Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!
Since it's Valentine's week, I thought I'd talk about mine and Mrs. Cube's mutually favorite comic universe. We've been really getting into Archie Comics the last couple of years. We've bought the two Best of Archie volumes, and a couple of the "Best of" artist editions. We've actually ended up studying the different Archie artists so we could distinguish them by their distinct styles, despite the fact that they all conform to the usual Archie house style. She can tell them apart by the way they draw hands. HANDS!
I thought it'd be fun, as an exercise, to try and do a top 10 list of Archie artists, not in terms of quality (which is mostly subjective), but in terms of influence and importance (which is also subjective, but less so).
In putting together this list, I pretty much had to set some criteria so I could be fair and consistent with my reasonings for the rankings, and I boiled it down to three questions:
1) How much did they add to Archie lore? Did they create new characters, or worked on new features that have endured? Did they work on stories that were talked about for future generations? (Norm Breyfogle almost made it in because of this alone, due to Life With Archie, but I figured it was too early to tell for sure, and he jumped off that series within a year.)
2) Did they follow a house style, or did they break a new mold? Obviously for the purposes of this list, we'll favor the latter.
3) How is their art received today? Do they inspire new generations of artists? Do people clamor for their works to be reprinted? Do people say, "Yeah, I like Archie, but I especially like it when that guy is drawing"?
10. Bill Woggon
Bill Woggon makes this list purely because he created Katy Keene, America's Pin-Up Queen, who is an Archie property who doesn't (normally) interact with Archie characters and isn't even drawn in the same house style. But Katy's such a valuable property to the company that Woggon should be here.
Woggon's style is completely different from any "regular" Archie artist, as he employs different proportions, gestures, and anatomical tells such as eyes from his peers, and is instantly distinct.
Although the success of Katy Keene meant that Woggon would rarely draw the regular Archie characters, he did do it sometimes, such as in this Betty and Veronica tale from 1946.
9. Joe Edwards
Like Woggon, Edwards created a valuable property for Archie that is constantly used by Archie, although she really has nothing to do with the main Archie universe. Li'l Jinx's adventures are often reprinted in digests, and most recently, a teenage Jinx has been the protagonist of Archie's new attempt to reach a wider kids/tween/teen audience.
Edwards gets the nod over Woggon because he still drew the main cast after the creation of Li'l Jinx, handling some stories and projects such as the ill-fated (but meant to be cashing in on the animated series) New Archies.
8. George Frese
Of the Archie artists who worked in the Golden Age before DeCarlo came along, George Frese was probably the most distinct hand next to Bob Montana. His style was very expressive, taking what Montana did and adding his own little spins (the most notable, for me, being the buck teeth on Archie). Frese was such a good hand that he was the one who kicked off Archie's Rival, Reggie, a series about Archie's arch-nemesis, and he was also the first artist on Ginger, which could only really be described as a female Archie. Although neither series lasted that long (but Reggie obviously has endured), Frese's distinct style and prolificacy earns him the eighth spot on this list.
7. Bob Bolling
Bob Bolling is one of those guys who clearly is trying to follow the house style, but he sticks out anyway because of a combination of things. Mrs. Cube points to the way he draws eyes (a little rounder and a bit farther apart than DeCarlo's), the bodies (a bit more teen-ish), and the hairstyles (he gives Betty a 60s flourish to her hairdo, for one), and for my part, I notice a lot of the schmaltzy (and I mean that in the best way possible) feel-good stories (often stories where Betty actually wins one over Veronica) are drawn by Bolling.
But Bolling really makes his way this high for another reason: he created Little Archie (if that can be called a separate creation, but that's another debate altogether), and that's pretty important.
6. Dan Parent
The current head Archie artist, Dan Parent's been working in Archie for a couple of decades now, and even when he was doing Archie 3000, he already had a distinct style with looser lines and trademark Parent poses (if you ever want to see if Parent drew something, check out the closed eyes, smiling 3/4 shot — he likes that) and figure drawing (Parent succeeds in making the teenagers look like teenagers. Teens are almost always a problem for artists, and somehow we as readers accept that. But it's not a problem for Dan Parent.). If this were an "important writers" list, Parent would most likely be higher, due to having written important Archie storylines like "Love Showdown," as well as spearheading stories like Archie's first interracial relationship (Archie and Valerie of the Pussycats) and the introduction of Archie's first gay character (Kevin Keller), which he drew himself. ("Love Showdown" was a collaborative effort artistically.)
