Recently, I came across a few of the Archie newspaper comic strips that I drew for Archie Comics a few years ago. I don’t have many of these left, but once upon a time I had a good bunch. I drew the strip for the final years of its original run. The strip is still going but these days, its all just reprint material. Embarrassingly, I think my name is still attached to it… at least on the syndicate’s website. That’s pretty ironic when you consider that I didn’t get my name on the strip until my last year drawing it! When the strip came to an end, I didn’t realize it at the time but I was at the very beginning of the end for me at Archie.
Although it ended badly, the strip was one of my favorite gigs at Archie, and my time drawing it was probably the most lucrative of my twenty-two years at the company.
The Archie Comic strip had started in the mid forties by Archie’s original artist and creator, Bob Montana. The strip was wildly popular and ran in millions of newspapers world wide. Eventually, I’ve been told, Montana retired from the comic books and devoted himself to just drawing the newspaper strip. I believe Montana drew the strip right up until his untimely death around 1975. I’m not familiar enough with the strip’s history to give a complete listing of all of the artists and writers involved with it. I do know that at some point the legendary Dan DeCarlo put in a rather substantial, lengthy run on the strip. Later, the great Henry Scarpelli took it over after Decarlo. I’m not sure if anyone else drew it in between DeCarlo and Scarpelli. I’ll leave the history of the strip to comic strip historians out there who are better versed in this than I am. I just wanted to throw a little background to my own time on the strip. I will recommend IDW’s great hardcover reprint volumes collecting Montana’s early strips. Those strips were pure gold and their genius holds up today!
Henry Scarpelli was a great guy. A lot of Archie fans might remember him primarily as an inker, but he was all over the Archie line of comics for many many years. As a kid, I remember seeing his work a lot during the 70’s and 80’s. He was still at it when I started drawing for the company in 1994. He wasn’t one of the regular freelancers who showed up to the Archie offices on Fridays like a lot of us did, but he did occasionally drop by and he always attended the Archie Christmas parties. A big, friendly, warm guy, I always remember him joking and kidding around. I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile. Some longtime TV fans might recognize Henry’s son, Glenn Scarpelli, who is an actor. Glenn is probably best remembered for his role as “Alex” on the Norman Lear sitcom, One Day At A Time. Some Archie fans might remember Glenn appearing as himself in a couple of one page strips in the Archie comic books.
In the early 2000’s… I want to say sometime around 2002 or 2003… Henry, who was by then of mature years, got sick and became unable to draw the strip. That was my introduction to the strips. I was brought on to draw the six daily comic strips. Another artist was asked to draw the Sundays. It was a very decent gig that paid okay for the amount of work involved. I could usually knock out my six strips in a day and at the time, I was still drawing about two digest stories a week so it was a respectable workload. At the time we freelancers used to often comment that Archie didn’t pay very well, but if they liked you and you were good enough and fast enough, they’d keep you busy with plenty of regular work. That was Archie’s strength. There was a fair amount of work and it was steady.
I can’t remember how long I drew the strip for at this point but it was for a couple of months at least. Since I was only a substitute filling in for Henry, I wasn’t credited on those strips. The writer was Craig Boldman, a longtime Archie writer and a fellow former student of the Kubert School. The inker most of the time was veteran inker, Bob Smith, who’d inked many, many books over at DC Comics. Occasionally, longtime Archie inker, Jon D’Agastino would fill in. The letterer varied. Sometimes it was D’Agastino doing it if he was also inking. Other times it was longtime letterer John Workman.
Eventually, Henry felt well enough to resume his duties on the strip. I think by this time, he wasn’t inking much of anything and strictly worked solely on the strips. I believe when he drew them he also inked himself, but I’m not one hundred percent sure of that. Sometime around 2005, Henry again became ill and unable to work. I was again asked to fill in for him. This time, I would draw both the six dailies and the Sunday strip. As I said before, this would be the best living I’d ever earn at Archie Comics. On top of the strip, I was still drawing two digest stories a week and occasionally writing them. I’d also do occasional covers as well. The strips, including the Sunday, now took me about a day and a half to complete. The rest of the week was filled with whatever other work Archie wanted to throw at me. It was great. Sadly, what I didn’t know at the time was that it would never be that great again. That was my personal Golden Age at Archie Comics and it was going to come to a horrible end.
Henry would recover somewhat but never enough to resume his work on the strip. His name was still kept on the strip in case he ever did feel up to returning. Archie always wanted to leave that door open to him. Sadly, he never did and eventually he passed away. It was then that I finally got my name on the strip right under Craig Boldman’s.
I’d draw the strip for about another year. I think I’d done about five years worth of strips in total. During that time, Archie Comics had undergone many changes including acquiring new management. In 2011, I was told that they were no longer going to be producing new strips. The strip would continue but it would now be reprints largely from the DeCarlo era. These strips would receive some “corrective surgery” in order to appear contemporary and fresh. TV’s were turned to flat screens and telephones would be turned into cell phones. It was a sad end for what was once one of the most popular comic strips in the World. There was no doubt that the strip had lost a lot of its popularity. It was no longer in millions of newspapers world wide. In fact, my editor Victor Gorelick told me that the number of papers globally that carried both the Sunday strip as well as the dailies was just three. At one point, even the local newspaper in Mamaroneck, New York, where Archie Comics was headquartered, dropped the strip. The heads of Archie took this very personally. They urged all of the company’s employees to launch a vigorous letter writing campaign to get the newspaper to reverse its decision and carry the strip again. This happened before my time with the company but the incident was still spoken of even years later. According to the legend, this plea fell on deaf ears. I don’t think many if any of the employees wrote to the paper and the strip never returned to its pages. Despite its undeniable decline in popularity, I always believed that its easier to try to save something than it is to start something totally new so I always thought it a shame that no attempt was ever made to try to reinvigorate the strip. Instead, it was just euthanized.
As I said, this would be the beginning of the end. I’d lost a significant chunk of income with the death of the strip, but I was still getting two stories a week plus covers so I coped for a while. Archie, however, was beginning its period of serious fat trimming. The strip was probably the first significant casualty. Eventually,they would tear through all of their thirty-two page comic books and even their brief flirtations with the magazine format would end up being euthanized. Nothing was safe. I limped along bouncing from project to project to occasional digest story until 2016 when they decided to reboot their characters and do away with many of us old “classic” artists. There was no warning. There was no conversation. The work, after twenty-two years, just stopped.
And that was the end for me.
I should point out that while I drew the strip for its final five or so years of original material.I did not draw the final strip. That honor went to my pal and Die Kitty Die co-creator, Dan Parent. After months of reprints, Archie Comics decided to do one final new strip for the tenth anniversary of 9-11. Since that strip involved Dan’s creation, Kevin Keller, it was decided that he should draw that one last strip.
For years, the original art to the strips was one of my most popular items at conventions. A lot of people enjoyed the economically priced, conveniently sized art that was very framable and very suitable for display. It was like a cover or a full page that demanded considerable wall space. The strips could be framed in a nice small frame and hung over a desk. Naturally, a lot of people looked for strips that met with their preferences. A lot of people wanted strips that featured most of the Archie gang. Strips featuring both Betty & Veronica were very popular. Strips with Archie and Jughead were also very sought after. I also tended to get a lot of teachers who wanted the school-themed gags so they could hang the strips in their classrooms. I moved a lot of strips over the years. These days I’m left mostly with strips featuring Mr. Weatherbee gags or gags with Archie’s dad. I imagine I’ll probably die with those!