Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monastery Dreaming (on a Winter's Day)

Archie Andrews, that lovable red-headed teenager who is forever unable to choose between sweet blonde Betty and slinky brunette Veronica, has been annoying the hell out of the known universe since 1941. His newspaper-strip incarnation debuted in 1946 and added to the Archie juggernaut's trail of destruction. For the last sixty-odd years, everything has been coming up Archie. It's all beginning to get a bit wearying.

I read Archie comics when I was a kid. My parents disapproved because they were comics, but as the digests had been given to us by friends of the family, Archie was able to find a place in my huge stack of reading material that was forbidden to Batman or Wonder Woman. The comics both intrigued and irritated me; I liked the fact that they were little stories, but the content of the stories--two! girls! fight! over! one! boy!--made me want to chew off my own leg. It angered me that the plain girl was ridiculed as a boy-crazy maniac, whereas Betty and Veronica, who actually exhibited behaviour rather similar to Ethel's, were given free passes because they had breasts so huge that they were probably going to end up with chronic back pain by the time they were in their early twenties. I had a sneaking sympathy with Reggie, who was continually rebelling against the idiocy of the Archie universe by breaking all its stupid rules. I really wanted him to be able to win every once in a while.

The newspaper comic, whatever it may once have been, now presents a nonsensical, badly drawn shadow of the frustrating Archie world. Over at The Comics Curmudgeon, Josh Fruhlinger often characterises the Archie writer as a clever machine: bright enough to churn out a joke every day but not bright enough to catch it when it goes horribly wrong, as it almost invariably does.

My personal theory is that Archie is created by a colleague of the monk who is responsible for Apartment 3-G. He has heard of teenage girls, but beyond knowing that he should give them breasts of some sort, he is unclear as to exactly how they should be portrayed. In the comic below, his attention to detail re. bosoms has caused him to take a few shortcuts re. faces, backgrounds, dialogue, and common sense. The abstract shapes in the background of each panel probably occurred when his intent meditation on breast size caused him to lose control of his quill and spurt ink across the page. He was forced to hide his shame via artistic subterfuge.

Dialogue-wise, he was unsure of how to proceed. What did a young girl, bursting with life and vitality, ripe and juicy, her bele chose barely covered by the seductive clothing she--what did a young girl talk about with other young girls? Why...boys, obviously. Beyond that, the monk was lost. Disregarding the history of the characters with whom he was working* (not to mention the fact that having Betty first brag to Veronica about Archie without Veronica flying into a jealous rage, then break down immediately and reveal her subterfuge, made no sense at all), he scribbled out a few lines he thought sounded more or less okay, then went back to his contemplation of bosoms. The third girl in the comic was there entirely for the sake of her breasts. However, we can, in fact, see that the monk was aware enough of his obsession that he shied away from portraying breasts in panels two and three. We know they're there, however. They're just below the frame...lurking.

We need to acknowledge more openly the unsung monks of the funny pages. They offer us far too much entertainment for them to continue to toil in obscurity.

*A history preserved down through the generations of monks, all of whom had taken care to relay in painstaking detail the Grete Tragedie of Archie Anderewes of Riuerdale.

1 comment:

Alkibiades said...

I grew up in an ARAMCO compound in Saudi Arabia. Many things, like movies and comic books, were censored by the government before they reached our little theater and commissary.

What was left of Veronica and Betty after the censors, armed with black permanent markers, were done with them? Often just a head and some feet with nothing but thick black lines between.