrigue, passion, and mystery with references to shows like Twin Peaks and Black Mirror. Riverdale‘s tremendous success — it just started a third season and continues to improve in the ratings — shows just how durable the Archie archetypes are after nearly a century. They’ve transformed into narrative icons, capable of hanging any sort of story on from innocent romps to mature soap operas.Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina looks to be taking the same tack. And that’s really the big success story of comic book media in the 21st century. These characters that have had the last few generations to establish themselves in the collective consciousness are now figures of American myth, and like all myths they’re transforming with the tellers. Nobody could have predicted that Archie would claw back from cultural insignificance to become such a potent force, but they’re just getting started. May America’s favorite horny teenager continue to change with the times.3 Things to Read Next:Geek.com’s Riverdale RecapsFrom PCMag: The Evolution of the Modern Comic BookFrom PCMag: 10 Digital Comics You Need to Read Right Now ‘Marvels’ Expands Marvel’s Podcast UniverseDamon Lindelof Starts Beef With Alan Moore Ahead of HBO’s ‘Watch… last_img

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