Do you remember Archie comics? I can’t remember a time when they weren’t around. The first Archie comic was published in…1944. I have, until recently only read a couple of them, but the characters — Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, and Midge — were of a type with which any high school student could readily identify. I always skipped over Archie titles, moving quickly to The Flash, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, Tales of Suspense (which introduced Iron Man), Daredevil, and Justice League of America, to name but a few. I continued to read and collect comics for four decades, giving it up in 2000 when it seemed as if the plots were beginning to repeat themselves and my collection was becoming more of an accumulation. The new move toward digital comics didn’t bring me back to the fold, either, despite some attempt to update and “modernize” the titles I used to love. I also peripherally noted, from a seat on the sidelines in the peanut gallery, that the Archie books tried an update or two — Archie at one point had to choose between Betty and Veronica, among other things — which didn’t really sit well with the old fans or bring in any new ones on a long term or permanent basis.
I thought I had bought or read my last comic book until a lifelong friend of mine, a 64 year-old fan boy, brought a new Archie series to my attention. It’s Afterlife with Archie, and you besides being a really good comic book, it contains a lesson for writers, published and otherwise. The Archie characters we all know are basically the same; Jughead isn’t a rocket scientist; Reggie is still kind of a d.b.; Moose is still athletically inclined to the exclusion of his intellect; and Archie, Betty, and Veronica are still caught in that love triangle of several decades. The story, however, is much, much darker. It begins when Jughead’s loyal pet Hot Dog is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Jughead takes Hot Dog to Sabrina, the teenage witch, who brings Hot Dog back to life with a spell. Hilarity ensues. Not really. Hot Dog is…different now. The resurrected Hot Dog bites someone — something that the Hot Dog we know would never do — turning them into a zombie, and within a few pages the town of Riverdale is a very, very different place. Yes, the story does tip its fedora to PET SEMATARY by Stephen King, but only a bit. There there are enough twists and turns to keep even the oldest and most jaded comic reader (me, for one) interested. The art, which is less cartoony than what you might be used to, is inked in dark shades to match the mood of the storyline, which spirals ever deliciously downward. The series is a huge hit; it takes place outside of the regular Archie universe and within its own unsettling continuity. Each issue is selling out at the comic book stores either in spite of that or because of it. Or both.
What does this mean for you or for me? I daresay that every one of us who has ever attempted to put story to page has any number of abandoned efforts on files languishing on hard drives (or in paper file folders) that are based upon good or even great ideas but somehow failed in the execution or otherwise died aborning. What I would like for you to do — and what I am going to do myself — is take one of those efforts and dramatically change one thing, and only one thing, within it. Everything wild that happens in Afterlife with Archie proceeds from one element that differs from the series proper: Hot Dog BITES someone. Chomp. It changes everything. So go ahead. Take that nice woman in your story and turn her into a killer. Or how about that ten year old boy who got kidnapped in your Chapter One? Make your kidnapper wish they had taken anyone but him. Try it, and see how that old, forgotten project works. And tell us: have you tried this before? How did it work for you?
What a novel idea, Joseph. Thank you.
Thank you and good morning, Jordan. And you’re welcome! Hope you can use it.
I’m thinking of creating a dartboard of character traits & plot twists. I like the random unfiltered notion of a dart making the decision. Now all I have to do is HIT THE BOARD.
I think you have a point there, Jordan…
You could easily sell that dartboard! That’s much better than putting character traits and plot twists on cards and dumping the lot into a box. At least the dartboard requires some skill. Eh?
I’ll beta test the dartboard for you!
I was addicted to Love comics as a teenager. It would be fun to see them reworked as Fatal Attractions. Great idea! ( By the way, who did Archie wind up with? I was always rooting for Veronica, but I’m sure she’d dump him in the end!)
Kathryn, the story of the wedding — which was described as an imaginary story taking place in the future — was told over six issues, with the first three showing Archie marrying Veronica and the the last three showing nuptials between Archie and Betty. It was originally announced that Archie would marry Veronica and the fans went apenuts, apparently prompting the two different storylines.
BTW, “Afterlife with Archie” contains a nod and a wink to Archie’s seven decades of indecision.
Yeah, Veronica was a bit of a spoiled brat. 🙂
That was only one of her positive attributes, Kathryn 🙂
Oh man, I loved Archie comics (though not as much as Classics Illustrated)…and this twisted new version sounds like an absolute hoot.
Great idea, Joe, about taking some dusty old concept and turning it on its head. I’ll give it some thought!
Thanks, Jim. I would have figured you for a “Star-Spangled War Stories” guy. My brother and I devoured those “War That Time Forgot” stories. Also Gunner & Sarge and Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos. Those were the days!
Sure, put a twist on your character.
But Archie meets Zombieland? Maybe the target market is juvenile. Why not bring back Beavis and Buttehead as Zombies.
Actually, Anon, the target market is a few years older than their usual tween-teen readers. You might want to try an issue or two to see how the writers and artists have put the characters closer to our world, zombies notwithstanding. And you might be onto something with your Beavis/Butthead idea, if it was done right.
I remember the strip, sort of. But what I have never forgotten was some sendup or parody–maybe in MAD Magazine–that showed Jughead’s closet. All it contained were seven identical taupe-colored sweatshirts, one for each day of the week. It was a childhood revelation to me: Jughead and all cartoon characters were allowed just one outfit. Day in, day out–almost certainly night in and night out as well–, always the same clothes. And so began a 50s-era suburban white boy’s sense of injustice!
Barry, I remember that in MAD. I think it was called “Starchie,” was it not? They did a similar send up of the “Li’l’ Orphan Annie” strip, with a closet full of the same dress that Annie always wore, year in and year out. Arf!
MAD magazine of the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s was a groundbreaking humor vehicle. Irreverent, clever, often hilarious yet never unseemly. Quite the collection of talent and wit! Thanks for prompting my recall (and smile).
Tom, I can remember that the magazine sections of drug stores, newsstands, etc. would get a huge stack of the new issue and sell out more often than not. The current product is like a poorly mimeographed reproduction of it’s former self. We have the classic set on CD-ROM ( from the early 1950s through most of 1998!) and still read them.
I know people with only one set of clothes. Jeez. I better find a mirror. I could be one of them. Okay, back to shoveling snow. Basil, you can turn the fan off anytime now. Thanks.
I’m color blind, Jim, and until Men’s Warehouse starts carrying Granimals for Gentlemen, I’ll be stuck with black pants and Hawaiian shirts.
I’ll be out there shoveling with you tomorrow, btw.
Jim and Joe–
Yes, back to shoveling. More of it this year in lower Michigan than at any time since the beginning of the 20th century. As for personal style, I have named my own “geezer seedy.” You combine clothes long out of fashion from your own wardrobe with more recent items acquired at resale shops. I’m told the effect is jaunty, sad or wistful, depending on the lighting.
Hey Barry, I like that “geezer seedy,” although with my wardrobe nothing ever goes out of fashion. Got a leisure suit you don’t need?
Although I’m definitely in the leisure-suit demographic, somehow I managed to dodge that bullet.