« Special effects are characters. Special effects are essential elements. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. » — Laurence Fishburne
Spookiness is afoot in Riverdale! Here’s a lovely George Gladir (script) & Samm Schwartz (pencils, inks and letters) saga to suit the season. I love those longer tales, which in this case allows for a larger-than-usual cast and a more leisurely pace.
‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was originally published in Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 564 / The World of Jughead (Sept. 1986, Archie). Oh, and colours by Barry Grossman.
« The people who are always hankering loudest for some golden yesteryear usually drive new cars. » — Russell Baker
We’re having a bit of a scorcher over here, so I’m doing my bit to compensate with a piece set in wintertime.
As we surely all know, Archie stories (in the comics at least) are formulaic to a fault. This static state of affairs plays a considerable part in their comforting nature. Sure, all fashions and trends are embraced and discarded, but the characters don’t evolve in any significant, permanent way. No lesson ever sticks.
So on the rare occasion when a writer deviates from the formula, it really shows. This tale, I daresay, is such a specimen. Virtually plotless, it’s a precursor, by more than half a decade, of that rule-breaking « show about nothing »: Seinfeld (1989-1998).
While nothing much happens here in terms of plot, this is a difficult trick to pull, in any medium: as it mainly consists of yadda yadda yadda (but witty yadda yadda yadda… another daunting level of difficulty), it’s talking heads all the way, so you need some great performers who know how to keep an audience engrossed through the minimal means at their disposal.
In comics, this calls for a great illustrator, a master of body language and the art of the mise en scène, namely Samm Schwartz (1920-1997). I shudder — and not with delight — to envision this particular script landing in the hands of a lesser light, which is to say practically anyone in the Archie stable save Bob Montana (but he’d died in 1975) or Harry Lucey (retired and in poor health by then). While he was never credited for anything but his artwork, Schwartz enjoyed a free hand with his regular collaborators’ scenarios (George Gladir and especially Frank Doyle), with their blessing. And he was always enriching his backgrounds with delightful pantomime mayhem.
Craving more Schwartz? Go on, help yourself to the full spread right here.
« Bicycles are pieces of art. You get that combination of kinetic engineering, but then, besides the welds, the paint jobs, the kind of the sculpture of it all is quite beautiful. Bikes have such great lines, and all different styles. » — Robin Williams
I’ve been cycling a lot more of late. I’d been using my bike less frequently in recent years, unnerved by the increasingly frantic (and distracted, not a good combo) vehicular traffic of the city. But with my wife taking an interest in the activity, I found myself with a reason to get back in the saddle. This spring, we found a newly opened bike shop, earthy, grimy and unpretentious, where we got our bikes expertly tuned up.
I’ve always loathed those cliquish hipster joints that, in addition to selling overpriced junk, also seem responsible for the ubiquity of those middle-aged, over-equipped, spandex-clad Sunday cyclists, who feel it their sacred duty to pass you, whatever the pace, weather or road conditions, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages in their lycra casings. The sporting analogue, if you will, of the rich kid who ‘needs’ the most expensive guitar in the shop… never mind that he can’t play a note.
You hopefully will indulge me in this little exercise in nostalgia. I miss the days when our bikes got us around, granted us greater autonomy and kept us in shape. This lifestyle took a backseat in the 1980s, when the BMX craze began to overstate the extreme and the competitive facets of the sport. Now, it’s all ultimate sport this and boot-camp fitness that. Ah, whatever happened to plain old utilitarian fun?
Through much of the 1960s, Bendix (the corporation, not Bill!) commissioned a long-running series of custom ads featuring the Riverdale Gang, illustrated by resident Archie artist Harry Lucey.
As the 1960s drew to a close, another series of custom comics ads appeared — just under the wire. They spotlight the creations of the famous ‘King of the Kustomizers’, George “Barris” Salapatas (1925-2015), very much in demand thanks to his recent triumph with the Batman tv show’s Batmobile.
I switched to my backup, a hybrid bike I bought in 1987. It’s still running beautifully. In terms of value for money, a well-maintained bicycle is pretty unbeatable.
I leave you with a song, whence comes the title of this article. It’s from a lesser-known but excellent Donovan album, Open Road, from 1970.
« Everything that happened to Archie happened to me in school, except that Archie always seemed to get out of it. » — Bob Montana
Despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of variably-abled hands that have toiled in the Archie Comics salt mines, the most important set of mitts devoted to the task was also the very first.
