Sigh. Summer’s almost over, yet again. Didn’t I just do an end-of-summer post a few weeks ago? It sure feels like it.
Thinking about potential summer themes for an August post, I was considering something Archie related, as summer brings Archie books to mind. Then I saw that the latest Back Issue covered Archie in the Bronze Age, which I purchased and enjoyed, and this also pushed me in an Archie direction. So here we are, discussing what I feel to be the greatest Archie comics of all time. (Note that we’re talking the original, classic Archie universe here, so I’m not including Little Archie, Josie, Sabrina, nor any of the other updated, modern Archie books they’re currently putting out.)
The opening article of that issue of BI covered the commercial ups and downs of Archie during the era and I found it very enlightening. To wit: The flagship Archie title (Archie) peaked in 1968, selling over half a million copies per month that year, to just under a half a million by 1970. The downward trend would continue until the number was less than six figures by 1980. Despite the fact that sales were trending down, Archie was still the best-selling title in all of comicdom in ’69, a fact that the BI article attributes to the Saturday morning cartoon show and, even moreso, the chart success of the song “Sugar Sugar” that year. They also point out that “The drop-off in the early ’70s is actually not that bad compared to [other titles]. Archie is still hanging in there in the early ’70s relative to everybody else.”
This helps explain the ubiquity of Archie titles on the spinner racks when I first encountered them down the shore in 1974. It may also help explain why nearly half the titles I bought that summer were Archies. I’ve already discussed how my love of Spider-Man began with seeing his cartoon in syndication at a very young age, and though the Archie cartoon had far less of an impact on me, I was certainly aware of it at that point and this probably contributed to my buying so many Archie books at the time. Strangely, I didn’t buy any regular Archies (just Mad House) in my shore trips the following year.
Best of Archie
So here they are, in no particular order, the greatest Archie comics of all time!
Archie #238 (Sept. 1974)
Betty and Me #60 (Sept. 1974)
Everything’s Archie #33 (June 1974)
Jughead #229 (June 1974)
…What’s that, you say? These are all among the original Archie books I bought down the Jersey shore in ’74? I know—what an amazing coincidence!
Y’know, I gave this post a lot of thought. And the more I pondered, the more I kept coming back to these issues as the best Archies I ever read. I realized how ludicrous this was and did my level best (honest!) to put nostalgia aside and answer the question rationally, and still I came back to these issues. What does this tell us? Well, either I’m full of shit and utterly incapable of putting my nostalgia aside, or the Archie stories of this era are so formulaic they’re indistinguishable from one another, in which case individual bias/nostalgia becomes as legit a factor in deciding their merit as anything else.
…Or some higher power arranged the best issues of Archie to all come out at exactly the same time and be discovered by the then-pre-K me so as to facilitate my destiny in becoming history’s most passionate comics fan. (I’m kinda leaning in this direction, myself.)
Where doth the truth lay? By all means, read along and decide for yourselves as I make my case(s).
First off, let’s discuss Harry Lucey. Most Archie fans swear by Dan DeCarlo—who is a wonderful artist, don’t get me wrong—but in my own humble opinion, the guy who drew the prettiest pictures at Archie was Lucey. As Lucey was the regular artist on Archie during this period, he drew every story this issue. But not the cover.
The cover was by DeCarlo. By the way, getting back to our opening theme for a sec, this is a great summer cover. Also: you no doubt noticed the scribbling on the masthead—my father did that. If I left comics on the kitchen table at night, he would sometimes scribble and/or doodle on them while speaking on the phone. Just another example of how most people didn’t consider comic books any more valuable than their daily newspapers back then.
The issue opens with a Robinson Crusoe satire. Here, “Robinson Gruesome” (Archie) washes up on a tropical island and discovers “Wednesday” (Jughead), but there’s a bit of a role reversal by the end that leaves Gruesome (Archie) lamenting, “I liked the book better!” A fun story that offered a taste of more serious literature to the young me.
Then a story where Archie forgets a date with Veronica and inadvertently stands her up. To save his skin, he claims to be struck with amnesia and sends Jug over to sell the story to Ronnie.
Lucey’s linework is so beautiful here and the facial expressions are truly priceless. And if you were a little kid in 1974 (as I was), you were always entertained by the word “duh” in any character’s dialogue, regardless of context. By story’s end, Ronnie turns the tables on Arch in another fun resolution.
