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!