Monday, January 05, 2009

ARCHIE - from Hideous Itchiness to Appealing Fun

ARCHIE is about as all-American and generic-but-cute a cartoon style as ever existed. But it didn't start out that way....

The first Archie comics were drawn by bad superhero artists. Guys who loved to fill up stiff awkward uncomposed drawings with itchy sloppy cross-hatching.Archie himself was a pile of itchy pimply lumps who just before puberty dreamed of his favorite men in colorful undergarments.
At the onset of puberty he was aghast that his dreams shifted to something altogether different than men in underpants.These artists must have been going through puberty too. Look at the attention to the cross-hatching on the girls' most sensitive swollen aching areas. You gotta see the insides of these comics to believe them!

Poor Archie had a hard time adjusting to this new stage in his life. Can you believe this stuff was on the newsstands in front of decent American kids of the 1940s?
This has to be one of the itchiest lumpiest drawing styles in history. It's amazing that the comics survived past this fetal stage of development. Maybe because they had all the characters and their relationships figured out right from the beginning -even though they were lumpy.

At some point in the late 40s the style smoothed out and got much cuter.
Archie's pubescent pimples and cross-hatchy complexion migrated to his temples and remained under control there forever.
The girls retained lumps only in the places we like them to be lumpy. They are cute in a puppet-like googly eyed way.

Bob Montana may have been the one to redesign the more appealing, more cartoony streamlined version of Archie and the gang. He also drew the daily and Sunday comics for years. He has a very fun style and it's a little offbeat - not perfectly balanced.I'm not sure who did these two, because they aren't signed, but they definitely fall in line with the Montana look.
Archie's pimples eventually evolved into ringworm.

I'm not sure who these are either, but they have the rounded features and huge saucer eyes that gave the characters so much appeal.

Harry Lucey is my favorite Archie artist because he has an awkward yet really human style. He isn't trying for perfect balance in his poses and design. Instead he goes for a more fleshy life-like quality. His girls are the most feminine because of their slight awkwardness and always have a veneer of filth in their poses and attitudes. This was a guaranteed formula for success - aiming stories and drawings about teenage sexual tension at teeny-boppers.

Lucey's girls stand and pose like real girls - slightly off-balance.

Dan De Carlo seems to be the favorite Archie artist among modern cartoonists. I think it's because his design aimed at being perfectly balanced and safe. It is appealing graphically, but to me it can be too careful, stiff and unnatural.
He avoids difficult poses and when he needs to bend the characters, just takes the same 3/4 head and torso he would draw on a straight on eye-level shot and tilts it on an angle like a flash cartoon. Very wooden.Here's a DeCarlo action pose - all limbs and body parts in straight lines bent in 90% angles.

He does have quite a talent for interesting outfits and designs.
It's strange that this stiff wooden simple style has since influenced super-hero cartoons, which by their inherent nature should be meaty, muscular and dynamic.

I like Archie during its heyday of the late 40s to the early 60s. It is a kind of generic style, but a very appealing one and it aims directly at true humanity. Today's generic is aiming at aliens from space. You have to learn to accept it and get used to it, whereas Archie appealed to universal urges. You don't have to be trained to read cute pictures of pretty girls constantly tempting and frustrating "America's Typical Teenager".

I'll put some stuff up from each artist soon.

I got these images from this great site that's full of old comic book covers:

If you know some of the artists here I couldn't identify, let me know!


Anonymous said...

While his style may be more boring, Dan's sexy costumes for Betty and Veronica have jump started many young lads into puberty...

I like Archie comics alot, even into the seventies. They may have dressed like hippies and crap, but they still had enough chemistry and appeal (and sexy girls) to keep me interested as a kid.

-jjmm- said...


Isaac said...

I know I've been on post overdrive, but I have to ask:
"Archie's pubescent pimples and cross-hatchy complexion migrated to his temples and remained under control there forever."
Do you ever consider doing stand-up comedy? That cracked me up.

-jjmm- said...

This blog is wide better tan school or college to me. Thanks sir.

Hans Flagon said...

I think it was Lucey for me as well. There is someone who was churning out the majority of the product in the early 60's, before the late 60's early seventies DeCarlo style became the house style. There were still multiple artists pumping out the stories, from one pages to eight pages or longer, and I think you saw Lucey leaning towards DeCarlo as well. His inking was tighter.

It could be someone else from the same time period.

The internet sucks at finding these artists names. The Americana collection trade paperbacks discussed the different artists to some degree; I don't have any of those around though, I bought them as gifts for kids, because I think the digests are simply not there anymore, as far as interesting finished art, to me.

