The Archie Universe: Media Comparison Narrative

Since 1941, the Archie Universe has been a timeless classic for all ages. The unforgettable characters and humorous story lines capture a part of childhood that we will never forget.

Characters from the original Archie comics
Photo from the official Archie Comics website

Do you recognize any of these characters?

The town of Riverdale has so many different talents, personalities and backgrounds. People like Sabrina, Josie and her Pussycat crew, as well as Katy Keene are also important figures. However, for the purpose of this assignment, I will solely be focusing on the main characters.

Before I compare the different mediums that portray the town of Riverdale, I would like to discuss the history of the Archie universe and how it became popularized.

It’s very hard to find someone that disagrees with the fact that Archie comics have caused a powerful impact. According to the official website, the lines of Archie Comic books have been “one of the most successful, longest running brands in the history of comics”.

So, how did it start?

John L. Goldwater, a founder of MLJ Magazine, wanted a character that appealed to the American teen audience. At a time when superheroes dominated the comic industry, Goldwater believed it was time for a change.

Artists Bob Montana and Dan Decarlo illustrated the main cast: Archie Andrews, his best friend Jughead, socialite Veronica Lodge, intellect Betty Cooper, and arch-nemesis Reggie Mantle. Their story became popular because they reflected the reality of American teenage life moving into the 1950’s.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, the line reached its peak when CBS picked up The Archie Show. Toys, clothing, and records were available as a result of the show’s success. At this point, attention from the main cast diverged into other characters.

Although there were Saturday morning cartoons of other characters like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats, the relevance of the main cast deteriorated as the digital age became more prevalent.

Like many other brands, Archie comics was forced to assimilate to the new expectations of the digital age. One of these digital formats was a television show. The hit CW show, Riverdale, introduces a darker twist on the classic kids series.

Riverdale: Season 1 trailer from the Netflix UK/Ireland YouTube channel

The television show is clearly an effective use of technology, both in story line and cinematography. The directors and producers use technology to create a new version of the Archie universe that has never existed: a murder mystery.

As for cinematography, there are a variety of hi-tech cameras, special effects, and elaborate settings in order to make the show more realistic on the TV screen.

In comparison to the other mediums, I believe that Riverdale has created a more mature audience for the Archie series as most people know it. Instead of the line being purely for kids, the show is also suitable for older audiences since it carries more realistic themes that are relatable to teens and adults.

As you can tell by the trailer, the digital version definitely adds to the Archie universe narrative by implementing themes that have never been seen before like sex and violence.

However, the TV show also detracts from the original narrative as a result of these themes. For those who have no prior knowledge of the Archie universe, Riverdale is a misleading concept. The show takes away from the wholesome aspect of the town where all the characters live.

Rather than celebrating being prideful of their town, the show sends the message that Riverdale is the facade of a picture-perfect town.

Although the show has proven itself to be a hit on the CW channel as well as Netflix, it does have an ethical dilemma that many viewers may not agree with.

One dilemma is the issue of diversity. Even though some viewers don’t mind the predominantly white and heterosexual cast, others can’t help but notice that people of color and queer characters aren’t given the same amount of screen-time as their counterparts.

The only exception to this dilemma is one main character, Veronica, played by actress Camila Mendes who identifies as Asian. On the other hand, characters like Kevin and Josie are sidelined or put into other shows.

Despite this challenge, the show does shed light on other societal problems such as sexual harassment.

Video by cheery101 on YouTube

In addition, Riverdale is accessible to a wide community of those who are unable to utilize the normal viewing experience. Viewers can adjust the brightness on their TV if their eyes are sensitive to light or change their settings for closed captions. With the series being added to the Netflix lineup, viewers can add subtitles and also change the language that they’re hearing or viewing the screen.

Overall, the boundary between Riverdale as a television show and other mediums are broken down because the creators of the show have more substance control in order to please their audiences.

Instead of focusing on details that audiences would have to follow every issue, the bigger picture of a murder in Riverdale is constantly reinforced. As a result, technology makes it easier for viewers to understand the big picture and figure out the details on their own.

On the contrary, other mediums require attention to detail in order to understand an event happening in a story. Without knowledge of past issues and events, the reader can easily be lost.

Now that I’ve discussed the impact of Riverdale on the Archie Universe, I would like to move onto an unexpected medium: music!

The success of the Archie show launched many different platforms for the brand, one of them including music. Archie, the founder and guitarist/vocalist called his band “The Archies”. With Reggie on the bass, Jughead on the drums, as well as Betty and Veronica singing vocals and other instruments, this band was unstoppable!

