Comics/Graphic Novels

First Appearance Flashback: Archie Andrews

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

Superheroes have been around a long time, and most of the characters and genre conventions are pretty well established. But did every character always look and act the way we expect them to today? In this series, I’ll be looking at the first appearances of iconic superheroes to see what’s familiar, what’s fallen by the wayside, and what’s goofy as heck. Today: Archie Andrews!

…Okay, yes, you’re right, Archie is not a superhero, except sometimes in his identity as Pureheart the Powerful. But much like Captain America, who I covered earlier in this series, Archie made his debut 80 years ago this year, and I think that merits taking a look at his first appearance. Will it be exactly like an episode of Riverdale? Let’s find out!

The cover of Pep Comics #22 shows the Shield, a superhero in a red, white, and blue costume, about to be stepped on by a giant booted foot with metal spikes on the sole and the Japanese rising sun and Nazi flags on the heel. Running to help are his sidekick, Dusty the Boy Detective, in a blue and red costume, and a hero called the Hangman, in a blue and green costume.
But does the Shield have an astonishingly weird TV show on the CW? Hmm?

Archibald “Archie” Andrews first appeared in Pep Comics #22 (December 1941), published by the company that was then known as MLJ Magazines and is now, of course, Archie Comics. At the time, they mainly published superheroes, which had been popular since Superman first appeared three years prior, but publisher John L. Goldwater (the “J” of “MLJ”) wanted to experiment with a comic that would appeal to fans of the Andy Hardy movie series starring Mickey Rooney — i.e. one full of normal teenage hijinks. With artist Bob Montana and writer Vic Bloom, Goldwater created the core Archie gang, several of whom appear in this very first story.

Sure enough, Archie’s not even on the cover of Pep #22 — that honor goes to the Shield, MLJ’s patriotic superhero. America’s favorite redhead (citation needed) doesn’t appear until the sixth story in this 68-page issue, but once he does, he’s…um, hideous.

A full page from Pep Comics #1, with the Archie logo at the top.

It is mostly a splash page featuring Archie, a redheaded teenage boy in knickerbockers, standing up with one foot on the seat of a moving bicycle and the other foot on the handlebars. His arms are folded and his eyes are closed. Betty, a blonde girl in a bobby soxer-style outfit, looks on admiringly.

Narration Box: Here y'are, gang: America's newest boy friend, Archie Andrews, christened Archibald. He hates Archie, so if you value life and limb, call him "Chick." Right now he's risking life and limb to impress his new neighbor - Betty Cooper.

Archie: Just a matter of skill, that's all!

At the bottom of the page there are two small inset panels:

Panel 1:

Archie: Hyah, m'name's Archie, but call me Chick. You're new here, ain't you?

Betty: Uh huh, moving in today. I'm Betty Cooper and I think you're awful clever.

Panel 2: Archie gestures to a picket fence.

Archie: That's nothin', I could even walk this fence blindfolded!

Betty: Really?
The tape on the tire and bike light is such a perfect little detail.

Is that Archie Andrews or Alfred E. Neuman?

There’s so much going on here. First of all, Archie is wearing knickerbockers. Knickerbockers! I’m in love. (The slingshot in his back pocket is also very charming.) Second, apparently he hates being called “Archie” and prefers “Chick,” which…sorry about the next 80 years, bud. Third, how frickin’ adorable is Betty over there? Betty, who has supposedly just moved to town, a piece of trivia that would quickly be retconned by about nine million issues of Li’l Archie.

Six panels from Pep Comics #22.

Panel 1: Archie trips off of the fence toward a painting being carried by Betty's father.

Archie: Ooh! Hope I hit something cheap!

Mover: Hey! Heads up!

Panel 2: Archie sitting on the grass, his head stuck through the painting where the portrait's head should be.

Archie: G-golly! How'd that happen?

Panel 3: Betty's dad is furious. Archie stands up and holds out the painting, but is about to step on a rake.

Mr. Cooper: My portrait! Ruined! Oh, you imbecile!

Archie: Gee, Mr. Cooper! I didn't hurt it much! It's just torn a little!

Panel 4: Archie steps on the rake. The other end of it hits the mover on the chin, causing him to drop a vase.

Archie: Gee! What now?

Panel 5: The vase shatters.

Narration Box: This was a priceless vase - until Archie came along!...

Panel 6: Archie runs away from Betty's angry parents.

Mr. Cooper: Grr...just let me get my hands on you!

Mrs. Cooper: My porcelean [sic] vase! My nerves! My heavens!

Mover: My poor head!

Archie: My gosh! I don't think I made a hit with Betty's folks!
Why is Betty’s dad 90 years old?

Archie’s antics pretty much instantly lead to the destruction of a painting of Betty’s father and her mother’s priceless porcelain vase, which…yeah, this perfect storm of girl-giddiness, poor judgment, clumsiness, and terrible luck is exactly the Archie we know today, even if nowadays he doesn’t sometimes appear to have his entire head shaved except his bangs. Seriously, that last panel is distressing.

