Publisher: Archie Comics
I think it’s great that Archie Comics is giving readers this chance to see how Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica looked in their first appearances in Pep #22 and Archie #1. It’s always fun to see the beginning of things.
After a very brief introductory piece by Jeffrey C. Branch, we meet “Chick” as Archie liked to be called back then. Anyone not familiar with Bob Montana’s style, or the look of comic art in the 1940s in general, is going to be caught by surprise. The characters look very different. Though their faces are actually more individualized than they would become in later years, it doesn’t necessarily make them more attractive. Betty is cute, but Chick and Jughead – yikes! They qualify as ugly in a couple of panels. On the other hand, as far as panel composition, details, and just plain old story-telling go, Montana was fantastic! The art and color reproduced very well. These stories have a rich look to them that most of the contemporary Archies are missing.
As for the plot, see if this sounds familiar. Chick tries to impress new girl Betty by helping out at the carnival and chaos ensues. With this short story Vic Bloom created the formula readers have enjoyed for 65 years: good intentions thwarted by clumsiness with slap-stick results. As the characters are portrayed as tweens in this first outing, there’s a Little Rascals feel to the whole affair. Betty and Chick even look a bit like Darla and Alfalfa.
But by the time “Prom Pranks” appeared in Archie #1, the cast was definitely teen-aged. And here again we get to see the plot that will launch a thousand stories. Archie accidentally invites sub-debutant Veronica Lodge to the prom when he already has a date with Betty. The payoff gag of this story forever defines Jughead and is as funny today as it was then.
Along with four other reprints featuring Archie and Jughead, the editors have thoughtfully included a contemporary Archie story. Fernando Ruiz’s script, from a concept by Nelson Ribeiro, has Archie taking a short-cut through Memory Lane and almost literally running into Chick and company. The plot, such as it is, involves Archie trying to get a cake to the high school’s 65th anniversary celebration. It’s basically an excuse for him to meet the original version of the cast and to show the superficial differences between the 1940s and 2007. It’s a great, non-heavy handed way of showing that no matter how much the accruements change, the basics of friendship and romance don’t. Artist Rex Lindsey does a fine job impersonating Montana, and all in all it’s a well-done tribute piece.
Besides the Chick/Archie stories, the digest also includes several Funny Animal reprints by Joe Edwards. Edwards is probably most famous for creating Li’l Jinx, but these Funny Animal stories are in no way inferior. In fact, I like them better than Jinx. The Cubby the Bear and Bumbie the Bee-Detective stories are especially enjoyable examples of the genre. They’re smart and funny and there’s a fluidity to them that gives them the look of an animated cartoon. Execution wise, they’re very similar in feel to early Osamu Tezuka and Tex Avery. I personally hope their appearance here causes such a groundswell of interest, Archie Comics has to put out a digest of Joe Edwards’ Funny Animal work. I’d buy it.
Archie Comics has given its readers a great anniversary present with this digest. While it will probably appeal more to comic fans with an interest in history, anyone who enjoys cute girls, vamps, goofy guys, and slap-stick can’t go wrong picking it up.
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