Archie creator Bob Montana* (1920-1975) knew what he was doing from the git-go. After all, he rubbed shoulders with the characters’ real-life counterparts from the Class of 1940: according to a 1989 Associated Press story, his buddy ‘Skinny’ Linehan became Jughead, football hero Arnold Daggett became Big Moose Mason; principal Earl MacLeod gave us Mr. Weatherbee and school librarian Elizabeth Tuck inspired Miss Grundy… and so on.
Montana was also that rare cog in the Archie machine: an autonomous writer-artist. This served him well in the newspaper strip world: he débuted the Archie feature in 1946 and remained in charge, dailies and Sundays, until his 1975 passing. I do prefer Samm Schwartz’s Jughead, but Montana drew the definitive version of every single other member of the Riverdale ensemble. In particular, as you’ll witness, Betty and Veronica were never slinkier.
And a bonus New Year’s-themed one for the road!
And with this… Merry Christmas, everyone!
*On the Archie plantation, as with the Harvey gulag, we can safely dismiss the founders’ specious and strident claims of having created their cash cows. In this case, Archie “creator” John Goldwater‘s original mandate to Montana was essentially to riff on popular radio show The Aldrich Family (1939-1953).
« How could you be so sure? … they could be real! » — Reggie Mantle, believer
Sure, it’s a hoary ol’ plot, used both to comedic and dramatic effect a gazillion times, but… as is often the case, the plot is more or less accessory. I always enjoy an Archie comics story that reminds us that these kids have known one another forever (from their perspective — not in the sense that they’ve been around since the 1940s, that’s too metatextual). With Archie for the most part being someone things happen to, as opposed to a catalyst — one who sets events into motion, I’m rather more interested in the adversarial (and sometimes collaborative) relationship between Reggie and Jughead… when it’s properly explored.
« Coming to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose. » — Nicola Sturgeon
I’ve long wanted to showcase one of Samm Schwartz‘s Jughead stories on this blog, but always hit the same snag: which one? Not too long ago, while revisiting my trove of 1970s issues, I came upon just the specimen. Tee for Three appeared in Jughead no. 247 (Dec. 1975, Archie). I’ll spare you the hideous-as-usual Stan Goldberg cover.
Why this one among hundreds of others, then? For one thing, it’s longer; at eleven pages long, it’s a towering freak amidst the customary five-or-six pagers.
But that’s not all: Tee for Three also boasts an unconventional plot, one that cried out for (and received) a more leisurely deployment. Its tone is also surprising: it’s quite deadpan and sanguine in its absurdity.
For once, you can envision why these three, despite being frenemies or plain rivals, would actually hang out: they challenge and entertain one another. And even collaborate when the occasion calls for it. In this case, Jug, Archie and Reggie are so bonded in their good-natured folie à trois that the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue and hardly stands a chance.
While such a golf contest would surely result in much injury, property damage and litigation in the ‘real’ world, it sure seems like a rollicking bit of sport here, and isn’t that what good fiction is for(e)?
« What is this ‘witch’s brew‘? Oh, that’s a special! It’s a squirt of everything! » — Pop Tate divulges one of his culinary secrets
A little while back (okay, quite a while back!), upon reading an article written by cartoonist Seth (John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy, The Comics Journal no. 238, Oct. 2001), this passage especially piqued my interest: « I have to admit right now that I like Archie comics quite a bit and I have hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin-off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) ».
As it happens, I’m in full agreement with the gallant Mister Gallant : this was when Archie’s Mad House and Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats came along, when Bob White (and Samm Schwartz, and Orlando Busino) were producing scads of wild and wooly covers featuring ghouls and bug-eyed critters, mole men and mad (though I’m told they prefer ‘eccentric’) scientists and sundry extraterrestrials and witches. The line’s cover layout was also nicely open, affording the artists plenty of latitude to indulge themselves. Here are some samples from the aforementioned creators at the peak of their formidable powers, before the end-of-recess bell rang and stifling homogeneity was henceforth imposed.
Well, I’ve already stated my case for neglected Archie artist Bob White (1928-2005), but persistent reader interest has (ever so gently) forced my hand in the matter. You crave more, and who am I to deny such a reasonable request? Besides, these suckers are rather thin on the ground.
