by KC Carlson
Wow. That was weird to type.
As most of you now know, because the news has been everywhere, Archie Comics will be publishing a Death of Archie Andrews event beginning in July.
Archie Comics is releasing the Death of Archie storyline in several different formats. It will first appear in special 48-page comic book-sized editions of Life With Archie #36 and 37, to be published a week apart early in July. The story is written by Paul Kupperberg and features artwork by Pat & Tim Kennedy, Jim Amash, Fernando Ruiz, Bob Smith, Jack Morelli, and Glenn Whitmore. There will be five variant covers for each issue. Each is illustrated by a different excellent artist, most not normally associated with the Archie characters. More on those in a minute…
Issue #36 will feature the tragic death itself, as Archie Andrews makes the ultimate sacrifice to save a friend. It’s a game-changing tale of love, friendship, and true heroism. Issue #37 is set a year after the events of #36 and catches up with all the characters. We see how they have dealt with this tragic loss.
The normal magazine-sized Life With Archie #36 will be double-sized (96 pages) and is said to include all of the story material from the Life With Archie comic-sized #36 and #37. This is scheduled to be published the same week as the comic-sized Life With Archie #37. It will be the last issue of this magazine.
Then in August (but being solicited now) will be a 112-page trade paperback edition called Life With Archie: Death of an Icon: A Life Celebrated, once again collecting the material from Life With Archie #36 and 37. It will also include reproductions of all the variant covers.
As many of you know, the Life With Archie series presents alternate possible futures for the Archie characters, based specifically on the hugely popular Archie Marries… storyline. In every issue so far of Life With Archie, they’ve presented two different possible futures of the Archie gang, one where Archie married Veronica and another where he married Betty. So far, Archie (the publisher) is keeping mum on which potential future features his tragic death. Or will death come calling for Archie in both futures? This will be a very long two months to wait!
Either way, rest assured that the adventures of teenage Archie and his friends will continue in all of the other Archie Comics publications — unless, of course, they all get eaten in Afterlife With Archie!
LIFE WITH ARCHIE COVER ART GALLERY
Here are the special covers for the comic book sized Life With Archie #36:
Mike Allred Cover
Francesco Francavilla Cover
Adam Hughes Cover
Ramon Perez Cover
Fiona Staples Cover
And here are the special covers for the comic-sized Life With Archie #37:
Cliff Chiang Cover
Tommy Lee Edwards Cover
Alex Ross Cover
Walter Simonson Cover
Jill Thompson Cover
All of the covers can be ordered separately.
DEATH BE NOT PROUD PERMANENT
It’s kinda fun watching the non-comic book media reacting to this news. The better news sources have glommed onto the fact that this is not teen Archie that’s pining for the fjords, so the hysteria that usually rises from the general public whenever a major fictional pop culture icon is messed around with seems somewhat subdued this time. (Non-comics people actually think that their favorite characters really are being killed — like forever and ever. Silly rabbits. Death is a trick!)
What almost nobody else has realized yet is that this isn’t the first time an alterna-Archie has bitten the dust. It happened waaaaaay back in 1962, but most people have never seen the story. Why? Because for decades the folks at Archie Comics didn’t want you to see it!
Come and listen to a story ’bout a boy named Goodman
Poor comic kid could have used a lawyer-man
Then one day he was shooting for some laughs,
But poor Harvey and Jim ended up taking a bath
(Parody that is, comic gold, satire)
Goodman Beaver was a naive and optimistic Candide-like character created by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder who mostly appeared in the pages of the Jim Warren-published and Kurtzman-edited Help! in the early 1960s. Help! was slightly more risqué than Mad, the former EC comic book that Kurtzman and Elder also contributed to, before Mad switched to a more competitive magazine format. Both magazines traded in satire and parody. Back then, comic books were incredibly popular, and thus great fodder for mocking. Goodman Beaver met thinly-veiled parodies of the Archie Comics characters in Help!’s February 1962 issue in a story called “Goodman Goes Playboy”. As you might guess from the title, this was a parody of Hugh Hefner’s rapidly growing Playboy empire and philosophy, and the Archie characters are mostly secondary to the plot: Goodman returns home after five years away, expecting to get together with the old gang (Archer, Joghead, Veromica, and others) for some typical teen-age pursuits. Instead, he’s horrified to discover that the old gang has adopted the Playboy lifestyle!
