Superhero comics are morality plays, acting out the battles of good and evil; Archie comics are not unlike satyr plays and argue instead for the power of the human drives to motivate its principals, usually the power of sexual attraction, but also in the case of Jughead, food hedonism. The battles fought in Archie comics are no less cosmic than those fought in Kirby’s Galactus trilogy, as they are love triangles, quadrangles, and quintangles, connecting its players Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, and Cheryl Blossom with sexual attraction, albeit (mainly, but with some exceptions that streaked past the comics code) repressed into the outlet of stares, kisses, risqué banter, and the competitive jealousy that is the wellspring of so much humor in the Archie books. The mission of Archie comics is not promoting selflessness and self sacrifice but encouraging in kids a healthy hedonism, a lust for life. Kids learn, for instance: 1) that play is not an inconsequential nothing, but rather an important something that has its own consequences; 2) that work is not punishment but another enjoyable outlet for socialization and expression (cf. particularly “Not So Clothes-Minded!” in which Veronica gets a job at a thrift store and likes it); 3) that relationships are not a source of anxiety, that everyone has a Archie Andrews, a Jughead Jones, or a Betty Cooper; 4) that the human body and food have a healthy relationship; 5) that attraction is not something to be talked around, but talked about. Today we’re taking a brief look at sexual attraction as it has existed in some Archie comics stories.
There was a brief period in the Bronze Age of Comics during which Spire Comics used the Archie characters as mouthpieces for evangelical Christianity, but the general thrust of Archie comics is one that says not that God is good, but that life is good, food is good, and human, even sexual, love is good. Not that these kids are doing it on the page, but they’re thinking about their horny urges. Two panels across a gulf of decades use the same euphemism–in the earlier story, Frank Doyle and Harry Lucey’s “The Gong’s All Here,” from Archie 205 (December, 1970), Veronica asks Archie to ring her chimes, and Archie looks sorely disappointed when he realizes she means actual chimes on her keyboard.
In the later story, Kathleen Webb and Stan Goldberg’s tale “Missing the Kiss (Instead of Kissing the Miss!),” reprinted in Tales from Riverdale Digest 22 (July, 2007), Betty asks for the same favor–but this time, actual stimulation is directly requested of Archie.
The Archie stories are fairly subtle in their treatment of sexual attraction, and even with two uses of the “ring my chimes” euphemism, you may be inclined to think that the columnist has his own agenda. However, the Josie stories are more blatant and much more likely to rise from euphemism to the positively risqué, as seen in this page from Josie and the Pussycats 51 (Frank Doyle and Dan DeCarlo’s “Litter by Litter,” October, 1970), as Josie and two local boys admire Melody’s “rack and roll.”
Melody is more fully objectified as a sex object in Josie and the Pussycats 50 (Doyle and DeCarlo’s “Shopping Spree,” September, 1970), as a department store customer asks the manager where he can pay for Melody. Frank Doyle may have in mind the Shakespearean slang meaning of “hobby horse” as he writes this.
Since the mid 90s or so, instances of this kind of figurative sexual dialogue have become rarer at Archie comics, except in reprints. But the attraction nonetheless continues, as Betty, Veronica, and Archie continue to express their insatiable desires for each other, sublimating them with numerous trips to Pop’s and the hilarious hijinks that happen on a typical day in Riverdale. So irrepressible is the desire shared by these teenagers, that through the magic of Memory Lane, we get to see Archie marry many times, first to Betty, then to Veronica, and then, in Archie : A Rock and Roll Romance, not only does he marry Valerie, but Valerie gains control of the lucid dreaming phenomenon at Memory Lane and imagines his mainly happy marriages to other Archie cast members. He is only unhappy in his marriage to Cheryl Blossom.
Anyone fearing that Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie relaunch will have sexed-up content, need not, as Archie has always had the libido of youths as their subject. Fiona Staples’ work in Saga may have been more graphic than anything that will appear in Archie, but don’t expect anything that’s any less sexy, as Archie Comics can set the bar pretty high as we have seen. Mark Waid also wrote about a romance that had a long tenure, if not so long as the Archie love triangle: that between Wally West and Linda Park. He’s also famous for writing a famous wedding story, “Get Me To the Church on Time” (Flash v2, #142).
The stories referred to in this column can be found by following these links: “Shopping Spree” is reprinted in B&V Friends Double Digest 238; “The Gong’s All Here” is on the Archie website and app; “Missing the Kiss (Instead of Kissing the Miss)” is reprinted in Tales from Riverdale Digest 22 and World of Archie Double Digest 30; “Litter by Litter” was reprinted in B&V Friends Double Digest 225. “Get me to the Church on Time” is on comiXology. Anyone who knows the original publication issue of “Missing the Kiss,” please hit me up on Twitter.