Debuting last fall, The Art of Betty and Veronica was something new for Archie Comics: It was the first time the 74-year-old company had released a deluxe art book under its own imprint, rather than licensing it to other publishers such as IDW or Dark Horse. Compiled by Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick and writer and comics historian Craig Yoe, the book takes a decade-by-decade look at the two leading ladies of Riverdale.
Gorelick and Yoe are already at work on their next book, The Art of Archie: The Covers, and they're taking suggestions from fans on what covers to include. You can go to the Archie forums here if you have a cover to submit—or to look at some of the ones that readers have already uploaded.
I talked to Gorelick and Yoe about their collaboration, Gorelick's 54 years at Archie Comics, the importance of creators, and the new book.
Robot 6: Victor, how did you start with Archie?
Victor: I came in working in the art department, right out of high school; I went to the School of Art and Design, and one of the production people had graduated from that school the year before and they needed a production assistant in the art department to replace Dexter Taylor — he was going to be drawing Little Archie along with Bob Bolling, so he was going freelance, and they needed someone on staff, so they contacted the school, and they sent up a few people from my cartooning class, including myself, for interviews, and I got the job. And the rest is history.
What sort of work did you do at the beginning?
Victor: I was doing a lot of corrections; I thought of doing some freelance work besides. On staff I was taking cleavages out of Katy Keene artwork. The Comics Code Authority were very strict. They didn't want to show that, they didn't want to show navels on girls. That was one of my first assignments. I learned the business from working there. I was working with the artists who come in every week and would bring their work in; I would check in their work. And then I started putting the books together and one thing led to another. Around 1983 or 1984 the two sons took over the company and made me the managing editor and then later on I became the editor in chief, but I still take cleavages out now and then. I go into the art department and start scratching them out.
Your previous volumes had different themes, but this is the first one I can think of that featured particular characters. Why Betty and Veronica?
Craig: The big history book was called Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenagers, so it focused on the whole gang, but Betty and Veronica are the sizzle around Archie's steak.
Victor: Betty and Veronica are really very popular. All our Betty and Veronica books do very well, and most of our readers—actually not that many more, but I'd say it's maybe a 60-40 split between girls and boys, and who's going to attract the readers better for our first book than Betty and Veronica?
Craig: To riff on a popular phrase, I think boys want them and girls want to be them. So I think Betty and Veronica are popular with both the young men and the young women who are reading Archie comics.
That's kind of the inverse of the conventional wisdom about children's books, that girls will read books that have boys as the main characters but boys won't read books about girls.
Craig: Betty and Veronica have always kind of been in that gray area — the characters are very wholesome, but they are sexy at the same time. I don't think boys want to read about Strawberry Shortcake, but I don't think they mind reading about Betty and Veronica. When I was a young boy — 8, 10, 12 — I didn't have a girlfriend but I was starting to imagine what that might be like, as I headed to junior high and high school, and by reading the Archie comics I was picking up clues and hoping it would be like having Betty and Veronica vying for my affections.
Victor: The boys will read Betty and Veronica, the girls will read the Archie and Jughead books — I think with Archie it's the whole atmosphere of Riverdale, they just want to go there and experience the lives of Archie and his friends.
How do you compile a book like this? Do you sit down and read every comic?
Victor: The first thing we did was we decided to do it by decades.
Craig: You make it sound like we had a beautiful working relationship. Victor had to drag me kicking and screaming to do the decades thing. I guess he has proven time and again over 54 years he was right. It was definitely the right way to go.
How would you have done it?
Craig: I don't remember what kind of crazy thing I was thinking but I guess I'm a contrarian, a bit of a rebel, and it seemed like the decade thing was the obvious, natural thing to do so I wanted to right out of the box dismiss it. But sometimes the more obvious things are the right way to go. It did turn out to be a really good way to tell a story, and the characters have so much reflected the different decades with their attitudes and their fashions and their beliefs and storylines that it really worked nicely. We're not only seeing the lives of Betty and Veronica in those characters but we are seeing the life of our culture in America from 1940 to the present by following the girls. It's really nice that way. Thank you, Victor.
