« How could you be so sure? … they could be real! » — Reggie Mantle, believer
Sure, it’s a hoary ol’ plot, used both to comedic and dramatic effect a gazillion times, but… as is often the case, the plot is more or less accessory. I always enjoy an Archie comics story that reminds us that these kids have known one another forever (from their perspective — not in the sense that they’ve been around since the 1940s, that’s too metatextual). With Archie for the most part being someone things happen to, as opposed to a catalyst — one who sets events into motion, I’m rather more interested in the adversarial (and sometimes collaborative) relationship between Reggie and Jughead… when it’s properly explored.
« Coming to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose. » — Nicola Sturgeon
I’ve long wanted to showcase one of Samm Schwartz‘s Jughead stories on this blog, but always hit the same snag: which one? Not too long ago, while revisiting my trove of 1970s issues, I came upon just the specimen. Tee for Three appeared in Jughead no. 247 (Dec. 1975, Archie). I’ll spare you the hideous-as-usual Stan Goldberg cover.
Why this one among hundreds of others, then? For one thing, it’s longer; at eleven pages long, it’s a towering freak amidst the customary five-or-six pagers.
But that’s not all: Tee for Three also boasts an unconventional plot, one that cried out for (and received) a more leisurely deployment. Its tone is also surprising: it’s quite deadpan and sanguine in its absurdity.
For once, you can envision why these three, despite being frenemies or plain rivals, would actually hang out: they challenge and entertain one another. And even collaborate when the occasion calls for it. In this case, Jug, Archie and Reggie are so bonded in their good-natured folie à trois that the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue and hardly stands a chance.
While such a golf contest would surely result in much injury, property damage and litigation in the ‘real’ world, it sure seems like a rollicking bit of sport here, and isn’t that what good fiction is for(e)?
« What is this ‘witch’s brew‘? Oh, that’s a special! It’s a squirt of everything! » — Pop Tate divulges one of his culinary secrets
A little while back (okay, quite a while back!), upon reading an article written by cartoonist Seth (John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy, The Comics Journal no. 238, Oct. 2001), this passage especially piqued my interest: « I have to admit right now that I like Archie comics quite a bit and I have hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin-off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) ».
As it happens, I’m in full agreement with the gallant Mister Gallant : this was when Archie’s Mad House and Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats came along, when Bob White (and Samm Schwartz, and Orlando Busino) were producing scads of wild and wooly covers featuring ghouls and bug-eyed critters, mole men and mad (though I’m told they prefer ‘eccentric’) scientists and sundry extraterrestrials and witches. The line’s cover layout was also nicely open, affording the artists plenty of latitude to indulge themselves. Here are some samples from the aforementioned creators at the peak of their formidable powers, before the end-of-recess bell rang and stifling homogeneity was henceforth imposed.
Well, I’ve already stated my case for neglected Archie artist Bob White (1928-2005), but persistent reader interest has (ever so gently) forced my hand in the matter. You crave more, and who am I to deny such a reasonable request? Besides, these suckers are rather thin on the ground.
Comics scholar Bart Beaty‘s experience appears to match mine in this regard. He notes, in Twelve-Cent Archie, his compelling study of the period, that « … high-grade copies of most Archie comics from this period do not seem to exist on the market. » And I heartily agree with his assessment that « much more available are copies that have been treated in the ways they were intended – copies that show the well-worn tattering of having been read and reread repeatedly by children. » The selfsame quandary arises with other loved-to-rags series such as DC’s Sugar and Spike, whose issues all-too-frequently turn up sans their paper dolls feature… and a story page or two on the reverse side.
Here, then, is my second batch of Bob White covers from his prime period, which, not so coincidentally, arguably matches the prime of Archie comics.
« Discovering this girlie mag stuff was like expecting a bike for Christmas and getting a car. » — Jaime Hernandez on his personal DeCarlo epiphany
As assiduous readers of this blog may already know, I don’t rate Dan DeCarlo (1919-2001) all that highly as an Archie artist. Simply put, once he committed himself fully to the publisher (in 1963), he strapped himself onto a treadmill of exploitation for the next several decades, and on-model hackwork quickly became the norm. Archie consumers (can we truly call it reading?) didn’t know or care then, or now, who produced the stuff, nor how.
