Even before he was a zombie, Jughead was awesome. Seriously. If you think that eating hamburgers and avoiding girls are the only personality traits that Forsythe P. Jones possesses, you are seriously mistaken. Throughout the decades, Jughead has obviously been a master of misogyny and gluttony to be sure. But he is also the smartest character in all of Archie comics. (With apologies to Dilton Doiley).
Sadly, however, in 1987 Archie Comics made the inexplicable decision to relaunch the Jughead book for a new generation of readers. Replacing the book’s smart humor and unforgettable artistic style was a string of awkward creative decisions that attempted to make Jughead more popular amongst young comic readers. The most notorious of these occurred in conjunction with Archie’s 50th Anniversary in 1992. Yes friends, I am talking about the (mercifully) brief period in which Jughead Jones became a skate punk. Believe it or not, but this could be the lowest point in Archie’s 75 years of comics, and that’s including Al Hartley’s religious Archie books and, ugh, Archie Babies. The skate punk era pretty much was over after four issues, but it remains a cautionary tale in how to annoy readers. Why? Hit the jump and find out!
During Samm Schwartz’s lengthy run illustrating the characters, teaming with powerhouse Archie writers like Frank Doyle and George Gladir, Jughead had come vividly to life – which is no easy task given the sleepy-eyed laconic nature that is embedded in the character’s DNA. While the writers of Jughead stories (which, in this Archie historian’s eyes, peaked during the 1970s) did most of the heavy lifting humor-wise, Schwartz was given free reign to create oddball visual flourishes to his work. Thus readers would be treated to recurring sight gags such as Schwartz’s “Vote for Sam” signs plastered randomly throughout panels and an often flagrant disregard for comic book physics. For fans of oddball comics, this stuff was Manna from heaven – or, at the very least, from Mamaroneck, New York.
8) Jughead’s Awful New Look
In Morrissey’s “Alsatian Cousin,” the protagonist of the song suspects that his lover is having an affair. This would be bad enough in and of itself, but what really seems to bother Moz here is that the other figure in the tryst is someone who dresses in a tweed coat with leather elbows. “Is that the best you can do?,” the Britpop icon croons. You see, folks, there simply is no excuse for poor fashion taste.The sentiment equally applies to the editorial department at Archie and their approval of this makeover. I can understand if the higher-ups there in the early ’90s never saw the video for Sonic Youth’s “100%”, but did they actually think that the typical skateboarder sported corn rows and a rat tail like they were refugees from a Red Hot Chili Peppers video shoot?
After two issues of this new look – which debuted in Jughead #29 – he began to sport a sideways baseball cap and a baggy hooded sweatshirt. This Brundlefly-ian fusion of early 1990s youth fashion trends may be fascinating to cultural anthropologists studying the era, but the rest of us were just laughing at what appeared to be the aggressive cluelessness of the redesign. As a footnote, it should be mentioned that this was hardly the last time Archie comics tried to make their characters more realistic. Shudder.
7) It Corresponded With Political Correctness Run Amuck
At this point, I think it should be made perfectly clear that I personally think Archie Comics are awesome. I have been a fan since childhood, and as an adult I am continually blown away by how progressive and willing to take risks the company is. Throughout the years, Archie has attempted to raise social awareness through their comics by introducing characters that reflect the diversity of the world in which we live. Most famously, this policy has resulted in the creation of their gay character, Kevin Keller. While Keller rightfully caught on, the same can’t be said for some of Juggie’s pals and gals back in the 1990s. Enter Anita Chavita and Jeffrey. The former was an African-American girl who was wheelchair bound and the latter was a blind guy whose lack of sight helped him discover the true beauty of Big Ethel.
Unlike the multifaceted Kevin Keller, whose homosexuality just happens to be one tiny aspect of his personality, Anita and Jeffrey were one-dimensional characters who were defined by their disabilities, which is, in its own way, misguided…if not more than a little offensive.
6) Dilton Doiley: Psychopath
Between the short-lived Dilton’s Strange Science and his role in these Jughead comics, there was a real push to develop Riverdale’s resident nerd in the 1990s. Sadly, here he was largely portrayed as a needy loser with some murderous tendencies. Take, for example, the above panel in which Dilton uses his (apparently maniacal) genius to create sentient cream pies to MURDER Jughead for stealing Anita’s heart away from him. His odd behavior can be attributed to the fact that he is portrayed as a latchkey kid here. Or maybe the pressure to succeed academically was so great upon our bespectacled pal that he simply snapped. Whatever. Dude’s a complete pyscho and should be locked up in Riverdale’s juvie hall. At least now we know why Dilton was so nutty in those early issues of Life with Archie: The Married Life.
5) Its Complete Lack of Even the Most Basic Knowledge About Skateboarding Culture
A non-traditional haircut designed to scare the norms and having pals named Slug, Smog, Stinky and Smug does not a skateboarder make.
