a KC COLUMN by KC Carlson
I know it seems weird that a man entering into his seventh decade is still fascinated with Archie comic books. I can’t really explain it myself, although I think deep down inside my trivia-encrusted mind, my subconscious has tricked the rest of my brain into thinking that the history and continuity of the Archie Universe is infinitely easer to grasp than either the current Marvel and DC continuities.
For the record, Archie Andrews is 15 years older than I am. He was created in 1941. I was born in 1956, although I don’t (usually) feel old.
I was first exposed to Archie comic books in the early 1960s — a period that many Archie fans consider to be one of their best eras ever, considering the talent that was writing and drawing the books then. A family friend passed down her Archie comics to me when she outgrew them, and those books form the basics of my collection. I still have all of them, although I have replaced many of them over the years, because those original comics were read over and over to near-death.
I’ve been thinking about Archie lately because of the upcoming release of the moody Riverdale TV show. I’ve written before about bits and pieces of Archie’s publishing history, but Archie was also very popular in many other formats and media. Here are just a few:
YOU CAN READ IT IN THE SUNDAY PAPERS! (THE ARCHIE NEWSPAPER STRIP)
By 1947, Archie was popular enough to become a daily newspaper comic strip from King Features Syndicate. Main Archie artist (and co-creator) Bob Montana was the artist and writer. Montana had been drawing Archie for comic books since 1942, the first artist to do so. (If Archie was any other comic company, Montana would probably be credited as sole creator of Archie and his pals, IMHO.) At the peak of its popularity, the Archie strip ran both daily and Sunday in over 750 newspapers. Montana drew the strip until January 1975, when he died of a heart attack at the age of 54.
After that, Archie’s then-primary artist Dan DeCarlo took over the strip until 2000, when Archie fired him in a dispute over the creation of Josie and the Pussycats. Later, the strip was written by Craig Boldman, pencilled by Fernando Ruiz, lettered by Jon D’Agostino, and inked by Bob Smith until June 2011, when the strip went to reprints (ironically, from the Dan DeCarlo run). Before it went reprint, the strip differed from the comic book continuity by having Miss Grundy pass away from cancer in December 2010. (A storyline that was also used in one of the timelines from the 2010 magazine format Life With Archie series in issue #6.)
It’s difficult to re-read the Archie newspaper strip, since there have never been organized reprints. Many of the later strips (the ones that looked more “modern”) were routinely colored and randomly reprinted in the actual Archie comic books for years, as well as all of the Archie digests. Basically, they were treated like “filler” material.
In 2010, however, The Library of American Comics (through publisher IDW) got the license to produce thoughtfully organized and well annotated collections of the Archie strip. Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948 (aka Volume 1) was a 304-page hardcover collecting the very earliest strips by Bob Montana. It’s a beautiful volume filled with hysterically funny stories, great gags, and very pretty girls. Unfortunately, that may be the only volume from that era ever produced, as it turns out that apparently nobody – including Archie Comics – thought to archive the strips for future use. LoAC Creative Director Dean Mullaney once told me that the only reason that this volume exists is because they were presented with a huge scrapbook of the strips that a fan had compiled, and the book was created from that.
LoAC/IDW would continue to produce other Archie strip collections from later eras — most notably two volumes of Archie: The Swingin’ Sixties covering the daily strips from the years 1960-1965. An additional oversized, full-color collection called Archie’s Sunday’s Finest: Classic Newspaper Strips From the 1940s and 1950s collected what was available in 2012, including the first Sunday page from October 13, 1946, and most of the other Sunday pages up to and including 1950. I highly recommend all of the LoAC/IDW Archie collections!
A 2003 softcover collection (not published by LoAC/IDW) called Archie: Day by Day is a 96-page collection of Archie newspaper strips from the latter years of the strip, most likely featuring work by writer Craig Boldman and artist Henry Scarpelli from 1994 through 1995. It should also be noted that random Archie newspaper strips turn up everywhere in the hundreds and hundreds of Archie Digests and other Archie collections that are primarily aimed at kids (rather than collectors).
ARCHIE KILLED AS A RADIO STAR (ARCHIE ON THE RADIO)
Archie and the gang were popular as radio stars during the Golden Age of Radio. “Archie Andrews” first aired on the NBC Blue Network on May 31, 1943, then switched to the Mutual Network in 1944 before returning to NBC in 1945 and ending on September 5, 1953. Archie was voiced by Charles Mullen (1943-1944), Jack Grimes (1944), and Burt Boyar (1945), with Bob Hastings (1945-1953) as the title character during the NBC years. Grimes worked extensively on radio; he also played Superman for the last three years of The Adventures of Superman radio program, as well as the 1966 The Adventures of Superman Saturday morning cartoon show produced by Filmation.
