JournalismPakistan.com April 10, 2018
The first comic I read was Little Lulu. Then there was Tom and Jerry, and the Disney gang led by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Also popular was The Road Runner and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. And if comic strips were included, Peanuts and Snoopy would win hands down. Our comic collections were prized like bitcoins.
We had Air Ace comics and War Picture library editions, and in the post-Independence second decade, cowboys competed for pole position with pro-British and anti-Nazi World War II pictorials the size of little books. Since most of the material came from the UK, a popular weekly consignment contained Beano and Dandy magazines and the wars between Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson were a favorite.
The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Zorro were premium as were Tarzan and Superman, Batman and Spiderman ‘coms’, as we called them.
On the side was the ‘classic’ series like comics based on Shakespeare’s plays and books like Moby Dick and The Three Musketeers and Oliver Twist. I remember reading Macbeth in comic form before a school test and scoring a B+.
Fights over lending and borrowing, and never returning comics were the main cause of ending many school day friendships. ‘Dell’ was the brand to buy.
Then came Mad magazine followed by a surge of manic dedication to the Asterix and Tintin series. It was a world we loved because there was no TV, no video, only the cinema once in two weeks and also parents largely frowned at comics and admonished children to read Tom Brown’s Schooldays instead. There was little enthusiasm to let go, and comics were integral to the growing years.
But overwhelming them all was the Archies era. The creators of the world’s largest comic franchise had their fingers smack, right dab on the pulse of the baby boomer generation and the identity factor was intense. Everyone had a rich classmate like Reggie Mantle with his sense of entitlement. A zany off the way frizzy-haired buddy like Jughead, the heavy ‘Duh’ with his heart in the right place like Big Moose whose girlfriend (Midge) was out of bounds, period.
There was a Miss Grundy in our schools, and Mr. Weatherbee personified the hassled prince. We all knew a Big Ethel and the egghead class genius Dilton Doiley. But it was the eternal teenage love triangle of ‘fetch and carry’ Betty always coming in the underdog second and the spoilt Veronica with all her privileges, and off and on, Betty winning a round.
Just like Friends captured the imagination of the single apartment-sharing working crowd, Archie hit the right spot for the schoolgoers. We cheered him on, agonized over his flaws and errors in judgment and chose sides between Betty and Veronica.
There was also another reason why the Archie comic was such a big hit. Parents and teachers who were notoriously against comics, and saw them as a terrible detraction from good reading, could not fault the almost puritan values of Archie characters. They were squeaky clean and swerved up as examples of good conduct and better manners. Even the most suspicious who thought it would ruin their child’s language skills and Americanize him liked the moralistic ‘good guy wins’ end to the stories.
That for years the balance between entertainment and an ethical code of values still made a commercial success was an incredible creative feat.
The comics were followed by digests, thick ‘coms’ with those single page stories that we used as bookmarks to slow down reaching the end. Even the spinoffs were readable though they never got anywhere near the Archie series.
We grew out of them finally, and the series also got toppled by the invasion of the aliens, and the wizards and the podium were taken over by the Marvel heroes with pointy noses and pointy heads as they descended in their spaceships and created a whole new universe. From goblins to GoBots the party decor had changed, and Archie and his friends consigned to the pages of history.
Riverdale High School, so much like the ones we attended, is probably closed forever. But for millions of kids, what a term it was. And as the gap was filled with a different kind of visual, more violent and more bizarre Archie faded.
The richest comic franchise in the world did what made sense. They decided to kill Archie in an arguably heroic episode that brought the world of comics to a standstill with shock.
72 years after the character’s first appearance, in April 2014, Archie Comics announced that the adult Archie would be killed in the July 2014 issue (#36) of Life with Archie, while the teenage Archie would continue in the other Archie comic series titles. Archie dies when he is shot in the stomach while saving his friend, Senator Kevin Keller. The story is written to terminate both storylines, without committing to which girl Archie married, and contains several flashbacks to the Little Archie days. The final issue (#37) is set one year after Archie’s death. All his friends memorialize him, and Riverdale High School is officially renamed Archie Andrews High School in his honor. The story ends with Jughead, owner of the Choklit Shop, serving a sundae to three children who resemble Little Archie, Betty, and Veronica.
Maybe there is another series out there once the aliens have departed.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
Pakistan Observer, December 18, 2016