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Author Topic: Bart Beaty's TWELVE-CENT ARCHIE  (Read 801 times)

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DeCarlo Rules

Re: Bart Beaty's TWELVE-CENT ARCHIE
« on: September 11, 2017, 03:35:19 AM »
My own analysis of the history of Archie Comics indicates that attempting to slice the company's history into decades doesn't present the best approach to understanding the evolution of change in its publishing history. All the natural landmarks along the road point to an approach by which a better understanding of the company can be had by looking at it in chunks beginning in the middle of one decade, and ending in the middle of the following one.

1939-1945: Pre-war and WWII - In this period, the company was not yet defined by Archie as the dominant character and force behind its publishing. Archie appears first as an anthology feature in the otherwise superhero-dominated titles Pep and Jackpot and receives his own title in 1943, but the majority of the company's output is still dominated by adventure features. Also in 1943, the company branches out with media adaptations of two of its most popular characters, with the radio series The Adventures of Archie Andrews, and The Black Hood. The former is a success and will continue running on one network or another for a decade, while the latter is a failure and lasts a single season. A pulp fiction magazine based on the Black Hood is also published to coincide with the radio series, but it too is a failure, lasting for only three issues. The success of Archie in his own self-titled comic book and as a radio series will decide the future direction of the company, with the shift from superheroes to comedy features in the anthology titles beginning almost as soon as the Black Hood's failure in other media becomes apparent, and will be largely complete by the end of the war. In actuality, the shift had begun even earlier, with the conversion of Top-Notch Comics (in which The Black Hood was the lead feature) to Top-Notch Laugh Comics (which continued to retain The Black Hood, but as a subordinate feature to other comedy features), beginning with issue #28, dated July 1942. Top-Notch Laugh Comics will end with issue #45 in May of 1945. Black Hood (the company's most successful superhero, along with The Shield) will outlive Top-Notch Laugh Comics in his own title, but only until issue #19 (June 1946).

1946-1955: Postwar Period - Superheroes are out of favor following the end of WWII, and comedy features (with ARCHIE as the flagship title) dominate the publisher's philosophy. "MLJ Magazines" is accordingly rechristened as "Archie Comic Publications" at the beginning of this period, and the Archie newspaper strip, launched early in 1946 under the sole creative control of Bob Montana, is the standard to which the comic book writers and artists look for their cues. In a very short time, the strip will be carried in hundreds of papers, exposing the character to audiences of millions not otherwise familiar with Archie in the comic books. This 10-year span also coincides with a boom period for the entire industry, with total industry sales peaking in the last couple of years prior to the institution of the Comics Code Authority seal on all comics distributed in 1955, indicating a sea-change for the entire industry. New titles spinning off from Archie begin proliferating at the end of the 1940s: Archie's Pal Jughead, Archie's Rival Reggie, Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica, and Archie's Pals 'n' Gals. Apart from the model established by Montana in the newspaper strip, no particular writers or artists on the Archie-related titles dominate the style or direction of the characters. By the end of this period, the erosion of sales will be heavily felt due to the rise of television as the dominant form of entertainment.

1956-1965: The Boomer Decade - Harry Lucey emerges as the major definer of Archie and his friends in the comic books, largely superseding Montana's conception as presented in the newspaper strip. Samm Schwartz does likewise in becoming the major artist defining Jughead as the star of his own series. At the beginning of the decade, Dan DeCarlo joins the company, at first moonlighting from his major employment at Atlas/Marvel, but by late in 1958 becoming a full-time freelancer at ACP. After that time, his importance in defining Betty and Veronica in their own title and as separate characters from Archie, gradually gains dominance over the Lucey conception of B&V at the beginning of this period. The importance of DeCarlo increases with the launch of Josie in 1963. Little Archie is conceived, written and drawn by Bob Bolling from 1956-1965, but is turned over to Dexter Taylor in 1965 in order to remake the low-selling title into something more closely resembling the main Archie title. Additional titles like Archie Giant Series, Archie's Madhouse, Archie's Joke Book, Jughead's Jokes, Life With Archie, and Archie and Me are launched and thrive. An attempted revival of Reggie in his own title is not successful, nor are other short-lived titles like Jughead's Fantasy. Samm Schwartz leaves Jughead and the company in 1965 to work for Harry Shorten at Tower Comics.

