A visit to Bob Montana's hometown

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A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to Meredith, New Hampshire, for a quiet weekend Away From It All. I had never heard of Meredith before, but my last-minute search on Expedia turned up a little inn there that had a reasonable price and good ratings, so off we went.

I wasn't really expecting to have any comics experiences there, other than reading the stack I brought with me, but comics just seem to follow me around. We spent a pleasant hour in a bookstore in the center of town, and as we headed for the cash register, I noticed a biography of Bob Montana, the original artist for Archie. I grabbed it and added it to the stack, and the cashier said to me, "Did you know he lived here?" I didn't, but it turns out that he not only lived in Meredith for most of his adult life, he owned an art gallery that was just steps away from the bookstore (although according to the minutes of this January meeting of the Meredith Planning Board, it may not be there for much longer—a developer is planning to tear it down and replace it with a new structure).

The New England Life of Cartoonist Bob Montana turned out to be an interesting read. Montana's parents were vaudeville performers, and he grew up on the road, although they settled in Meredith for a short stretch. He went to high school in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and many of the Archie characters are based on real people he knew there. Later he bought a house in Meredith and not only raised his family there but was an active member of the community, taking part in local drama productions, filming a couple of movies, drawing program covers and editorial cartoons, campaigning against an unsightly development, helping plan the town's bicentennial, and running the local Easter Seals campaign. He also drew the people and places of Meredith into the Archie comic strip. The book includes photos of Montana and his neighbors as well as a good selection of his drawings; there are no Archie comics, but the Archie characters do appear in his sketches as well as the birth announcement of his son. Like many local histories, this is a bit of a hagiography—if anything negative ever happened, it didn't make it into the book—and it focuses strongly on Montana's life in Meredith, not his career as a cartoonist, but with those caveats in mind, it was still an engaging read and a good depiction of the personal life of someone who made a major contribution to American culture.

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