Archie 'Celebration,' 'White Indian' welcome additions; 'Strange Tales' kneecapped by Code

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

The bid by Archie Comics to become a bigger player in pop culture keeps expanding, buttressed this month by the first comprehensive history of Archie and the company that bears his name.

 

Craig Yoe’s Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenager (IDW, $49.99) isn’t going to surprise anyone. But it is a handsome book that fills in the basics.

 

Yoe, a comics and pop culture historian, does yeoman work here in clean, concise prose. He covers the company’s 1939 founding as superhero publisher MLJ Magazines (the name derived from the first initials of founders Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater), and its later transformation into Archie Comics, when that character, who first appeared in 1941, became the star. He provides summaries of the main Riverdale residents, and biographies of each of the major editors, writers and artists. He devotes a couple of pages each to big Archie spin-offs, like Little Archie and The Archies cartoons, band and records. He mentions some of the lesser lights, like Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and various fads.

 

It’s a handsome book, with a die-cut cover of the famous three-on-a-soda scene that the United States Postal Service recreated as its representative Archie stamp. The reproduction, even of 70-year-old stories, is top-notch.

 

But don’t expect any surprises; Yoe toes the company line. For example, the acrimonious debate over who created Archie isn’t even mentioned, with all credit going to editor Goldwater and none to writer/artist Bob Montana or presumed early writer Vic Bloom. The company’s aggressive role in the formation and perpetuation of the Comics Code, long a thorn in the side of comics fans, is only given a few perfunctory nods.

 

And so forth. But, really, I didn’t expect much more than that. This is just a starting point for examining Archie Comics, and it is very welcome.  Archie: A Celebration is a fine – and fun – addition to any bookshelf, for fans and casual readers alike.

 

REPRINT ROUNDUP

 

* Frank Frazetta, known to most people for his 1960s and ‘70s Conan the Barbarian paperback covers, also drew a lot of comics. Vanguard Publishing seems determined to reprint them all.

 

The latest volume in Vanguard’s Frazetta library is White Indian ($49.95), a strip that appeared in various Western comics published by Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1953. It featured Dan Brand, a Philadelphia socialite during Revolutionary War times who ends up being trained by Native Americans, gains a sidekick named Tipi and runs around the frontier in a breechclout. Brand, who is heroically proportioned and amazingly competent at everything, mostly arranges peace between Indians and settlers, while fighting frontier bad guys like “bad” Indians, bootleggers, gun-runners and Tories.

 

This is pretty clichéd stuff, of course, not to mention historically inaccurate, incredibly implausible and more than a little insulting to Native Americans. But we’re not here for the stories – we’re here for Frazetta’s art, which does not disappoint.

 

By the time of the famous Conan paintings, Frazetta had become unique in style and technique. But in these earlier works, you can see his influences, which include Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), Hal Foster (Tarzan) and possibly Joe Kubert (1940s Hawkman). Frazetta’s muscular male figures in action are consistently breath-taking, and emphasized to the point of homoeroticism. Frazetta’s backgrounds and animals are equally lush and impressive, so the entire package is page after page of stunning eye candy.

 

The back of White Indian is fleshed out with stories from other publishers of the era from a variety of genres (including Western, war and Viking) and a series that called “Heroic True Life Stories” from 1952-53 Heroic Comics. Presumably these stories are included because they weren’t numerous enough to carry a volume of their own and/or White Indian didn’t fill the necessary pages.

 

* Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 4 ($59.99) is the first volume to reprint Strange Tales from after the imposition of the draconian Comics Code of 1954, and they are almost painful to read. As comics historian Michael Vassallo says in the foreword: “What’s noticeable is how tame these post-Code stores immediately are. There is no serious conflict, no death, no destruction and no violence. Just Code-scrubbed blandness.”

 

Especially objectionable is when a sad or serious story has a clumsily pasted-on final panel that puts the “bad” ending on another planet or dimension or something. This is fascinating from a historical perspective, but pretty tough slogging for a casual reader.

 

Art from top:

Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenager is a basic overview of the character and the company that bears his name. Courtesy IDW Publishing

In 2010, the USPS released this Archie stamp

White Indian collects the strip by legendary artist Frank Frazetta that ran in the early 1950s. Courtesy Vanguard Productions

Marvel Masterworks: Strange Tales Vol. 4 straddles the era when the Comics Code of 1954 was introduced, and contains stories on either side of that division for comparison. Courtesy Marvel Entertainment

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

 

Views: 598

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 2, 2011 at 8:53pm

...Are there any complete stories ( Um , beyond daily/Sunday strips and up-to-two-pages gags , although I might as well ask if they're in the book too . ) in the book ?

  Oh , and I remember an HW Bush-era history of Archie that was linked to the 50th anniversary .

  Do you remember it ???

  And , the same question as above as to whether it had complete stories-

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 2, 2011 at 8:54pm
...Oh , and the other stories in the White Indian book are all by Frank , yes ???
Comment by Captain Comics on June 2, 2011 at 8:58pm

Yes, 'White Indian' is all Frank.

 

I don't remember the 50th anniversary book, although it's very likely on my bookshelf somewhere. But the current one does have a few complete stories, including the first one (as you'd expect). It's not primarily a reprint vehicle, but it has a handful.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 2, 2011 at 9:08pm

...Thank you .

