Last month, DC Women Kicking Ass posted an excellent piece about encouraging more female comic book readership. There were several good suggestions, but #4 leaped out at me: “Look to Archie.”
“Girls still read Archie because it’s accessible, and because their parents probably read Archie when they were growing up, too.”
I know this is true, because Archie comics were my gateway to geekery back in the late 1970s. I treasured those books, and my 6-year-old daughter, C., is following suit. A few years ago, my mom started bugging me to get my childhood crap out of her house, so I began bringing pieces of my old Archie comics collection home. C. rummaged through those boxes of comics and got hooked on the Riverdale gang’s retro adventures. Now, whenever we duck into my LCS on the way to her gymnastics class, she emerges with at least one Betty & Veronica — and maybe a Tiny Titans for good measure.
I’m happy that she gets so much enjoyment (and reading practice) with these books. It’s also been, well, interesting to re-read classic Archie stories from my adult point of view. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
1. Despite the fact that it’s an old-fashioned comic, most Archie plotlines are all about raging hormones. Some of the bathing suits and plunging necklines Betty and Veronica wore in the ’70s were way sexy, and while wearing said getups, they were often being trailed by a pack of (literally) panting males. Clearly, a lot went over my head when I was 8. The next time you’re in the supermarket, flip through an Archie comic and tell me Reggie and Veronica haven’t totally gotten to third base.
2. Archie and Co. always seem to be ambling past someone’s house, which is plausible until they wind up in front of Veronica’s mansion. Veronica is supposed to be the richest girl in Riverdale, maybe the entire region. So how is it that the Lodge estate is right up the street from Jughead’s working-class neighborhood? There are some fine houses within a mile or two of my subdivision, but none of them qualify as a millionaire’s retreat. Another thing: Given how much Mr. Lodge loathes Archie, why is he sending his daughter to the same public high school he attends?
3. While the stories in the main Archie books are standard (prom, love triangle, pool party), my old Little Archie digests are full of life-or-death scenarios. The following took place in just one of my old issues — and I’ve made nothing up:
- Little Betty is abducted, bound and gagged, and left in an attic by some bank robbers hiding out near her summer camp. Little Veronica leads a search-and-rescue party.
- Little Archie is in a terrifying car accident with Betty’s older brother, Chick, behind the wheel.
- Little Archie helps foil two burglars who attempt to steal one Mr. Lodge’s priceless artifacts. (Shouldn’t this act alone have earned Archie years of goodwill?)
- Little Archie saves the life of a bongo-playing Martian who must drink ammonia (wink) to survive.
Now that I’m a joyless grown-up, these stories seem equal parts ridiculous and slightly unnerving. However, reading some of those comics also reminded me of why I loved Archie so much when I was growing up. After all, comic books are all about fantasy, and Riverdale’s simplicity is appealing to young children. There’s no oppressive continuity to reckon with. All you need to know is that Archie is everyteen, Betty and Veronica are frenemies, Jughead has a binge-eating problem, and Reggie is an asshole.
By the way, how awesome is this?