Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Did I ever tell you that I used to get ARCHIE confused with FRECKLES? Yeah, even I am flabbergasted by this because from what I can recall FRECKLES was removed from the local newspaper when I was but a mere three-years-old! Although I'm glad that I can remember that far back considering all of the great things that those days entailed, this fact's sure enough to make me feel ready for the front porch rocker brigade!

But as for FRECKLES, a gander at a slew of vintage '40's-'60's strips proved to me that it sure had a lot in common with the more popular ARCHIE. Beginning in 1922 as an adventure strip featuring a single-digit Freckles, by the forties Freckles had turned sweet sixteen and a new cast of characters helped transform it into a teenage bobbysoxer comic with comedic storylines having to do with such subjects as Freckles' pal Lard (a slightly chubby lad who kinda looked like Kent Morrill from the Wailers) becoming a crooner thanks to a secret formula (a plot that I believe was lifted for a BOWERY BOYS movie) and other more "typically teenage" adventure that was probably meant to compete with HAROLD TEEN, the original pre-adult strip. By the fifties FRECKLES had evolved into a gag-a-day not unlike ARCHIE complete with beautiful gals all over the place, a Reggie-ish sidekick and even the usual old crone teachers. I remember one comic dealing with the Reggie-alike whose name I forget selling pin ups of bikini-clad gals via his raincoat after some Miss Grundy-clone decided to stamp down on such filth hanging inside locker doors. Hmmm, I wonder why THE (then SHARON) HERALD decided to drop FRECKLES since judging from the strips I've seen it was probably at the peak of its run!

But at least ARCHIE, which I was only able to read via the Sunday papers, continued with the anarchistic teenage thrills and beautiful bods that FRECKLES first introduced. Creator Bob Montana (or whoever was ghosting for him on those later strips) sure had a great artistic style whilst handling that ol' Muenster Cheese Head's penchant for at-times outrageous comedic violence, not to mention a flair for whacked out, pithy gags. I still fondly remember such cartoons as the one where Mr. Lodge got locked out of his heated swimming pool at a ski resort and ended up mistaken for an ice sculpture, as well as the one where Archie coaxes Veronica up to his place by telling her that he has "Smell-o-Vision" where you can not only see and hear but smell the action! (Naturally Jughead is the one providing the odors by burning rubber during an auto race etc.!) True, cartoons like this might seem trite and vulgar to the usual politically/socially astute pseudo-intellectuals who at times tune into this blog, but for a nine-year-old kid whose thrills centered around the cheaper things in life these are what memories are made of. I mean, if your toastiest childhood recollections revolve around your first perusing a stodgy novel so be it...mine just happen to be a little bit earthier.

's funny, but later on when I discovered an ARCHIE comic book was being sold at the newsstand I thought hey, the strip spun itself off into its own title not realizing it was the other way around! And yeah, I eventually began getting hold of Archie Comic Group books as much as I did DC or Marvel, and must (proudly) admit that I enjoyed them immensely even if the stories didn't seem to have the same dry humor of the strip and at times were noticibly pallid even to this non-astute 12-year-old. I also happened to observe that the artwork in the various titles was (at times) extremely different than (and not quite as good as) what was appearing in the first this was quite a letdown given on how I was pretty much fed on the comic strip Archie style. (even a reading companion of mine could see just how much un-named artist "X"'s work differed from "Y"'s and that it didn't quite gel with what he had seen all his life), but I chalked that all up to the fact that Montana was probably busy enough with the daily strip to draw everything so he definitely hadda hire some ringers! However, even given my own rather adolescent excuse regarding this glaring difference I wondered why he didn't at least draw a few things for the books since I had grown up admiring his artwork and surely wanted to see a lot more!

Well, thanks to this new collection which (I hope) will reprint the entire Montana run of the strip now I can! Rumored to be in the tubes for nigh on two decades, the first volume of Archie newspaper reprints has finally made its way to our doors to which I can only say huzzah! For too long Montana has been ignored as a comic strip genius and (blah blah) I can only hope (yeah, RIGHT!) that the first in an ongoing collection of Archie dailies will prove to one and all (mainly to the slobs who read the funny pages) just what kind of a comic genius artistically and otherwise Montana was. I mean, stack Montana up against that lady who does contest pard, no contest!

