In this cover article from the January 28th issue of New York Magazine, Abraham Riesman examines Archie’s pop culture renaissance with the launch of the new CW series, Riverdale. Riesman turns to Barty Beaty’s ‘Twelve-Cent Archie’ when considering the reliably predictable narrative structure of Archie Comics:
The short-form adventures of that gang of knuckleheads were, by the early 1960s, assembly-line narrative products, subject to strict factory guidelines for the writers and artists who manufactured them. Illustrator Dan DeCarlo laid out the house style that is still recognizable: thick lines, slapstick poses, eyes like fermatas. Their stories — published in an array of anthology titles whose contents were only barely distinguishable from one another — were targeted at nascently literate preteens. But the shallowness belied a kind of mass-market artistic genius. The pantheon of Archie’s greatest creators — men like Frank Doyle, Samm Schwartz, Bob Bolling, and Harry Lucey — was able to generate thousands upon thousands of stories while working within a tightly circumscribed set of rules.
Because you couldn’t change the fundamental nature of the characters, you could only mix things up with new combinations of them and new narrative instigations. This structure was perhaps best summed up by literary historian Bart Beaty in his fascinating 2015 tome Twelve-Cent Archie: “To paraphrase Anton Chekhov, if a bowling ball is shown on the first page, it must be dropped on someone’s foot on the final page, because in the world of Archie, any newly introduced element necessarily suggests its own outcome — if it is breakable, it will be broken; if it is round, it will be tripped over.”