Archie Americana: The Best of the Sixties by ?. Archie Comics, 1995. 96p. $9.95.
I’ve never read an Archie comic before. I’ve seen them at the grocery store; I think I might have seen a cartoon many years ago. I am familiar with the characters: Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica. They are part of the American popular culture as much as Superman or Charlie Brown. My reading of our comics history has lead me here with a few nudges from different places. Jessica Abel in her recent Comics Journal interview talks about learning the basics of story structure from analyzing Archie comics. Dan DeCarlo, the man who pretty much invented the Archie house style, has come up in a number of contexts as a comic artist worthy of investigation. I chose this book of stories from the sixties as a more “classic” time period, but one where (as I understand it) DeCarlo was influential and the house style was well established.
This collection (as mentioned in a recent Onion AV article) has a timely, as in, of its time, feel to it, as if it were specifically selected to focus on stories that concern trends from the decade. Thus we get lots of stories about music styles, fashionable clothing, surfing, a love-in, and even Jughead becoming a hippy. It’s godawfully stupid in most cases. What can I say about the stories in this book except they end quickly.
Why bother? It’s the art. The simplicity and abstraction with which people and objects are represented is what interests me. I scanned a few panels to share. Like my Peanuts post the other week, this one is mostly about the backgrounds. In this case the backgrounds are a little more varied than in Peanuts, yet they still exist in many of the same locations: sidewalks, living rooms, and yards. The Archie backgrounds have a bit more sense of completion to them, though in their cookie cutter way (bush, tree, house; tv, couch, window) nicely replicate the suburban world that is so integral to the Archie milieu. I picked out a few of the more unusual ones.
Pond, rock, tree, bench, bush, skyline. Are those skyscrapers back there? The pond and the grass just meet each other at a line.
Hippie jughead stands in a living room. Just like in Peanuts everything is half off panel: chair, cabinet/armoire (whatever that thing is, looks like it might contain a stereo), mirror, curtains, plant. Only the lamp is visible in full. I love the precision with which these objects are drawn.
A strange outside meets inside panel that just happens at a line kind of like the water/grass in the first panel. Here we see the classic bush, tree, house scene. Nice white pine.
Much like the second panel, though a little more concrete as a place (wood paneling, linoleum floor, seems like a basement or rec room). I scanned this because of the great wrinkles in the characters clothes. Very simple, yet real enough to be believed.
It’s also interesting to note the subtle differences between the stories’ art. Though the latter two seem to be by the same person. I’d love to have some way of finding DeCarlo drawn stories. There doesn’t seem to be an Archie equivalent to the INDUCKS database of Disney comics and their artists.
The more I look at this stuff the more I want to make an all background comic. Who needs those pesky (and in Archie’s case, real annoying) characters anyway?