Archie's Sunday Finest (IDW Publishing, $49.99)

Bob Montana (w/a)

From the title, and from some missing dates, I'm guessing this collection of Archie Sunday comic strips from Oct. 13, 1946, to Sept. 14, 1950, isn't comprehensive, which disappoints the collector in me. But that's a minor detail, since I consider everything else to be perfect.

I've been reading -- and reviewing -- Dark Horse's "Archie Archives," which are up to March 1946 in the latest volume, No. 5. Conveniently, that's just a few months before the Archie Sunday comic strips reprinted in this book begin. But, oh, what a gulf there is between the two!  For one thing, the strips are a quantum level better. For another, the strips are by Archie creator Bob Montana, while the comics are not. I think we can safely assume the two are related.

As those who have been reading the Archie Archives (or my reviews) know, Montana went off to World War II in the spring of 1943, leaving the artwork for Archie's adventures in Archie Comics, Jackpot and Pep in the hands of Al Fagly, Harry Sahle, Bill Vigoda and others. But when Montana returned in 1946, he didn't return to those comics -- MLJ instead had him launch the comic strip instead. 

That makes sense. As all fans know, comics were the bottom rung of publishing in the 1940s, and virtually all comic-book artists (and publishers) dreamed of a successful newspaper comic strip, where the big money (and respectability) was to be found. 

But the thing is, Montana's comic strips are so far ahead of the comics in character development, storytelling and sheer artistry that I had to double check the dates to make sure that the dynamic comic strips reprinted in this book were contemporary with the pedestrian comic books found in Archie Archives Volume Five

For example, several ancillary characters that were still evolving in the comics appear in their final form in the comic strips, looking and acting in ways that would be familiar to Archie readers of the 1960s and later. Those would include Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, chemistry teacher Prof. Flutesnoot (who first appears as music teacher Mr. Fluteweed), Coach Kleats (who goes unnamed), even Mr. Lodge. (Mrs. Lodge appears as well, but with a Margaret Dumont look that didn't last into modern times.) Now, if these characters were already fully formed in the comics by the time of the strip's debut, I apologize. But I sure don't remember them being so recognizable. 

Part of that may be Montana's artwork, which you can see improving each week of 1946 until, by 1947, he is clearly in command of all his tools. His timing is impeccable, his gags are supported by wry use of expression and body language, and his elegant and sure-handed brushwork defines a coherent world in which cartoonish boys and sexy girls both fit comfortably. His work by 1947 is so modern in style and technique that it dawns on me that it IS the modern style; it's quite clear to me now that Montana established the house style that Dan DeCarlo refined, and which Dan Parent follows today. That may seem obvious in retrospect, but given how primitive Montana's work was in the first couple of Archie Archives, this seems like an entirely different artist.

Speaking of sexy girls, MLJ/Archie hadn't quite scrubbed the strip as clean as it became in the 1950s, when the company championed the Comics Code. Betty & Veronica are ogled by adult men as well as their contemporaries, something that would not be tolerated today, and Montana never misses an opportunity to put them in revealing clothes of all kinds, from bikinis to lingerie. Even the boys are occasionally denuded, but that's for laughs, of course -- like when Reggie steals Archie clothes at the ol' fishing hole (where he's skinny-dipping, naturally). Nevertheless, this humor is more bawdy -- and, frankly, more fun -- than the squeaky-clean comics that were to come. I mean, really -- are you seriously going to tell me the adult males of Riverdale are so pious that they're not going to notice B&V sashay by? In today's books we're supposed to think so, but Montana is less pretentious.

I should also mention the sheer quality of the book. Solid binding, heavy gloss stock and gorgeous colors -- did you know Betty was originally a ginger blonde? -- add to the feeling of quality you get from Montana's work.

And speaking of Montana, the foreword (by California columnist David Allen) follows a formula for assigning creation of the Riverdale gang I've seen so often I'm beginning to expect it. And that is, he begins by toeing the company line and repeating the laughable fiction that MLJ executive and co-founder John Goldwater created Archie. That's the first paragraph. But then Allen writes hundreds of words describing how Montana created the strip, on whom he based the characters, where Riverdale really is (Haverhill, Mass., where Montana went to high school) and so forth.

I guess Foreword writers have to genuflect to the Goldwater story, or they don't get hired. But I don't mind when they g on to establish, inarguably, who really created Archie Andrews. It's Bob Montana, and some of that guy's best work is in this hardcover.

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My Archie Archive reading has hit a stall, and although I bought Archie's Sunday Finest, I was holding it until after I catch up on the archives. After reading your review, though, I think I may need to move it up to reinvigorate myself. right now I'm reading Silver Streak Archives and I've already decided it's going to be Doug Wildey's Rio next, so maybe after that...?

Saturday night I watched a TV movie from 1990 that somehow I had never gotten around to seeing until now:

ARCHIE:  To Riverdale And Back

The premise is, a high school reunion, 15 years after Archie & the gang graduated. Strangely, I found it rather interesting, and for the most part, well-done. I found a lot of comments online that pointed out just how completely "wrong" they got most of the characters, however. One person said it seemed like an "adaptation" done by someone who had never actually read the comics.

The most familiar faces in there were Gary Kroeger as Reggie, and David Doyle as Mr. Weatherby. Also, Fran Ryan as Miss Grundy.

Gonna have to file this with my SABRINA tapes...

Henry R. Kujawa said:

Saturday night I watched a TV movie from 1990 that somehow I had never gotten around to seeing until now:

 

ARCHIE:  To Riverdale And Back

 

The premise is, a high school reunion, 15 years after Archie & the gang graduated. Strangely, I found it rather interesting, and for the most part, well-done. I found a lot of comments online that pointed out just how completely "wrong" they got most of the characters, however. One person said it seemed like an "adaptation" done by someone who had never actually read the comics.

 

The most familiar faces in there were Gary Kroeger as Reggie, and David Doyle as Mr. Weatherby. Also, Fran Ryan as Miss Grundy.

 

Gonna have to file this with my SABRINA tapes...

I remember lots of hype and promos about that back when it first aired. It was meant to be a pilot for a series, but it didn't take. 

And, there was a comics adaptation, naturally -- but it was drawn by Gene Colan! 

I have that book! In many ways, it was the forerunner for today's Life With Archie. And I thought Colan did a great job making the gang look like 1) adults and 2) "real"!

"but it was drawn by Gene Colan!"

HAH!!

I still remember the day I found out Gene was doing LIFE WITH ARCHIE. I was at a convention, and he was sitting there with Adrienne, and it was at the ARCHIE table. I was confused, and Adrienne explained Gene was doing the book.

The thing that freaks me out was, he was sitting right next to Dan DeCarlo... and at the time... I had NO IDEA who he was.  AAAAAAAAGH!

Over time, both men have had at least some influence on some of my work.

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