Hastings worked extensively on TV, most notably as Lieutenant Elroy Carpenter on ABC’s McHale’s Navy. He also appeared frequently on Sergeant Bilko, Captain Video, Green Acres, Dennis the Menace, and — you probably never realized this — he was the voice of the Raven on The Munsters. He also did a lot of voice-over work for both Filmation and Hanna-Barbera Studios in the 60s and 70s. More recently he was the voice of Commissioner James Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series and all its spin-offs.
I don’t know much about the actual Archie radio shows or their availability. Anybody out there willing to properly educate me?
PILOTS: JOEY, DO YOU LIKE MOVIES ABOUT GLADIATORS?
(NO, NOT THOSE PILOTS… ARCHIE ON LIVE ACTION TV)
There is lots of internet confusion about Archie live action TV shows, especially the pilots. (Possibly because they are mostly obscure!) This is me apologizing in advance and also stating that I would love further information!
In 1962, ABC commissioned a pilot based on Archie Comics. It possibly wasn’t completed until 1964, the date given by IMDB. Frank Bank played Archie Andrews. Previously, he was Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford on Leave It To Beaver. Cheryl Holdridge played Betty Cooper. She was also on Leave It To Beaver, as well as being a Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer. Mikki Jamison played Veronica Lodge. She was in a couple of off-brand beach movies (Ski Party and Beach Ball, both 1965) and a 1976 episode of Wonder Woman.
William Schallert, a wonderful character actor who played hundreds of roles, best known for playing Patty Duke’s father on The Patty Duke Show, played Archie’s father, Fred Andrews. Also, Mary Grace Canfield, probably best known for playing Ralph Monroe on Green Acres, was Miss Grundy, and Jean Vander Pyl, known for her off-screen voice acting (Wilma Flintstone, Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons), played Archie’s mom, Mary Andrews.
According to Frank Bank, this pilot was never picked up because the sponsors thought that the viewers would always see him as “Lumpy”. This pilot is now so old, all of these actors have since passed away.
Confusingly, there is a second IMDb page listed for this project, with another actor, John Simpson (who otherwise supposedly only ever played a zombie in the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968), replacing Frank Bank as Archie. The rest of the cast (as above) was seemingly retained for this and perhaps THIS IS THE ACTUAL PILOT?!? (Do we have any proof that there WAS an actual pilot staring Bank as Archie?) I think I have more research to do on this…
Meanwhile… (Thanks, Dick…)
Mark Evanier knows a lot more about both television and comic books than I do, especially those rare instances where comics books and TV got all smushed up. He’s been involved with at least two Archie TV projects from long ago, and you can read about BOTH HERE.
Thanks, Mark! BTW, that first actor used to have the Archie pilot briefly listed on his IMDB page many years ago, but it since has been stricken. If you want to see what he would have looked like as a near-adolescent, check out early episodes of Hill Street Blues, where he played the leader (or at least spokesperson) for a teenage gang operating in the Hill Street area. Later on, pretty much all that actor portrayed were cops!
Also, I think the first pilot that Mark talks about first aired in 1976 on a show called the ABC Saturday Comedy Special, and then the second pilot (with the same cast) aired in 1978 as The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show. Or at least IMDb seems to thinks so… I’m so confused…
AN ARCHIE “PILOT” I’VE ACTUALLY SEEN (and recorded — if I could only find the tape…)
Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again was a two-hour TV movie that first aired on May 6, 1990. Christopher Rich played Archie Andrews. He’s probably best known as being Reba McEntire’s ex-husband on Reba (the show). He also had recurring roles on Boston Legal, Murphy Brown, The George Carlin Show, and before this Archie movie, he played Eric Charming on the very weird fairy tale sitcom The Charmings.
Lauren Holly was Betty Cooper. She’s best known for Dumb & Dumber, What Women Want, Picket Fences, and NCIS. Karin Kopins was Veronica Lodge. She hasn’t acted much since the movie, but before that she was in Dallas and Troop Beverly Hills. Sam Whipple was Jughead. He did a lot of one-shot TV guest appearances as well as a stint on The Larry Sanders Show. He died on June 3, 2002. Also in the cast was Gary Kroeger (Saturday Night Live) as Reggie Mantle, Fran Ryan (Gunsmoke, Green Acres) as Miss Grundy, and David Doyle (Charlie’s Angels) as Mr. Weatherbee.
The TV movie was set post-high school for the characters, who are dealing with adult life in not always very good ways. They get back together for a reunion, and as they say, hijinks ensue. Amazingly, Archie is a lawyer, and Jughead is a psychiatrist. And — surprise! — Archie still has feelings for Betty (a teacher) and Veronica (a socialite… duh!). This wasn’t wonderful, but compared to some other Archie projects over the years, it is Citizen Kane. It’s still available on VHS! Also, Archie Comics produced a tie-in comic book written by Robert Loren Fleming with art by both Gene Colan and Stan Goldberg. Weirdest thing about it is the cover by John Byrne — his only appearance (I think) in Riverdale.
