I recently picked up a few old ARCHIE comics (I got the bunch of them for about five bucks; I'm not insane enough to pay used-comics-store prices for this kind of thing), as part of my devotion to reminding myself just how many bad comics I used to read as a little kid. ("Richie Rich" comics are actually much worse, but I don't have any and wouldn't even pay as much as five bucks for them.) Archie Comics produced a wide variety of terrible comics in addition to the stuff they did well. And I do think they did some stuff well. They had at least three first-rate talents on their staff: artist-writer Bob Bolling, who did the early, wonderful "Little Archie" comics (his were the ones with Mad Doctor Doom and Chester, not the crappy ones where they were just doing rehashed versions of the regular Archie characters), artist Samm Schwartz, and writer Frank Doyle (any time you come across an Archie story that is witty, filled with wordplay and doesn't talk down to kids, it's probably a Frank Doyle). And a lot of their other stuff was at least inoffensively bland. But the bad Archie stuff is really bad. I just thought I'd run down a list of some of the really bad ones, to remind you all of the stories that ruined the Archie Double Digests for you as kids.
- "Archie at Riverdale High" was a series of comics that placed the Archie characters in serious situations dealing with real-life problems. Remember your consternation, as a kid reading an Archie digest, in coming across a story where Archie is all serious and heroic and preachy? That's where they came from. Sample story: Pop Tate's Chok'lit Shoppe is about to be demolished to make room for a new building. Archie and the Gang protest this negative development, while Pop Tate is so heartbroken that he barricades himself inside his store. The standoff is resolved when it turns out that Mr. Lodge owns the company that was going to tear down the store, except he didn't know it. The end.
- "Josie and the Pussycats" is, I guess, Archie's most famous non-Archie product (that or Sabrina). When Josie started out, it was actually good. It started, basically, as a female version of ARCHIE, with similar characters and situations but with a red-headed girl, Josie, at the center of it all. The writing was mostly by Frank Doyle, and it showed. But I guess it wasn't terribly successful. Instead of ending it, though, Archie Comics re-vamped it by tossing out a few characters (remember Pepper?) and tossing in in every element that was working for them in some other comic. They'd just had a success with The Archies, so Josie became the leader of a rock group. It was the late '60s and fashions had changed, so they flooded it in bright colors and wackier, nay, trippier plots. Some of you may recall that Alexandra briefly was a witch (she wasn't in the TV series) because Sabrina the Teenage Witch was popular at the time. The Pussycats comics I looked at, except for a couple of stories that appear to be by Frank Doyle, are just awful -- crappy dialogue, plots that don't make sense; so shoddily put together that some words in the speech balloons are unintentionally mispelled. But they testify to what's kept Archie Comics successful for so long: an absolute willingness to do anything to keep up with changes in kids' tastes.
Other Archie comics that come to mind as being deeply, deeply evil:
- "That Wilkin Boy." A klutzy teenage boy, somewhat reminiscent of Archie, loves the girl next door. She loves him. Her father is a gigantic weightlifter with Popeye-style arms. He doesn't like the klutzy teenage boy. But his schemes to keep them apart go hilariously awry and she winds up playing an unidentified instrument in said klutzy teenage boy's rock group. Oh, and there's a tall character with shades who looks like a cross between Reggie Mantle and Lurch, and who is referred to as "Teddy Tambourine." Plus one story deals with racism and the Japanese internment camps from WWII. I'm not sure who the target audience of this comic was, except maybe people who really hate weightlifters.
- "Li'l Jinx." See, Dennis was a Menace, so we have a girl of the same rough age and hair color, clearly ripped off from Dennis, who's a Jinx. Except Dennis at least had a first name. And is there not something a little creepy about a father who calls his daughter nothing but "Li'l Jinx?" No wonder she turned to substance abuse when she grew up. (Archie Comics also had a male ripoff of Dennis the Menace, the astonishingly differently-titled "Pat the Brat," but it didn't last long.) Sample story: Li'l Jinx has an invisible Martian friend who prevents her father from spanking her by shooting pain-rays at his hand.
- "Chilling Tales in Sorcery as Told By Sabrina." Sabrina plays the Cryptkeeper, except without the puns. Or the twist endings. Or the entertainment. Sample story, narrated by Sabrina: "The Boy Who Cried Vampire." a little boy accuses everyone of being a vampire, but he's just kidding. So when his uncle turns out to be a vampire, it's too late to tell because no one will believe him. The end.
There are a few other Archie-free Archie comics that I can remember encountering, including "Wilbur," which I won't discuss because I can't remember a thing about it; "Super Duck," which I won't discuss because I hated it even as a little kid, and "Cosmo the Merry Martian," which doesn't fit in here because it was actually kind of good.
And let's not forget the many comics that were introduced to take advantage of some fad or another. Superhero comics? Here's "Archie as Pureheart the Powerful." Spy stories are in? Here's "Archie as the Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E." Is "The Monkees" a hit on TV? Then Archie will do some "The Archies" stories with Archie and his friends doing wacky Monkees-style surrealism. (Except, again, those were actually pretty funny.) Again, that's the endearing thing about Archie Comics, that they are at once stuck in a never-never land of squeaky-clean teenagerhood, and yet they also strive, better than most comics, to keep up with the times.