My father bought me my first Archie comic in 1990, a digest I saw at the cash register at our local supermarket. At first, I was hesitant to read it — these were stories about high schoolers, and I was barely in first grade. Yet my curiosity got the better of me, and I quickly learned that Archie was for me. While canonically the characters were older, their antics and adventures seemed real and tangible. The digest also offered quick puzzle games such as mazes, crosswords, and more. I was entranced, and my father took notice. A few weeks later he took me to my very first comic book store, Alternate Worlds in Cockeysville, Maryland, and my entire world changed very quickly.
This isn't like the schools in Riverdale
To my odd misfortune, I went to a very preppy private all-girls school. My peers were not interested in comics. Instead, the average girl at my school took horseback riding lessons or studied various instruments. They played sports and gossiped about whatever it is elementary school-aged girls gossip about. And then there was me. Perhaps I put myself into the outcast position on purpose, but I was also wearing a back brace, orthodontics, had severe asthma, and a learning disability… and I would bring my comic books to school with me. I suppose then I made myself an easy target. Teachers and students would frequently remind me that comic books were not appropriate for young ladies, and on occasion, I would find my comics torn up or thrown into puddles.
Anachronistic Archie = Timeless Archie
In a world where I didn’t have real-life friends, Archie and the gang were the closest things I had to companionship. The group would remain largely unchanged since its introduction in 1941, yet still somehow managed to fit into modern times but seemingly devoid of modern problems. Archie Comics was my safe space — a place where I could escape the harsh realities of real life, and where I felt I could breathe. In my small section of the world, I was the only Archie fan I knew. I coveted the characters and felt like the fandom only belonged to me.
Archie has been a mainstay in my life, but outside of the comics there truly wasn’t much to indulge in. Sure, we had the Sabrina the Teenage Witch show, and there was a disastrous live-action pilot that would eventually turn into a made-for-TV movie (Return to Riverdale). We even had the now cult classic Josie and the Pussycats movie. But Archie seemed to reside comfortably within the land of cartoons and comics, despite prior attempts at live-action shows that happened before I was born. The live-action world didn’t seem built for the Riverdale kids.
Finding a new way to love comics: collecting
By the time I graduated high school in 2004 I wasn’t reading Archie as often. My weekly trips to the comic book store ceased as I entered my freshman year of college. The comics I was reading came largely from DC at that point. I would still pick up new Archie comics here and there, as the characters still held a special place in my heart. By the end of 2004, I dove head first into the world of Silver and Golden age comics, and by the end of 2005, I finally had my first Archie Comics #1. My fandom simply evolved into the collectors market. While I kept up with current Archie news, I swam deeper and deeper into their history, which included vintage Archie items. Did you know at one point there was an Archie-themed restaurant? My focus on the Bob Montana and Harry Lucey Archie universe kept me busy, and at this point, I had met several other fans. My little Archie universe seemed vastly bigger, yet still intimate.
In 2013 rumors began to spread about a possible Archie movie. Warner Bros. had been developing an Archie film that would mimic the teen humor films by John Hughes (during this time there was even talk of a Broadway show, which I was signed on as a consultant for). After some back and forth, the movie turned into the Riverdale show in 2014, which was originally produced by Fox. Fox lost interest in the project so Riverdale was sent to the CW — and from there, the rest is history. Riverdale was formally announced in 2016, with much fanfare at that year's Comic-Con International: San Diego. My small universe, filled with characters I felt a personal connection to, was expanding beyond what I thought was possible.
The CW Riverdale effect
The cast for Riverdale are some supremely beautiful people — and for once I could understand why Betty and Veronica fought over this otherwise awkward red-headed guy. But Riverdale also brought something I was sorely unprepared for. Hoards of teenagers who were flocking to the cast, but not the characters they represented. When Hot Topic started carrying Riverdale merchandise, I would overhear people much younger than me lament over their crush on Cole Sprouse. When an employee asked if they had read the comics, these same kids would scoff and go 'It’s not a comic, it’s a TV show'. Archie finally achieved what Marvel and DC did years ago – they finally cornered the 'can’t be bothered to read a comic' crowd. Many of the people who were invested in Riverdale were the same people who made fun of me for liking the source material.
Imagine having the safest thing you had as a child suddenly infiltrated by people who would normally make fun of you for liking that very thing. People my own age were talking about Riverdale in abstract terms, completely ignoring the comics the show is based on. A majority of peers I would speak to simply thought Archie Comics has ceased publication in the '60s and were shocked that they were still being published to this day. While the show did create some new Archie Comics fans, Riverdale created a cult following of its own. Now there were two Archie universes, and in one of them, I felt wildly out of place. The fans skewed much younger than me, and for the most part, they didn’t really care about the comics.
In one Archie Facebook community, I was a part of, fans were largely divided. Several of the admins in the group would claim Riverdale wasn’t their Archie and that they were entirely against it. This also did not sit right with me. Riverdale and its fanbase are allowed to exist within the confines of the Archie fandom, and I could start to see how one group of fans was turning on this much younger group that simply liked these characters in another form. The argument still exists online today that Riverdale is simply Archie in name only.
Anachronistic Archie = Timeless Archie (again)
I was fortunate enough to watch the first few episodes of Riverdale before the official premiere. Going in I was cautious. The trailer did the series absolutely no favors and made me laugh at what should have been serious moments. But the first five episodes pulled me in. While many other fans argue that Riverdale is simply a run-of-the-mill CW teen drama, the characters still felt familiar. Almost every character from the comics was present, and Riverdale was a town that seemed disassociated with any particular time period but seemed both nostalgic and modern in one go.
One storyline did grab my attention harder than most — the romance between Betty and Jughead. Since Archie’s debut in Pep Comics #22 in December of 1941, Jughead has remained largely indifferent to dating. Yet creator Bob Montana did sprinkle in some clues that maybe Jughead was the Casanova that everyone was overlooking; since the Golden Age Jughead has indeed “hated women”, yet in several comics, it was clear the character did like Betty. In Jughead #5 (1988) it is revealed that Jughead was suffering from a broken heart over having to move away from his childhood girlfriend, Joni. Riverdale explored the always sweet-natured relationship between Jughead and Betty, finally making them an official couple. While I was never a huge Betty fan growing up, the show reimagined her as a sweet-natured yet anxiety-ridden young woman with questionable family life. I was adopted, and while my mom and dad are fine, my own biological family is largely filled with drama and family members who have made very questionable life choices. Like Betty, I sometimes feel stuck in an area between normalcy and the weird, while fighting a never-ending parade of internal conflicts. I could see myself in Betty, I felt the anxieties, the insecurities, and fears she had.
No, this wasn’t the white picket Bob Montana universe Archie, but this was a show that combined classic, modern, and horror Archie into one show. Archie has never been a serious comic — while the comic itself flirted with camp, Riverdale dove headfirst into the style. While I did stop watching halfway through season 2 due to my work schedule, I developed a soft spot for Riverdale. For years I felt mostly alone with my own fandom, but Riverdale pulled in all kinds of new fans with new viewpoints and interests.
There absolutely is room for Riverdale within the larger Archie universe — and much like the comics, this feels like home.