It’s not like readers expected hardcore references to Stacy Peralta in every issue, but there was seemingly no attempt to explain why skateboarding is so appealing other than the Poochie-esque proactive and in your face splash panels of Jughead and company looking like tourists in a land they know nothing about. I was an indoor kid who would match rather play Spy Hunter on my Commodore 64 than go outside and do ollies, and even I knew more about skating than Jug did. And I was both a reader of, and the target audience for, this comic at the time.
Yes, I have wasted my life.
4) Jughead’s Ever-Changing Hair
It was a tough choice, but Jughead #32 is the nadir of this makeover experiment. In the issue, Jughead and pals (including a bemused Archie, who shows up to comment on how nonsensical the issue is) deal with an alien invasion of Riverdale…one that involves extraterrestrial cats. Well, kind of anyway.
Also, there’s virtual reality involved.
Anyway, the real fun of this issue is watching how Jughead’s hair alternates between his skate look and his usual hairstyle, seemingly from panel to panel. Now you can easily chalk this up to laziness/indifference on the artist’s part, which would be completely understandable given the story he had to work with. But I think there is something greater happening here, and that it was the Archie company’s way of weirdly transitioning Jughead back to his usual appearance. By the start of the next issue, he looks like the Jughead readers know and love. He’s a little older and a little wiser, but mainly he’s just rid of the dumbest hairstyle ever to hit Riverdale. Well, maybe except for Mr. Weatherbee’s toupee.
3) Manufactured Quirkiness
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m not a fan of this run of Jughead. And not just the skateboarding issues either, but this entire era.The skate stuff is ass enough on its own, but when it is coupled with bizarre editorial decisions like giving Jughead a catch phrase like “Yowza” that seems more suitable for a shitty Vegas comedian than Riverdale’s king, it results in a book that is largely unreadable. Unlike the Schwartz era, there is no time for subtlety or organic gags here. Instead there are pies exploding in faces and an inexplicable obsession with soy. This is the sort of garbage that passes for humor in these books. Every joke here is big and broad, and these issues are filled with oddness that feels designed by committee. From a mind-swapping subplot to killer robots, these issues are full of randomness that attempts to fill the void where comedy should go. Meanwhile, each experiment leaves Jughead floundering on the printed page, a purportedly wacky and creatively stillborn shell of his former self. Yowza indeed.
2) It Sidelined Established Characters for Uninspired New Ones
An especially odd thing about these comics is that they seem to have no confidence in the characters and concepts that initially made Archie comics so successful. Archie, Betty, Veronica and Reggie have been reduced to a limited role here. Taking their place are such forgettable new folks as the aforementioned Anita and Jeffrey, Jughead’s GILF relative, Grandma Jones (a woman who creepily hangs out with teenaged skate punks), her country music-loving/wisdom spouting pal Cowboy Bob (ditto), Jughead’s therapist Sara Bellum (whose sessions result in the most bizarre and unethical doctor/patient relationship this side of The Sopranos), low-rent riot grrl Sassy Thrasher (a divisive character whose name was inspired by 1990s teen-based magazines) and the virtual reality hacker Sector (sigh).
Of these, Sassy gained the most traction with readers and hung around the longest. (She also briefly reappeared last year). However the rest all are now residing in Riverdale’s Where Are They Now? file, just waiting to be dusted off and reincorporated into the brave new world that Archie comics has now created for itself. Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed they show up as zombie fodder in Afterlife with Archie.
1) Jughead Was Already The Epitome of Cool
Even today, Archie has a Jughead problem. The character has been without a solo comic for two years, and while there’s been talk of a new title none has materialized as of yet. This is understandable, because the character is primarily known for his love of food and aversion to women. (Leading many to joke that he is Archie’s first gay character instead of Kevin Keller ). But what Jughead has always been first and foremost is a non-conformist. It wasn’t a random choice to make him The Archies’ drummer, since he marches to his own beat. That sounds goofy to say, but for over seven decades he has been the character who has always seemed one step ahead of everyone in Riverdale.
Sometimes his schemes are to score free food or get revenge against Reggie, but usually he comes up with plans to amuse himself and his friends. He’s an inherently weird character whose crown has grown from a fashion accessory in the 1940s to a symbol of how he is a man who seems to be displaced from a cooler, more relaxed age. There are many methods to make him relevant again (such as in Tom Root’s hilarious story in Jughead #200), but saddling him with an unfortunate haircut and some edgy new friends didn’t do anything but leave a blemish on his sterling reputation. Keeping up with the times is one thing, but when doing so requires stripping away everything that is unique about the character it is better off to him leave Riverdale gracefully then even have him don a rat tail again. Man, that thing was the fucking worst.
Previously by Chris Cummins
The 10 Best Things About the First Three Issues of Afterlife with Archie
10 Casting Suggestions for the Archie Film