Victor: When Archie first came out in 1941, this was the start of America going into World War II, all these boys going overseas to fight, and Archie was very popular with the servicemen.
Craig: Many of them weren’t much older than Archie. I think more comic books were sold in the PXs to the soldiers than were sold at home to the kids in the candy stores and the newsstands. The army bases used to be phenomenal outlets for comics because of Archie.
Victor: A lot of them came from towns just like Riverdale with a malt shop, a chocolate shop where they could hang out, and this was their connection. They could read an Archie comic book and just go there.
Craig: They were also reading Captain America and The Shield, who preceded Archie and who were fighting Hitler even before the U.S. declared war, but I think they could only take so much of that, and they also needed to remember what they were fighting for, which was for Riverdale and Archie and Betty and Veronica. I think they needed that entertainment and relief.
One of the most remarkable comics in the book is Irv Novick's Betty and Veronica story, which is done in a very different style from the usual Archie look.
Craig: I have to thank my friend Steven Thompson for pointing that out to me. That one is so incredible—it has the 40s fashions and 40s swimsuits, the opening splash page—it's like a World War II pinup.
Victor: I didn't have any idea Irv Novick did Betty and Veronica. I knew he did Black Hood and superheroes, but I never knew he did a Betty and Veronica story until Craig pointed it out to me.
How did you select the stories for this book?
Craig: Archie has a complete collection of bound volumes of all of their comics, so we went through all the books, and we talked to some fans. We have different kinds of stories, around fashion, around cultural things like women's lib, stories about the artists, and kind of meta stories, which I have a soft spot for. We not only wanted to tell a story about the culture and its changes through the characters, but we wanted to be entertaining first and foremost, so we were looking for stories that were funny and unusual and especially well drawn. And I think during the process we would run across a lot of stories that have the girls in sexy swimsuits, starting with the Irv Novick story.
Victor: We wanted to have a lot of material in the book to focus in on the artists, give a bit of background on who they were as well as the periods these stories were published. It was a long process. It took us a year to get that book from beginning to end.
Craig: It's a lot of editing and back and forth and trying to find a good balance, not have too much of one story or one artist. Certainly Dan DeCarlo dominated in many ways, because he was the main artist on Betty and Veronica's own title, so there is a lot of Dan DeCarlo, but we tried to also nicely represent the many other talents involved, like Harry Lucey, who is really starting to get his due. And I keep pushing for the original stylist, Bob Montana. I think he was brilliant. He went to the war, came back, and started to do [newspaper] strips, so he didn't do as many comic books. Dan [DeCarlo] told me how much he admired and emulated Montana, and I said "I do too," and at that point Dan took an original Montana strip he had had for decades pinned up over his drawing table and insisted I take it. He had probably memorized every line. Early on [Montana's art] was kind of roughshod, but he quickly became brilliant and drew the girls so beautifully.
Victor: The other thing is you get to see how the artists' artwork changed over the years. When Montana started out he was a teenager, then he went into the army. So did Dan DeCarlo, Sam Schwartz, all those artists were overseas, and you had a couple holding up the company, like Bill Vigoda—he was 4F.
Craig: I wouldn't call Sam Schwartz the one who delineated the girls the best, but he was funny. I think Victor will tell us he was funny in person. They mostly put him on Jughead, but when he was doing Betty and Veronica the stories were a hoot.
The hardest part of compiling a book like this is often figuring out what to leave out. Was there anything you wish you could have included?
Craig: The best stuff we had to leave out, because none of it has survived, was from Harry Lucey: He used to draw the girls without clothes. On the first page he would draw an outfit so the inker would know what the costumes were supposed to look like, but after that the pencils would be nude.
Every once in a while we had something in there that we thought was great, and then we found something that trumped it. At the beginning of each decade chapter we tried to have a cover that best represented that chapter. That process of trying to narrow it down — this cover represents this decade — it was very interesting to make those final decisions. The 1960s started pretty benign and all of a sudden they really got crazy, in good and bad ways, so to find a cover that represents the '60s, you don't want to do a more mundane one but one that represents the end of the '60s.
Victor: The Archie characters didn't really become hippies. We kept with the fashions, but Archie didn't have hair down to his waist.
