Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Graphic Grandeur (Tortured Adolescence Edition)

Cartoonist Bob Montana, best known for the comic book and comic strip character Archie Andrews, was born on this day in 1920 (he died in 1975.) A few weeks ago Montana was honored by the town of Meredith, New Hampshire, where he spent much of his adult life:

Now let's take a closer look at this goofy teenage boy, who, for reasons I've never quite understood, is the object of a fierce rivalry between two of Riverdale High's hottest female students:

The above examples are from the 1940s and '50s. The phrase "raging hormones" had yet to be coined, but clearly needed to be.

Though Montana continued to draw the newspaper comic right up to his death, around 1960 or so (dates vary), a very fine cartoonist by the name of Dan De Carlo became the head artist of the Archie comic book line, and remained so for the next four decades (he died in 2001.) His style was a bit different from Montana's, more streamlined, less rambunctious (and the red-headed leading man finally got that overbite taken care of.)  However, the gang of Riverdale teens...

...weren't any less amorous. In fact, they may even have been more so.

Now that I think of it, didn't they start teaching sex education in schools around 1960 or so?


  1. Hi, Kirk!

    I didn't read Archie Comics. I opted for tamer, safer, more wholesome material... like Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler.


    Is it PC to say "I had to beat off three other guys"?


    But seriously, I enjoyed learning about cartoonist Bob Montana, creator of the Archie character, and about Montana's adopted hometown of Meredith, New Hampshire, upon which the fictional Riverdale is based in the Archie Universe. I appreciate the colorful covers you displayed.

    The language used and situations depicted in Archie Comics would not go over well today. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was exposed to countless movies, TV series, comics, print ads and commercials in which women "threw themselves" at men. Russ Meyer films immediately come to mind along with the horror sci-fi movie Queen of Outer Space set on a planet where love starved women hunt men for the purpose of mating. Innocent family friendly TV sitcoms also shared Archie's model of the world, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, for example. Popular songs of the period drummed the same notion into our heads. Jan & Dean sang about "Surf City" where you'll find "two girls for every boy." "There's two swingin' honeys for every guy, and all you gotta do is just wink your eye." It's a different world now, with different rules, and it is quite confusing for many of us who came of age in the mid twentieth century.

    Happy birthday in heaven to Bob Montana, and thanks for a very interesting tribute piece, good buddy Kirk!

    1. Shady, I agree that, due to changes in male-female dynamics, much of that humor wouldn't go over well today, but that's not what caught my attention as I perused those old comics. I grew up in the 1970s. When people think about that decade now, the first things that may come to mind is inflation and long gas lines. Or maybe the prevalence of the drug culture, as the 1960s chickens came home to roost. But there was something else going on that's been overlooked. There was a major nostalgic craze--The Waltons, Happy Days, Sha Na Na, etc.--and with it an assertion, an assertion that I then took at face value, that "the past" (before, say, 1965) was much more "wholesome" than the present. And wholesome basically meant non-sexual. Well, these old Archie comics from the 1940s and '50s certainly refutes THAT
      assertion. They're all about the burgeoning adolescent sex drive. What is true about that era is that the representation of sex in pop culture was expected to be non-explicit, thus kissing and hugging became the time-honored substitute. That way nobody in Riverdale got knocked up.

      Then along comes Dan De Carlo, who among other things had drawn single-panel cartoons for girlie magazines. His arrival basically coincides with that of the Sexual Revolution, and I find it fascinating the way the Archie comics of the 1960s and '70s tries to capitalize on that revolution while staying within the limits of the comic code (and the fact, though these were stories about teenagers, a good portion of the readership was a bit younger than that.) And I'm not the only one that finds it fascinating:


      Of course, it's all very heteronormative, and for some people (far too many, in my opinion) that's now the defining characteristic of wholesomeness.

      Finally, Shady, you mentioned as a kid you read Playboy instead of Archie. I tend to think you're kidding, but even if you're not, you might find this interesting. Back in 1962, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder tried to combine the two:


  2. I haven't read any of the new, updated "Riverdale" comics but I hear they're pretty good. And isn't there a TV show?

    1. Yep, Daisy watches it on Netflix. I hear it's a "darker" version.

    2. Debra, in 2015, Archie Comics came out with a "New Riverdale" line that updated the characters to the 21st century, and is more dramatic in tone (as well as drawing style):


      A year before the relaunch, something rather radical (and much publicized) happened in Archie's "possible future"--He's gunned down while saving a gay friend's life:


      As for the TV series you mentioned, it is indeed called Riverdale, and like the New Riverdale line, is dramatic in tone--in fact, it's down right noirish:


      Finally, Debra, all this updating and dramatizing and darkness is all well and good--far be it from me to stand in the way of pop culture progress--but with this particular post I wanted to focus on the seemingly more innocuous Archie of yesteryear, and see if it was as innocuous as all that. As the subheading of this blog says (until I someday change my mind): There's always more or less than meets the eye.

  3. Now if Betty and Veronica were into each other, they might not need that redheaded loser.

    1. Adam, if I were you, I'd get myself an agent and see if I could sell that idea to Hollywood.

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