St. Archie of Riverdale

I have to thank Amy Sullivan of political aims for the link in the previous post to the Hal Lindsey comic.

She reviews Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion in The Washington Monthly.

In the course of that review, she describes the old Spire Comics versions of Archie comics:

In the days before VeggieTales, we read Christian versions of Archie comic books, in which Betty, Veronica and the whole gang traveled the world proselytizing.

Mainly what I remember from the Spire edition Archies was the same thing I remember from the plain old "secular" ones: Betty and Veronica were hot. So much so that I didn't pay much attention to the goofy, parochial version of the Christian life that these comics presented.

Now, thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web, you can turn with me to see for yourselves the strange spectacle of Archie's Parables. The entire comic is online — in a 4.1 megabyte .pdf file — here.

You might think that this would involve a retelling of biblical parables as re-enacted by the gang from Riverdale High. It doesn't. Instead, Archie and friends act out a bunch of their own fables, use a lot of church-y evangelispeak and pray a lot. But the moral of these fables is not necessarily Christian or even complementary to Christian teaching, as in the first story in which Archie, as a medieval knight, goes off to fight a dragon (using a fire extinguisher):

JUGHEAD: The dragon's running away!!!

ARCHIE: That's the way it is with evil — when you stand up to it, it always retreats!!!

JUGHEAD: But the dragon's still alive —

ARCHIE: Maybe we can't get rid of ALL the evil in the world — but we CAN drive it out of the neighborhood!!!

And speaking of driving undesirable elements out of the neighborhood …

The second "parable" is called "Showdown at the Little Red Schoolhouse." The Old West setting includes recasting Jughead as "Pronto — my faithful Indian companion!!!"

Sheriff Archie is summoned to the schoolhouse where there's big trouble: "They've had their hands full ever since they started to bus students across the prairie!!!"

The school teacher, Betty (still hot, but in that repressed, fundamentalist way), explains the problem:

"Oh, Sheriff — when they took the BIBLE OUT of school, more and more PROBLEMS came IN! Now we have books that say we all came from MONKEYS — and the students are starting to ACT like it!

Sheriff Archie comes through by turning the local book store (Sign: "Filthy Books") into a "Christian book store." This includes a scene of Archie and "Pronto" unloading good, wholesome, white Christian books from a covered wagon that reads "Fleming H. Revell" on the side. That's the parent company of Spire Comics. Nice touch.

Good old Archie — Maybe we can't get rid of ALL the scientists and black students in the world — but we CAN drive them out of the neighborhood!!! (All triple exclamation points original.) Such lovely Christian sentiments.

Several other Spire Comics classics are readable online from the same folks here, including Archie's Date Book and the aforementioned Hal Lindsey classic.

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  • KDR

    My favorite is “Hansi: The Girl Who Loved The Swastika.” The cover is a hoot.
    What’s odd, though, is that Hansi never seems to age. She’s about 18 or so when the story opens in 1938, and “years later,” when she and Rudy emigrate to the U.S., (it has to be at least the 1960s, what with the implication of social unrest) she’s still, well…HOT.
    I guess a Hansi with grey hair and wrinkles wouldn’t hold the interest of teenage fundie boys. I know as a former Missouri Synod Lutheran that the female form held more than a passing interest to me as a fourteen-year-old in catechism class :)

  • carla

    What I find truly fascinating about this (and about Sullivan’s article, which I read with interest), are a couple of puzzles I’ve noticed over the years. (I’m a third-generation atheist, so I find other people’s religions interesting in an anthropological way.) One has to do with how the structures of the religion intersect with notions of community–I don’t mean the actual community that is created, but the structure, insofar as it is “dictated” by the theological underpinnings. I think this also intersects with both the role of texts and the relationship with the deity in question. That is, for example, Judaism requires a minyan for services–a minimum number of people (or men, if you’re sufficiently orthodox); it also requires engagement with the Torah, even if only nominally for one’s bar/bat mitzvah. Catholicism doesn’t require a community, per se, but it does require a priest to perform important rituals. It doesn’t require engagement with a text–one can be a good Catholic and never read the Bible (though prayer and Bible study groups among Catholics are an interesting development). Protestantism (and, yes, I know, there are many varieties, so I’m speaking in very large generalities here) doesn’t require a minyan or a priest, but it does require a personal engagement with the text, as well as with the deity; I’d be curious how the notion of a community of believers is conceptualized. I know nothing about Islam, except that the Koran shouldn’t be translated–which suggests textual engagement–and nothing about the conceptualization or enactment of community.
    Anyway, I find your blog fascinating–it’s a window into a whole ‘nother world.

  • julia

    You know, I wish the right would lay off VeggieTales – they’re really astonishingly progressive little things.
    Let’s see – Daniel is messing things up for the king’s advisors, who don’t have his or the country’s best interests at heart, and they conspire to have him killed; Jonah tries to arrange for the Ninevites to be smited by God (who has asked him personally to help avoid that very thing) because even though God loves everyone and is willing to forgive them, Jonah knows better than God does who deserves to have a rain of fire fall on them; Mme. Blueberry screws up her life because she decides that she can’t be happy if her stuff isn’t better and more expensive than the neighbors’ stuff, even stuff she doesn’t need, and bad corporations encourage her to go with that; Nebby K. Nezzer abuses his immigrant workers with inhumane working conditions, which they put up with because they’re trying to help their families, but then he snaps and asks them to worship a 200-ft statue of his product, because he’s decided that his business interests are so important that everyone who works for him should be forced to worship them…
    Sometimes I wonder how, say, Lileks (a prominent right-wing fan) manages to explain to his kid the extreme disconnect between what he’s telling her about morality with the videos and the fact that he disagrees vehemently with what they’re saying.
    And besides, Cheeseburger Song (.rm version).

  • Tlachtga

    I have to say, my favorite section is where Archie and Jughead go to the twin planets–the evil planet, where they don’t read the Bible or believe in God, is especially evil because: “We’ve got complete freedom!!! And complete equality!!! We’ve all got it so bad–nobody could have it any worse!!!” (p16)
    And the next story echoes scenes from Rocky Horror Picture Show all too eerily. Maybe Chasing Amy was right about Archie and Jughead’s secret affair…

  • Fred

    Julia —
    I’m with you on VeggieTales. The biggest difference between them and most of what’s produced in the subcultural ghetto of evangelicalism is that they’re really well done.
    My favorite — one which would make George W. Bush squirm if someone were to explain it to him — is Larry Boy and the Lie from Outer Space.