Has anyone ever hated teenagers with the gusto of the writers and artists at Archie Comics? Since the first story about Archie Andrews and his Riverdale High chums appeared in 1941 (as a backup feature in the superhero-heavy Pep Comics), the series has stealthily ripped everything rank and transitory about youth culture and passing fads, from the jitterbug to slam-dancing. As a result, anyone itching to do a cultural history of the United States might as well start with the seven volumes of the Archie Americana Series, which cover the '40s through the '80s. Below, we offer a quick tour through our collective pop past, à la Archie.
The first incarnation of Archie came before "the American teen" had really been codified in the popular media, so for most of its first decade, the series borrowed liberally from Andy Hardy movies and, presumably, the writers' own Roaring '20s college shenanigans. There are a lot of fraternity initiations and raccoon coats and jalopies covered with painted slogans, but not a lot of Archie nervously opening letters from the draft board, or stumping for presidential hopeful Thomas Dewey.
The decade exemplified: In the 1948 story "The Battle Of The Jitterbugs," Archie and Reggie decide to prove to Betty and Veronica that boys are better dancers than girls, by dancing with each other while the ladies do the same. Soon Archie's wearing a dress and Veronica a letter sweater, and they're both popping out slang like "Reet sweet! On your feet!"
Here Archie starts to become Archie, thanks to an infusion of more realistic suburban high-school tomfoolery, plus the late-decade deployment of quintessential Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo, who more or less defined what the characters look like today. Archie and the gang take up roller skating, throw a sock-hop, spin plates on sticks, and in a preview of the pop-culture disdain to come, sell off their old hula hoops because "There's nothing deader than yesterday's fad."
The decade exemplified: In 1957's "Fan Clubbed," Betty and Veronica receive a visit from "Purley Gates," the dreamy, Elvis-like rock star responsible for lyrics like "Love me slender / Love me fat / Love me in the automat." Archie feigns disinterest, telling the swivel-hipped rocker, "I wouldn't worry about that twitch, Farley… You'll probably outgrow it."
Trendspotting with Jughead: Archie's pal joins him in a stab at the beatnik life in the 1959 story "Like Real Gone," which has the duo wearing frayed sweaters, slouching against trees, and muttering, "Man, dig that frantic set of threads."
They say that the '60s didn't really start until after the Kennedy assassination, and Archie Comics in the '60s didn't really begin until the 1964 story "The Folk Singers," which featured our hero offering to sing all 917 verses of his original song, "The Yaller Dog." Within the year, the Riverdale gang would eagerly await the appearance of "The Termites Five" on The Ed Sullivan Show, and by the end of the decade, they'd try surfing, drag racing, protest-marching, quoting personal gurus, and—in the incredibly odd 1967 story "Champ Of Camp"—wearing crazy Mod clothes from Carnaby Street.
The decade exemplified: In 1969's "Ding-A-Ling," Archie gets so annoyed by the attention Reggie is getting for his Nehru jacket and love beads—complete with a bell that represents "brotherly love"—that he shows up at the dance with a cowbell around his neck, telling everyone, "It stands for world love!"
Trendspotting with Jughead: Yes, Jughead follows his beatnik adventure by becoming a hippie, in 1968's "Flower Power," in which he doffs his shoes and totes a daisy.
Betty & Veronica's fashion corner: In the '60s, the writers began to get a lot of mileage out of clothing trends by building entire stories around the two female leads' attempts to outdo each other by wearing the latest. In addition to their "Champ Of Camp" Swinging London phase, the decade saw the girls try on "slim jim" tight pants, and, of course, miniskirts.
Here, the series starts getting really meta, as we discover that Archie lives in a world where people watch leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding "Funzee" on TV and listen to the bubblegum-pop stylings of The Archies, who in the Archie Comics universe, remain big stars well into the next decade. In the '70s, The Riverdalers also take part in a Star Battles costume contest (won by Archie when he accidentally stumbles onstage in a garbage can), and Betty and Veronica go undercover as two of "Melvin's Angels." On the topical front, Archie gripes about the gas shortage, buys a CB radio, celebrates the Bicentennial, and gets obsessed with Pong, while his friends counteract the Pet Rock phenomenon by introducing the Pet Stick, the Pet Bolt, and the Pet Hinge.
The decade exemplified: In the mind-blowing 1972 story "Bubble Trouble," The Archies get annoyed that the hippies at Raving Pebble magazine don't dig their sound, so they take the smug, mustachioed editor's advice and go see '50s rock legend "Li'l Harry" at The Teen Discotheque, only to learn that Li'l Harry is a big Archies fan. "But they play bubble gum rock," the editor sputters. "There are only two kinds of music," Li'l Harry replies. "Good music and bad music! Any music that makes people happy is good music!"
Trendspotting with Jughead: Inspired by the top competitive disco-dancer "Vinnie Volta," Jughead enters a teen disco-dance contest with Moose's girlfriend Midge, hoping to win second prize: "Free hamburgers for one year and fantastic wardrobe."
Betty & Veronica's fashion corner: The girls sport hot pants and raid the local "Mod Mood Accessories" shop to buy patches for Archie's army jacket.
Looking for inspiration for their "NTV" music videos, The Archies get help from breakdancers in the story "The Breakdancing Break," and from "Michael Jackstone" himself in "The Fame Game." They also meet movie star "John Revolta" (apparently Vinnie Volta had skipped town by that point), and rock star "Bruce Bingstone" (apparently the Archie Comics writers developed a Flintstones naming fetish). Archie rides a mechanical bull, straps on skates at the roller disco, discovers his very own E.T., becomes a jogger, gets hooked on Trivial Pursuit, and stands beside Betty as the host of Wheel Of Loot.
The decade exemplified: In 1985's "Lookalike Loony," Archie decides to dress like Michael Jackstone for a costume contest—again with the costume contests!—but Jughead convinces him that he'd have a better chance going as "Boy Roy." Even though Archie can't stand Boy Roy's music, he dons a wig and makeup, and wins a 10-minute shopping spree at the local record store. But he slips on Jughead's discarded hamburger right before his time expires, saving only two records in his hands, both by—yep—Boy Roy.
Trendspotting with Jughead: Well, somebody had to go punk, right? In 1983's "The Punk," a mohawked Jughead puts an iron chain around his neck and demands to be called "Captain Thrash," but just when Archie's ready to save his pal from his "convention for weirdos," Betty reveals that Jughead's only doing undercover work for the school paper. Whew!
Betty & Veronica's fashion corner: Veronica goes preppie, and later gets BoDerek cornrows (though she can't stand the beads clattering), while Betty puts her workout clothes to good use and wins Riverdale's "Flash Dance Contest," proving once again that there was no pop trend that the Archie bunch couldn't turn into a contest.