Archie was king in late sixties, early seventies. Everyone read it. Those reading any other kind of comic, be it horror or superhero or War or Romance or Harveys or Gold Keys, read Archies.

I think the reason Archie survived and became the standard bearer for Teen Comics, might be partially because the earlier itchy style made it unpopular enough that it was not widely copied, so not many tried to compete -directly- with it. Then the Comics Code opened the doors of opportunity for them. Binky and Millie the Model came close, but were also rans. Archie was the standard. They were clear uncomplicated and readable, bland as vanilla ice cream and as popular.

BTW, my favorite gag in the non John K Ren and Stimpys (which may have been written or storyboarded by John K before John lost the gig) is the one lifted from Kurtzmans Starchie, when Stimpy goes through Puberty, hangs out with the wrong sort of kids, and Archie and Jughead are giving each other Tatoos.

NineInchNachos said...

my favorite Archie comic artist is Bill Elder..

Kali Fontecchio said...

Their faces scare me.

Ross Irving said...

I think if Archie had any sort of impact on me, it's been those one-liner jokes on the cover. I love one-liners when they're done well, even though the Archie cover art may not have always done them justice. Harry Lucey? Never heard of the guy until just a few minutes ago. I like his stuff a lot more than the Dan DiCarlo stuff, though. It seems more "free".

Also, thanks a lot for the posts concerning staging, it gave me a better idea of what constituted a key pose. That "one at a time" rule.

Isaac said...

Okay, enough being in love with the sound of my own keyboard, I actually have something mildly important to ask:
How does an aspiring artist get from this to this?

Drawn said...

Well, I think De Carlo is great, slick, instantly decodeable entertainment. You make good points as always, but to me the stereotypes and predictability, when handled so well, often work in favor of the story and a smooth reading experience.

I used to enjoy Binky reprints when I was a kid (early 80s). The Archie house style plus some light satire, with fat guys and ugly girls, annoying children, grifter types with cigars, more far-out poses, semi-bizarre background gags, less slick inking. Nobody was that clean-cut or likeable, it felt like this was written and drawn by grumpy older guys who watched 70s teenagers from their studio windows. This made for a free, relaxed, unpretentious handling that was really fun and enjoyable.

jeremy said...

Thanks for uncovering some of those artists for me... I wondered who Harry Lucey was. I really love DeCarlo's line work and the way he stylizes with proportions. His poses are stiff, but they read instantly and I've become obsessed with his inking and line weight. Lucey does seem to put a bit more meat into his art though. Strange, but somehow DeCarlo's stiffness/marionette-ness make them all the more goofy and appealing to me. Like those two word rhyming gag titles -- "date fate" or "lunch crunch" or "lout clout" or "cheese freeze" or "boner loner", there's something flippant about it. I started getting obsessed with Archie a couple years ago. Those characters have great longevity. It isn't the most inspiring stuff necessarily, but Archie is like mac'n'cheese -- comfort food. Also, the characters' pubescent hormonal angst repressed into bland white-bred silliness (which make the earlier stories extra entertaining) just begs for added perversity.

BadIdeaSociety said...

Harry Lucey's Betty and Veronica designs are just amazing; expressions of pure lingering, unrequited lust.

Who draws sexual frustration better than Harry Lucey? Seriously.

Adam T said...

The early Jughead design is scuzzy. He looks like a really skinny chimp with big shoulders. Is his personality in these early comics any different than the 'hungry and stupid' he was in the later ones? Because he's drawn like he's a dastardly villain.

Anonymous said...

The best Archie artists are Harry Lucey and Samm Schwartz.

Ceu D'Ellia said...

Hello John,

There is an indication to you be invited to be a speaker in Brazil, in a Animation TV workshop organized by BTVP
Please, answer back this message, writing to me, through my website
at the "contact us" link (web page above left)

Thank you and my best regards
Ceu D'Ellia

Whit said...

Who drew the anti-Catholic Archie comics once sold in Bible stores?

glamaFez said...

Captain D's restaurants used to hand out nautical-themed comics in the 70s and 80s that were incredibly itchy and lumpy.

Anonymous said...

Whit: Al Hartley drews those Christian Archie comics. He had this weird thing where every profile drawing of a character had to have his mouth wide open. I guess because...

I'd go on, but I'd prefer to have my comment printed.

Hans Flagon said...

Big Boy comics are a entire other matter. They could be as slick as Ernie Colans Richie Rich, or muche different. Steve Ditko did some of his worst work on them.

