« 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).
« Let’s just say you weren’t born to be an octopus… only a poor fish! »
Salutations on this most diverting day of the week, Tentacle Tuesday! Today, we take a little trip to the 60s… but perhaps not the 60s as you remember them, those who were around back then.
Rip Hunter was created by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira – the “Time Master” part is explained by Hunter’s invention, the Time-Sphere, that allows him (obviously) to travel through time. Other characters in Rip’s world include his girlfriend, Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s kid brother Corky (who’s being grabbed by a tentacle on this cover). Maybe Corky was spotted as an imposter because he’s wearing jeans instead of yellow pantaloons? Fashion can be quite goofy in some of these far-away, long-long-ago kingdoms…
When The Jaguar gets into trouble with The Human Octopus, you know the Jag is going to come up trumps, mostly due to the fact that he has all powers of the animal kingdom at his disposal, whereas the Octopus has to make do with some unconvincing tentacles and an evil stare. The Jaguar (or zoologist Ralph Hardy, in his everyday life) was created by Robert Bernstein and John Rosenberger as part of Archie’s “Archie Adventure Series”.
Some fodder for your nightmares? Of course!
I believe Hawkman needs no introduction (although I will mention that he was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville!), and we don’t have time for one, anyway, seeing as he’s currently stuck between a dragon and some tentacled nest-creature.
« 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.
*No, I am not referring to the popular company that lets customers hire favourite ‘stars’ to record personalized videos; a month ago, I didn’t even know this existed, and my life has not been improved by this knowledge.
Sometimes an octopus stays politely in the background, waving hello shyly from behind a rock, or waiting for a dance invitation like a bashful kid at a high-school dance (do they still have these?) I never know where to use these covers; their tentacled nature is undeniable, but their octopuses are so peripheral to the main story that they tend to be overlooked when I am in search of a unifying theme for a post.
a small character part in a play or movie, played by a distinguished actor or a celebrity.
a piece of jewellery, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait in profile carved in relief on a background of a different colour.
Treasure Chest, a long-running catholic publication we mention routinely though not too often (for details, see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 24), runs the gamut from informative to fun, sometimes both at the same time. There are occasional clunkers (like the admittedly rather entertaining multi-part story I am currently reading about Godless Communism), but overall it’s well worth picking up, should some issue catch your eye.
I originally had in mind happy, frolicking octopuses for this post, so here is one instance of just that. As a matter of fact, his smile is somewhat unnatural and more of a rictus, but I don’t want to be picky…
I’ll quote from Don Markstein’s excellent summary of this hare-brained comic series: « Bunny was aggressively, even obsessively trendy. Even at the time, it seemed to lay on the love beads and “psychedelic” display lettering a bit thick. […] But she owed her painfully discordant Sixties-ness to nobody. […] It’s as if her entire raison d’être was to parody the decade of student activism and radical youth fashions, even while living it. To make matters worse, this teenage girl comic was edited, written and drawn by middle-aged men who were probably, like most middle-aged men, unable to communicate with their own daughters. To vary the dialogue, in which everything that wasn’t “groovy” was “outasight”, they made up their own slang. Things could also be “zoovy” or “zoovers” or even, in extreme cases, “yvoorg” — which was obviously “groovy” spelled backward, but no hint was ever given as to how it might be pronounced. »
« 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)?
Today’s TT is like one of those 5$ grab bags: you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get, but there will at least one thing you’ll find amusing! Unless the store has cheapened out and stuffed it with nonsense nobody in their right mind would want. This offering, on the other had, is full of our favourite artists, and is not nearly as disparate as I first thought 😉
I don’t always have an over-arching idea for a post, inevitably ending up with plenty of odds and ends that don’t neatly fit into any one category. Actually, some of those “scraps” are the most enjoyable finds for me.
« 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.
« Is it true your first concert is going to be at a cemetery? »
By the summer of ’74, the Archie brass was getting sick of those no-account Didit Brothers (You know, Dan, Dippy, Dick and Clyde) and their groupie Fran the Fan, so the Madhouse Glads were tossed out on their collective ear in favour of… a horror anthology. It made sense: in the 1970s, there was considerable overlap (largely female, but not exclusively) among readers of, say, The Witching Hour, Betty and Me, and Romantic Story.
It’s fair to assume they were envisioning a companion title for their Chilling Adventures in Sorcery / Red Circle Sorcery. This was something different for Archie, all right: they sought out top talent, but in a fairly consistently sober visual style. Gray Morrow‘s photo-based approach was the baseline, and small wonder: he was the editor. The bulk of the stories was penned by Marvin Channing, and while the ‘twist’ endings weren’t exactly fresh, some of these tales were surprisingly nasty and nihilistic.
However, this version of Madhouse lasted but three issues before the book was returned to its original, pre-Glads format. Sorcery endured for nine issues, the first three done in the Archie house style, with narration by Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. By the end of 1974 (with a book cover-dated February, 1975), the experiment was over. But these things come in cycles, don’t they? Witness the recent Afterlife With Archie… which incidentally reprinted much of this material.
« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)
We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.
The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?
As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.
« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »
One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.
If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.
If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’sMad House no. 27 cover, in particular…
WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.
The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.
Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.
Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.
The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.
To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »
*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.