For a guy like me who spent a good portion of ages 10-12 studying cartoon drawing evolutions in just about every strip that was within my reach looking through this book is a gem. It's really eye-opening in my own special anal-retentive way seeing how the strip evolved from Montana's original comic book style (which in fact looked almost like a riff on the superhero stable that MLJ Publications was banking their fortunes on in those pre-Archie days) to the more fleshed-out, thickly lined Archie that we all recognized for years on end. It's also interesting to note the number of weeks-long storylines featuring Archie on a vacation or as a football player that were prevalent in the early strips, certainly nothing like the nice acerbic droll four-panel pounders that make this one of my pre-adolescent favorites. And hey, if you ask me nobody really could draw Betty and Veronica with such sexuality and such pulchritude as Montana. If these drawings weren't excuses for 12-year-old boys to take extended bathroom privileges I don't know what were!

Definitely a boon, especially for a bloke like myself who used to just love pouring over old comic sections from the twenties until the sixties just marveling at the fine, detailed artwork which looked more like a craft rather than an afterthought. With the current state of slapdash and totally unfunny/irrelevant comic strips as they are in full bloom it's no wonder that they, along with the newspapers that carry them, are going the way of the Edsel given their general lethargy and reflections of a boring, pallid present day situation that (surprisingly enough) some people actually think is a fine state of kultural affairs!.

After giving these newspaper strips a perusal you might want to check out this recently issued collection of various Dan DeCarlo-penciled Archies dating from '58 until '69 (there's also a volume featuring the Stan Goldberg Archie variant that I've yet to lay paws upon). After Bob Montana was more or less forgotten (due to bad blood?) it was DeCarlo who became the new "house style" guy, and although I find his own tackling of the Archie mystique less-enthralling/sexy than Montana's DeCarlo certainly was the most talented employee at the company Joe Simon once dubbed "the asshole of comics". Well, Henry Scarpelli as well as the aforementioned Goldberg were great enough (even when they were doing their own Archie/DeCarlo swipes with DC's Binky!), but frankly DeCarlo wins hands down over some of the "talent" that passed through the doors at Archie including Harry Lucey (who used to draw his characters in the nude...the inker hadda add the clothing on!) and Al Hartley, the guy who did those Spire Christian Comics Archie titles you used to see at flea markets throughout the seventies that I couldn't give away no matter how much I lowered the prices on the few I happened to be stuck with!

This gathering of stories dating from '58 to '69 is a nice beginning, though the selection could have been somewhat better since it's clear that DeCarlo was aping Montana on the earlier stories and the reams of fondly-remembered works from DeCarlo's peak years at Archie in the late-sixties are obviously missing. I dunno, but I thought DeCarlo handled those great generation gap/hippie sagas tremendously with loads of irony and even a few suggestive yuks w/o coming off like a crank (a humorous crank that is!) like Al Capp could at times. If you want to eyeball some examples of what I consider DeCarlo's best there are a bunch of old Bantam Books paperbacks from the late-sixties and early-seventies you might be able to latch onto, or better yet I'm sure a few cheap Archie digests can be found at the rummage sale nearest and dearest to your heart. Until then maybe this 'un'll at least bring back a few warm 'n toasties regarding the humor-enthralling days of comic book hoarding that you unfortunately never were a part of, bookwormish geek you most truly are.


Anonymous said...

-- off topic --
There's a Lillian Roxon documentary film:

Bill said...

Hi, Chris.
I'm excited about the book of collected 46-48 Archie newspaper strips. Will have to order that ASAP. Archie does not get its due as such a seminal strip/persona. Hey, it's STILL available at newsstands and supermakets across America, and I must confess to picking up one or two digests a year STILL...particularly when I know I'm going to have time to kill in an airport, on a bus, if I'm at home while sick, etc.
Comic-wise, I've been enjoying the paperback collections of DICK TRACY--COLLINS CASE FILES, which I've been picking up used cheap, the strips from early in Max Allan Collins' run as Tracy writer. These hold up REALLY well, and Collins did a great job bringing back the old villains (or their children!), much like he's been doing a good job keeping the Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer franchise up and running. Having apprenticed with Chester Gould and with Spillane themselves, the man's got real roots and a respect for the classic tradition. Check these out if you can...
Best wishes from Texas, my friend!

Bill S.