COMIC BOOKS THAT TIME FORGOT: The Original Life With Archie #21

KC Carlson. Art by Keith Wilson.

KC Carlson. Art by Keith Wilson.


by KC Carlson

Life With Archie #29

Life With Archie #29


Currently, Life With Archie is one of the more popular titles being published by Archie Comics. Featuring dual alternative-continuity storylines (Archie Marries Veronica, Archie Marries Betty), the magazine-format series carries on a long tradition of Archie stories that are just a bit different than the norm. It also borrowed its name from an innovative Archie title that had its share of historical moments.

A BIT OF HISTORY

Life With Archie #1

Life With Archie #1


The original Life With Archie first appeared in July 1958 (cover dated September). Of the other 137 or so comic books (not an exaggeration!) on the stands that month from leading publishers, only nine of them were superhero titles, seven of them starring or featuring Superman. (The other two were Batman and Detective Comics.) Marvel wouldn’t start publishing superheroes until 1961. All the rest of the comic books on the stands that month were a glorious selection of genres which barely survive today: humor, funny animal, war, western, horror/mystery, sci-fi, romance, and adventure. Besides Life With Archie #1, Archie comics also debuted that same month Katy Keene Charm #1, Little Ambrose #1 (a spin-off of Little Archie), and Cosmo the Merry Martian #1, with the first two being one-shots.

The Life With Archie series also began as a one-shot tryout book, as it took a full 12 months for #2 to appear and an additional 10 months for #3 to materialize. It became a regular bi-monthly in 1960, but after 1963, its frequency would fluctuate. The series would ultimately run 286 issues, ending in 1991 (cover-dated September, on sale in June). Some early issues were reprinted in the Archie Giant Series sub-series The World of Archie.

Run! Life With Archie #12

Run! Life With Archie #12


What set this series apart from the regular collections of short comedy stories about Archie and the gang is that Life With Archie began as a series that featured book-length, 20-to-25-page stories. They aimed for a sense of adventure as the story spine, and the stories were more “epic” in feel (as much as an Archie story could feel epic). Frequent story topics involved being menaced (by aliens, ghosts, monsters, criminals), traveling (to the U.N., Washington D.C., out west, to France), unusual situations (Archie becoming a millionaire, castaways on a deserted island, having a U.S. space capsule land in the Lodge swimming pool, Archie on trial), or just plain odd occurrences (befriending a robot, reenacting the Civil War, outwitting foreign spies, learning judo). And this is just in the early run of the series, published under the sub-banner of the Archie Adventure Series for the first 17 issues. Other Archie Adventure Titles included their superhero titles of the 60s (The Fly, The Jaguar, etc.). Later, the name was revived for the Archie version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as other titles in the 80s and 90s.

EARLY COMIC BOOK MEMORIES

Life With Archie #16

Life With Archie #16


These early years of Life With Archie are my favorite issues, so let me share a memorable story with you, one of the very first comic book stories that “stuck to my brain”. I first read it as a borrowed copy from an older friend, and I spent years trying to track it down — which was difficult for two reasons. First, the cover has little to do with the actual contents of the story. Cover-featured Betty and Veronica don’t even appear in the story, except for a one-panel cameo and a symbolic splash page. Second, one of the weird little quirks about the early Life With Archie series was that it did not feature the issue number of the comic on the cover until issue #30! (Archie also did this on other series, such as Archie’s Madhouse.) I still have not heard the reasoning for doing this on these select titles, when their other series were properly cover-numbered.

All this meant that when looking through back issues, I had to open the storage bag, carefully remove the oft-brittle comic book from the bag, and carefully open it up to look for the issue number in the indicia. I eventually made a “want list” of reduced-sized photocopies of all the covers with the issue numbers typed below. These also worked like flash cards, enabling my brain to remember mostly-generic Archie comic book covers just before I hit the convention room floor for shopping. Yes, I had to “study” to collect Archie comics back issues.

Life With Archie #21

Life With Archie #21


The issue in question turned out to be Life With Archie #21, July 1963 (on sale in May). As you can see by the cover, there wasn’t much about what the story was, other than Archie seemed to be missing (except he obviously wasn’t, since he was talking directly TO me, the reader — a difficult concept for 7-year-old me).

TEEVIE JEEBIES

The story opens with Jughead entering the seemingly empty Andrews house, until Archie’s disembodied voice tells him to “keep your grubby paws out of the candy dish.” Turns out, in a nice bit of foreshadowing, Archie’s not disembodied — he’s just behind the TV set, trying to repair it. Apparently, his vacationing parents had given Arch the money to get it fixed, but as usual, Archie blew the money on a date with Veronica. The parents are due back soon, so he’s got to fix it himself — and fast! Jughead lends a hand by throwing the main switch in the fuse box. Archie yells YIPE! Jughead comes running into a now-empty living room, only to discover that Archie has been sucked into the TV set. And he’s now just black & white. (This was 1963, remember.) Jughead consults the TV Repair Guide, finding that the Guide says that what happened is absolutely impossible! (Did the manufacturer product-test for this eventuality?)

Archie always wanted to get into TV. From Life with Archie #21.

Archie always wanted to get into TV. From Life with Archie #21.


