Thursday, April 10, 2008

Straight From the Hartley

I guarantee you I won't be doing Archie nostalgia posts all the time, but via this comment, I see that other bloggers are rediscovering Al Hartley's infamous Christian Archie comics. The insanity of these comics is different from the insanity of the Frank Doyle/Samm Schwartz story I wrote about below; the stories by Doyle and Schwartz are crazy because they're intentionally crazy, not to mention very funny, while Hartley's stories are crazy but sincere and they're kind of disturbing because they're so sincere. (Favorite line: "Now we have books that say we all came from monkeys -- and the children are starting to ACT like it!") I've written about these Spire comics in a previous post, but the thing I want to re-emphasize is that Hartley had actually been writing and drawing this kind of material in the mainstream Archie comics for several years. The reason he took it to a separate Christian comic is that his bosses at Archie asked him to cut it out. But he was a talented artist and apparently a very nice man, so I'm not surprised that he managed to talk them into letting him do the Spire titles.

I actually have some examples of Hartley's Christian material in the "regular" Archie titles (I don't have a lot of Archie comics left over from childhood, and I don't feel like going out and shopping for them, but I do have this one) from a "Sabrina's Christmas Magic" special issue in 1972. Hartley wrote and illustrated a lot of Sabrina stories in the early '70s and really seemed to get into the character despite the references to witchcraft. So in this issue, the first story has her going to meet Santa Claus, and teaching children about the importance of faith over reason (click on the images to see them enlarged):

And then, as if worried that that was too allegorical, Hartley gets specific at the end of another story which he wrote and drew for the same issue:

I don't want to sound like I am bashing Hartley; his injections of religion into the Archie world are actually quite sweet and non-sectarian, and honestly I think the publishers would have been better off letting him continue with that instead of doing the more hard-core Spire material. But I wonder how he squared that religious content with the portrayal of witchcraft, or the rather obvious cruel streak he displayed in the stories he wrote/drew:

I'm no theologian, but even as a kid I thought that there was something morally wrong about drowning somebody and laughing at it. Apparently Hartley's message is that if Sabrina doesn't like you, she will kill you and that's a good thing.


Thad said...

Wonder how Hartley felt about this bible verse:
You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

Anonymous said...

I remember those Hartley comics as akid (Back when I love Archie comics), I also remember seeing a few of the religious ones, having bought them by mistake at a garage sale or something; in the religious comics, the art was much sketchier because he was working alone and spent less time to do the inking. another difference was the way he drew the female characters; they lost several inches of (presumably sinful)cleavage...notice in the last panel, Sabrina appears to be about a 38c, that would never have been acceptable in the spire comics! hehe

Albert Giesbrecht said...

That might be true mikado, but he did give Betty sexy lips. I remember one of the Spires, where Betty and Archie we about to do some heavy smoochin' but Big Ethel, interrupted them witha crises, that only Betty could solve.

Anonymous said...

Hartley was not asked to stop by Archie Comics; he came to them with a proposition to do comics specifically for the Christian market. The Archie folks agreed, not realizing Hartley was actually going to do stories with some substance to them re sex, drugs, etc. (Reggie is depicted as a date rapist in one!) When Hartley died the project died with him and the Archie comics group opted not to pursue the series.

Anonymous said...

>Wonder how Hartley felt about >this bible verse:
>You should not let a sorceress >live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

Last time I checked this post was about CHRISTIAN comics.

As for the connection between hippies and born-agains, the "Jesus Freak" movement of the 1970s was certainly influenced by the hippies. This resulted in divides between old Christians and younger born agains who liked rock music and Larry Norman. It's all well documented in the culture wars articles in HM Magazine.