Review by Frank Plowright
This hefty, four hundred page compilation combines four slimmer paperbacks taking Archie from his first appearance in 1941 (sample page left) to 1959 and the dawn of a new era. In the process he went from a new tryout in an anthology comic to a national institution, his adventures and those of his friends spread over almost a dozen titles.
American readers are likely, like their parents and grandparents before them, to have grown up with Archie, and for them this will be a happy homecoming sampler. For other English language readers who’ve always been curious about Archie, this is the place to start. The opening hundred or so pages feature the first appearances of an assortment of Archie characters and standbys (including his distinctive car), while the remainder put that cast through a series of sharply tuned comedies, most coming in at eight pages or less. There are some rough edges to begin with, but the art becomes smoother and more polished, and by the end of the book there’s a succession of pages by masters such as Dan DeCarlo (sample spread right) and Harry Lucey.
Of the three Best of Archie Americana volumes, this is the most interesting. While the two following books showcase the commercial juggernaut Archie became from the 1960s, expanding well beyond comics, the earliest stories here have the feature still feeling its way. The formula hasn’t yet been established and refined, and the stories are occasionally off-message, with characters, especially Archie’s father, losing their tempers and resorting to violence, while Bill Vigoda draws one creepy looking Archie. It’s surprising how quickly the mainstays who’ve survived decades are introduced. The opening strip by Vic Bloom and Bob Montana has Betty Cooper moving to Riverdale and meeting Archie Andrews and his best mate Jughead Jones. That’s from late 1941, and by Spring 1942 Veronica Lodge and Reggie Mantle are part of the cast, and while plenty of others have joined them over the years, there have surely been very few Archie strips since when none of those five have featured.
It’s appreciated that delving so far back into the past and with so much Archie material generated, it would impossible to supply all the credits, and the identity of some writers especially are lost to time. Some artists can be identified from their style, though, while some signed their 1940s work, Bob Montana noting when he wrote strips also, yet the Archie organisation remain negligent when it comes to assigning credits for individual strips. It’s a step better than the four original paperbacks published from the 1990s that are combined here, as at least the creators are named in a single paragraph before the stories start, but it’s not good enough, and the company should be called out on this.
Archie is an American institution, and consistency has been key, on display throughout the 1950s section, which has a smoothness, yet the stories are still funny, frequently surprisingly so. They’re more inclined to incorporate the fads of an era when the teenager came into their own, some of which are now archaic. It doesn’t prevent the enjoyment, though, and these are strips produced by people still in touch with their audience and able to understand them. As Archie Americana Silver Age shows, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
If you’d prefer a smaller sample, used copies of the four constituent volumes are still easily found. Look for Archie Americana: Best of the Forties, Best of the Forties Book 2, Best of the Fifties and Best of the Fifties Book 2.