While grinding out sexy panel cartoons for Abe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Humorama line of girlie digests also constituted exploitation (at 15 bucks a pop, sometimes less), the results were sturdier and far more expressive, which is surprising, given that DeCarlo produced hundreds of these (at the cited figure* of ten a month, it adds up to over 800!) over the course of a mere seven-year span. But then DeCarlo was at his peak, having acquired sufficient experience (he’d gotten his start in the field in 1947), and he was hungry and brimming with stamina.
DeCarlo buddy / biographer Bill Morrison, in his fine preface to Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s The Pin-up Art of Dan DeCarlo (2005, Fantagraphics), sadly out of print and nowadays quite costly (though volume 2’s still available from the publisher, hint hint!), recounts the way things went down:
« According to Dan, Stan Lee wanted to make a little extra money, so he offered to introduce Dan to the editor of the Humorama line of men’s humor magazines. In return for the introduction, Stan would collect 10% of the fee for every single panel gag cartoon Dan contributed. Dan saw this as an chance to develop as a magazine cartoonist, and he decided to pull out all the stops. Dan recalled, ‘So I did five, and I brought them over, all black and white wash, you know. I thought they were beautiful, and he [the editor] loved them. He paid me $15.00 each, and I had to give 10% to Stan!’ Dan soon decided not to continue doing the cartoons, even when Stan declined to take his cut. So the editor offered a compromise. He said, ‘Well, would it be easier if you just draw the situations, and I put the gags in?’ Dan agreed that would help to make it worthwhile. He had been paying his comic book inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 a piece to come up with the gags, so with that cost eliminated, he could nearly clear a full $15.00 on each cartoon after buying supplies. Incidentally, Dan later learned that Rudy had been swiping the gags cold from a book of Peter Arno’s New Yorker cartoons, so it’s probably a good thing that this arrangement didn’t continue. »
Here’s a baker’s dozen samples of what I deem the cream of the DeCarlo crop…. visually, anyway.
As you can witness, the gags are a bit of an afterthought, a side dish to stock situations. Over the years, these cartoons were endlessly recycled, and the captions updated, though rarely… upgraded.
« … there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. » ― Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1823)
Not too long ago, we glanced at the interesting case of Tower’s teen line, another instance of works insufficiently popular to be properly reprinted, yet still sought after by collectors and aficionados and consequently on the pricey side. And so it is within this limbo that Tippy Teen and Go-Go and Animal find themselves consigned, in the rather fine company of Sugar and Spike and Angel and the Ape. Let’s not strand them there for the duration, please.
So why do I consider Tippy Teen superior to Archie? For one thing, while there’s some underwhelming artwork to be found here and there (sorry, Doug Crane), there’s nothing dismal (no Al Hartley, no Dick Malmgren, no Gus Lemoine, no Stan Goldberg…), and the writing is generally superior, thanks to, among uncredited others, the great Jack Mendelsohn (recycling and updating his old scripts, but that’s not the end of the world).
Here’s a little seasonal piece I find quite witty and charming. The well-paced work of an anonymous scripter and my beloved Samm Schwartz, it appeared in Tippy Teen no. 18. The whole issue’s quite solid, and since it’s in the public domain, you can enjoy it right here.
« Welcome to the house of horrors! Brought to you by Grippo Denture Adhesive! »
A little while back, we made a brief detour through artist Samm Schwartz’s Silver Age Archie comics covers and touched upon the time he took the last bus out of Riverdale and headed for the greener pastures of New York… and an art director gig with Tower Publications.
