I have to say, Archie Comics’ aggressive pursuit of the graphic novel market is paying off handsomely for librarians, fans, and casual readers. The company is collecting its multi-part and themed stories, putting them in attractive packages that hold up under multiple re-readings, and getting them out in front of the public in places like Barnes & Noble.
The Grand-daddy of Archie’s graphic novel line is the Archie Americana Series. These volumes contain stories that offer Archie and the gang’s take on each decade’s fads and defining characteristics. In Best of the Nineties: Book 2: (ISBN: 978-1-879794-66-5, 96pp, $11.95) virtual reality, talk shows, the grunge look, nose rings, lap tops, and interactive stories are just some of the hooks writers George Gladir, Mike Pellowski, Frank Doyle, Hal Lifton, Angelo DeCesare, Hal Smith and artists Stan Goldberg, Dan DeCarlo, Rex Lindsey, and Fernando Ruiz build their entertaining stories around. What really stands out about these stories though is how timeless they are. For all that a fad or trend is the starting point for each tale, it’s the characterization that makes the stories work. Archie is impetuous, girl-crazy, and clumsy; Betty is helpful; Veronica is spoiled; Reggie is snarky; and Jughead is hungry. Those things never change. Two of my favorite stories could come from any era. In Bill Golliher’s “Wish Upon a Star,” Ethel asks movie star Tad Britt, a Brad Pitt stand-in, to go to the prom with her. Golliher perfectly captures Ethel’s optimism and pride, and while she’s gawky looking, with buck teeth, she’s still cute. Kathleen Webb and Jeff Shultz’s “Whatever” is a sharp take on the annoying use of “whatever” as a response to everything. While the word itself is of a specific time, the attitude is not. Readers twenty years from now will still get the story’s point.
Archie & Friends All-Stars #9: Best of Jughead Crowning Achievements: (ISBN:978-1-879794-67-2, $9.95) collects recent stories by Jughead team extraordinaire Craig Boldman and Rex Lindsey, and Hal Smith. Opening the volume is a reprint of Jughead #200, written by Robot Chicken‘s Tom Root, a story that features the return of Sabrina the teen-age witch to Riverdale. Later, Fernando Ruiz and Jon D’Agostino provide an origin for Jughead’s famous chapeau in “The Secret of Jughead’s Hat.” The eleven stories collected here all revolve around Jughead’s love of food, his laziness, and his quirky intelligence. They’re a wonderful celebration of, and a great introduction to, one of the Archie-verse’s most unique characters.
Archie & Friends All-Stars #10: Night at the Comic Shop: (ISBN: 978-1-879794-69-6, $9.95) collects Fernando Ruiz and Bill Galvan’s “Night at the Comic Shop” and “Return to the Comic Shop.” When classic MLJ/Archie Comics’ characters such as Suzie, Ginger, Cosmo the Merry Martian, Sam Hill, and others step out of the pages of their comics and into the Archie-verse thanks to a strange meteor, Archie and the gang must get them back where they belong. “Return to the Comic Shop” is the better story, as it focuses on fewer characters and has more of a plot, but both tales feature humorous situations and dialog and are a clever way to introduce largely forgotten characters to a new generation. Also included in this volume is a “Who’s Who” section featuring brief histories of the characters. The “Sam Hill” entry mentions Tom DeFalco’s upcoming revamp and we’re promised a “Cosmo the Merry Martian” graphic novel; but characters like “Young Doctor Masters” also demand an update, ala a tween Grey’s Anatomy. Or maybe an international C.S.I.-type comic featuring Fu Change, International Detective, and Bentley of Scotland Yard.
Speaking of DeFalco, his wonderful four-part spy/horror movie spoof is collected in Archie: The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E: (ISBN: 978-1-879794-68-9, $9.95). To save the world from Mad Doctor Doom, C.R.U.S.H., and zombie high school principals, Archie must team up with his spy cousin Andy Andrews. This is a fun, clever, smart story that pays tribute to the James Bond movies of the 60s and spy shows such as I Spy and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. while being its own thing. The volume’s bonus features include design sketches by artist Fernando Ruiz and a never before published Cold War-era Andy Andrews tale by Harry Lucey. This is a gorgeous looking story that brings to mind Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon strip.
With summer vacation on its way, any or all of these volumes would be good choices to have ready for the inevitable “I’m bored!” The variety of material offers something for everyone and the light stories are perfect for warm, lazy days.
Readers who live in Michigan or northern Ohio might want to mark their calendar for this: 3rd Annual Kids Read Comics Celebration, Chelsea, Michigan.
June 18 and 19 brings the third annual Kids Read Comics Celebration to Chelsea, Michigan. This year’s event has its headquarters at the Chelsea District Library and spreads throughout the historic downtown, where sixteen shops and restaurants will take part by hosting artists and activities. The weekend will feature interactive events with comics professionals, free comics giveaways from major publishers, a kids’ costume parade down Main Street, and much more. Festivities run from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and noon until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
The nonprofit Kids Read Comics was organized to highlight comics’ unique blend of words and pictures, and to foster fun, imagination, creativity, and a lifelong love of reading. Over the course of the weekend, kids and teens (and adults too) will have plenty of opportunity to meet and talk with more than forty comics creators at two artists’ alleys, and buy comics from those artists and writers. They’ll also be able to participate in hands-on cartooning and storytelling workshops, and attend panel discussions, art demonstrations, and fun events like the improvisational Quick Draw challenge.
Special guests for the weekend festivities include Raina Telgemeier, cartoonist creator of the Eisner-Award-nominated middle-school comics memoir Smile; Dave Roman, writer-artist of Astronaut Academy; Ruth McNally Barshaw, author and illustrator of the popular Ellie McDoodle series of books; Rob Worley, writer of Scratch9, an Eisner nominee for best children’s publication; Barbara Slate, creator of You Can Do a Graphic Novel; and Marc Sumerak, writer of many comics in Marvel’s all-ages line as well as the upcoming graphic novel All-Ghouls School from IDW. Roman and Telgemeier will also give a kickoff talk at the Ann Arbor District Library on Friday, June 17, followed by a live performance of “Avatar: The Last Puppetbender” with Dave Roman and Kevin Coppa .
In addition to the kids and teens artists’ alleys, Saturday events feature a superhero costume parade, face painting, kids’ comics crafts, a comics scavenger hunt, and lunch with artists. Saturday activities specifically oriented to teens include a drawing wall, cosplay classes, and a costume contest and masquerade party ending the day. Chelsea’s River Gallery will hold a 6:00-8:00 p.m. rece
ption for “Comic Jam,” an exhibit of original comic book art on display from May 28 through June 23, 2011.
Sunday will feature in-depth cartooning and storytelling workshops for kids, teens, and adults, along with professional development workshops for teachers and librarians who will learn how to use comics on behalf of young people in their work settings. On Sunday there will be a single, combined artists’ alley. Free comics will be given away on both days, says co-director Dan Merritt of Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan, courtesy of DC Comics, Top Shelf Productions, Archaia Entertainment and Sky-Dog Comics.
Admission to all Kids Read Comics events is totally free, and guests are charged no fees for table space. KRC is run by volunteers and benefits from the generous in-kind contributions of the Chelsea District Library, the Friends of the Library, the Chelsea Center for the Arts, and River Gallery Fine Art, as well as a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Additional information and a full schedule of events are available at www.kidsreadcomics.org.