Hefner got the joke, and he loved the story so much he eventually hired Kurtzman and Elder to produce comics for Playboy. The creators developed a female version of Goodman, and Little Annie Fanny debuted in Playboy later in 1962.
Archie Comics and their lawyers did not get the joke and threatened a lawsuit. Publisher Warren paid Archie $1,000 and agreed to publish an apology, and Archie released Help! from specific claims of libel and infringement. Later, when Kurtzman and Elder had contracted with another publisher to collect the Goodman Beaver stores into a paperback (Executive’s Comic Book), they changed all the character’s names (Artie! Finkface! Zenobia!), and Elder painstakingly changed all the character likenesses to remove their “Archieness”. Didn’t matter. Archie threatened another lawsuit! This time, the paperback publisher (MacFadden-Bartell Books) declined to get involved, so Kurtzman and Elder themselves paid Archie $1,000 (in three installments) and signed an agreement basically giving Archie all future rights to the story. They also agreed to turn over all the original artwork to Archie. For decades, it never saw the light of day.
In 1984, publisher Denis Kitchen (of Kitchen Sink Press) attempted to collect all of the Help! Goodman Beaver stories into one volume. He contacted Archie Comics directly about including “Goodman Goes Playboy” for historical purposes and was denied. An attempt to publish the story at a drastically reduced size and with the parody characters blacked out was met with a threatened lawsuit and injunction against the sales of the book from Archie Comics. Ultimately, the story was not included in the book, although a few “fair use” panels accompanied an essay by David Schreiner about the dubious history of the story (details from which I have “cribbed” here).
At some point, Archie Comics neglected to renew their rights to the story, and it has since passed into the public domain. With a little bit of searching, you can easily find the entire story on the internet — it used to be a PDF at the Fantagraphics website (it’s also reprinted in The Comics Journal #262, September 2004), but a good place to find it nowadays is at MAD artist Tom Richmond’s blog.
When compared side-by-side, you would think that Archie Comics would have been more interested in Kurtzman and Elder’s original (and now classic) Archie parody “Starchie” from the EC Comic Mad #12 (1954). In that story, “Starchie” and “Bottleneck” beat up “Mr. Weathernot” for a passing grade before threatening “Wedgie” with zip guns. They go on to strip and torture him and eventually drop him off a cliff. In “Goodman Goes Playboy”, the Archie characters simply go to an orgy, which these days doesn’t look all that far removed from the classic Animal House toga party scenes. (Although in the original artwork, there was some nudity, much of which was covered up for the original Help! appearance.)
THE DEATH OF “ARCHER”
Oh, yeah… And “Archer” dies! It turns out that the Playboy lifestyle has driven Archer insane. We discover that he has trunks and closets full of dead girls (perhaps just life-size dolls?) hidden away in his mansion, as well as expensive cars, banned books, and other contraband (like Nazi stag films and non-Comics Code-approved comic books). The toga-clad Archer confesses that he’s acquired it all, in exchange for his soul, in a pact with the devil! We last see the toga-clad Archer — playing a violin like Nero — going down in the flames of his empire.
In the story’s postmortem, the gang is hanging out in their version of the Chok’lit Shoppe when a mysterious pointy-eared stranger arrives with what is obviously Archer’s “soul” in a small jar. The kids are horrified — until they all line up for the same fate! Besides Joghead and Roggie, other famous comics characters in line include Andy Gump, Harold Teen, Jiggs, Kayo, the Captain from the Katzenjammer Kids — and Superman!
I’m guessing that the new Life With Archie version of the death of “future” alterna-Archie — while shocking! — will be a lot less controversial and convoluted than the previous one. Guess we’ll find out in July!
KC CARLSON: Yet to be killed in a comic book. Most likely I’ll actually be killed by my comic book collection falling over and crushing me. Yay.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.