Archibald "Archie" Andrews the earnest, goofy every-teen redhead boy—who mysteriously managed to date two of the most beautiful girls at Riverdale High—debuted in superhero-laden "Pep Comics" #22 in 1941. In the six-page "Introducing Archie" story, the freckled and buck-toothed Archie meets cute blond girl-next-door Betty Cooper and gets himself into a fix trying to impress her. Forsythe P. "Jughead" Jones III, wearing his crown-like beanie hat as a good-luck charm, also appeared as Archie's lazy and constantly hungry best friend, who generally walks around with his eyes closed. In the Archie installment in 1942's "Pep Comics" #26, a spoiled and vain brunette named Veronica Lodge arrives to split Archie's affection for her new best friend, Betty.
Archie was published by MLJ Comics, which started in 1939 producing superhero stories about characters like the Shield and the Hangman. The company derived its name from the first initials of the founders, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater. Goldwater developed the Archie concept with artist Bob Montana and writer Vic Bloom. The "Archie" characters were inspired by the Andy Hardy movie series (1937-1946) starring Mickey Rooney as an all-American boy, and also possibly by Goldwater's sentimental memories of growing up in Hiawatha, Kansas. The saccharine and humorous Andy Hardy films became popular by celebrating simplistic small-town life while the Depression and World War II created chaos in real life.
The first "Archie Comics" title completely set in the idyllic sock-hop and soda-fountain world of Riverdale hit the stands in Winter 1942; beginning at issue #114, the title became just "Archie." In March 2011, the now-rare "Archie Comics" #1 went for $167,300 at an auction, which set the record for a non-superhero. As Archie became the company's flagship character, MLJ changed its name to Archie Publishing.
Toward the end of World War II, as more and more American men went overseas, the media began to publish stories about marauding bands of teens running wild in the streets, thanks to working mothers and the lack of father figures in their lives. The panic over "juvenile delinquency" only grew after the war, and so educational films about social skills and TV sitcoms like "Leave It to Beaver" started to promote an imaginary portrait of the proper America family. Then, in 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's book The Seduction of the Innocent blamed comic books for polluting children's mind, forcing racier titles to shut down while comics publishers employed their own sanitizing publishing standards called the Comics Code.
Squeaky-clean "Archie" comics, however, escaped this scrutiny; particularly because leather-sporting rebels without a cause were frowned on in the Riverdale world. And as the popularity of superheroes faded after the war ended, the "Archie" series exploded in popularity, thanks in part to a syndicated "Archie" radio show. In the '40s and '50s, MLJ produced myriad spinoff titles, including, "Jughead," "Betty and Veronica," and "Little Archie."
In the late 1950s, the simple, cartoony visual aesthetic most associated with "Archie" comics was defined by artist Dan DeCarlo, who made Archie more plain and less toothy—the comic maintained DeCarlo's retro style for more than 50 years. In 1959, Archie Comics recruited Jack Kirby and Joe Simon to create a new superhero title, first called "The Fly," and later "Flyman." Shortly after that, Archie Publishing introduced the "Archie Adventure Series," with superheroes the Shield, the Jaguar, and Steel Sterling, who together made up the Mighty Crusaders. During the mid-1960s Silver Age of Comics, Archie Publishing put its superhero universe under the "Mighty Comics Group" imprint and played up the camp factor, inspired by the "Batman" TV show. The imprint shut down in 1967.
Recently, University of Calgary professor Bart Beaty sat down and read 900 Riverdale-based Archie Comic titles—including "Archie's Joke Book," "Betty and Veronica," "Jughead," "L...
Supposedly, Archie appeals to girls because he's just so durn nice. But he's also so wishy-washy about choosing between Betty and Veronica—juggling two girls who are also best friends for more than 70 years—that he's also considered something of a cad. But Betty and Veronica's constant competition doesn't speak well of them, either. In fact, Bart Beaty explains that some of "nice girl" Betty's behavior is "Fatal Attraction"-level frightening. Always hungry and lackadaisical Jughead, meanwhile, expresses disdain for girls and dating, but tolerates the desperate Sadie Hawkins-like attention of Ethel Muggs when she plies him with tasty food. Beautiful Midge has a jock boyfriend, Moose, who beats up any guy who looks her way.
The original Riverdale is also the land without feminism: Betty and Veronica—and almost every female student at Riverdale High—have the same idealized pin-up proportions, and the artists weren't shy about showing those figures off. Beaty explains that even "battle of the sexes" story lines have sexist morals: For example, when the girls challenge the boys to a basketball game, they win by using their sex appeal and pleas for chivalry instead of athletic ability.
At the same time, Archie Comics also was beginning to put out more female-centric series, starting with "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," which was developed by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo and first appeared in "Archie's Madhouse" #22, October 1962. Sabrina Spellman is a "half-witch" high schooler in the fictional town of Greendale, not too far from Riverdale. Sabrina keeps her powers a secret, even from her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle, while she tries to use them to help others and solve teenage dilemmas. Her pet is Salem Saberhagen, a witch who's been cursed to spend the rest of her years as a cat. "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" became its own comic-book title in 1971. Two decades later, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," was developed into a live-action TV show, which ran from 1996 to 2003.
