Thanks to Tony Isabella and his wonderful daily column ( http://www.wfcomics.com/tony ) I became the proud winner of a half-dozen Archie Comics.
First, a little background: As a wee lad, I can remember watching the Archie cartoon of the mid-1980s or so. That's really been my only exposure to the characters of Riverdale.
I went into this little experiment knowing the basics of the characters but not much more. I went in knowing little to nothing about the creative teams involved. (Is there one master of the form and creator of all, such as Carl Barks is for the Duck books? Is there one title that's more successful than the others? Are the digests nothing more than reformatted stories from the regular-sized editions?)
Quite honestly, I still don't know the answer to any of those questions. If anyone knows where I might find an Archie FAQ or something, I'd sure appreciate it. I'm curious.
The digests seem to be comprised more of older material and reprints. The regular format books seem to contain more new material.
There are several interesting things I took away from these comics.
The first is that they do reflect the teenagers of the day. This can be wonderfully nostalgiac and cute, such as in the strips I pegged for being done in the 1980s - decade of my childhood and fondest memories. At other times, it can be annoying. If I hear Veronica or Betty say "You go, girl" again I may scream. (Or were they just referring to each other as "girlfriend"? Either way I may scream.) So it does form a sort of history of American styles and pop culture. If and when they release the hardcover edition of ARCHIE COMICS IN THE 1980s, as they have done now for the previous 3 decades' worth of material, I'll be in line to buy my copy. (I think they're hardcover. I'm going by solicitations I remember seeing in PREVIEWS.)
Secondly, they're easy to read. This isn't a put-down. Comics come in all shapes and sized. When I pick up an Alan Moore title, for example, I know to set some time aside and pick a quiet place to read the book. I read these Archie comics while downloading files, waiting during commercial breaks in TV shows, and with the music on in the background. They're not over-written. They don't include tons of narration or dialogue or expository material. They're simple without being simplistic. Straight-forward stuff. I liked it.
Third, they're fun to read. In many cases, these stories are things that do happen to teenagers and that teenagers do go through, to one extent or another. While I'm happy to forget much of my teenage life in favor of the college years, it's still nice to relive some memories. Often they're cartoony and breezy and wistful. So what?
The stories are usually short. With only a couple of exceptions, most were done in four or five pages. Many were only a page or two. You can cram a lot of stories in a comic that way and make a reader feel like they got their money's worth.
Characters are cross-pollinated. Josie and the Pussycats will appear in a BETTY AND VERONICA title, for example, and Sabrina will show up in a digest starring Archie. These are just small tastes to introduce characters otherwise left alone by the reader. It's a nice short introduction to what else the line has to offer while stil being entertaining.
In many ways, these books are similar to the Duck books. Short stories. Done well. Collected together, both old and new. Many titles featuring the same characters, with just slightly different emphases depending on what the title's name is.
These books are also perfect for kids. Heck, they're geared for them. The letters columns are full of advice and hints for kids. The very form of the comic allows for placement at the checkout stand at the foodstore, allowing the kids to pester Mom for a comic book for behaving well while she shopped for the past hour and a half... (OK, maybe I'm projecting now.)
The females are beautiful and as sexy as can be in comics without being overt or perverted. There is no nippleage here. There are no gratuitous T&A shots, nor any conveniently-ripped clothing...
They're a lot of fun. Yes, they suffer from some things. For one, Archie Comics adhere strongly to the illusion of change. There is no actual change. Clothing styles change, but not the characters. You can bring in a little sister for Jughead or throw a monkey wrench in the works with Cheryl Blossom, but the same old, same old carries on. A little stability is fine, I imagine.
Do I, as a collector, want to carry on buying these books? I don't know. Despite all my raves here, I'm not sure if they're necessarily my thing. Maybe once in a while I'll take a look in. I do know that there is a lot of fun to be had. But for now I'll stick with my other regular reads, thanks.