thrift store finds: archie pals ‘n’ gals digest #70
(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)
Behold one of the most common comic book finds in my local thrift store:
The Archie digest!
Casual comics fans and normal people most likely recognize these collections as being widely available on the checkout line at your local supermarket. Indeed, for most grocers, Archie digests are the ONLY comics available anywhere in the store now that spinner racks have gone the way of the dodo. Archie Comics staked out this space years ago and holds onto it with a tenacity unrivaled in any other publication of which I know. Even TV Guide got out of the digest business a few years ago, but Archie and Jughead are still hangin’ in there.
I’ve always wondered why DC and Marvel don’t pursue comics in this format anymore as they’re fun little packages… but Archie is lucky in that most of their stories from the 1950′s on through to today are done in virtually the same style. Thanks to cartoonist Dan DeCarlo, the Archie house style ensures that a comic drawn in the 1970′s and one drawn in the 1990′s both have virtually the same “look” to them. This gives the publishers of Archie an almost limitless amount of reprints for these digests for little new money.
Somewhere down the line I may go back and look at more of these, but I want to focus on the Archie digest which has fast become my favorite of the bunch, Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals.
Pals ‘n’ Gals is a convenient catch-all way of saying “We are going to reprint anything we God damn please between these covers.” Pals ‘n’ Gals covers all your bases. You get your Archie stories, sure… and you get your Betty and Veronica stories and Jughead tales. You also get some of the fringe Archie characters like Moose, Midge, and Dilton. You’ll get some of your Archie marquee stars that don’t usually put in appearances in Archie books like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and Lil’ Jinx. Occasionally if you’re lucky, you get a Little Archie story. Honestly, it’s impossible to do a rundown of ALL the stories in this book, so I’ll just highlight some of my favorites.
“Toys R Them” is a Betty and Veronica story where Betty has to do a presentation on… well, I’ll let her tell you AND I’ll let her show you her rear end.
“Bubble Trouble” focuses on The Archies, Archie’s creatively named band who are accused of being “bubblegum rock”. Like I said, most of these Archie stories are designed to be pretty timeless, but it’s always fun when the decade where they were drawn come creeping in around the edges. Case in point:
Are those New Wave band members supposed to be caricatures of somoene? I’m not up on my New Wave music, apparently.
“Roman Holiday” is a Jughead story, so it automatically rules… but this one double-rules because, for some reason, it takes place entirely in Ancient Rome. It’s never said that it’s a dream or an imaginary tale, it just expects readers to go along for the ride. Also, Jughead knows Yiddish!
…but here’s the thing that I love about Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals: in every one that I’ve yet encountered, there are always a TON of stories about Archie’s parents!
Like, who gives a crap about Archie’s parents!?!? It seems like a weird couple of characters to focus on so much. Seriously though, The Mr. and Mrs. Andrews stories some of the weirdest Archie comics I’ve ever read. Take, for example, this one featuring Archie’s dad:
Mr. Andrews is feeling old upon going to his Navy reunion (and also having a son whose been a teenager for 70 years).
Through a series of mystical, magical circumstances, Mr. Andrews gets the opportunity to once again ride the seven seas as the member of a ghostly phantom ship. As a condition of agreeing to join the ghost ship’s crew, he will forever be at the height of his youth and vigor… but may only return to land once every hundred years. I swear, I am not making this up.
The story ends with Mr. Andrews realizing there are many good things that go along with aging, like his family. The last panel is the most mournful, maudlin panel of Archie comics I have ever read in my life.
Again, this story is included in the same collection of comics where Betty moons Veronica and Jughead.
I have to admit, these comics have completely won me over to the world of Archie, to the point where I bought an original Archie comic strip last week. They’ll never revolutionize the medium, but they’re solidly built enough over seventy years to withstand ANY kind of story. Time travel, mystery, super-hero, they’ve all been told through the Archie template. The art is pretty workman-like, but I’m always impressed with how the cartoonists tackle telling stories in such a mundane setting. I feel like it’s easier to draw a crazy far-out science fiction setting than it might be to draw a simple room in a house with a lamp. Everyone knows what that room with a lamp looks like.
Anyhow, I pick these up for a quarter a pop and never go away disappointed.