So, yesterday I bought a brand-new Archie comic book to read by the side of Colorado’s Glenwood Hot Springs, and there’s no reason to get into why I read Archie comics or whether or not I have a subscription to the Double Digest. That’s not important right now.
The top cover line of this comic, #134, is “The Archies ROCK OUT in NYC.” The Archies, as everyone knows, are the world-famous Riverdale rock band headed by redheaded Archie Andrews, with backup from his pals Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie. Fun! Where will the cover illustration for the band’s big trip to New York be set? The Statue of Liberty? Times Square? Maybe the old CBGB?
Huh. Tavern on the Green. I mean, sure, it’s pretty iconic. It’s a popular restaurant with tourists. It’s been featured in movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Wall Street.” And the 75-year-old restaurant made headlines this week when its longtime operating family lost the franchise to Dean Poll, who runs the Central Park Boathouse. Depending on Poll’s plans, Tavern on the Green as we know it may soon be no more.
Let’s get to the meat of the comic. Much of the story line is a takeoff on the Beatles’ 1964 trip to New York. The Archies arrive in New York via private plane, and are met by a crowd of adoring fans. In typical Archie-comic fashion, they partake of a lot of vaguely familiar activities. They stay at the “Royal Plaza Hotel,” meet their manager “Brian Pepstein,” and discuss their upcoming appearance on the “David Betterman” show. Get it? GET IT?
Then Brian Pepstein shares some exciting news:
That’s where things get really weird. The Archies spend a full page gushing over Tavern on the Green’s menu:
Archie: “Can’t wait to have some of those famous Maryland crab cakes!”
Jughead: “How ’bout that porterhouse bacon cheeseburger? And fries? YES, please!”
Veronica: “I can’t believe this menu! How DEE-LISH! A fresh Mediterranean salad with feta cheese, olives, capers and a hard-boiled egg! That sounds like the perfect protein built-up for tonight’s TV taping!”
Betty: “I’d like to take some of their killer French fries back to hotel.”
My first thought was that Tavern on the Green must have paid for this product placement. It’s so jarring, it’s so long, it’s so … boring. Are the preteens who ostensibly make up Archie comics’ audience really this interested in the menu of a restaurant in New York City? Did the script writer for this comic, Hal Lifson, really think that this sequence of gushing menu-reading was just what his story needed?
So I called up Lifson to ask him. “I write about the things I love,” he told me this morning. In addition to writing many of the comics, Lifson does PR for the Archie brand, so he’s been searching for ways to get his comics some press attention. He said he just uses brands he likes (and sometimes has had professional relationships with), and he gets permission to use their names and logos in the comics, instead of masking them in the comic’s usual practice. (“Hey, gang, let’s head to Cavern on the Spleen!”) “Archie has been around since 1941, and it has never really featured brand names much at all,” Lifson explained. “What I’m doing is very very different. But I’m being selective — I’m not turning Archie into an advertising bonanza.” He listed Nike, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and London’s Dorchester Hotel as brands that have been or will be featured in comics soon. Next spring, Veronica is going to get an internship at Page 6 under Richard Johnson.
To be honest, this strategy seems totally bizarre to me, and as a longtime Archie reader I’m a little sad to see it cluttered up with brand names. But maybe I don’t understand Archie’s target demographic.
I also spoke with Shelley Clark, Tavern on the Green’s spokeswoman. She explained the collaboration between the the restaurant beloved by 50-something tourists and the cartoon beloved by 9-year-old girls. “We collaborated to the degree that we sent him menus,” she said. “And they sent the script by us before it was published.” The restaurant was pleased with the results, and they’ll be selling this particular comic in the restaurant’s gift shop. Synergy! (Clark also confirmed Lifson’s assertion that restaurant did not pay for the placement.)
Anyway, back to the Archies in New York. While eating lunch at the world-famous, “dee-lish” hotspot, they spy billionaire “Donald Stump” and the plot seems about to regain its footing. Soon the Archies appear on TV, meet their fan club, and play a concert in Central Park. Oh, and they also meet gossip columnist Liz Smith:
Whoops! Liz Smith’s column in the New York Post was cancelled in February. Between that and Tavern on the Green’s rough week, the conclusion is clear: Archie Andrews is cursed, and everything he touches goes to hell.