I started thinking about Archie comics recently, probably because of that scene in the new Love and Rockets documentary, where Gilbert Hernandez flips through an old issue of Little Archie and explains how important it was to him. Of course, Archie was definitely a part of the culture when I was growing up, and I knew all the characters, but I really don’t remember reading any actual Archie comics. I’m thinking perhaps it is only familiar to me via the cartoons I must have seen in the 70s, and maybe seeing the comics at the grocery store checkout lines when I was a kid? If I ever did read any, I doubt it was within the last forty years.
Days after watching the Love and Rockets doc, I happened to be looking for some unrelated info in Drawn and Quarterly’s Thirteen Going on Eighteen collection, and was skimming Seth’s introduction, where he writes, “I have to admit right now that I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin-off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) but […].”
This year, I’d also read, and really enjoyed the first two issues of The Santos Sisters. It seemed weird to me that I was reading parodies of Archie comics, without having actually read any Archie comics!
This combination of events put the idea into my head that I should probably try to read some of these Archie comics, and see what I think. Which is how I ended up picking up this extremely beat up copy of Archie 148 from 1964 (it cost me $4.80). I wasn’t sure if I should try an Archie, a Little Archie, Life with Archie, Pep, or one of the hundreds of other titles. I kind of picked one at random, simply looking for an affordable issue in the date range Seth recommended. And, to be honest, I enjoyed it.
My feeling about the Archie style of art, that it’s a little stiff and slightly unappealing stands. Who knows who drew the stories in this issue (mycomicshop.com’s description says art by Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, Joe Edwards, Marty Epp and unknown, plus cover pencils by Dan DeCarlo). A lot of artists for a relatively short comic, and it’s really hard to notice any difference in the art from story to story. Maybe some who worked on Archie titles are better than others (Gilbert highlights Bob Bolling).
I think the purpose of the art here is more functional than trying to be something attractive to look at, and it gets the job done. Probably it’s the humor of the stories writing that is the main point of the comics. One surprise for me, was how mean-spirited some of the characters act to each other. Like Reggie makes fun of Archie for driving an old car in a really cruel way. Another strip has Reggie switching plaster with concrete, so when Archie tries to make a mold of his foot, he ends up encasing it in concrete instead. I do like how simple and everyday-like the stories are… one about buying a trash can, one about measuring a piece of wood for a stereo cabinet, and one about wearing a wig. I like the shortness of each story too – there are two six-page stories, two five-page stories and a few gag pages, and that’s it. A quick and breezy read. The graphic novel length story backlash, is definitely a growing part of my thinking about what I want to spend my reading time with.
I enjoyed Archie 148 enough that I’m definitely planning to pick up more. Feel free to post some recommendations in the comments. Also, the gag strip below was pretty crazy, and for me, it alone was probably worth the $4.80.