MORE ARCHIE TV… COMING SOON!
I’m skipping over (for now) discussion about the live-action Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV series that first aired in 1996. Mostly because talking about this show dovetails directly into discussing the many animated versions of Sabrina over the years. And obviously, if we’re talking about animation — there are a ton of Archie-related animated programs to discuss! That’s pretty much another whole column by itself. Look for it soon.
(I’ve misplaced my books on the history of Filmation animated studios, who produced a huge amount of Archie and Sabrina cartoons. So, as soon as I find those, I’ll be back to this.) I really need to finish unpacking. It’s only been a little over four years since we moved!
MOTION PICTURES, BROADWAY, AND RIVERDALE
Archie hasn’t (yet) been seen on the big screen, but his band rivals Josie and the Pussycats debuted in Josie and the Pussycats (duh!) in 2001. It’s an awesome cult movie which is greatly underestimated. And, as JDC (pretending to be me) said a few weeks back: “It was ahead of its time in satirizing immersive marketing and an overload of commercial culture. And you’ve got to love Parker Posey and Alan Cumming teamed up as the jealous bad guys!” I say it also has a fantastic pop soundtrack that’s never not far away — on all my iTunes and in my car. Kay Hanley (former vocalist for Letters to Cleo, now solo) is awesome as the singing voice for Josie, and she’s backed up by fantastic rock writers/producers like Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Adam Schlesinger, Jason Falkner, Bif Naked, Matthew Sweet, Jane Wiedlin, and many others. It’s an awesome soundtrack, even if the film was considered a failure. (I think it’s now time to reconsider both the film and soundtrack as “cult classics”.)
Possibly still in development are a major live-action motion picture based on the Archie characters directed by Jason Moore (the Pitch Perfect films, Sisters) and maybe even a Broadway production involving writer Adam McKay/Funny or Die. There hasn’t been much recent discussion of either — which probably means either the projects are in a long development cycle — or have been abandoned without announcement. Maybe they’re waiting to see how this next project does…
RIVERDALE (“ARCHIE MEETS TWIN PEAKS”) — Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Writer of Riverdale
Said to be adopting a “bold, subversive take on the gang”, Riverdale debuts next week on Thursday, January 26, on your local CW station (or however you watch TV now). The show was originally developed by Fox TV beginning in 2014, but in 2015, development moved to The CW.
I’ve been trying very hard not to learn too much about this show going into it, because, unfortunately, I have heard a couple of things about the show that don’t sound very Archie-like to me — like a major character having an affair with his teacher. (Didn’t Dawson’s Creek already do that? But given that was a couple of decades ago now, the teen audience likely doesn’t know that.)
I am quite aware that — despite new comic book creators attempting to drag the Archie comic books closer to something resembling modern day life (or at least closer to this decade rather than the nebulous ‘50s to ‘80s feel the comics were mired in long after that time) — the Archie characters seem oblivious to passing time, except for fads, celebrities, and their own relationship to pop culture. Obviously, the Riverdale show can’t be that, or else it would seem like a modern-day version of Happy Days — which I’m pretty sure that nobody wants. Especially me. (I have a phobia of fake sharks.)
I’ve discovered five out of the first season’s ten episode titles on the internet. They are “The River’s Edge”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Body Double”, The Last Picture Show”, and “The Lost Weekend” (season finale?). Obviously these are all important film titles. I haven’t seen all of them (bad me), so I asked Johanna if there was anything in common about all of them. She thought about it for a couple of minutes and finally shrugged “uh… miserableness?” Oh, that’s not a good sign… (Seriously, we did talk about how many of them are noir or noir-inspired, with some dealing with questions of false memories and/or nostalgia while others have murders and voyeurism.)
Anyway, I’ll be watching Riverdale, at least for awhile. How could I not? It’s not like I haven’t sat through hours of other frankly horrible Archie-related programs and animation. But I gotta tell you, I’m really hoping that Riverdale is a lot more like Freaks and Geeks (except maybe a bit more successful) or Gilmore Girls than Beverly Hills 90210 or Pretty Little Liars.
KC CARLSON just remembered that there was an Archie-themed restaurant somewhere, somewhen. I bet they served burgers. And the people who ate the burgers had to bum money for them off their friends… Something else for next time as well …and page down.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Jeez, what else have I forgotten… Wait! My pants! (That one’s for you, Mike Carlin!) Also: Can you believe I got to mention Green Acres THREE times in this column! Too bad Jughead never had a talking pig… well, I guess Arnold never actually talked… but he did have subtitles!