1966-1975: Everything's Archie - Beginning slightly earlier in 1965, there is a great deal of experimentation in response to the impact of cultural awareness of "camp" and "pop art", particularly resulting in the remaking of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Reggie into superheroes as Pureheart, Captain Hero, Superteen, and Evilheart. The success of Silver Age superheroes at DC, and especially at Marvel, had resulted in revamping The Adventures of the Fly (running since 1959) as Fly-Man, and the revival of several of the company's Golden Age superheroes, resulting in the spinoff title The Mighty Crusaders. "Camp" abounded in these titles and on Archie's covers for most of 1966. The rise in popularity of DC and Marvel superhero comics in the early 1960s will affect not only competing comic book publishers, but also the content of Saturday morning animated programming in the 1966-1967 seasons. History will repeat itself, in a way, just as the crime and horror comics of the early 1950s inspired a parental backlash, a small vocal minority of concerned mothers will begin a movement against action/adventure-dominated children's fare on television, resulting in Filmation animation producer Lou Scheimer turning to Archie Comics in his search for a source of program content of a more innocuous and inoffensive nature. Archie Comics benefited from an unexpected windfall as the brief sales boom in superhero comics subsided in 1968, and ACP's new direction would take its cues from the successful Saturday morning animated shows The Archie Show, followed by Sabrina the Teenage Witch and then Josie and the Pussycats. Dan DeCarlo is given the responsibility of cover artist for the entire Archie lineup at the end of the decade, signaling the domination of his style as "the" Archie style. New titles will again proliferate beginning in the late 1960s: Archie's TV Laugh-Out, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, That Wilkin Boy, and the conversion of Archie's Madhouse into The Madhouse Glads, and Josie into Josie and the Pussycats. The animated shows bring an influx of new readers to Archie Comics, and titles like Everything's Archie are added to capitalize on the pop chart success of The Archies. As the superhero craze on television dies down by 1968, sales on superhero comics dwindle after a brief boomlet, and Archie Comics experiences a new sales boom of its own in teen humor titles during this period, with Archie outselling even Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man, and character merchandising at an all-time high. Archie's success as a publisher will even inspire the creation of teen humor titles at rival publishers DC and Marvel, along with other publishers. The animated adaptations continue to morph into different variations from season to season, but remain ubiquitous on television in various combinations of new episodes and reruns, from 1968-1975. It is during this period, as the main protagonist of Betty and Me for ten years, that Betty Cooper gradually gains acknowledgment from Archie that he sees her as more than a friend and "back-up date" and that he actually harbors romantic feelings for her. While she still remains the underdog in her rivalry with Veronica, the "Triangle" has been truly established by the close of the period. Late in this period, the company will briefly experiment with horror comics (Madhouse, Chilling Tales of Sorcery) under the Red Circle imprint, after the Comics Code is revised in 1972 (they are not successful). In 1975, Bob Montana dies, and ACP turns responsibility for the important newspaper strip over to Dan DeCarlo.

1976-1986: Changing Times - Newsstand sales begin to shrink in this period, but the worst is yet to come in the next period. As the latter half of the 1970s draws to a close, the animated adaptations are producing far fewer new episodes and reruns move from the major networks to syndication on local UHF stations. The boom of the previous period has ended, and the early 1980s sees the cancellations of many long-running titles that began in the previous period: Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, That Wilkin Boy, Reggie and Me. By the end of the period that will include all of the legacy titles: Pep, Laugh, Madhouse, Archie's TV Laugh-Out, Betty and Me. The first series of Betty and Veronica and Jughead will come to an end, to be replaced by new #1 issues beginning in 1987 (Betty and Me will be replaced by Betty #1), with only Archie carrying on the legacy numbering. Digest comics will become the major success for ACP by the end of this period, and by the next period they will dominate over sales of standard-format comic books, with the number of digest titles proliferating. At the end of the previous period, newsstand sales were still the dominant method of distribution for comic books, but by the end of this period, the balance will have shifted to specialized comic book stores catering mainly to hardcore comic book fans. The resultant loss of mass distribution in regular retail establishments across the country will profoundly affect ACP, as comic book shops cater to a much smaller audience of older consumer-collectors whose main interest is in the superhero genre.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2017, 07:37:41 AM by DeCarlo Rules »

 


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