The Art of Betty and VeronicaEdited by Victor Gorelick and Craig YoeArchie Books, $29.99
It won't take more than an hour or so to read The Art of Betty and Veronica cover to cover, but it will be a pleasurable hour. And to be honest, it's not quite as light a read as I expected.
Archie Comics has been criticized in the past for not giving credit to artists and writers, and this book goes a ways toward correcting that. Victor Gorelick, who started at Archie Comics in 1958, kicks things off with an essay about the Archie artists he has met during his tenure, giving a bit of personal insight into each one. There's also a two-page spread with photos of them, which is another nice touch. I like being able to put a face to the name (although Bob Montana is somewhat obscured in his photo).
The heart of the book, though, is a decade-by-decade look at Betty and Veronica, starting in the 1940s. Each section opens with a one-page essay about the times and the way they were reflected in the comics, the changes the characters went through, and the artists who were prominent in each era. That is followed by a generous sampling of covers, single-page features such as pin-ups and fashion pages, and complete stories, featuring the artists and themes just mentioned. There's a nice mix of original art, compete with corrections and notations, and finished pieces as they appeared in the comics.
It's Archie, so nothing gets too deep, but by the end of the book I felt that I had a good understanding of the arc that Betty and Veronica followed over the years, as well as a visual sense for each of the major contributors. Everybody knows about Bob Montana and Dan DeCarlo, but seeing their art side by side with that of Bob Vigoda, Harry Lucey and the other Archie artists helped illuminate the similarities and differences in their styles. And there were some charming surprises, such as the 1940s-era story by Irv Novick, which features a very adult-looking Betty and Veronica; Novick usually drew adventure comics, and it's fascinating to see that style applied to a very silly B&V story. I also enjoyed reading how Dan DeCarlo drew Betty differently from Veronica.
This is first and foremost an art book, and it is beautifully produced, with oversized pages, nice paper, and an elegant white cover that sports both foil and spot gloss. As with all Yoe's books, there are plenty of extras, including an introduction by current Archie Co-CEO Jon Goldwater and separate features on both girls.
This isn't a documentary history so much as a broad overview of both characters; there's a serious history book to be written about Archie Comics someday, but this isn't it. But it isn't mere eye candy, either. It's a nice visual chronicle of the evolution of two iconic characters as well as the creators who helped shape them over the years. And the fact that it's easy on the eyes is a nice plus.