Lately, I have been feeling nostalgic, thinking about my love for reading comic books and graphic novels. It was a trip back home at Christmas that found my close bud, Amanda, give me some Archie Pals ‘N Gals ankle socks. To me, they’re all kinds of awesome. I was a big reader of Archies during my formative tween years. Now, every time I look at my feet, I think about my history with Archie comics, how much of a role they played in my upbringing, and how it really kick-started my love for comic books in general.
If you are not familiar with Archie Andrews, he is a fictitious character who has been starring in his own comic series since the 1940s. A red-headed teen from Riverdale, U.S.A., he rides around town in a beater (a jalopy, to be precise) with his friend, the perpetually hungry Jughead, and his rival of sorts, the arrogant Reggie. Archie and Reggie vie for the attentions of the two main girls, Betty and Veronica, who are best friends, and seemingly polar opposites, as Veronica is wealthy, selfish and vain, and Betty is wholesome, honest and kind. Both girls want nothing more than to go steady with Archie. The stories told in the comic weren’t terribly sophisticated, but they tried to be simple and humorous.
I wasn’t exposed to Archie until I was 9 years old. It was our housekeeper who gave me my first Archie comic as a birthday gift – Archie Jokebook Digest #12. It was funny, graphic and easy to read – three things in my reading material that I was gravitating toward at the time. That comic digest launched an insatiable appetite for reading and collecting every Archie digest magazine that would be released from 1984 to 1987. It became particularly dangerous when I discovered Lefebvre’s, the used bookstore located down the street from my dance class had used Archies; my sis and I would speed down the street on our break and pick up 5 double digests for a $1.
My mom wasn’t terribly happy with this new-found hobby. As a kid, I struggled with reading comprehension in a big way (I was diagnosed with dyslexia). Archies are not the sort of reading material that one would think would foster good reading habits. For me, I had hit a wall with reading, and unlike my sister who enjoyed reading everything she could get her hands on and could read a 200-page book in one day, reading for me was hard work. Archies piqued my interest; they had short stories and were funny. My mom eventually relented. Archies weren’t Treasure Island, but at least I was reading something.
I wound up with a sizeable collection of Archie digest magazines that I would often use to trade with neighbourhood friends. Somehow, my sis and I would also end up with Archies that came from friends of my Mom whose children had grown out of reading them, and this was always a trip. The Archies were usually in traditional comic book format (not digest), older publications from the 70s and early 80s, and were the same Archie, but with an older twist. Archies in the comic book format weren’t sold in any store I would frequent. An Archie digest was always available in the supermarket aisles (as it still is today) but the comic book proper was not accessible to me, so it was always fun to get something like that.
Among these Archie comic books I seem to recall some Archies that were, shall we say…not your typical Archie Comics. Allow me to preface this by saying, from the age of 3 to 19, I went to church every Sunday, and was raised in a Christian home. Even though we were raised in this environment, we didn’t have Christian literature crammed down our throat at every turn. My Mom was a firm believer of having a strong moral compass; having that, a Christian could live in a secular world. Even so, it wouldn’t be so far fetched to have Christian Archie Comics passed down to us, would it?
Christian Archies. You read that right.
I thought I dreamt it up somehow, but a Google search confirmed my memory – Christian Archies did exist. We somehow got a pile of old musty comic books that seemed a little mature in a Rex Morgan kind of way; certainly not something I would be attracted to at all at my young age. I remember a comic book in the pile, based around the story of the Prodigal Son, called Live It Up.
I’ll never forget this cover…
In this pile of what seemed like “boring” comic books, were Archie comics. I mean, they looked like Archies, but, they weren’t your average Archie Comic.
The execution of the characters looked similar for the time, but the stories were…different. Archie and his pals were going about their lives, when all of the sudden, someone whips out a Bible, or you find Betty praying in the school cafeteria.
The comics were drawn by Al Hartley, a born-again Christian who was one of Archie Comics’ artists. He convinced the president of Archie Comics to introduce a line of Christian comics that included Archie Pals ‘N Gals. There were 19 Archie titles in total. I’m not hating on these comics, in fact, I am a little fascinated by them as an oddity. However, as a kid, I secretly found them a little hoaky and definitely didactic. Consider, in a normal day Archie chasing after Betty and Veronica. Then in a parallel Christian comic book, have Archie abstain and in fact be disgusted by sex and imagery of sex. Even as an 11-year-old, you could not breeze past me that something was a little different about these Archies.
While we are recalling Christian comics, let’s go to the dark side of Archie comics. I also seem to remember a story where Archie and Betty almost do it. You read that right – Archie and Betty almost get it on. <cue the Marvin Gaye>
I know, that must sound really weird. I mean, it’s not surprising that Betty would want to get it on with Archie considering the history they have. At any rate, I thought *for sure* my memory was playing tricks. I googled a lot, and thought I was having a Mandela effect moment, where over the years, my memory warped into thinking that it was true, when it was actually an active imagination turned into a false truth. But, if it wasn’t true, what was?
Thank goodness my reference librarian skills worked. I eventually found what I was looking for. Yep, I did.
The story, called “Saved By the Bell” comes from Betty and Veronica Comics Digest Magazine #25 from July 1, 1987, and I totally remember owning that Digest. So it goes, Betty calls Archie sexy in a conversation with Veronica…
Later on, Betty spends a quiet evening at home, and Archie invites himself over. And, well…
The context of the story was burned in my memory bank. It’s so out of place with the wholesomeness of what an Archie is, and I have never read any Archie like it since.
We have the Archie comics of my youth – funny, innocent enough. We have the Christian Archies which take the moral tone. Now, we have dirty Archies where Archie and Betty almost bang. Bizarre. The end of innocence?
It was after the summer of 1987 when my interest in Archie began to wane. My tastes changed and I moved on to other things. I also craved more mature reading materials, and as I was getting a handle on my reading disability, chaptered books became more of an interest. Archie was slowly fading from memory.
About 10 years ago, my Archie Comic collection from childhood returned to me by way of a Boomerang gift from my parents. In usual fashion, my Step-Dad handed me a box on my way out the door: “Here, you’ll want to take these with you…” My comics were in terrible shape, having wintered in the garage for years, on top of the abuse they got when I was a kid. What do I do with these?? I had no time or patience to leaf through any of them to keep them as I was packing up our house to move to Stouffville. All of them wound up at a Barrie, ON recycling plant.
Today, I think about Archie comics as a novelty, and have considered buying particular ones if I come across them in my travels. If anything, it’s always fun to look back at this part of my life. I appreciate my experience and memory of reading and collecting Archies, and the memory of Archie and the gang is obviously still very strong.