The third story, “Growing Pains,” focuses on Archie and his parents. In a situation many of us can relate to, father and son gang up on Mom for refusing to “loosen those apron strings!” In the end, said father and son realize, much to their chagrin, that those strings were probably just as tight as they needed to be. No one else in the teenaged cast appears in this story, just Archie and his folks, which was unusual and a rather refreshing change of pace.
Then there’s the fourth and final story, the one that makes this ish an all-timer for me. It’s “an Archiefable” about “Orangelocks and the Three Birds.” My first taste of metaphor and it came from an Archie comic.
First we get the rundown on Bettybird, who is “niceness itself! She spreads more cheer around than anybody needs– or wants!” Then it’s Ronniebird’s turn.
I mentioned earlier that Harry Lucey drew the prettiest pictures at Archie and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that would argue otherwise, so let me put it another way—a way that I believe will invite less dissent.
Harry Lucey drew the sexiest girls at Archie.
There. Anyone care to debate this point? No? Good.
While there’s no actual nudity, technically, in that third panel, that bare back (and the mere suggestion of what’s up front) is hot. Yeah, it’s just a comic book, I know, but that just goes to show the power of Lucey’s artwork.
Then we get to Midgebird, which is the funniest part of the story, as we learn that Midgebird has been “provided a most unusual defensive arrangement” by “Mother Nature.” This arrangement takes the form of a purple glow whenever a guy gets too close to her and, of course, that glow represents (what else?) her extremely jealous (and big and violent) boyfriend, Moose. Why purple? I don’t know, but somehow it fits. And makes me laugh.
From here, the story follows the map of the original fable. Orangelocks (Archie) finds Bettybird “too soft” and too “syrupy.” He then finds Ronniebird “hard as a rock” with “No feelings! No compassion!” Finally, Midgebird is “just right!” But…
Even reading it today, this story makes me so happy. Plus it’s a great character piece—if you’ve never read Archie comics before, you learn the characters and nearly all of their relationships in just the six pages of this one story. It’s simply perfect.
Betty and Me #60
This is a very special issue and should be of particular interest to Archie historians. In order to explain why this is, we’ll need to dispel a popular misperception.
In more recent years, I’ve seen Archie’s relationships with Betty and Veronica typically described as a love triangle in which Archie has to make this epic choice between the two girls. And maybe this has been the case in the latter days of Archie comics (which, full disclosure, I haven’t kept up with), but for those of us that grew up on the classic Archies of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, we all know that there was never any great drama as far as which girl Archie preferred—it was always Veronica. Betty was the girl Archie dated only when Ronnie was unavailable (for whatever reason). Ronnie was the grand prize; Betty was the consolation prize.
That’s why this particular issue of Betty and Me is so special, because it’s the only Archie comic from this era that depicts Betty as Archie’s preference. Such is the case in every story between the covers of this one book, and to the best of my knowledge, such is not the case in any other Archie story within this same timeframe (basically 1950 to 1980). Now granted, I haven’t read every Archie story published during these years, but I’ve read most of them, and this is the only one I know of that breaks the formula. In fact, it utterly shatters the formula, turning the whole paradigm upside down.
And it all starts with the cover.
Another great summer cover by (I assume) DeCarlo. And I gotta say, even though Lucey usually draws the sexiest, most beautiful girls, Betty has never looked hotter. That’s a fairly skimpy two-piece she’s (barely) got on, too—I’m surprised the normally conservative publisher let it go! And the cover’s premise of Archie being so possessive of Betty (and that she’s his “chick”) is something not seen or even hinted at before.
The opening tale begins with Archie refusing to break a date with Betty to go out with Veronica. Let me repeat that: he refuses to break a date with Betty for Ronnie. This is something that never happens! Ronnie poses as a fortuneteller to trick Archie into fleeing town, but of course he winds up running into Betty anyway and Ronnie ends up foiled and fuming as Betty basks, “your fortune teller sent him right into my arms like an arrow from Cupid’s bow!”
Arch takes on a babysitting job in the second story because he thinks it’ll be easy money. He soon learns otherwise as Betty has to bail him out of a major jam. We end with Archie refusing to sign an equal rights petition because “girls are not equal to boys– they’re much superior to boys!”
