Well, Western civilization, you’ve had some pretty good moments — “Canterbury Tales,” Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, “Huckleberry Finn,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” — but you can just about hang it up. I just have one more assignment for you: “The Complete Archie Comics.” Do it. Publish it. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. If “Family Circus: The Complete Comics From the Beginning” is something that insists on existing, you can certainly throw Archie fans a bone.
In the meantime, we have a new exhibit called “The Art of Archie Comics” at New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.
I went to see the exhibit over Thanksgiving weekend. The overall tone is of curator-as-fanboy, and the wall text assumes a LOT of prior Archie knowledge, but that, uh, didn’t exactly prevent from me enjoying it. In a small room on the 4th floor of an office building on lower Broadway, I could finally see the lifespan so far of that redheaded teenager Archie Andrews, as seen through a few dozen enlarged comic-book pages. A typical Double Digest comic book includes comics from many eras, but it’s rare to see them identified by date and put in any kind of order.
Anyway, the exhibit also features the side characters that orbit around Archie in Riverdale. There’s devious frenemy Reggie, hungry and oblivious Jughead, put-upon Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Beazley, and many, many more that I won’t bore you with by listing.
And of course, above all others: Betty Cooper, the blonde, smart, sporty girl next door, and Veronica Lodge, her rich, raven-haired rival. They’re best friends only until Archie arrives in the frame, at which point they tear each other’s hair out and make up insanely convoluted, cruel just lies to score a weekend date with him, and this is a guy that can never afford gas money and is really not bringing too much to the table conversation-wise. (I don’t know if I’ll let my imaginary future daughter read this stuff.)
Archie himself, let’s face it, is a little boring. He’s the same dim-witted, good-natured, perpetually charmed guy in 2009 as he was 60 years ago. The only thing that evolves is the scrubbed-clean culture fizzing faintly around him. ’50s Archie — who feels most authentic to me — sips sodas in Pop Tate’s hamburger joint. ’60s Archie piggybacks on Gidget’s popularity and heads to the beach. (Betty sports pigtails during this era, in apparent imitation of Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island.”). The ’70s introduces Chuck, Archie’s first black friend. Etc.
Archie is always a little behind, but he does his best to keep up. He’ll never be the most interesting element in his universe — clearly, Betty and Veronica share that role — but he means well, he keeps at it. He’ll never scrounge together enough gas money for the jalopy. He’ll never stay out of trouble with Mr. Weatherbee. He’ll never even decide between Veronica and Betty. Despite all the recent media attention paid to his “proposal” to Veronica, it turns out that was essentially a dream sequence; we’re soon to see him propose to Betty, too, and then things will return back to normal in Riverdale. It’s that “normal” that’s Archie’s ultimate charm, if he has one. Maybe that’s why his more compelling pals and gals have stuck around for lo these many years.
But it’s hard to say for sure without “The Complete Archie Comics.” So, please, world (specifically, Victor Gorelick, editor in chief of Archie Comic Publications in Mamaroneck, NY): Make. It. Happen.