Sunday, August 07, 2011

Everything's Archie

The history of Archie Comics is without precedent in American comic book publishing. While the other surviving long-lived comics companies -- National/DC and Timely/Atlas/Marvel -- have each been handed around between multinational corporations, and are each now owned by conglomerates (Warner for DC, and Disney for Marvel), Archie Comics and its predecessor, MLJ, started as family-owned companies, and have remained so for 70 years. Further, although the company has published other titles, it made its reputation with a single set of characters: Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead.

Now, in celebration of those seven decades, Archie Comics has released one of the best comics reprint packages I've ever seen.

This digest-sized book contains over 400 pages and dozens of short stories that span the entire history of the Archie series, from 1941 to the present. Each story has a brief introduction, and many are annotated with comments from folks like Frankie Avalon, Stephen King, Gene Simmons and Stan Lee. Although the collection does not contain any of Archie's various action or superhero series from decades past, it does contain a decent sampling not only of the Archie gang's stories, but also those of their hangers-on -- both well-known ones such as Sabrina and Josie and the Pussycats, and more obscure ones such as Ginger, Katy Keene, and That Wilkin Boy.

The volume is directed to both collectors and kids. Collectors have the benefit of a smorgasbord of stories and styles from across the decades, belying any notion that the Archie stories have been restrained by any particular bland house style. Collectors will also benefit from the credits the volume provides for the creators of the stories.

And for kids, the book is just the right size for consuming in the back seat during a long summer roadtrip. And parents should appreciate the family-friendly price: In an era where a normal comic book will set you back $3 or $4, this 400+ page color volume is retailing for just $9.95.

I don't know if Archie will make money on this book. But as both an introduction to its publishing history, and a retrospective, it's a great publication.

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