Craig: When I worked for Jim Henson and the Muppets, he taught me that Kermit was one of the least interesting of the characters. He had these really interesting characters around him. It was the same with Pogo, and with Archie in some ways — this isn’t the company line, but Archie is in some ways the least interesting of the characters. So we have Betty and Veronica, the rich girl and the hot blond car mechanic, and the pal who has a crazy crown hat and has a thing for hamburgers.
None of the characters seem to become hippies, but they were kind of observing the hippies
Victor: We had some stories where they were protesting about the environment.
Craig: I think, getting back to the history of Archie Comics, the management at that time was pretty conservative.
Craig: It's much less so now. Before, it was kind of like the suits were in charge, but now with Jon Goldwater so creative and so respectful of creative people, I think creativity is really ruling in a big way now at Archie. We might have seen a different 1960s Archie.
Victor: Back in those days we had the Comics Code Authority. We had to put out a product that parents are comfortable with. That's one thing that has to be kept in mind. A lot of the Archie books that were bought were bought by parents, and still are, especially the digests at the checkout. You realize that so many generations read Archie comics in their lifetime, and when they buy something for their kids they want to buy something that is a good, clean, wholesome comic.
I understand you have a new book in the works?
Victor: We are working feverishly on the next book, The Art of Archie: The Covers. We are going to ask some of our readers to write in and tell us some of the covers they would like to see in the book.
Craig: In some ways, doing it by decades, the stories for Betty and Veronica became obvious, but there are so many great covers it is hard to choose. It will be great to have fans help us in this momentous task.
Victor: There are some critical covers. When Archie first appeared, he wasn't on the cover at all.
Craig: Those covers are going to be more obvious to us. I think it was the covers beyond that that we need to choose to make for a great book and round it all out where the fans might be helpful. I think it will be really great to reach out to the fans and makes ure we don't overlook some hidden gems.
Will the book be strictly covers?
Victor: There will be a little bit of history there too. We will talk about some of the covers and some of the artists as well.
In the past, Archie Comics has been criticized for not giving enough credit to creators. The Art of Betty and Veronica put a lot of focus on individual creators — is that deliberate?
Craig: That was one of the reasons we chose some of the stories, which belies the notion that Archie never gave creators credit—we have stories about Dan DeCarlo in the Betty and Veronica book. The books I do are more about the cartoonists than the characters, or at least they are equal. I have always been anxious to talk about the creators. Right up front in the Betty and Veronica book we had photos of the main Archie artists. These were the brilliant characters behind Archie and Betty and Veronica.
Victor: It was important that you learn about the artists.
Craig: In the big Archie history book we did before that we had a big chapter. A lot of the books Archie is a part of these days have an emphasis on the different artists.
Victor: The thinking at the office, as far as the creators, they all get credits. Even for the digest books we go back and find the credit and put it in. Certainly all our new artists get credit for all they do. Jon Goldwater is very pro artists and writers.
Craig: From the first day I met him, I was so impressed with Jon with that. He values highly creative people and he knows that's what makes all this happen. He is the most creator-friendly person I have ever met. And thankfully we've got Victor there who can look at a cover or a story page and go "Dan DeCarlo drew this part, and Sam Schwartz drew the blades of grass, and Harry Lucey inked the flowerpot." And then he goes, "and then I lettered that page." He's brilliant in that way.
Victor: Occasionally I come across somebody who stumps me.
Craig: I had to tell him about Irv Novick, but that was before his time. He knows intimately in total recall the 54-year history he has been part of.
Victor and I really enjoy being a two-man team on these books. Of course we have a very good support staff, but we do have a kind of yin-yang thing, with different interests, focuses, and viewpoints, so we are two halves of a whole. It's been really fun working with Victor.
Victor: It's really fun working with Craig. I learned a lot from him.
Craig: The idea that I could have taught you anything, Victor, is ludicrous.
Victor: I consider Craig a good friend, and he was right from the beginning. We were working and I was in the hospital, and he came to work on that book with me.
Craig: I told the doctors to make sure to keep Victor healthy so he could do the book. It was purely selfish: I didn't want to do the book myself!