I wonder if Filmation picked up on the deCarlo angularity and hyped it. Archie was wonkier on Saturday morning, with tilted heads. Almost everyone seemed like a Spaz. As I taught myself to read with Archie Comics, I hated the voice actor choices, adenoidenal idiotic, because my interior voices for Archies Gang were smarter (made the situations themselves more ridiculous).

The religious comics, I think you CAN find that info out with a bit of google and wikipedia, because I came across it trying to find out if there was someone else other than Lucey I was thinking of.

Stan Goldbergs kin (he did Millie the Model) are among those doing the new Archie pages these days, the current standards bearer. Feel lucky if you missed the Archie Revamp experiment where either more realistic, or manga styles, were applied, to pull what someone considered the new demographics. Betty and Veronica were much bigger jewelry fashion and accessory whores in these.

Hans Flagon said...

Drawn Misterkitty jpeg looks like Goldberg Millie the Model, although he was discussing Binky. I always thought of Bob Oksner in relation to Binky.

Los Bros Hernandos took their cues from the pre 1965 era of Archie. DeCarlo was not quite established as the house style yet, but you saw some of the other artists taking some cues from that style. Or perhaps some collaboration. layout and finishes.

I never read Archies freckles as pimples, or saw a natural version of his jelly roll, but a friend of mine shaved crosshatching into the side of his head in college.

CartoonSteve said...

Stiff Archie needs to loosen up... drop those two chicks and meet Sody Pop. Oh wait... that would make him more wooden.

Niki said...

I've always liked the 70's character's variety in outfits, not just on Archie's either. But most of the time I'm more drawn to 40's and 50's style in just everything else. I think my style is going to be determined mostly by that, and streamline technology.

In the Famous Artist Course I've gotten to the figure in detail. I hope never to look real itchy-like.

HemlockMan said...

Yes, the early Archie comics were primitive stuff. But they were popular for some reason--perhaps the characterizations that you mentioned. There they all were--fleshed out and in place right from the start. I feel certain they ripped it all off from some radio show. But which one?

I love the mid-50s to early 60s Archie covers the best. When I was a dealer in old comics, the hardest ones to find were the ones with the sidebars featuring the heads of other characters. Distribution must have been spotty during that period.

Shawn said...

I never knew who drew which stories in the Archie comics because the artists never signed their work. So I would just refer them as "the good artist" or the "the bad artist". Of course I know who Dan De Carlo is now, but he's not my favorite. Bob Montana's stuff is pretty good!

I like the ones from the 50's the best. They have the most appeal and the inking is really good. I agree, those old "itchy" ones are pretty ugly, but I think those are at least better than the lifeless ones of the late 1960's-present. The ones from the 70's and 80's are just horrible! The characters have no expressions or life in those...their eyes don't even point toward what they're supposed to be looking at.

How come Betty and Veronica (aside from their hair color) are exactly the same---same face and body and everything---yet Veronica turns me on so much more?

kelvinkao said...

The comment about the stiffness in superhero cartoons makes me wonder if they are intentionally stiff to match the action figures they sell...

Mitch K said...

Oh man! Have you seen Archie comics these days?? They're disgustingly drawn!

Brian Goss said...

Jorge Garrido said: Al Hartley drews those Christian Archie comics. He had this weird thing where every profile drawing of a character had to have his mouth wide open. I guess because...

I'd go on, but I'd prefer to have my comment printed.

I have an Al Hartley "Archie's Sonshine" comic book from '74 right here, so I had to check to see if what you said was true. It's not. You're lying.

Brent Bouchard said...

i love the term "itchy".

I didn't read all the comments, but I had to mention that this scared me...

Kliph Nesteroff said...

Harry Lucey might just be the greatest artist (and writer) in the history of comic books. Certainly the most underrated. EVERYTHING he did was just a full on clinic on how to communicate with drawings. Once you get used to reading the Lucey standard you'll find yourself far more critical of every other artist in yer Archie digest. Archie was also far angrier in all the Lucey stories, often conspiring and screaming with rage - something he rarely did when he was arranged by the other artists.

DippyDiddit said...

Here's a tribute to Joe Edwards, creator of Lil Jinx and Archie Comics illustrator:

Stupidcomics: Li'l Jinx

Pokey said...

John K., that last one with the record player surprisingly has Betty and Veronica togteher,....I thought they hated each the Roadrunner and Coyote bein' buddy buddy or those post -1959 Meeces/Jinksy Hanna-Barberas where the cat and mice are friends, or the Tweety and Sylvester as friends comics.

Gimme the others, though, Ronnie and Betty fighting!