Parent is a good example of what's hard about putting these lists together. Since this is an artists list, does he get rewarded or penalized for writing the history-making stories that he himself is drawing? After all, no one else on this list had the benefit of working on stories all their own in the day and age of Archie pushing the envelope. None of them have had to deal with the massive amount of backlash that is unique in the Age of the Internet. Furthermore, will Parent's changes be remembered in 20 years as the big, giant deals they were when they happened (although the Kevin Keller introduction was obviously more of a big deal than the Archie/Valerie pairing), or will society have changed so much at that point that the magnitude of the reactions when Kevin Keller was introduced will be forgotten (the Archie/Valerie pairing will be remembered more in 20 years, as one of the stories where Archie chose someone who's not Betty or Veronica, much like.... "Love Showdown.")?
Where will Parent rank on this list when the history books are written? I don't have the answer to that question, nor do I have the answer to all those questions in the previous paragraph. But for now, February 15, 2013, let's all just agree that what Parent has been doing in the last few years is a pretty damn big deal.
5. Stan Goldberg
Stan Goldberg is eighty years old and has been working at Archie for half his life. His place in history is helped greatly by the fact that he was the primary artist from the 90s to around 2005, an era in which artists were properly credited, but even if it weren't, it wouldn't matter. Goldberg's style follows DeCarlo's established house style, and can be said to be more "masculine," in that his figures tend to have thicker eyebrows and more resolved postures and gestures. He's a bit more bombastic in terms of action without going over the top, and he's got a bit of a Jack Kirby influence going on in terms of the impact he puts in the panels, which is probably not surprising considering he worked in the Marvel bullpen during the rise of Marvel in the sixties. As a result, he tends to be the artist for when Archie gets into big adventures chasing criminals and he furls his eyebrows a lot.
Goldberg's been involved in a good number of high-profile Archie stories over the years — including drawing chapters of the birth of Jughead's sister Jellybean and the aforementioned "Love Showdown," and drawing the Archie portion of the unique (and awesome) Archie/Punisher crossover — but none of them were as big as the Archie wedding, a six-issue arc that ran from 2009 to 2010 that took us to two possible futures: one where Archie married Veronica, and one where he married Betty. It was the event that put Archie Comics back on the map, reminding people why they loved Archie all this time. Goldberg was 77 when he drew it, and his art clearly suffered, but he was still deemed to be the right artist to handle it, and that says something.
There are only four Archie artists right now getting "Best of" artist editions. And though not a perfect indicator (our number 2 guy doesn't even have one), it does indicate a place in history. Stan Goldberg has one volume out. And that means something. Stan Goldberg mattered, and when it's all said and done and all fans remember him at his peak through the reprint digest, he always will.
4. Samm Schwartz
Quick! Name your favorite Archie character!
You said Jughead, didn't you? Okay, fine, maybe you didn't, but I bet you're outnumbered. Jughead Jones is Archie's cool friend, the one who doesn't care about anything other than eating and sleeping. Schwartz was the main artist of Jughead for two stretches of time, 1949–1965 and 1969–1987. Wikipedia says his style is distinguished by "loose, rubbery character poses and skinny, simplified designs," which is true, but I'd add the adjective "angular" somewhere in there. Schwartz was also known for characters breaking out of panel borders and putting in background gags that had nothing to do with the main stories in his strips. Mrs. Cube even told me once that the way Schwartz would draw backgrounds, you could feel the architecture of Riverdale with each strip, as if by putting Schwartz stories together you could construct a clear picture of that tiny little town. Here's a cool article about how to tell Schwartz apart from everyone else.
But more importantly, Schwartz was the premiere artist for Archie's best friend. The back cover of The Best of Samm Schwartz, says, "Schwartz took Jughead from not much more than a second-stringer and molded him into one of the most beloved and important contributions in the Riverdale milieu." Joe Edwards (#9 on this list) said of Schwartz, "He made Jughead!"
Schwartz's other contributions include Big Ethel Muggs, who's always running after Jughead, and Jughead's cousin Bingo Wilkin, and his mini-universe. He also created Jughead's ultra-cool "Dipsy Doodles" feature, where he does a painting that comes to life somehow.
As previously stated, only four artists have "Best of" editions currently being put out by IDW and Archie. Samm Schwartz has two volumes out.
3. Harry Lucey
A part of Mrs. Cube will strangle me for putting her favorite (Samm Schwartz) directly below mine (Harry Lucey), but even the back cover of the Best of Samm Schwartz says that Schwartz should be in the Pantheon of Archie Artists, but the Pantheon only includes our top 3 choices. So there!
