Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Archie Comics: We will feature no fad before its time

Comic book creators have a reputation for trying to be "hip," "with-it", and "up-to-date" with the "kids," even though for much of the 1960s through 1980 they were written by guys in their forties, fifties, and sixties. Once upon a time in the golden age, young men ruled the comics world, thus ensuring up-to-the-minute topical references like Captain America punching Hitler in March 1941, Sub-Mariner storming the beaches of France in 1943, and Superman destroying Chernobyl in '45. And we all remember Green Lantern/Tommy Dorsey Team-Up, right? But the older these creators got, the weaker their pulse on the youth of America. Disco, that stand-by of the 1970s, inspired The Disco Dazzler, whose slightly less topical title premiered in a comic cover-dated March 1981. Break-dancing? Popular for a few years, sure. Not popular by the time Vibe debuted in Justice League of America. Certainly not popular now that Vibe has become a resurrected White Lantern and set for a new series this fall by by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

Even tho' Spider-Man and Batman were fighting villains the Hula Hoop and The Polyester Suit in the 1990s, Marvel and DC have since made a more firm attempt to keep their stories less rooted in contemporary references, instead choosing to tie their stories to celebrities and events that will never go out of style, like Stephen Colbert, Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible, and that time Bob Dole and Al Gore had a fist-fight in the middle of New York that only stopped when Gore realized how many buildings he'd knocked down and burst into tears. But it's generally perceived that if you're looking for out-of-date, long-past fads, interests, references and pop culture, you only have to look as far on the comic book rack as the section that stocks the approximately one bajillion Archie Comics published every month. Archie has a solid reputation as the publisher so out of touch with the youth trends of today that they published a story about cup-stacking in 2007...17 years after it became a hit after being performed on The Tonight Show. Not the one with Conan, not the one with Leno. The one with Carson.

But is this reputation deserved? As America's number one publisher of comics featuring fresh, cheery, enthusiastic, perpetually horny yet celibate teenagers, is Archie really that out of touch with contemporary culture? How close are their stories to the actual events that inspired them?

Let's find out, shall we? I took a completely random sampling (and you can't prove otherwise) of various Archie Comics to see how up-to-date they were with trends, fashions, and fads. Keep in mind that comics are cover-dated about three months ahead of their availability to the public, and have a writing and lead time of several months before that publication. Also, remember that there may be a time lapse between the debut of a phenomenon and its acceptance as a genuine, honest-to-Furby fad or craze by the American public. So I'd consider any difference of 12 months or fewer pretty good; any of six months or so would be exceptional.

So: Archie Comics: as with it as Veronica's bikinis or as out of date as Jughead's hat? Let's find out!

Veronica #154: cover-dated October 2004
TV series The Apprentice premieres: January 2004
Difference: 9 months

Betty and Me #137: cover-dated January 1984
Film Flashdance premieres: April 1983
Difference: 9 months

Archie's Girl's Betty & Veronica #112: cover-dated April 1965
TV series Mr. Novak premieres: September 1963
Difference: 19 months

Jughead #141: cover-dated February 1967
TV series Batman premieres: January 1966
Difference: 13 months

Archie's Pals 'n' Gals #86: cover-dated July 1974
"The Battle of the Sexes" Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King tennis match: September 1973
Difference: 10 months

Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #123: cover-dated March 1966
Ringo Starr marries Maureen Cox: February 1965
Difference: 13 months

Pep #166: cover-dated October 1963 (received in stores in August 1963)
TV series Sing Along with Mitch premieres: September 1961
Difference: 25 months

Betty and Veronica #156: cover-dated February 2001
Film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery premieres: May 1997
Difference: 46 months

Betty and Me #8: cover-dated June 1967
Rise in popularity of "canned dresses" (according to this Life magazine article): November 1966
Difference: 7 months

Archie's T.V. Laugh-Out #104: cover-dated December 1985
TV series Miami Vice premieres: September 1984
Difference: 15 months

Not to mention: Archie's TV Laugh-Out #1: December 1969. TV series Laugh-in premieres: January 1968. Difference: 23 months.

Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #67: cover-dated July 1961
John F. Kennedy announces his candidacy in January 1960, inaugurated January 1961
Difference: 6 to 18 months

Archie and Me #6: cover-dated February 1966
TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premieres: September 1964
Difference: 17 months

Jughead #92: cover-dated May 1997
Gregor Mendel publishes his paper Experiments on Plant Hybridization: 1865
Difference: 1,584 months

Veronica #5: cover-dated December 1989
The Taj Mahal's construction finishes: 1653
Difference: 4,032 months

Archie at Riverdale High #97: cover-dated June 1984
Rome burns: AD 64
Difference: 23,040 months

Archie 3000 #1: cover-dated May 1989
The year 3000: 3000
Difference: Minus 12,132 months

Archie's Pals 'n' Gals Double Digest #143: cover-dated November 2010
Archies release their hit single "Sugar Sugar": July 1969
Difference: 503 months

Archie #583: cover-dated May 2008
Issue of Betty in Veronica's hands published: apparently, this morning
Difference: Pretty darn near none

So, there you go. Some long, some short gaps between event and Archie Comic. But on the most part, I'm actually more impressed than I expected. Archie Comics tend to keep the generation gap to a pretty reasonable minimum, and anyway, aren't the adventures and travails of Arch, Jug, Reggie, Betty, Ronnie, Hot Dog and the gang pretty near timeless? Sure, we're all faced with trying to determine the canonicity of Reggie serving in Vietnam and that time Big Moose spent a year in Bio-Dome, but hey, let's look at next month's Archie. Why, I bet it's as fresh and up-to-date as today's headlines...

Archie's Pal JFK

Oh, for cryin' out loud.


Unknown said...

You forgot one: I saw an issue on the newsstands sometime this year where they were playing Wii on the cover. Late to the party as usual, Archie.

Das Übernerd said...

Bully, those people on the Roman cover are clearly visigoths placing that cover on (ready for a shocking coincidence?) August 24, 410 precisely 1600 years before your post! (bum Bum BUUUUM!!)

Hang on, I had a point before I got lost on freakish coincidences.

So giving Archie back three months for newsstand cover dating, and one more month for the switch from Julian to Gregorian calendars that Archie cover is only 18883 months out of date. Someone owes the good people at Archie comics an apology.

Anonymous said...

And, amazingly enough, it looks like Jughead's beanie was quite contemporaneous as well: http://bit.ly/JugheadsHat

-- MrJM

GamerGuy said...

6-12 months is indeed a pretty good reaction time. Considering that Marvel and DC feature heroes tied to specific concepts (Night Thrasher, I'm looking at you) or styles (Superboy's original fade haircut, or Earth Man's mutton chops) 5-6 /years/ after the fad has bottomed out, Archie comes out looking like a rose.

Jack said...

"and that time Bob Dole and Al Gore had a fist-fight in the middle of New York that only stopped when Gore realized how many buildings he'd knocked down and burst into tears."

while the whole post is a work of genius, this caught me by total surprise and made me laugh harder than I have in ages. Well done, Bully.

Eric Lyden said...

In the mid 80's Archie comics featured a series of strips starring Glenn Scarpelli. This was years after ONE DAY AT A TIME got cancelled and Glenn was not exactly at the top of the pop culture food chain. I didn't get it until i nopticed the strips were created by a fellow named Henry Scarpelli.

Andrew Leal said...

What really dated "Archie 3000" (though they were wise to set it more than one thousand years in the future, compared to those Jetsons and other sci-fi tales which occasionally mention 2005 or whatever) was the hair. Well, it's either dated or a dire prediction of things to come: that in the future, all males will have mullets, apart from the occasional mohawk/unfathomly big hair with faded sides.

Also, "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E" launched in September 1966, so it's just *mildly* possible the cover is anticipating the fall season (not the mention of "shows" plural). I'm trying to figure out when the first "Man from RIVERDALE" story came out though.

Unknown said...

I'm surprised too that most of the bandwagon-jumping was actually not too far off. But as you said, Archie itself *beats* any fad in terms of length- they are still recognizable American culture icons over half a century after their creation. How many characters can boast that?

Also, given that Archie lives in a limbo that makes Marvel and DC characters look utterly progressive in comparison, you can't blame the writers from using *ANYTHING* they could to come up with their stories. It isn't like the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle was EVER going to get resolved.

Btw- CANNED DRESSES? Now there's a fad I never heard of! O_O

Anonymous said...

Oh I thought that Jughead cover was an homage to Showgirls circa 1995.

Anonymous said...

What would be equally, if not even more interesting is to find out how quickly after these stories came out did those fads fade? For instance, how much longer was Miami Vice on the air after Archie's T.V. Laugh Out #104 came out?