Dan DeCarlo also created a series called "She's Josie"—later known as "Josie" and then "Josie and the Pussycats"—about a female version of Archie, which first appeared in "Archie's Pals 'n' Gals" #23, Winter 1962-'63. The first "She's Josie" title debuted in February 1963, and these stories set at Midvale High School included sweet redhead Jose, ditzy blond Melody, and brainy brunette Pepper. Josie had a beatnik boyfriend named Albert and a wealthy suitor named Alexander—who also chased Melody—while Pepper dated a hunky dimwit who went by "Sock," short for Socrates.
In 1969, CBS debuted an animated Saturday Morning series called "The Archie Show" about Archie's band, and a real-life group recording under the name The Archies had a radio hit with the tune, "Sugar, Sugar." That same year, in the comics, Josie and Melody formed a cat-costumed all-girl rock band with new girl Valerie, the first black character in the Archie universe. Josie's title was renamed "Josie and the Pussycats." In 1970, Hanna-Barbera introduced its "Josie and the Pussycats" cartoon, and in 2001, the comic series was adapted into a live-action movie.
The first African American student to join the Archies gang, Chuck Clayton, arrived at Riverdale High in "Life With Archie" #110 in 1971, and quickly became one of the school's top athletes. Later, Chuck's character was fleshed out to include a passion for cartooning. The series provided him a series of African American girls to date before he got into a serious relationship with Nancy, who was also black, in 1976.
The company, then called Archie Enterprises Inc., went public in the early 1970s, but in the early 1980s, Louis Silberkleit's son Michael (chairman and co-publisher) and John Goldwater's son Richard (president and co-publisher) brought the company back to the private sphere, renaming it Archie Comic Publications. Maurice Coyne had retired in the 1970s. A company called Spire Christian Comics acquired licensing to produce religious-themed comics using the Archie characters in the 1970s and '80s. Written by Fleming H. Revell, titles included "Archie's Sonshine," "Archie's Roller Coaster," "Archie's Family Album," and "Archie's Parables." Also in the 1970s, Archie Enterprises started a fantasy and horror imprint, Red Circle Comics, but it didn't last long.
By the early 2000s, Archie Comics still didn't have a great record with LGBT representation. A theater company in Atlanta, Dad's Garage, planned to debut a play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa called "Archie's Weird Fantasy," about the all-American boy coming out as gay and moving to the big city. Archie Comics issued a cease-and-desist order, asserting that the story would "tarnish his image." The play opened with a new title, "Weird Comic Book Fantasy," and a renamed protagonist. In 2014, though, Archie Comics would hire Aguirre-Sacasa as its Chief Creative Officer. The 2000s was a particularly litigious decade for the company, as they also sued the band The Veronicas for infringing on their trademarked character.
Company co-founder Richard Goldwater died in 2007, and his compatriot Michael Silberkleit passed away in 2008, leaving the company to Richard's half-brother Jonathan Goldwater, a former rock music manager, and Michael's widow Nancy Silberkleit, a former elementary school art teacher. The two butted heads and sued each other over how the company was being run. In 2010, the company began distributing trade paperbacks, collected editions, and graphic novels through Random House.
The title "Life With Archie" was relaunched in 2010, featuring two alternative universes—one in which Archie marries Betty, and another in which he married Veronica. The series approached more serious themes than ever before, including cancer, money, marital troubles, same-sex marriage, and gun violence. Kevin Keller, the first gay character in the Archie universe, appeared in "Veronica" #202 in 2010. Kevin got his own title in June 2011. In the final issue of "Life With Archie," #36 in July 2014, Archie dies saving his gay friend, Senator Kevin Keller, from an assassin's bullet.
Archie Comics was the first mainstream publisher to put its entire line of comics online in conjunction with their newsstand release. In October 2013, Archie Comics launched a horror title set in Riverdale, "Afterlife With Archie," about the Archie gang fighting zombies, demons, and even Cthulhu, which was written by Aguirre-Sacasa and drawn by Francesco Francavilla.
In July 2015, the Archie Comics flagship series relaunched as a part of the "New Riverdale" universe, with a much more modern visual style by Fiona Staples and updated story lines by Mark Waid to reflect teen life in the new millennium. "Jughead," "Betty and Veronica," "Life With Kevin," "Josie and the Pussycats," and "Reggie and Me" all got revamps in the new milieu. The New Riverdale crowd is much more ethnically diverse than the original with new characters like Maria Rodriguez and Sheila Wu, as well as 2012 addition Trevor "Trev" Smith, Valerie's musically talented younger brother.
In early 2017, the new, hipper Archie universe made its live-action debut in a TV teen soap called "Riverdale," which combines typical high school drama with a creepy "Twin Peaks"-style murder mystery.