Of IDW’s recent Archie comics collections, Archie: The Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948 is by some distance the best. First, it’s a real collection; it has all the daily strips written and drawn by Archie creator Bob Montana (who mostly concentrated on the strip, rather than the comic books, until his death in 1975) from the beginning in 1946 until October 1948, and nearly all of them have never appeared in book form — in fact, the originals are gone, and IDW had to find a fan who’d cut all these strips out of the original newspapers. Second, it’s got actual information to go with the comics: biographical stuff about Montana and MLJ Comics.
And third, the strip is good. It later became a funny but standard gag-a-day strip, but in the early years Montana did story arcs, some of them lasting for weeks, along with the individual gags. The energy of his drawing and writing is hard to resist; as the foreword points out, he liked to throw in jokes throughout the strip rather than just using the first three panels as buildup to a punchline. And because the series creator was doing the newspaper comics — which were more prestigious than the books — it was there that the characters really developed both in characterization and look; you can watch as he starts out with the more realistic early versions of the girls in 1946, and has the cartoony “modern” versions more or less down by the end of the book. (It’s something of a myth that Dan DeCarlo modernized the looks of the characters, though he certainly brought his own style to them.) Just as a comic strip, this certainly deserves its spot with the other entries in IDW’s “Library of American Comics” series, though since one of the other entries is The Family Circus you may consider that less than effusive praise (but that strip wasn’t bad at first).
In an anthropological sense it’s interesting to see which characters were more or less set in stone by these strips, and which ones were further developed by the comic books. Archie is pretty much Archie from the beginning, but Jughead still has a long way to go even by the end of this book: he didn’t become a genius con artist until he got his own book, and spends these years as mostly a standard sidekick. Dilton Doily pops up midway through and is fully defined by the end.
But what most of you really want to know is, were Betty Cooper’s psychotic tendencies something that she developed later after years of Archie-chasing, or just an inherent part of who she is? This should answer your question.
This isn’t actually her acting crazy, just ditzy, but I’m amused by the name of the girls’ football team and Reggie’s competing team.
If you’re wondering why Archie isn’t too concerned about Betty’s threats of physical harm (not to mention that warning shot into Jughead), you’ll find that out if IDW puts out a second volume of strips. As a strip from 1949 proves, Archie and Bart Simpson are both victims of casual parental strangling that would make anyone desensitized to violence.
A few Sunday strips by Montana (not included in this book) can be found at The Greatest Ape. Which also includes the daily strip which demonstrates what is known to all viewers of Looney Tunes cartoons: the defining characteristic of teenage girls in 1940s America was addiction to Frank Sinatra.
Update: A couple of other panels I wanted to highlight. One, also from the football-coach storyline, I just like because it’s the kind of deadpan Stan Daniels Turn joke that I always like, and second because it shows how Montana would sometimes put a fully-developed punchline in the first panel of the strip (which this is).
And this other panel surprised me because I hadn’t realized this word was uncontroversial in 1947 — or did it mean something else back then?