Archie goes home, where he slides a book down the back of his pants to cushion the spanking he’s about to get from his father, which…well, this was eighty years ago, I guess. Luckily, his grandfather, who will rapidly be dropped as a regular character, intervenes on his behalf, though not before the strain of the book splits his pants. Oh, Archie.

Three panels from Pep Comics #22.

Panel 1: Archie looks in dismay at the seat of his pants, which is now torn out with a book poking through. His mother is also dismayed.

Archie: Oh, I forgot about that. Now I am outta luck!

Mrs. Andrews: Heavens! His best pants too!

Panel 2: Archie sits on the porch with his grandfather.

Grandpa Andrews: Yessir, women like men with courage!

Archie: Thanks, Gramps. I'll think of something!

Panel 3: Archie walks down the street with Jughead, a dog between them.

Archie: I tell ya', Jughead, I gotta get an idea. A big idea too!

Jughead: Gals! Phooey! They're poison, Chick! Stay away from 'em, I warn ya!
The fact that the book is How to Win Friends and Influence People is truly very funny.

And hey, look, it’s Jughead! Looking and talking exactly like Jughead always will! Well, he’s not eating 17 hamburgers at a time, but otherwise he’s the laidback ace rep we know and love today, though that dog resembles neither Jughead’s Hot Dog nor Li’l Archie’s Spotty. Also, this early version of Jughead’s weird crown makes it much clearer that it’s actually a cut-up fedora, which was known as a “whoopee cap” and was popular among teens in the 1930s and ’40s.

Betty has an idea to fix things for Archie: her father’s lodge is hosting a carnival, and if Archie helps Betty run the taffy stand, Mr. Cooper will be so grateful he’ll forgive everything. Archie doesn’t really want to help, but he agrees. But his earlier bragging gets him into hot water when the carnival ends up short one tightrope walker and a trusting Betty volunteers him for that, too.

Six panels from Pep Comics #22.

Panel 1: Archie, wearing a too-big red and black trapeze artist costume and carrying an umbrella, climbs up to the tightrope.

Archie: Gosh! Why didn't I listen to Jughead?

Carnival Barker: Presenting - Fearless Archive - the Youthful Daredevil!

Panel 2: Archie wobbles on the tightrope as a bug hovers near him.

Archie: Beat it - shoo! Shoo!

Pane1 3: Jughead looks up, holding a large basket.

Jughead: Oh, well, if he does fall, I'll be here to catch him!

Panel 4: The insect lands on Archie's nose.

Narration Box: Hundreds of noses at the carnival and the fly picks on Archie's!!

Archie: Scram!

Panel 5: Archie's parents run under the tightrope to catch him.

Mr. Andrews: Wait, son, don't come down too soon. Think it over!

Mrs. Andrews: My son - my Archie, my...Archibald...

Panel 6: Archie wobbles dangerously.

Archie: Oh! Oh! I knew it was too good to last!
That’s not a fly, it’s a butterfly.

Again, the art comes across as very old, but the bad luck (and Jughead hilariously combining steadfast loyalty with clearly not actually caring all that much) continues to ring true to today’s Archie. A modern comic would probably skip the, um, suicide joke in panel five, though. Yikes.

Three panels from Pep Comics #22.

Panel 1: Archie, Jughead, and the dog flee the carnival, covered in taffy. Adults are chasing them, also covered in taffy.

Archie: But Mr. Cooper, I can explain!

Jughead: You stop and explain. I'll keep on going!

Panel 2: Archie and Jughead are stuck on a tree branch with the moon behind them. A horse and several dogs and cats wait hungrily below.

Archie: Taffy! Phooey!

Jughead: Girls! Double phooey!

Panel 3: A narration box says "Some kid, that Archie, huh gang? There's another barrel of trouble - and fun waiting for him and his pal Jughead, in the next issue of Pep Comics! If your heart is weak and you can't stand laughing too much then don't read it - because you'll roar until you can't catch your breath and the tears will roll. Archie, comic's [sic] laugh sensation!"
I don’t think any of this is how taffy works, but maybe it was in 1941.

Archie falls directly into the taffy, obviously, which gets everywhere, forcing him and Jughead to flee. Look at that old timey milk wagon!!! I am delighted (and suspect taffy is not good for horses or cats and dogs, so be careful, boys). 

And that’s it! Just six pages, but Archie and Jughead, at least, are pretty much exactly as they will be for the next eight decades, though Betty has yet to grow into either her early “obnoxiously obsessed with Archie” personality or her more modern girl next door perfection. Veronica showed up not too long after, in Pep #38, and Reggie Mantle a bit after that in Jackpot Comics #5, rounding out the core gang. And all of them were very close to their final forms right away. That’s some impressive staying power!

If this article has gotten you craving more Archiean antics, Riverdale has been renewed for a sixth season and will be back in November. I look forward to the episode based on this issue, where probably someone is murdered in a taffy machine and also Archie makes a speech about football. Go Bulldogs!

Catch previous Flashback Fridays, including Superman, Captain America, and Harley Quinn.