In the 1960’s and 70’s during the show’s popularity, bubblegum pop music was extremely popular. This is a sub-genre of pop music mixed with rock & roll intended for pre-teens and teenage audiences. Zach Gordon, a writer for ‘The Hoya’ blog compares this type of music to the “cheesy pop music” that everyone craved at some point in their childhood.

The Archies made bubblegum pop a commercial success with their 1969 hit “Sugar, Sugar” which reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts for a month and sold over 3 million copies!

Video by windsorbear on YouTube

Songs like this one and more were developed on vinyl records. What made the music even more interesting was the cardboard cut-outs on the back of cereal boxes that could be used on a record player.

This format of music is significant because the cereal box records attract a wider audience. The Archie team employed the marketing tool of putting the record on kids cereals like ‘Sugar Sugar Crisp’ that had vibrant colors and fictional characters to attract children to the design.

Sugar Sugar Crisp cereal box record
Photo by Ed Cyphers on Every Moment Has A Song

Since this was a new method of marketing, it interested children and parents who saw radio and television advertising as the standard. This being said, loving the record could spark interest in the family to watch the show.

On one hand, this benefits the Archie brand because more viewers means higher ratings. With higher ratings comes a longer duration of the show and overall more profit. In summary, making music adds to the narrative because it captivates a new audience and builds prominence.

On the other hand, pleasing the audience at all times can detract from the narrative because the majority of music doesn’t last forever. The bubblegum pop music fad has disappeared and will never be trendy again.

The only people that will remember this music are pre-teens and teens during this generation. Although they haven’t completely fallen off, vinyls and records are also not as popular as they used to be since there are faster and inexpensive options for playing music today.

At the time of its creation, this media wasn’t available to a wide community because vinyls are largely based on their sound which means they aren’t accessible to the hearing impaired. Now, the Archies records can be accessed on digital platforms like YouTube and Spotify.

An ethical dilemma for the original music platform is being environmentally friendly. The polyvinyl chloride plastic used to make a record needs crude oil and fossil fuels. Also, the product isn’t biodegradable.

Despite these issues, the Archies music reinforces the narrative because it introduced many kids to a new experience that they would remember forever.

Lastly, I would like to compare the impact of merchandise on the brand to the other medias I’ve analyzed. After the original show’s ending in 1969, Archie had to release a new project that would keep the characters relevant. This introduces the birth of toys and action figures.

Action figures are unique for the fact that they are a tangible representation of the child’s imagination when they were reading Archie comics or watching the show. This aspect is something that no other media is able to achieve.

Another affordance of merchandise is that you can keep them for as long as you want, and hopefully, sell it in the future to be a collector’s item. Action figures are a million dollar industry that thrive off of trading and reselling, so there is a benefit for both the brand and members of their audience beyond their childhood.

On the downside, action figures can fail to become best-selling collector’s items. For instance, most of the Archie products for sale on Ebay are under $20. Subsequently, this could decrease in the products and the brand in general.

Decreased interest and resell value also causes an ethical dilemma for retailers, who are forced to stock their shelves with an item that doesn’t make them profit.

As you can see in the second picture, there are a variety of merchandise available for Archie lovers: including toy cars, lunchboxes, thermostats, and even crossword puzzles! More recently, Archie themed clothes and shoes have become available on the official website.

Most of the products are accessible by a wide community because they can be utilized by lots of people. Those with body impairments (inability of arms or legs) may not be able to use these items because they can’t hold them. Crossword puzzles and items that talk may not be as fun to those who are visually or hearing impaired.

Here’s another way that the Archie brand used kids cereal for promotion:

Video by classiccommerical on YouTube

I believe that merchandise serves to reinforce the Archie narrative because it’s reminds the individual of their childhood, the progression that the brand has made from then until now, as well as being a memory that they can always display.

Through multiple forms of media, the Archie brand has proved itself over and over again to be an ageless piece of entertainment. A childhood staple that defined the ideal life of a teenager in the 1950’s will continue to influence generations after its time.

Want to know more about Archie?

Click here for the official store

Sign up for a digital comic subscription

Social media: @archiecomics

Watch 3 seasons of ‘Riverdale’ on Netflix (Season 4 coming soon) or catch new episodes on the CW channel on Wednesdays at 8pm EST

Watch Katy Keene on the CW channel on Thursdays at 8pm EST

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November 2021

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