The Appeal of Archie Comics: An Answer 77 Years in the Making
I was recently asked the following question in all earnestness by a contemporary: what is the appeal of Archie Comics? At the time, I hastily typed up a response that was informative and concise. I felt that I did a decent job answering the question, but at the same time I couldn’t help but think that a handful of sentences was really selling the legacy of Archie Comics short. So, what actually is the appeal of Archie Comics? The short answer is Jughead, so very clearly it’s Jughead, however for the purposes of not selling Archie Comics short once more, I have constructed a well reasoned, thoughtful and (hopefully) helpful answer. To get to the truth, we’ll have to dig a bit further into the Archie universe beyond everyone’s favorite burger eating, crown beanie wearing, wisenhiemer. The true answer is quite simple, but requires a bit of a history lesson and an explanation of not only what Archie Comics are but what they represent. You see, Archie Comics are so starkly different from other mainstream comics, that it is important to cover all of the parts so that we can easily the sum of those parts and their effect on the whole.
What is Archie Comics? Archie Comics is a publication company that originated as MLJ Magazines 77 years ago, way back in 1939. Shortly thereafter, in 1946 MLJ switched to Archie Comics in a bid to match branding with their most popular comic book character, a rough around the edges all-American redhead boy named Archie Andrews. Archie was introduced in issue #22 of Pep Comics in 1941, which makes him 75 years old! The only major comic book characters that have maintained similar or better popularity to Archie and are older based on publishing date are Batman and Superman, although a great batch of genre heroes were created in the 1930’s as well, including: Dick Tracy, the Green Hornet, Namor the Sub Mariner, The Lone Ranger, Conan the Barbarian, and the Shadow to name a few. Over these 75 years Archie Comics has primarily focused on tales of Archie Andrews and his burgeoning love triangle with Betty Cooper, the sweet girl next door, and Veronica Lodge, the needy wealthy girl who desires to micro manage Archie’s every move. Along for the ride is Archie’s best pal Jughead Jones, the aforementioned crown wearing best character, and a cast of diverse characters that span multiple nationalities, genders, and sexual identities.
So what is the appeal of Archie Comics? At it’s core, Archie comics are a wonderful snapshot of Americana as viewed through the perspective of the teenage experience. During the last 75 years of publication, a lot has changed: introduction of color TVs, the civil rights movement, the creation of video games, LGBTQ, modern smartphones, and more! From the serious to the mundane, all of these events/issues and more have been addressed and integrated into Archie’s world throughout the years and it has given the characters opportunity to grow and evolve with the times. In that sense, Archie books offer a glimpse of the United States both as it presently is and how it was year by year. In many ways, Archie comics are probably a more accurate version of suburban America than most movies or TV shows that you may watch based purely on how the comics address emerging trends and social issues. A lot of what really works on every level in an Archie comic is the slice-of-life aspect that is not as prominent in other major comic books. Archie isn’t a superhero, he’s just a teenager who wants to date the girl(s) of his dreams, spend time with his best friend, and go on a few adventures throughout a little town called Riverdale.
Archie comics have major appeal with a broad audience because they approach their audience with a Pixar-like mentality. by creating a product that is geared towards a younger audience, but with enough subtle humor and pop cultural savvy to engage adult readers, Archie Comics has managed an impressive feat: they snag all age ranges as a target audience. There are so many characters in Riverdale that it is easy to identify with someone in every book. From the core younger cast that have a whole host of hormonally charged issues of their own, to the parents, teachers, and even the local Chocklit’ Shoppe owner Pop Tate, all of which have to deal with these crazy teens regularly. The adults in Riverdale often have to take on mentor roles and offer the youngsters much needed guidance. On top of that, there are a huge variety of characters of many nationalities including: African American, Asian, Latino, Indian, amongst others. Also, Archie Comics have shown a great capacity for tackling major issues head on. It is not unusual for bullying, gender equality, LGBTQ, cultural acceptance, politics, and more to be addressed in an Archie story, and it usually handled in an honest and compassionate way that should make those comics mandatory reads for younger folks as well as some adults who need to wake up and smell 2016 already.