  There is something I remember about that 50th book's text , something said in it which I'll go into later...

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on June 4, 2011 at 10:36am
ARCHIE: There is so much Archie product out now or in the near future that I have decided to concentrate on the newspaper strip series and the Archie Archives comic book series, my two favorites, rather than any of the specialized collections… (other than Madhouse, which hasn’t shipped yet).

WHITE INDIAN: White Indian is the second of two (so far) volumes in the Vangard Classics: Frank Frazetta series (which, oddly, shipped one week before volume one). Volume one featured Jonny Comet, and I honestly don’t remember whether or not we’ve discussed it here. I know that my plan had been to review both volumes together, but I found White Indian pretty slow going, especially having read some of this material fairly recently in the slip-cased Telling Stories: The Comic Art of Frank Frazetta hardcover (Blackbart, 2008). I just (finally) got around to posting my thoughts about Johnny Comet in the main forum.

STRANGE TALES: I forgot when I left off reading this series, so I started over at the beginning, but it‘s good to know what I have to look forward to in the immediate post-code implementation era. (by the time they get to Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish they will have found their niche, but that’s a reading project for a future time.) I’m actually alternating stories from pre-code Strange Tales to Boris Kaloff to Creepy. Working my way through these three series simultaneously actually helps them move faster than reading them one at a time, probably because doing so adds a bit of variety.
Comment by Captain Comics on June 4, 2011 at 5:45pm

When I got White Indian I was surprised to discover it was Vol. 2 of the Frazetta Library, and immediately ordered Vol. 1. I had assumed Johnny Comet came out some time ago, too late for review. Is it still timely? I have it now, but put it low in the to-read pile (things I intend to review ride on the top).

 

I didn't put it in the review, because it's only a suspicion, but I think Atlas Era Strange Tales Archives is going to demonstrate why Marvel went to Big Monsters in the late 1950s suspense titles. I'm guessing the old model of 8-page horror stories -- now without horror! -- simply didn't work after the Code and a new model had to be found. Hence, Big Monsters. That's just a theory, but I'm eager to see if it is supported or not by Strange Tales Vol. 5, Tales of Suspense Vol. 4 and Tales to Astonish Vol. 4.

 

 

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on June 7, 2011 at 9:58am
I had assumed Johnny Comet came out some time ago, too late for review.

Both volumes (in both hardcover and softcover) have been re-solicited so many times I lost count, but the HCs shipped a week apart a couple of weeks ago.

Is it still timely?

It’s as timely as anything released 50 years ago. :) Seriously, I’d still consider it a new release. Here’s what I had ro say about it.

“Johnny Comet is a fascinating failure. It is the first of two (so far) volumes in the Vangard Classics: Frank Frazetta series. Frazetta’s Johnny Comet line work is exquisite, but the “stories” exist only as a framework upon which to hang the gorgeous art. For an action/adventure strip, a lot of it occurs in slow motion. For example, Johnny is a midget race car driver, and a crash at the track will often take a week’s worth of dailies to portray. In order to present the strips in the largest size possible (plus), the publisher decided to present them vertically (minus). The female lead in the srip (I hesitate to call her Johnny’s girlfriend) is a real dish. She hangs all over him, but Johnny is a completely oblivious. This volume would make the perfect gift for any gay male comics fans one might have on his or her shopping list.

“The syndicate knew the strip was in trouble. At one point toward the end of it’s just-over-a-year-long run, Johnny went to Hollywood to become a stuntman, and his manager had him change his name to “Ace McCoy” because (get this) “Johnny Comet” wasn’t flashy enough! Johnny had his name legally changed, and after the Hollywood storyline was over, the name of the strip itself changed to Ace McCoy, and they brought in a new writer! Frazetta was frustrated that the strip he put so much of himself into wasn’t more popular, but the new writer brought too little to the strip too late in its run.”

BIG MONSTER THEORY: I quite agree. I’m looking forward to observing the proof.
Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 7, 2011 at 5:27pm

...BMT:

  Yeah , sure , why not ???

  Plus , Big Ol' Monsterous Things were all over the cinema in the late 50s , from Harryhausen and the Big G on down - why not take inspiration from what the kids were seeing at the Satyrday matinees and ( the older readers ) Saturday nite drive-ins , wooden leading men/girlfriend ( when there were any ) and all ) ?????????

  Besides , speaking of media inspiration , the Lights Out!/The Witches Tale/The Whistler , et al , ( what we now call ) OTR radio anthology O.-Henry-tradition dramas were disappearing , with radio drama's flatlining towards the end of the 50s...

Comment by Captain Comics on June 8, 2011 at 12:15pm
Good points all, Emerkeith. I'll add them all to the Big Monster Theory!
Comment by Luke Blanchard on June 11, 2011 at 9:08pm
Delete Comment

In the period the Strange Tales volume covers Marvel was still publishing a lot of comics. Its line was sharply cut back in 1957, and the giant monsters began to dominate the covers of the horror titles in 1959. A while back I wanted to know what Marvel was doing before FF #1, so I had a good look at an online cover gallery and wrote about what I found, and the transition to the company's Marvel universe period, here. (I forgot to note the end of My Girl Pearl at the start of 1961.)

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