Comic book fans may split themselves down the middle between DC and Marvel. They also might divide between the superhero genre and the independent graphic novel. But one of the first separations between comic book readers happened over 75 years ago. For that was when Archie Comics began, and so too did the divide between those who read Archie and those who read superhero comics.
Now, the split between Archie and superhero comics is not contentious. It’s not like the passion-filled vitriol spewed at times between Marvel and DC fans. This is merely something I have noticed over a number of years. When asking men and women, boys and girls, which comics they read or read as a kid (or are still reading for that matter), they often either say superhero comics or Archie comics. Rarely would someone read and adore both.
So, as superhero comics have survived since the late 1930s, so too has Archie. And oddly enough, it is in today’s world that Archie is never more relevant to popular culture. How did this happen? As with most things in life, it was the magical combination of persistence and timing.
Archie Comics started in 1939, the same year Batman began and a year after Superman first made his debut in Action Comics #1. Over the years, nay decades, Archie Comics have followed a familiar formula. A teenage, redheaded boy named Archie Andrews is constantly being pulled between the love of two women—Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. Betty is the blonde girl-next-door, while Veronica is the silver-spooned brunette. Oddly, both women are as much friends as they are rivals. Furthering Archie’s cast of characters, most of the North American population would also be aware of Archie’s lazy and burger consuming sidekick Jughead Jones. There are other side characters that might fall on the tip of people’s tongues—Reggie Mantle, Moose, Mr. Weatherbee. This brand recognition existed far before there was a thing known as brand recognition, and clearly proves that Archie and his friends and enemies at Riverdale High have been woven into the fabric of North American popular culture.
As the decades of the 20th Century rolled on, Archie Comics continued to litter comic stands, whether in the form of a Double Digest or titles like Archie and Friends and Betty and Veronica. And as the years moved along, more characters emerged; Josie and the Pussycats, Cheryl Blossom, Kevin Keller, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch being the most notable. In fact, from 1993-2006, Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a successful television program on both ABC and then the WB. On the flip side, in 2001, a film titled Josie and the Pussycats was unfortunately released and, to no surprise, floundered at the box office.
By using these different forms of media, Archie was kept in the public eye. Yet, never have Archie Comics been more relevant than in the last number of years. Sure, Archie Comics have “sold billions of comics worldwide and are published around the world in a number of languages” (according to archiecomics.com). That proves that Archie Comics are a worldwide member of pop culture, and not only exclusive to North America. But in the recent past, Archie Comics have taken a turn—bringing readers and viewers to some unique versions of the characters of Riverdale.
And it all began in the 2010s.
In 2013, Archie Comics dug deeper and got darker, creating of all things a horror line of comics. Spring boarding off the zombie craze was Afterlife with Archie. The comic series took the beloved Riverdale cast and infused them with the soup de jour of horror as of late—zombies. Afterlife with Archie was different, dark, and a delight. The monthly comic was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and stylishly illustrated by Francesco Francavilla; the two took Archie and his gang into the world of Teen + ratings. The horror line of Archie Comics was so successful that it spawned a natural Teen + spin off. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina began in October of 2014, and was also written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but this time eerily illustrated by Robert Hack.
In 2014, Archie Comics culminated its storyline, Life with Archie, a series of comics that followed two separate life choices by Archie. In one, Archie married his close friend Betty. The other, he married the glamourous and ridiculously wealthy Veronica. But both storylines led Archie to one final and tragic end in The Death of Archie. In it, Archie Comics did the unthinkable—they killed off their lead icon. But fans didn’t have to fret too long. Not only did Archie die nobly, taking a bullet meant for another, he was reborn into his greatest incarnation and relevancy yet.
Following The Death of Archie, Archie Comics reinvented themselves, and they did so by hiring a prominent comic book writer. Mark Waid had written successful runs for superheroes like Superman, Justice League, Daredevil and Spiderman. As well, he penned the renowned Kingdom Come. Waid brought not only talent to his new title, Archie, but also serious clout. Waid’s reinvention of Archie began in 2015 and garnered both praise and buzz about the Archie’s world once again.
But Archie didn’t stop there. He was heading to a larger audience—that of television.
In January 2017, The CW launched Riverdale, another dark take on Archie and his gang. The teen drama was a hit and has garnered a second season, slated for a released in October of this year. By taking the iconic characters of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of Riverdale and plotting them in a story about murder, betrayal, and forbidden love, the world of Archie has been opened up to yet another generation (as well as entertaining Archie’s already solid fan base).
So after 75 plus years, Archiekins is back to being an incredibly relevant part of popular culture, and our comic book reading lives are better for it. With all the countless high-stakes superhero comics, TV shows, and movies where mankind is hanging in the balance of our heroes’ success, it’s comforting to know that there is still a confused redheaded boy in Riverdale pondering that age old question—blonde or brunette?