A fascinating aspect of Archie Comics’ broad appeal is that they seem to embrace a Blue Ocean Strategy. Instead of going head to head with the likes of Marvel and DC (the 2 biggest publishers of comics, with both primarily focusing on superhero comics), Archie Comics is glad to “do their own thing” and create titles based on whatever they want regardless of trends established by the competition. This has rewarded the reader with a veritable cornucopia of wonderful titles that are unlike the vast majority of mainstream comics that you can buy elsewhere. From normal teenage hi-jinks to fantasy books that have the gang meet up with rock ‘n’ roll icons like Kiss and the Ramones, there is no idea that is out of bounds at Archie Comics. Heck, Archie has even fought off the Predator (from the popular sci-fi movie series) before, as well as met up with Marvel Comic’s gritty vigilante the Punisher character, so when I say no idea is too crazy, believe me: NO IDEA IS TOO CRAZY TO BE AN ARCHIE COMIC! Effectively, this means that there is literally an Archie book for everyone.
- Want to read timeless silly teenage antics? Read any of the mainline Archie books from the last 74 years, or dive into the Digests which are collections of tales old and new alike.
- Want a more modern take on Archie? Read from the New Riverdale line of comics. They present a an up-to-date view of America with an updated art style as well. Currently you can read Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica, and Josie and the Pussycats in the New Riverdale.
- Want Archie to quit being a teenager and grow up? There is a wonderful series titled the Life with Archie that chronicles his life after graduating high school. In fact, it covers 2 versions of his adult life, one where he marries Betty and one where he marries Veronica. This book covers the ups and downs of married life, as well as the necessity for being a responsible adult that follows a career path so that you can pay the bills.
- Need something that’s just for the grown ups? Archie recently introduced a line of horror comics that deal with issues of trust, loyalty, death, in a grim and yet somehow very Archie-like way. The Afterlife with Archie (a zombie apocalypse tale) is without a doubt the best comic actively in print right now. You will not find a better comic being published and put on shelves at this exact moment. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a crazy and exceptionally dark macabre take on the teenage witch character. Both books are well worth your time and neither should be read by younger children.
- Want something that isn’t Archie? Archie Comics prints more than just teen driven comics. They hold the publication license for the video game characters Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man and have monthly titles based on their respective universes. They also publish a series of books under their Dark Circle imprint, which includes the noir/pulp style comic The Black Hood, the heroic title The Shield, and the hitman-for-hire series The Hangman.
Bottom line, Archie comics offers a style of book for every type of comic book reader, and more than that, they are all quite excellent. The real reason that Archie Comics appeal to a wide audience is that the publisher has continually strived to diversify their brand and in doing so have remained relevant and successful. Archie Comics (in all of its incarnations) is an institution that has endured for 77 years by giving us fun tales of friendship that have a lot of heart, with characters that have grown and evolved with the times and with the readers. Friendship and heart are the key. Whereas major superhero comics are getting grittier each year, steeped heavily with violence and moral ambiguity, Archie Comics still offer us a vision of America that is filled with hope as perhaps only a teenager can see the world. Sometimes I need that hope in a big way as adult life for me has not been all party hats and financial success, in fact it has been a lot of hard work and constant struggle for me. Archie Comics give me hope for my children (who are huge Archie Comics readers as well), but also it gives me something uplifting to read (well except for maybe those horror books) that instills in me a feeling that everything is going to be alright. I think we all need that feeling on a regular basis, you know, the feeling that everything will be alright and that we can work together to create Riverdale in our own respective communities. That is in many ways exactly what Archie Comics represent: nothing less than all that is right with humanity and what we as a community should to strive to be. So if you want to know why Archie Comics has the appeal that it has, the answer is quite simple: they produce fantastic comics that tell human stories that we can all relate to in a world that feels real and present because they tell slice-of-life stories that have happened to all of us. We relate to the characters and we yearn for the peacefulness of Riverdale. It’s an escape, pure and simple. One that I will be gladly taking each month for the foreseeable future.
For those who would like to check out Archie Comics for yourself, here is a brief guide:
- They can be purchased at your local comic book shop (which you can find by clicking here),
- They can be bought directly from Archie Comics via their website archiecomics.com, or
- They can also be purchased digitally via their app for smartphones/tablets on iOS & Android.
- Also, if you would like to see what a live action Riverdale might look like, check out the trailer below for the new TV series based on Archie and the gang that will start airing on the CW in January 2017.