My grandfather has a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains where my family would go once a summer. One of the treasures there was a stash of comic books from the fifties owned by my mother and uncle. Of course I gravitated towards the titles my uncle bought, titles like Batman and Superman and a lot of Carl Barks stuff. I consider these comic to be the formative years of my development and love of comics. Maybe more on that in another post.
My sister, on the other hand, loved the Archie comics that were the favorite of my mother. I never really got into them at first, assuming them to be girl stuff and not for me. I’m still not entirely sure that they weren’t, but one day I remember picking one up and finding it to be surprisingly entertaining and witty. Eventually I made my way through them all, and still have fond memories of a lot of the stories in there. For me Archie represented an idealized version of high school, a time where you could goof off and nothing too serious would happen, and your life was so terrifically entertaining that drugs and drinking never crossed your mind as extracurricular activities. Sanitized as it was, the world of Riverdale High made high school seem like a whole lot more fun than high school actually was: who wouldn’t want to hang out at a place called the Chocklit Shop? And who wouldn’t want to hang out with Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the gang?
Nothing approached the sheer fun of those fifties cartoons. The later Archie comics, it seemed around the time Sabrina emerged, were not as good. The digests that my sister bought had a bunch of more recent stories, but there were always a few vintage ones in there; those were the ones to seek out.
Unfortunately, a lot of those Archie comics are not collected and seem to be difficult to find. I remember seeing a series the collected a decade’s worth of stories in each book, but as I recall, they weren’t all that comprehensive.
So this new book, which is the first in a series that collects the newspaper Archie strips, is a real delight. Bob Montana was the one who originally designed the characters, and the daily strips eventually have all the terrific storylines and gags from the comics I loved.
I say eventually because it takes a while for the strip to really take off. For the first year the central conflicts and characters are firmly in place, but some of the jokes don’t work and some of the storylines are pretty bad. The summer months seem to be particularly bad for Archie and the gang as they are forced to take hokey fabricated vacations on a dude ranch, a bicycling trip, and a summer camp with a youthful exuberance that seems completely unrealistic. I mean, would any high school kid jump at the opportunity to go to a dude ranch? Is there even such a thing?
Here’s an example of a plot line from the first year that maybe seemed funny back then, but today is a little creepy:
In this plotline, Archie actually ends up taking Ms. Grundy to the dance. Seriously, couldn’t Archie have figured a way out of that one?
By the second year, Archie is pretty reliably funny. There’s a couple really funny bits that I’ll spotlight in a later post.