Archie Andrews at 70

I guess some of us age better than others. Although Archie Andrews is a Baby Boomer icon, the fact is the perpetual 17 year old has been a comic book favorite going back to the early days of World War II. Since his 1941 debut, Archie has practically done it all. He has appeared in his own comic book, has been spun off into newspaper comic strips and a Saturday morning television cartoon show, has had a long running radio show, plus a number one hit record. Just about the only thing that Archie has failed to do as we observe the 70th anniversary of his creation is graduate from Riverdale High School…and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen soon, as Archie and the gang have now even gone digital, becoming available through an iPad application as of April 1.

The Archie Andrews character first appeared in Pep Comics #22 on December 22, 1941, a creation of editor/publisher John L. Goldwater, with the story written by Vic Bloom and illustrated by Bob Montana. Although Archie was reportedly inspired by the Andy Hardy films that starred Mickey Rooney, Archie was initially depicted as a 13 year old, who had developed a crush on his new neighbor, Betty Cooper. By the next issue, Archie was transformed into the likeable 17 year old red-head most of us are still familiar with today. Quickly, the “Archie” stories began to expand the number of regular characters, including Archie’s slacker friend “Jughead” Jones, the conceited Reggie Mantle, and the beautiful rich girl, Veronica Lodge. Adult characters also populated the comic book, led by Archie’s parents, Fred and Mary Andrews, Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge, the local malt shop owner, Pop Tate, and members of Riverdale High School’s faculty, which included Coach Cleets, Miss Grundy and Principal Weatherbee. Although the “Archie” stories have always been a humorous look at the life of an average American teenager, the most common storyline involved the endless love triangle involving Archie, Betty and Veronica. After quickly becoming the dominate feature in Pep Comics, Archie soon got his very own comic book, and eventually, there would be dozens of titles that starred Archie and his friends .By the end of the 1940’s, there was an Archie Andrews radio program, as well as a daily newspaper comic strip.  Began in 1947, the early Archie syndicated comic strips were somewhat risqué compared to the comic book.

It was in the 1950’s that Archie really hit his stride, as his character seemed to fit perfectly into the rock and roll era. This was the Archie many of us remember, with the checkered orange pants, black Riverdale High vest along with the green bowtie. Although the Archie comics centered around teenagers, the core audience was made up of 8-12 year olds like me, who hoped that the stories were an accurate depiction of what we could expect from our own teenage years. I myself couldn’t wait to drive a jalopy, hang out at malt-shops, go to countless sock-hops, and be chased by more than one beautiful girl. No, it never really worked out that way, but maybe that was our own fault, not Archie’s.

Archie’s popularity stayed strong going into the 1960’s, although I was disappointed when he discarded his signature wardrobe for whatever happened to be the current fashion. The Archie comics also followed many of the other noteworthy fads, as Archie got involved in the secret agent craze (The Man From Riverdale) and took his turn as a superhero (Pureheart the Powerful). There were also the giant, 80 page annual Archie seasonal comic books, which included my favorite, “Archie’s Christmas Stocking,” and my younger sisters’ eagerly awaited “Betty and Veronica’s Summer Spectacular,’ which I argue was the inspiration for the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue.

In September of 1968, Archie and the gang finally made it to television by way of the animated “Archie Show” which was included in the CBS Saturday morning lineup. Not surprisingly, pop music was incorporated into the half hour cartoon, as Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica were depicted as having formed a rock group. What was surprising was that one of the featured tunes, “Sugar Sugar,” became the number one song in the nation during 1969.

Through Viet Nam, Watergate, recessions, 9-11 and global warming, Archie has always been there, still the likeable but clumsy 17 year old who still bounces between the two most beautiful girls in Riverdale. In 2010, Archie Andrews was honored by the U.S. Postal Service when they released a stamp which featured Archie, sharing an ice cream soda with his two love interests, Betty and Veronica…well deserved.

Trivia: Jughead’s real name is Forsythe Pendelton Jones III.

Note: It has always been a disappointment to me that Archie never appeared in the form of a live action sitcom. Two pilots were filmed in 1963, one starring Frank Bank, the actor who played “Lumpy Rutherford” on “Leave it to Beaver”…neither made to prime time. My theory (and I could very well be wrong) is that Archie, Jughead and Reggie were too similar to the characters that were already being featured on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”…just a theory.