October 14, 2010


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Archie still going strong
Creator Bob Montana was a Central High Grad

By Lisa Parsons

Archie comics have seen a resurgence lately, what with Archie getting married last year, a new Archie magazine in production (look for a “Guide to Glee” in the November issue), and new character Kevin Keller introduced this fall. Archie’s been going strong since the 1940s — when Manchester Central High graduate Bob Montana first began drawing him.

Montana, the original Archie artist, lived in Manchester as a young man, and later returned to New Hampshire to live with his wife and children in Meredith, where he died in 1975, still working on the Archie strip. He spent many summers on Lake Winnepesaukee.

This past July he was named to the Eisner Hall of Fame, at the 22nd Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

And this fall there are two new books to celebrate with.

Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948, by Bob Montana, 2010, The Library of American Comics, 304 pages.
Here in this very early Archie incarnation is where we see hard evidence that Montana knew New Hampshire. In one storyline, the kids go to summer camp on Lake Winnepesaukee. (Had I read this before I lived in New Hampshire, I would’ve thought that was just another made-up name, like “Camp Winnabanana.”) They ski at Gilford and bike in the White Mountains. And did you know Mr. Lodge went to Dartbord College in Handover?

Bob Montana also spent some time in Haverhill, Mass. — not Haverhill, N.H., as editor Greg Goldstein tells us in the introduction. I’m forgiving the error, because it’s a beautiful book. Also, Goldstein does a nice job of capturing the depth of Montana’s art: “Peruse the strips in this book, and you will see a kinetic energy that’s rarely been matched before or since in humor strips. Montana’s Archie dailies, often overstuffed with animated characters bursting at the panel edges, are the antithesis of today’s simplistic ‘talking head’ approach to the gag strip. Montana was the child of vaudeville parents, and … those early childhood influences of slapstick and pratfall defined his work.”

It makes the strips fun to read, even today. And they are timeless in a way — world events don’t intrude on Archie’s idyll of school dances, football games, summer jobs and young love.

But Archie and his friends have evolved over the decades. Today they have cell phones and call each other “dude.” In the 1940s they drank malts at Pop’s chok-lit shop and called each other “chum.” Here in their first dailies is when we see Veronica at her most voluptuous and Betty as hourglass hot as she’ll ever be. Jughead seems cooler than today; his eyes never open (they do in 2010, but I’m not sure when it happened) and he barely registers an emotional expression, even when his hat jumps off his head at a shocking punchline. Reggie is a one-note sneering bully, all harsh without the mellowness he later acquired.

Since these are newspaper dailies, they’re in black & white, where you can really appreciate the penwork. They’re printed in a nice large format that allows the detail to show.

Noticing some words cut off at the bottom of one panel in one strip, I e-mailed Library of American Comics Associate Editor Bruce Canwell, who explained: “Today, original art is usually impossible to come by, so our two primary sources of material are syndicate proofs (and even those aren’t as plentiful as one would like) and ‘clipped strips’ cut out of actual newspapers and preserved by family or fans. As you can tell, our primary source for ARCHIE was clipped strips — that one on page 143 just got a little more ‘clipped’ than anyone bargained for.” Save your clips and give them big margins, fans.

This is Volume One of an anticipated series: these are the first Archie newspaper dailies. The book ends with an Oct. 16, 1948, strip; Canwell said it was a good stopping point at the end of a football-game storyline, and the next book, tentatively planned for release by summer 2011, would pick up there.

For $26 on Amazon this is an excellent treat for Archie fans and newspaper comics fans of all stripes.

Archie Marries, by Michael Uslan, illustrated by Stan Goldberg & Bob Smith, lettering by Jack Morelli, coloring by Glenn Whitmore, 2010, Abrams ComicArts, 208 pages.
At the other end of the Archie timeline we have Archie getting married, in a series of six comic books published from fall 2009 through spring 2010. Those six issues plus an epilogue issue (#600–#606) are collected here in a single hardcover volume with extra features.

There’s actually more than one marriage storyline. First Archie wanders up (not down) one branch of memory lane and becomes immersed in what his life would be if he married Veronica — that’s what had media outlets all the way to CNN screaming “Archie marries Veronica!” last year. But then Archie backtracks to take the other path, in which he marries Betty. Both paths begin with the gang graduating from State University. Both end with the happy couple welcoming baby twins and juggling domestic and career life. And the double-memory-lane story as a whole winds up with Archie returning to reality, a high school student preparing for a poetry recital: Miss Grundy has assigned him to recite Robert Frost on two roads diverging. He remembers those visions of adulthood and is relieved to be a kid with “not a care in the world.”

The art here, of course, differs from the earliest days, and not just in the fact that these are glossy color pages. The drawing in Archie Marries is broader, less precise. The characters are a bit older, and drawn that way. And the characters and props are updated, as they are in today’s Archie comic books. Miss Grundy is no longer a snaggle-toothed wicked witch but simply a smooth-skinned woman wearing her hair in a bun — but you’d still know that bun and nose anywhere. Archie long ago gave up his letter vest and bow tie and lost the space between his front teeth that had Reggie calling him “Rabbit Face” in the first dailies. The young women are less catty and no longer appear to be wearing rib-crushing girdles. Of course the Archie Marries look differs not just from Montana’s but from many styles in between; a variety of artists and writers have churned out Archie comics over the years.

Nonetheless, our favorite Riverdale redhead is instantly recognizable.

You could just go buy the six issues of the comic, which no doubt have their own collectible value, but for about as much money or less you can get the whole shebang here in hardcover, in a slipcase that also holds a special comic book containing reprints of a few vintage Archie stories. This volume also includes several interviews that are worth reading — they reveal the work and the heart that goes into a seemingly simple comic book (“I sound like Eeyore,” says letterer Jack Morelli: “‘Thanks for noticing me.’”). You can read in detail how Michael Uslan, a comics professor and an executive producer of The Dark Knight, recalls coming up with the marriage story.

And if all this isn’t enough to spark or re-spark your interest, you might want to see the Archie Twilight parody comic books that hit the stands this past summer.

As for me, I’m waiting for Archie: Seven Decades of America’s Favorite Teenagers…and Beyond!, which Amazon says is due out in November from IDW Publishing.

—Lisa Parsons