The More Things Change: Updating Archie

I’ve always had a soft spot for Archie and the gang, for reasons I prefer not to try to understand. Back in the 1980s, I read Archie comics in digest form—the small, bound reprints of stories from the various comic series—and I’ve kept a small collection of them around to read every so often in nostalgic fits.

Recently, I decided to hunt around on eBay for more of them, the way you do when you remember suddenly that everything you once had in your childhood can be bought online, and I picked up a small lot of Archie digests from the early 2000’s. (The fact that I used cash from a recent wargame sale to fund the purchase most likely invalidates my grognard credentials, but I’ll face up to that shame another time.)

Sitting down with the new digests, though, I was struck by how the basic plots were repeated from earlier digests: Archie can’t choose between Betty and Veronica, Reggie and Archie match wits against Mr. Weatherbee, Moose punches someone in the head for being on the same planet as Midge, etc. Of course, now Jughead was phoning in orders to Pop Tate on his cell phone and Dilton was doing research for Ms. Grundy via the Internet, but it was still Archie, right down to his 1950s-era jalopy.

And then I realized that some of the stories were exactly the same. Of course, a digest is a vehicle for repurposing stories that have already appeared, so I wasn’t too shocked. But when I ran across a old gag that relied on contemporary references, I noticed that the art may have been the same (though more crisply printed), but the text was updated:

Hip and Up to the Minute!

Curiously, the 1987 panel, from Betty and Veronica Comics Digest Magazine #25, originated in the 1970’s, judging by the shows referenced. It’s unclear why the writers felt comfortable using one real show name (Six Million Dollar Man) but resorted to fake names for Happy Days and Hawaii Five-O. The 2002 digest panel, from Archie’s Double Digest #134, uses shows more in line with the publication date, all of them real.

I suppose the update was made feasible by improvements in handling the artwork, a digital cut and paste perhaps simpler than an actual paste job would have been in the ’80s.

Not all Archie gags can be so easily updated, though…

Take this panel from 1979’s Archie Annual Digest #34:

Just full of WIN!

To understand the four-panel strip, one must know that “WIN” stands for “Whip Inflation Now,” a Ford administration program that encouraged Americans to spend frugally. So at the time of this strip’s publication in 1979, the reader needed to be able to recall a five year old political acronym. Context clues in the strip about inflation certainly help, but wonky humor has never been a strong attraction for the comic’s targeted pre-teen demographic.

Inflation was, indeed, a recurring theme in the shorter strips in Archie digests of the late 1970’s and early 1980s. My own first encounter with “WIN” and the notion of inflation came from this very source. Perhaps inflation was a trendy topic amongst twelve-year-olds at the time, but I kind of doubt it. Something more insidious is at work. Here be there learning!

I’ve always maintained that reading comics helped me immensely as a youth, teaching me vocabulary and concepts I might not have otherwise learned so young. So if Archie and his friends continue to sneak in lessons between the laughs, I’m all for endlessly repeating gags.

Just don’t repeat the Katy Keene stories. Blech.

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