Thursday, December 28, 2006

Archie...Archie Andrews...Where Are You? Comics Digest Magazine

Wow. I don't actually read Boing Boing all that regularly anymore--the posts just pile up too fast, following all the links of interest always takes a huge chunk of time, and all the further links I find as a result can wind up eating a few hours. But when I checked in today, I caught the link to news of the Archie Comics character redesign. I grew up reading Archie Comics, from age 5 to... um... let's say 12 or so, with sporadic check-ins with the comics thereafter. It was a huge influence on the expectations I had for my teenage years, which may help to explain why I was so lame as a teenager. Actually, I was even lamer than Archie--I certainly didn't spend high school with two hot girls vying for my affections and yet never blaming me for two-timing each one with the other.

The funny thing is, I haven't thought about Archie Comics much lately, but it happens to be back on my radar at the moment since my dad bought me a stack of digests as a nostalgic Christmas gift.

Anyway. So the plan is to start doing more realistically drawn, serialized stories in the Betty and Veronica Digest. I'm not opposed to it. In fact, in high school, I dreamed of one day writing a serialized, more realistic Archie series (yeah, I just get lamer and lamer). Much of the writing in recent years has been fairly stagnant, lacking the smoothness and flow that, say, Frank Doyle used to bring to Archie scripts. Anything that gets some new blood in there or opens up new avenues for writers to raise their game and freshen things up? I say go for it. And the quality of art in Archie Comics lately could use an overhaul too--though it's the draftsmanship, not the house style, that's really the problem.

That said, the proposed new style(s) (see the links above) are... maybe not the greatest? The stilted figures on the cover art, especially Veronica, are worse than the pencils of the interior page. The pencils, actually, are not that bad. There is a sense of style there, certainly more care than has gone into Archie art since the passing of Dan DeCarlo, and Betty and Veronica--if that is Veronica in the short hair--actually look pretty expressive. However, it doesn't really feel like Archie--and while the faces have more detail, the girls' big heads and tiny bodies are actually less realistically proportioned than they have been in the past. I guess it's admirable that they didn't just go all-out manga with it, which would have been the expected thing (they already did it with Sabrina).

I remember some of Archie Comics' previous experiments with serialization. In the '90s they implemented a new-look Jughead, who shaved lines into his hair, started seeing a hot female therapist, ate soy burgers, and skateboarded, dude. But the serialization didn't really add anything. It's hard to make an ongoing story matter when you don't make the stakes any higher than they are in a five-page stand-alone. The storylines just got goofier and more pointless and eventually the whole thing was abandoned.

A few years before that, Jughead Comics attempted serialization in a more modest fashion, introducing a pair of love interests for Jughead--a cool new girl named Debbie and a childhood sweetheart named Joani. These girls snapped Jughead out of his girl-hating ways, and put Jughead in a love triangle situation that was admittedly redundant with Archie's. But the upside was that Jughead, unlike Archie, was not used to being put in such situations, and the arc yielded a few stories that managed to capture a genuinely soulful sense of teen angst, the likes of which seldom appear in Archie Comics. To this day they are my favorite stories, and it drives me up the wall that I never found the issue that resolved the arc. I have the one afterward, where Jughead swears off girls again, but not the one in which we see what exactly went wrong with the whole Debbie/Joani situation. Once I even wrote to asking for the answer, but they misinterpreted my question and instead offered a generic explanation for Jughead's dislike of girls. (This was, I think, freshman year of college. Is it even possible to be this lame? I may have set a record.)

As for the title of this post, can you believe that really used to be the name of one of the Archie monthly digests? And no, they did not center on stories in which Archie was missing. Also, I really miss the phrase "comics digest magazine," which I don't think they use anymore. I like that there are way more words than necessary in it.



Steve said...

Did you ever see the Robot Chicken Archie/Final Destination mash up?

Also, aren't writers' assistants supposed to have no free time? How do you write lengthy posts about Archie? I mean, as a - what the hell is my job title again - Sr. Financial Analyst Contractor I have plenty of time to blog at work, but shouldn't you be busy writing down ideas faster than is humanly possible?

Todd VanDerWerff said...

He probably gets the whole week between Christmas and New Year's off like he's in elementary school again. Lucky.

I used to think I was the only person who loved Archie (my grandmother had a huge stockpile of them and when I was done eating cookies and drinking her soda -- when it was time for the grown-ups to talk -- she would break 'em out), but now I know that my love (I once semi-seriously ruminated about a dark reimagining by Christopher Nolan) is surpassed by yours. This feels cleansing, as my wife has always treated my tendency to pick up the comics and leaf through them in Borders as a bizarre quirk she must denigrate at all turns.

Zack said...

I understand the Archie thing. I only stopped collecting Iron Man because I didn't like his new armor designs. If they had kept him in his 1989 armor, I would never ever have stopped.

1989 Iron Man, for reference. I think it was the last design with a mouth.