Comics scholar Bart Beaty‘s experience appears to match mine in this regard. He notes, in Twelve-Cent Archie, his compelling study of the period, that « … high-grade copies of most Archie comics from this period do not seem to exist on the market. » And I heartily agree with his assessment that « much more available are copies that have been treated in the ways they were intended – copies that show the well-worn tattering of having been read and reread repeatedly by children. » The selfsame quandary arises with other loved-to-rags series such as DC’s Sugar and Spike, whose issues all-too-frequently turn up sans their paper dolls feature… and a story page or two on the reverse side.
Here, then, is my second batch of Bob White covers from his prime period, which, not so coincidentally, arguably matches the prime of Archie comics.
« Discovering this girlie mag stuff was like expecting a bike for Christmas and getting a car. » — Jaime Hernandez on his personal DeCarlo epiphany
As assiduous readers of this blog may already know, I don’t rate Dan DeCarlo (1919-2001) all that highly as an Archie artist. Simply put, once he committed himself fully to the publisher (in 1963), he strapped himself onto a treadmill of exploitation for the next several decades, and on-model hackwork quickly became the norm. Archie consumers (can we truly call it reading?) didn’t know or care then, or now, who produced the stuff, nor how.
While grinding out sexy panel cartoons for Moe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Humorama line of girlie digests also constituted exploitation (at 15 bucks a pop, sometimes less), the results were sturdier and far more expressive, which is surprising, given that DeCarlo produced hundreds of these (at the cited figure* of ten a month, it adds up to over 800!) over the course of a mere seven-year span. But then DeCarlo was at his peak, having acquired sufficient experience (he’d gotten his start in the field in 1947), and he was hungry and brimming with stamina.
DeCarlo buddy / biographer Bill Morrison, in his fine preface to Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s The Pin-up Art of Dan DeCarlo (2005, Fantagraphics), sadly out of print and nowadays quite costly (though volume 2’s still available from the publisher, hint hint!), recounts the way things went down:
« According to Dan, Stan Lee wanted to make a little extra money, so he offered to introduce Dan to the editor of the Humorama line of men’s humor magazines. In return for the introduction, Stan would collect 10% of the fee for every single panel gag cartoon Dan contributed. Dan saw this as an chance to develop as a magazine cartoonist, and he decided to pull out all the stops. Dan recalled, ‘So I did five, and I brought them over, all black and white wash, you know. I thought they were beautiful, and he [the editor] loved them. He paid me $15.00 each, and I had to give 10% to Stan!’ Dan soon decided not to continue doing the cartoons, even when Stan declined to take his cut. So the editor offered a compromise. He said, ‘Well, would it be easier if you just draw the situations, and I put the gags in?’ Dan agreed that would help to make it worthwhile. He had been paying his comic book inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 a piece to come up with the gags, so with that cost eliminated, he could nearly clear a full $15.00 on each cartoon after buying supplies. Incidentally, Dan later learned that Rudy had been swiping the gags cold from a book of Peter Arno’s New Yorker cartoons, so it’s probably a good thing that this arrangement didn’t continue. »
Here’s a baker’s dozen samples of what I deem the cream of the DeCarlo crop…. visually, anyway.
As you can witness, the gags are a bit of an afterthought, a side dish to stock situations. Over the years, these cartoons were endlessly recycled, and the captions updated, though rarely… upgraded.
« … there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. » ― Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1823)
Not too long ago, we glanced at the interesting case of Tower’s teen line, another instance of works insufficiently popular to be properly reprinted, yet still sought after by collectors and aficionados and consequently on the pricey side. And so it is within this limbo that Tippy Teen and Go-Go and Animal find themselves consigned, in the rather fine company of Sugar and Spike and Angel and the Ape. Let’s not strand them there for the duration, please.
So why do I consider Tippy Teen superior to Archie? For one thing, while there’s some underwhelming artwork to be found here and there (sorry, Doug Crane), there’s nothing dismal (no Al Hartley, no Dick Malmgren, no Gus Lemoine, no Stan Goldberg…), and the writing is generally superior, thanks to, among uncredited others, the great Jack Mendelsohn (recycling and updating his old scripts, but that’s not the end of the world).
Here’s a little seasonal piece I find quite witty and charming. The well-paced work of an anonymous scripter and my beloved Samm Schwartz, it appeared in Tippy Teen no. 18. The whole issue’s quite solid, and since it’s in the public domain, you can enjoy it right here.