Finally, Archie does something right — he yells at Jughead to go get Riverdale’s boy-genius Dilton Doily. And then there’s a great joke where Pop Tate sees Jughead running across town and immediately calls his doctor, thinking he’s hallucinating! Subsequently, Dilton’s messing around in the back of the TV (while on-screen Archie is grimacing, “OUCH! Hey! Watch it back there!”). Dilton comes to the conclusion that they CAN get Archie out of the TV (after a multi-panel description of gobbledegook), but it’s going to take two or three months! Dilton immediately gets to work but unfortunately causes Archie’s image to fade from the screen. Jughead suggests changing the channel, and there’s Archie in the western show “Have Gun Will Grovel” about to be gunned down.

“How did that happen?” asked Juggie. “Something’s gone wrong with Archie and his visual modulation! It’s running wild!” says Dilton, with a scientific explanation that would put Julie Schwartz to shame. The dynamic dunderheads turn the channel again, this time to a cooking show. (Archie’s in the oven. This story is hot!)

Then Archie is on a medical show. And then a lawyer show. But wait — Archie is both the lawyer and the defendant! Things are getting worse! Oops, and he’s the judge also! My gosh, what will happen next? Only the scariest panel of art to ever appear in an Archie Comics Code approved book:

Archie, The Jury from Life With Archie #21.

Archie, The Jury from Life With Archie #21.


The story’s not over yet, as a ticking clock is added when Archie’s parents call to tell Jughead that they’ll be home in a few hours. Seriously, the story gets so complicated that they provide a full-page flashback/roundup to begin the final chapter! Jughead and Dilton double their efforts to free Archie before On-Demand is invented, but their efforts come to naught when they discover that Archie’s now just a disembodied voice on the TV — his image has faded away. “Of course, it does have advantages!” exclaims Jughead. “(His parents) can turn him off whenever they want…”

Finally, in exasperation, Dilton takes the useless, hardcover (?) TV manual and tosses it backwards over his shoulder, while Jughead tries the circuit breaker one more time. Of course, the book hits the TV at the precise moment that Jughead pulls the switch — and Archie is free!

However, in the last panel, Archie’s flat on his back on the floor, with his parents weeping over him. They just told him that they were going to buy him his very own personal TV set — and he fainted! Ba-dum-bump.

TROPE-A-DOPE

These days, this type of story has been done so frequently that it has its own page at TV Tropes, as “Trapped in TV Land”.

Ones you might recognize are the John Ritter/Pam Dawber 1992 film Stay Tuned or the more recent Pleasantville. It’s also a very popular trope in sitcoms (My Name is Earl) and animation (The Simpsons, Teen Titans, Kim Possible, Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse). In comic books, the basic concept also pops up in The Invisibles, Supreme, and She-Hulk, among others. Oddly, this Archie story is not cited there. But I’m guessing that it was one of the first.

CREDITS ARE DUE

“Teevie Jeebies” was scripted by Sy Reit, and the artwork was by Bob White.

Life With Archie #11

Life With Archie #11


Sy Reit was formally named Seymour Reit, the creator, with artist Joe Oriolo, of Casper, the Friendly Ghost. Reit was a part of the legendary Fleischer animation studio, working on the feature Gulliver’s Travels, as well as writing gags for Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons. He also worked anonymously under Jerry Iger producing work for Fiction House. Following World War II, he worked on material for Archie and Little Lulu comics, wrote gags for the Casper cartoons, wrote for the Captain Kangaroo TV show, and contributed over 60 pieces to MAD Magazine. He also authored over 80 books, mostly for children, many for the beloved Little Golden Book series. He died in 2001.

Cosmo the Merry Martian #4

Cosmo the Merry Martian #4


Bob White’s career is less documented, but he was one of Archie’s main artists in the late 1950s and 1960s. His primary series were Life With Archie (most issues through #70) and Cosmo the Merry Martian (which he was allowed to sign), but he also provided dozens of short stories and covers across the entire line. Not much is known about his other history. In Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers, Archie senior staffer and Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick recalled that White loved to talk, and that White and Jughead artist Samm Schwartz rented studio space in a warehouse across the street from the Archie offices, making them available if something was needed in a hurry. Gorelick also recalled that White was involved with building homes in Westchester County. It’s rumored that White may have been released from Archie in the late 60s when it was discovered that he was moonlighting for rival Tower’s Tippy Teen books (many of which Schwartz edited and drew when temporarily off-staff from Archie).

________________________________

KC CARLSON wishes to thank the Grand Comics Database and Mike’s Amazing Word of Comics (formerly Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics — he’s greatly expanded!) for invaluable information. These are two sites permanently bookmarked on my computers, and I generally visit many times a week. Mostly just to look at covers… And I love to play with Mike’s new-ish “Newsstand” function. Go check it out!

Be Sociable, Share!

USER COMMENTS2 Responses

We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!

  1. Life With Archie #21 Has Weird Archie TV Story » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] latest Westfield column provides a capsule history of the original Life With Archie title before diving into a summary of […]

  2. Lane Says:

    I remember reading this in a digest, though I can’t remember which one. If I have time, I’ll go through my storage area and try to find it.

Current ye@r *