Adventures in Censorship: Archie Comics!

Oh Archie comics, if there's one thing you are best known for it's an utter lack of offensiveness. Why, despite the fact that these characters really ought to have more problems with each other than they do -- Betty and Veronica fighting over the same man, Archie and Reggie fighting over the same woman, Moose regularly beating up almost everybody he meets -- all of them get along famously, giving up grudges faster than a goldfish whose brain has been mementoed. I doubt any of these characters would even impose for lasagna.

By and large this upbeat tone is maintained by simply refusing to acknowledge the existence of anything even slightly questionable. The world of Archie has, as far as I know, completely missed out on the horrors of AIDS, African genocide, both Gulf wars and, yes, the Holocaust. In fact, other than the time at little Archie totally killed a guy*, I have been as yet unable to find a reference to anyone dying in the history of Archie comics. Of course, since he was created in 1941, there's a chance he did some war propaganda way back when. I'll look into that, too.

This blinkered view of the world is easy enough to accomplish. The people at Archie produce the comic, so obviously they have utter control over the world in which it takes place. This means that for the most part they can just avoid ever bringing up anything that might accidentally make a reader feel even slightly bad. But what if a story needs to reference the events from the real world, events that touch on the very darkness Archie comics are designed to help people pretend doesn't exist?

Naturally then it's time for a little censorship. Confusing, barely coherent censorship.

The story in question appeared in tales from Riverdale digest number 27. Titled "hair apparent", it was written and drawn by Fernando Ruiz, and inked by John D'Agostino.

After an unrelated opening, in which Mr. Weatherbee's niece Wendy Weatherbee let some of her dozens of animals loose in the school (not actually familiar with this character - I suppose she's designed to appeal to the nature loving crowd? Your PETA-philes and the like?) the story turns into a flashback, with Waldo reminiscing about his time at Riverdale High with his identical twin brother Tony. For the most part this is dedicated to the standard jokes (let’s see who was the past analog to which modern Archie character, let’s see how people have humorously changed…) that aren’t really relevant to what I’m discussing here.

No, the joke I want to talk about is another standard – the old ‘dated reference’ gag, where we see a little signpost suggesting what year this is supposed to take place. Characters in bell-bottoms, ‘I Like Ike’ buttons, things along those lines.

Since all of the characters in Archie age ‘progressively’ (they stay the same age while their birthdate is constantly moved forward so that that age makes sense in the present day) Waldo’s flashback to his high school and college experiences takes place in the early 80s. They’re relatively light on the nods to the fashion of the time – this is about as crazy as it gets:

That’s a Pac-Man shirt on Tony W., and a piano key tie on his angry friend. And who might that angry Reggie-looking friend be? That’s Hiram Lodge as a twenty-something. Which makes Veronica’s taste in sometime beaus a little off-putting.

But back to the topic at hand, which is the other fashion choice that makes an appearance in the issue, this time on ‘pops’.

Yup. That’s how in love with their bubble that the people at Archie are. They can’t acknowledge the existence of even the concept of shooting, in the form of a T-shirt, referencing a fictional event, which wasn’t even a fictionally fatal incident.

Oh, Archie, will you ever grow up?

The answer, of course, is no. He won’t.

(* That was not a joke – I swear there was a Little Archie story where he killed an armed robber. I’m attempting to track it down, and will cover it here when I manage to)

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