As this is October, the month of Halloween, and having never done a Little Archie post, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone here. So I decided to take a look back at an old favorite of mine, “The Ghost of Andrews Castle!” from Little Archie #158 (Sept. 1980).
Now there were more overtly Halloween-themed issues of Little Archie that were published in prior years—like issues #101 (Dec. 1975) and #113 (Dec. 1976)—but this one story has really stuck with me, mostly for idiosyncratic reasons, but also because it’s a very fun & amusing ghost story.
Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
Little Archie represents a clear generational divide, much like that old, New York area kids show, Wonderama. If you’re a baby boomer, the first name that pops into your head when you think about Wonderama is Sonny Fox, who hosted the program from 1959 to 1967. If you’re a Generation Xer (like me), the name that leaps to mind is Bob McAllister, who hosted from 1967 to 1977.
…And having mentioned Wonderama, let me use that as a cheap excuse to post some video clips and wallow in some sweet childhood memories:
Now with Little Archie, the guy Boomers think of first is Bob Bolling. For me and mine (the Xers), it’s Dexter Taylor.
This doesn’t mean I think Dex is superior to Bolling. When I turn my emotions off and try to look at it objectively, I will concede that Bolling is the greater talent. He is the better illustrator, clearly, and is responsible for what is probably the best Little Archie story ever (certainly the most touching and heart warming), “The Long Walk,” from Little Archie #20 (Sept. 1961). Being the strip’s creator and controller from its inception in 1956 until 1966, he’s also responsible for the feel of the entire strip and its formulas. Unlike most of the teenage Archie titles, for example, Bolling’s Little Archie featured almost as many adventure-style stories as it did comedy, a trend that Dexter Taylor would continue. Bolling also introduced a large number of original characters to the book during his tenure, many of whom continued to appear after he left.
But Dex is still my guy. Such is the way of nostalgia. (And let me just add, while Bolling was clearly the finer illustrator, Dexter Taylor was the better cartoonist, in my opinion. His pictures tended to be funnier, at least to my eyes.)
I bought Little Archie with great frequency as a kid, which is a bit odd since I was so heavy into superheroes. Even when I was eleven, twelve, up until the end of the title in ’82, I continued to buy the issues whenever and wherever I’d find them. (In fact, even after that, when Little Archie stories would still appear in the Archie Giant Series comic through the late 80s, I would always buy them.) I had some kind of an emotional attachment to the title that I really can’t explain. Perhaps I connected the strip to my own early childhood somehow.
The story opens with a dramatic (and rather cinematic) panel, as we see a car approach a castle on a dark and stormy night.
We know this is a ghost story (because it says so in the title, both here and on the cover), but we’re in a for a bit of a twist, as the story’s ghost is not the villain.
Said ghost is Little Archie’s Great Uncle Archibald (his father’s uncle), for whom he was obviously named. We meet him early on in the story through the eyes of Little Archie and Jughead, who are the only ones able to actually see him. We are then introduced to the creepy butler; Archibald’s nephew (and therefore Fred Andrews’s cousin and Little Archie’s great cousin), Herman; and Aunt Agatha Andrews (presumably Aunt to Fred and Herman and sister to Archibald).
Dex gets in a good line here when Aunt Agatha is introduced and Little Archie asks his father, “Is that the one who never smiles, Pop?”
The family sits down to dinner and find themselves served with breakfast cereal. Everyone also has to carry candles because Uncle Archibald apparently didn’t like to pay electric bills.
The ghost of Archibald pops up again after dinner to talk to the boys, explaining to them that his spirit can’t rest until he finds the “mystery figure” who he believes plotted and carried out his murder.
This leads to a fun little Scooby-esque chase, where they finally catch the masked mystery man, but not before he whips out this cool gun that shoots a grappling hook.
…Yeah, it’s Herman. Had to be either him or the butler, right? But then we learn Herman didn’t actually kill anyone—after which he finally reveals a very topical explanation for his secretive behavior.
Millennials won’t get it, but the year before this issue came out (in 1980) was the summer of the long gas lines (1979), where you could only get gas on specific days, depending upon whether or not your car’s license plate ended in an odd or even number. If you lived through it and remember those days, it’s a funny ending.
A sweet, fun story and an even sweeter childhood memory. Happy Halloween, everyone.