I already touched on the third story, “Parting Ways,” in one of my “Odyssey” posts at the dawn of the new bloghome here, but I’ll recap it again briefly: It’s a largely wordless story that features Archie and Betty necking almost endlessly. It’s likely the most desire and affection ever shown between the two characters in a story, and Ronnie isn’t even mentioned, let alone seen. (In fact, outside of the villain’s role she plays in the opening story, she’s not seen or mentioned again in the rest of the issue.)
In the fourth and final story, Archie comes running when Betty calls crying about her cat being stuck on her roof. Archie saves the cat with some comedic consequences. And again, no Veronica. If this was the only Archie comic you ever read, it would be clear to you beyond any doubt that Arch & Betty were the destined one true pairing, which is more than a little amazing.
Everything’s Archie #33
These last two comics aren’t quite as earth-shattering as the first two, so I’ll be a bit more succinct. This one’s got another classic cover by DeCarlo…
And as for the interior art, most of it is by the man, the myth, the legend: Bob Bolling. For those unfamiliar, Bolling is one of the most beloved and venerated artists in Archie history, best known as the creator of the Little Archie series. (Reminder: Little Archie is outside the parameters of this best-of list.) Among his most admired work were the four issues of Little Archie in Animal Land he did across 1957 and ‘58.
Now I haven’t gone back and re-read these comics in many years. Only upon doing so for the purposes of this post in the last few days did I realize that this issue had at least three stories illustrated by Bolling—and at least one of those had also been written by him. The only story in question is the opener, and it’s a rather interesting one, as it features Archie trying to cheat (gasp!) on a homework assignment! I’m guessing Bolling drew the whole issue, but it’s possible someone else (Stan Goldberg maybe?) drew this one story—I’m just not enough of a classic Archie aficionado to judge.
The second story, “Teach-In,” features the kids studying animals in a museum, and the animals are so beautifully drawn here that you know it’s Bolling (both scripting and illustrating).
The third story, “A Very Special Day,” has the gang in an atypically mellow mood, which leaves Archie puzzled until the end, when Dilton points out that it’s the vernal equinox, which Archie thankfully translates for the reader as “the first day of spring!”
Archie comics didn’t regularly feature creator credits during this period, but the Grand Comics Database verified Bolling’s work in the second and fourth stories of this issue. And though I have no outside verification, I know he drew “Special Day” as well due to a lovely illustration of a fish on the first page. Again, that’s just gotta be him.
That fourth story, “Inflation Elation,” is a good illustration of the then status quo of Archie’s relationships with Betty and Veronica (as opposed to what we saw in Betty and Me #60). Archie takes Betty on an afternoon date to a children’s playground and, at first, Betty enjoys herself—until she learns Archie is just trying to save money for an evening date with Veronica. Predictably, Arch gets his karmic comeuppance by story’s end.
Another great summer cover on this one.
Jughead is a fairly simple character: he loves to eat and hates girls. His stories, therefore, tend to be fairly simple as well, which makes it difficult to judge the quality of one issue of Jughead to another. Still, this issue struck me as a particularly clever one.
The opener shows Jug using an odd instrument to seemingly take random measurements, which catches the attention of Reggie.
Reggie assumes Jug is an idiot, taking measurements with a tool that can’t possibly be accurate. So he starts taking proper measurements to show him up. Things end in a comedic reveal that cracks me up to this day.
The second story sees Juggy taking up photography. Now this one was rather prescient, as Arch and Reggie photobomb him about thirty years before photobombing was even a thing! Poetically enough, this childish prank leads to Jug uncovering photo evidence of a robbery and ending up a hero.
The third story is probably my favorite of the issue. It features Professor Flutesnoot’s new computer advising everyone to follow Jughead’s example as the “ideal energy conservationist.” This leads to much fun and anarchy, of course.
As you can see, it’s actually a rather smart story. By the end, the Bee has had it with this nonsense and takes an axe to Flutesnoot’s computer!
The fourth and final story is your more typical Jughead fare, with Juggy trying to weasel yet another free cheeseburger out of Pop Tate. Not a bad story but nothing special, either.
So there you are—the best of classic Archie. Any questions or challenges, feel free to leave a comment.
Let me give some love to a few really wonderful articles and blogs I discovered over the course of researching this one. First, this lovely article on Bob Bolling; then this list of the top Archie artists; and finally, this rather risqué (but funny!) blogpost on kissing metaphors in Archie comics.
…You’re not even over yet and I’m already missing you terribly, summer of 2018.