Robert Klein and Michael Uslan, in their foreword to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Volume 1 (DC Comics, 2002), stated: « With Samm Schwartz not very familiar with or comfortable editing super-hero adventure books, publisher Harry Shorten cut a dream deal with Wally Wood. Samm would handle the Tippy Teen titles as well as the Undersea Agent comic book and the war comic book called Fight the Enemy. He would be the managing editor of the company and its day-to-day office executive. »
Interestingly, Tippy Teen was the first Tower material to be reprinted: in 1975, four issues of Vicki (a renamed Tippy) were issued by the *very* short-lived Atlas/Seaboard, featuring ugly new covers by Stan Goldberg. These issues rank among the most scarce and priciest Atlas releases. Most of the line’s books can still be easily found and acquired dirt cheap… but not Vicki.
When I hear about Dan DeCarlo‘s would-be artistic influence on Jaime Hernandez, I can’t help but wince. If I squint real tight, I can kinda-sorta-maybe see a flicker of it in the wholesome sexiness of Betty and Veronica circa 1960-63, but no more. DeCarlo was soon reduced to such a state of hackdom that I can’t fathom how Jaime would have been driven to imitate and absorb the lessons of such hastily-executed, formulaic drivel. There, I’ve said it. On the other hand, Hank Ketcham, Steve Ditko, and, dammit, Mr. Schwartz’s touches are evident all over, though perfectly amalgamated into Jaime’s own singular vision. The way Schwartz and Hernandez draw clothing folds, the beautifully expressive comedic body language… it’s unmistakable.
And as a bonus, this helpful feature from Tippy’s Friends Go-Go and Animal no. 3 (June 1966, Tower), illustrated by Samm Schwartz. And yes, the boys can also come as beautiful victims.
« Is it true your first concert is going to be at a cemetery? »
By the summer of ’74, the Archie brass was getting sick of those no-account Didit Brothers (You know, Dan, Dippy, Dick and Clyde) and their groupie Fran the Fan, so the Madhouse Glads were tossed out on their collective ear in favour of… a horror anthology. It made sense: in the 1970s, there was considerable overlap (largely female, but not exclusively) among readers of, say, The Witching Hour, Betty and Me, and Romantic Story.
It’s fair to assume they were envisioning a companion title for their Chilling Adventures in Sorcery / Red Circle Sorcery. This was something different for Archie, all right: they sought out top talent, but in a fairly consistently sober visual style. Gray Morrow‘s photo-based approach was the baseline, and small wonder: he was the editor. The bulk of the stories was penned by Marvin Channing, and while the ‘twist’ endings weren’t exactly fresh, some of these tales were surprisingly nasty and nihilistic.
However, this version of Madhouse lasted but three issues before the book was returned to its original, pre-Glads format. Sorcery endured for nine issues, the first three done in the Archie house style, with narration by Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. By the end of 1974 (with a book cover-dated February, 1975), the experiment was over. But these things come in cycles, don’t they? Witness the recent Afterlife With Archie… which incidentally reprinted much of this material.
« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »
One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.
If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.
If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’sMad House no. 27 cover, in particular…
WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.
The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.
Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.
Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.
The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.
To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »
*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.
« Gosh! I never knew you had a school for monsters! »
« There are a lot of things about Transylvania that you American tourists do not know! »
Archie Comics’ earliest foray into monster humour was its long-running, in one form or another*, Mad House series (1959-82).
It doesn’t get any better than Samm Schwartz‘s cover for Archie’s Mad House no. 16 (December, 1961). The early issues featured Archie and the gang in slightly more surreal settings than usual, then they were phased out, with the noteworthy exception of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who was introduced in AMH 22 (October, 1962). The title was a fine showcase for Archie’s best and most idiosyncratic stylists, Schwartz, Orlando Busino and Bob White in particular.
An idea they liked so well they used it (at least) twice. Bonus points for bothering to redraw it! This was Archie’s Mad House Annual no. 4 (1966-67), cover art by the aforementioned Bob White.
*It was called Archie’s Mad House (issues 1-60), then simply Mad House (61-65), then Madhouse Ma-ad Jokes (66-70), Mad House Ma-ad Freak-Out (71-72), The Mad House Glads (73-94), Madhouse (in a non-cartoony horror format, featuring the likes of Gray Morrow and Vicente Alcazar, 95-97), then finally Mad House Comics (95-130).