Harry Lucey was the primary Archie artist from the late 50s to the mid 70s, and he brought a very distinct style to the Riverdale crew. The word for Lucey was "motion," and if not that, it was "gesture." Lucey could communicate a lot with a few lines, which would explain why he drew so many silent strips. He could also match DeCarlo himself when it came to Good Girl Art (although Lucey's could probably be said to cross the line into cheesecake territory — his girls always seemed flirtier than everyone else's).
You can tell a Harry Lucey story from sight right off the bat. He's the guy who draws a whole mouth on the side of the face in a profile shot, and when a character does something with energy, they put their whole body into it. Jaime Hernandez, of Love and Rockets fame, frequently cites Lucey as an influence, stating in his introduction to The Best of Harry Lucey that "For me, there are very few artists in the history of comics who brought their characters to life with body language, simple gesure, and timing as Lucey did."
As previously stated, only four artists have "Best of" editions currently being put out by IDW and Archie. Like Samm Schwartz, Harry Lucey has two volumes out.
2. Bob Montana
Bob Montana is really the only other person with an argument for the top spot on this list, as he is the co-creator of Archie! Working with writer Vic Bloom, Montana made a mark on Archie twice: the first time, in Pep Comics #22, when he drew the first ever Archie story (introducing Archie, Betty, and Jughead in the process), and the second time when he was tasked to draw the Archie newspaper strip, which ran in over 750 newspapers.
The thing you need to understand is this: both times, Montana seemed like two completely different artists. While his early Archie comic book work seemed crude, with rough lines and an incredibly old-looking Jughead, his comic strip work was more confident, with bolder lines and more reminiscent (can I use that word? Shouldn't it be something like "preminiscent"? I just made up "preminiscent." I'm gonna stick with it.) of the Archie house style that would endure for decades.
Not that you could blame Montana, of course, since he was the first ever artist of the Riverdale crew, and he had to figure it out from there. So he didn't figure it out right off the bat. Big deal; how many people really do? Even Jack Kirby needed a while to perfect Captain America's look. And when Montana did figure it out, it looked great. So he made his mark twice: once upon creation and once upon perfection (until DeCarlo and Lucey came along later to take it a step further), and how many people can say that?
IDW isn't putting out a "Best of Bob Montana" series like it's doing with the other four of our top 5 artists, but it is putting out the complete set of Montana's newspaper strips.
1. Dan DeCarlo
This couldn't really have been anyone else, any way I looked at it. Only Bob Montana, by virtue of being the creator of Archie, had a case for it, but DeCarlo just did more. He took what Montana did and came up with the all-time classic versions and looks of these characters, and while Harry Lucey worked concurrently with DeCarlo and was the primary artist on the actual Archie comic, it's DeCarlo's style that became the house style. His Good Girl Art credentials prior to Archie made him a hit on Betty and Veronica, and, unlike Lucey at times, I don't think his Good Girl Art was over the top. By all accounts, after Montana, the two main artists were DeCarlo and Lucey, and DeCarlo's style lived on even when he was done in the styles of Dan Parent and Stan Goldberg and all the other artists, while Lucey's was too unique, too Lucey. Hence the placement of our top 3 artists.
And, when it came to creating, DeCarlo was no slouch. In addition to making the Riverdale gang his own (maybe Lucey drew the more recognizable Archie, and maybe Schwartz drew the more recognizable Jughead, but no one drew a more recognizable gang than DeCarlo), he created Josie and the Pussycats (Josie, Melody, and Valerie Smith, the last of whom is Archie's first most notable black character — and if we're going to credit Dan Parent for pushing the envelope in terms of content, then shouldn't we credit DeCarlo for this too, even though it's almost inconceivable to think now of this being a big deal?), Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Cheryl Blossom — and unlike Katy Keene and Li'l Jinx, these characters could easily cross over with the regular Riverdale gang.
Of the top 5 guys on this list, DeCarlo's is the hardest to distinguish from other artists, especially other artists prior to the 21st century. And why? Because so many other artists took his lead, tried drawing like him. But he did it better than all of them, with an economy of line and gesture, and his storytelling and expressions were clearer than his less innovative (but nonetheless talented) followers.
And, as previously stated, only four artists have "Best of" editions currently being put out by IDW and Archie. Stan Goldberg currently has one volume out. Samm Schwartz and Harry Lucey have two apiece. Dan DeCarlo? He has four.
And I think that seals it.
Thoughts? Did I miss anyone? Do you agree with the rankings? Lemme know in the comments!