What do Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Dick Cheney and Archie Comics have in common? All of them found themselves involved in some sort of controversy this year. Earlier this month Archie Comics announced that for four issues, they’d be drawing Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang in a different style. In the words of one poster over on the main site, “What’s next? Donald Duck wearing pants?” Oh well … at least they didn’t shoot anyone.
So are the folks over at Archie Comics God-hating communists, tampering with a beloved American icon in a way that can only end in tears? Or are they geniuses for finding a way to get people talking about their comics again? I’d probably go with the latter, based on reactions and recent media coverage. When was the last time the Wall Street Journal talked about Archie (if they ever have):
In May, however, the company will begin testing a new line of comics with longer stories, to be published in digests, which will include the new looks. The reason is demographics. “We are going after an older female audience who are ready to move on to read something else,” says Michael I. Silberkleit, Archie Comic’s chairman and co-publisher, and a son of one of the company’s founders. Current readers are predominantly girls between the ages of seven and 14.
The company’s experiment is being conducted to see if girls moving into their midteens would be interested in “romance stories” featuring the ‘Archie’ characters in a different light, says Mr. Silberkleit. Archie Comic also wants to publish graphic novels about the characters that appeal to teenage girls, he says, and could compile these new comics into a publication that would sell in bookstores and be available in libraries. The regular monthly comics will continue to feature the classic art.
The story will have less slapstick humor, and feature fewer of the characters’ shenanigans involving Mr. Weatherbee (the school principal) and Pop Tate (who runs the teens’ local hangout). Instead, the story lines will be more intense, and rely more heavily on characterization, with 100 pages overall over four issues. “Archie” stories are usually self-contained and told in about seven or eight pages. In the initial tale, Archie will be depicted as jealous of a new boy who comes into town to woo Betty and Veronica. “No sex, no drugs, no inappropriate story line” will be allowed, Mr. Silberkleit says.
Meanwhile, John Brownlee over at Wired’s Table of Malcontents isn’t happy about the change:
But more importantly, Butler’s work also misses the plot by making Betty and Veronica look totally different. Not only does this rob Archie’s romantic quandary of its delicious irony (what does it matter which girl Archie picks? They are both the same girl.) but let’s face it: one of the reasons the entire Betty / Veronica / Archie love-triangle is so alluring is because Betty and Veronica look exactly like one other, with the exception of hair color. When it comes right down to it, Archie is the personification of every American teenager, and as a pubertal Everyman, his relationship with Betty and Veronica indicates every teenage boy’s own deeply seated desire to date two identical twins and eventually convince them to make out with one another while he watches. Right, fellas?
Boo to Archie Comics. Against all odds, a lame comics franchise somehow manages to make itself even lamer.
Rik Offenberger, Archie’s PR manager, responded in the comments section, explaining that this is more of an experiment than a total change to the line:
Over the years we have tied to present Archie and his pals in new and exciting ways. Some of them have worked well, such as Manga Sabrina, Little Archie and Katy Keene, others have not been as successful, such as Archie with a mullet. Josie wasn’t always a Pussycat, but that was a change that the fans really embraced. This new style is going to be featured in only one 4 part story mixed with classic tales in Betty & Veronica Double Digest #151-154. Classic Archie will be in every other story we publish. We will see what the fans think and if it is well received we may do another, if the fans don’t like it we will never do another story with this style. We are going to listen to how our fans respond. So I thank you for your initial response. However, could you wait to see the comic itself and let us know what you think of both the story and the art? We really do value your comments.
While we do try new things from time to time; Archie and his pals always stay true to their values and nothing ever has or will replaces classic Archie.
I do want you to be assured that at no point were we ever considering a change to the entire line, we are only talking about one story done in a different style.
On a personal note, my first exposure to the Riverdale gang was most likely at the house of Jeremy and David, two brothers I went to elementary school with. I remember they used to spend the night at our house and would stay up all night reading my copies of Avengers, X-Men and the like. I can still hear the conversations we had in my head:
Jeremy: “I’m really enjoying your collection of Avengers comics. I always thought the medium was undervalued as a true classic American artform.”
OK, he didn’t say that. It was probably more like this:
Jeremy: “Oh cool, comics!” His eyes went wide, like a crack addict who had been denied for too long finding his missing stash behind the radiator.
Me: “Do you guys collect, too?” I prayed the bags I’d started putting my comics in were drool proof.
Jeremy: “Yeah. We’ve got a lot of comics.”
So I went over to their house to see their collection, excited at the possibilities of what I might find, and what happens? C’mon, you know this one. Jeremy and David’s mom thought super heroes were too violent, so they only comics they owned were a couple of religious pamphlets in comic form* and about 300 different Archies. And sure, there’s something charming in the innocence of those comics, but when you’re a nine-year-old superhero fan, they seem pretty lame in comparison.
While I’ve read plenty of Archie Comics over the years–though admittedly it’s been more than a decade or so since I thumbed through the pages of one–I can’t recall ever buying an Archie Comic in my life**. So I guess I don’t share an affinity for them like a lot of the people who are up in arms over the proposed change.
But for my buddies David and Jeremy, they did mean something … like I said, their mom wouldn’t let them buy superhero comics, so Archie was their introduction to the medium, just like he’s been for many other people. And if this experiment works for the company and they bring in some new readers, then more power to them.
*While I couldn’t tell you the plotlines of any of the Archie Comics I read, I do remember being severely freaked out by the religious comics, which showed non-believers being dragged into the pits of Hell by the devil.
**Actually I do own the Archie/Punisher crossover, if that counts.