Jun 17, 2014

A Brief Consideration of Archie Comics

Though they may seem kids stuff, Archie comics have been one of the most innovative publishers of the last few years. Their "Life With Archie" series, which follows parallel timelines in which Archie marries either Betty or Veronica, is finishing soon with the main character's death, and "Afterlife With Archie" tells of a full-on zombie apocalypse in Riverdale, no comedy, just dark, dark drama. Their diversity in both representation and publication stands as an example to other publishers, especially the big two.

One of America's Favorite Comics Just Took a Huge Step Forward for Diversity  

When I was travelling across the country a couple of years ago, I made it a goal to get a comic at every stop we made (which, one day, will appear as an article, I promise).  In Kenora, Ontario, I was disappointed by the lack of comic shops, and by the fact that by the time we arrived, everything was closed.  We ended up at a local WalMart for some supplies for the next day, and, lo and behold, they had comics.  I was on my way to my typical superhero fare, until my eyes fell upon an Archie comic in which the students took part in the then-ubiquitous "Occupy" movement.  How could I pass up a comic with the words "Occupy Riverdale" splashed across the cover.  This is yet another example of the publisher's willingness to remain relevant, and, really, at more of forefront culturally than the big superhero publishers.  The story within presents a simplified, yet balanced, view of the issues at stake in the Occupy movement.  To allow one's storytellers to grapple with such a complex social movement in the pages of what is ostensibly a children's comic speaks of a bravery on the publisher's part, and of a willingness to acknowledge the reasoning capabilities of their audience.
I missed the introduction of Kevin Keller a few years ago, but I've followed bits and pieces of his story.  The portrayal of his "relationship" with Reggie Mantle in Afterlife is remarkable, for the one page that has appeared.  (Actually, as an aside, I cannot recommend that series highly enough.  The fourth issue was hard to get through.)  Keller's story in the Life With Archie magazine has been interesting too.  That series, dealing as it does with more "adult" problems than the main comic, continues Archie's engagement with social issues inflected with some gentle humour.  Mr. Lodge's dementia, gay marriage, Archie and Betty's financial woes, and, in the other timeline, Archie and Veronica's marital problems are dealt with maturely, though never without the trademark Archie humour.
It shouldn't really come as a surprise that these publications are socially forward-thinking.  While perhaps not always so open to cultural engagement, examples are rife throughout the histories of the various titles.  While I can't claim to be an expert in Archie, he and Richie Rich were my gateway to North American comics, so I've been reading them for most of my 40 years.  We see examples of engagement with the youth movement of the 60s and 70s, and with worries of nuclear war in 80s.  Perhaps it is the genre that allows these stories, and their characters, to engage with these issues more realistically (poor choice of words, perhaps?) than their superheroic counterparts, though I, if the praise lavished throughout this piece hasn't given it away, would hazard a guess that it also falls a great deal upon the willingness of those in charge of the company to allow their writers not only a modicum of creative freedom, but to allow that their audience is invested in these issues, and wants to see balanced treatments in their entertainment.

This actually started off as a simple re-blogging of that link up above.  But Archie comics are pretty amazing.  If you can get past the associated stigma of them being children's fare, the stories are compelling and, often, are examples of some of the finest the medium has to offer.

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