Friday, July 17, 2015

Incessant Divigation


“ARCHIE AND THE GANG” 
by Rick Jones, Husband of the Minister's Wife

I am divagating far afield this Friday. News from the world of comic books brings a mixed wave of nostalgia, fear, and hope.

Archie Comics has launched a “makeover” of Archie and the gang from Riverdale High. My fear is that changes will ruin the beloved, iconic characters; my hope is that they'll be more popular for a new generation. And nostalgia . . . most Americans have fond memories of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica, even if they don't care about any other comic books. Horror novelist Stephen King recalls Riverdale as “a great place where I took many welcome vacations from reality.”

Since his first appearance [December 1941] Archie Andrews has literally become world famous -- he's “Archi” in Mexico, “Acke Andersson” in Sweden. In special “crossover” projects, Archie has met The Punisher [from Marvel Comics], the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the rock group KISS, and this month, there's Archie vs Sharknado – no, I'm NOT kidding – written by the director of Syfy channel's Sharknado trilogy.

A couple of years ago, a homosexual teen, Kevin Keller, transferred to Riverdale High. This was shocking news to readers – but not as shocking as it was to Veronica, who couldn't figure out why the new kid in town wasn't responding to her flirtation. But when Sabrina, the Teenage Witch debuted in 1962, it wasn't to promote the occult; Josie and the Pussycats, an all-girl band, wasn't designed to teach about gender equality or rock music; and when black band member Valerie Smith began dating Archie, it did not trigger heavy-handed lectures on interracial relations. Through all the changes, the stories still centered on Archie's mishaps, Jughead's sarcasm, rivalries, confusion, and camaraderie. I hope they remain so. Riverdale should be a place for a short vacation, not overt social commentary. 

Hopefully, the company learned that lesson from their 1984 revelation that “Big Moose” Mason, high school sports hero and all-around dumbbell, was not actually stupid – he had dyslexia. Unfortunately, all the stories before and after that one didn't help people understand the challenges of dyslexia; they unintentionally suggested that dyslexics were dumb, like Big Moose. In 1995, I spoke to an editor at Archie Comics who said that he'd heard of the story, but never saw it, and that it was pretty much forgotten at their headquarters . . . implying that he hoped the readers had also forgotten it.

I hope so too, because while I'm not sold on the idea of using comic books to teach young readers about “heavy” issues, I think something very valuable can be learned if we skip the “revised Moose” story.

Big Moose is dumb. Really, really dumb. He's lucky his feet are so big, because his IQ is smaller than his shoe size. Any dumber and he'd die, because he'd forget to breathe. The teens of Riverdale often have to deal with the complications caused by the overwhelming, no excuses, just plain dumbness of Big Moose.

But he's part of the gang. His best friend is Dilton Doiley, a geeky teen super-genius. Archie, and the rest of Moose's pals, wouldn't dream of excluding Moose just because his intellectual abilities don't match theirs. Because, regardless of any other factors, he's still part of the gang – and you don't bail on your friends.

Now, there's a socially relevant lesson worth learning.

22 comments:

  1. I get why the comic book made sense. Sometimes it's easier for kids to learn that way, though.

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    1. Sometimes kids can learn some pretty neat things in comics.

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  2. I remember reading Archie comics while I was waiting in the dentist's office. It will be interesting to see what they look like when they release them.

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    1. Rick and I both are interested in seeing how they develop.

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  3. I had no idea they made a "makeover" of Archie! I'm definitely curious to see what they look like.

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    1. You're not the only person who wants to know more. The Archie publishers did NOT ask for a review, I wrote this article because of my own fondness for the characters, but fellow fans should know that they have a very fan-friendly website:
      archiecomics.com
      Can't be much simpler than that!
      There are character biographies, samples of the old-style art and the new stuff, and plus art from "Archie vs Sharknado" and a rather bizarre comic featuring "Vampironica"!

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  4. I feel like I can SEE Moose through your description of him. And I like him! Well done with the writing.

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    1. Moose has always been a sweet character!

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  5. My sister and I loved reading Archie Comics. We even had a collection of these comics. I hope they do justice with the makeover.

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  6. There's going to be a makeover? I love Archie and the gang. I can't wait to see how they will look like when the comics are released

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    1. I think it will be very interesting to see how they change things up!

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  7. I love reading comic books and I have a shelf full of comic books which I have been reading over the years. Will be very interesting to see the difference on what they look like when it is out here.

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    1. We've looked at the art on their site and it sure is different from way back when I was reading them!

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  8. I used to read the Archie comics when I was a kid, not so
    Much anymore!

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    1. Same here! It's been quite a while for me, but my husband does keep up with things like this!

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  9. Archie vs Sharknado – now that's different. I have never read one of these comics before, but still know how iconic the characters are. It was interesting reading this…I was unaware of some of the backstories and individualities of the characters.

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    1. They have done all kinds of things with the characters over the years.

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  10. Comics, or graphic novels as they are now called, are growing in popularity every day! I work at a library and had no idea the phenomenon behind these until I started working there! They are literally loved by every generation, new and old!

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    1. While comics still exist as magazine-style periodicals, many fans wait for 6 or so issues to be collected and published as a graphic novel. And some stories are first published in one large volume. This has changed the comics publishing industry These sturdier volumes have a longer shelf life in the stores, and are more attractive to libraries than the flimsy comic book. Looking more like "regular" books, people will read them who wouldn't want to be seen "looking at comics". I often borrow graphic novels from my local library.

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  11. My friends husband is into comics like crazy. I will share this with him, but odds are he already knows. Haha :)

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    1. if he's into comics, there is a lot of buzz about it. When ever a company changes iconic characters people talk a lot about it and how it will affect the industry as a whole.

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