In the 1970s, a Christian publisher obtained the rights to Archie Comic characters and produced a series of somewhat didactic and heavy-handed Christian comics, which I still remember well.
Godly Archie and his gang didn’t approve of long hair, divorce, secularism or eating in the school cafeteria without bowing your head to say grace.
Well, Riverdale has changed and is firmly in the hands of today’s editors, who I suppose still work in that nondescript office near the public works garage in Mamaroneck.
Our local comics shop, Rogue Comics, got its September shipment in early and thoughtfully set aside a copy of “Veronica” No. 202, the issue with the coverline “Meet the Hot New Guy!” A stylin’ dude in rendered in the inset, with what appears to be wavy gelled blond hear and very developed cheekbones and jawline for what I assume is a 16-year-old. (Of course, Betty and Veronica always seemed a little adult-proportioned for teenagers, too.)
Meet Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s new gay character. And Jughead’s new best friend. Hmmmm.
I was a huge Archie fan when I was a kid, and I loved Bob Montana’s daily strip and Don DeCarlo’s masterful comic book work. I joke that Archie ruined my teenage years by setting me up for unrealistic expectations, even for the 1980s, of Friday night dates and malt shops. Even now, you might argue that today’s storyline unrealistically portrays a new gay kid in town as universally accepted and even adored. On page 6, when Kevin finally tells Jughead he’s gay, there’s not even a panel reserved for Jughead’s reaction. He immediately digests this bit of information and formulates a scheme to get at his nemesis Veronica. (No, not that.)
But kids like me who take comic books too seriously probably get what they deserve. Big brown dogs don’t solve ghost mysteries, either.
Is there a completely new guard in Archie HQ? I remember about 20 years ago, when I was drawing editorial cartoons in Riverdale-esque Ocean City, N.J., I depicted a drugged-out Archie being dragged away by police. It was a reaction to a drug crackdown at the local high school which had always cultivated a wholesome all-American reputation. The men in Mamaroneck took note and extracted a published apology from the editor, much to my mortification. I phoned the editor of Mad magazine who freely parodied mainstream comics. “But we don’t show them on drugs,” the editor told me. Well, not quite. I never felt good about that outcome and Mad’s lack of support.
I like today’s Archie, and according to MSNBC, the new leadership is showing results. Dan Parent does a good job with the art, and the story had good energy and pacing. The lettering has a slightly looser feel, and the layouts are more dynamic and colorful. (Have comic books stopped printing on pulp for good?) Even the dialog seemed natural and witty. Maybe Mom will give me Archie Comics for Christmas one more year.