Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why we still love Archie

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
September 29, 2013 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Archie Andrews, eternal teenager, is the central character in a comic that kicked off in 1942 and was set in the mythical Riverdale, where nothing too upsetting happens. Fans have followed along since then as Archie and his Riverdale High friends, including two best gal pals, Veronica, left, and Betty -- shown here in the 1990s -- get into wacky adventures, share sodas and even evolve with the times somewhat (the strip added racial diversity and a gay character in a recent years). Archie Andrews, eternal teenager, is the central character in a comic that kicked off in 1942 and was set in the mythical Riverdale, where nothing too upsetting happens. Fans have followed along since then as Archie and his Riverdale High friends, including two best gal pals, Veronica, left, and Betty -- shown here in the 1990s -- get into wacky adventures, share sodas and even evolve with the times somewhat (the strip added racial diversity and a gay character in a recent years).
HIDE CAPTION
Meet the Archies
Meet the Archies
Meet the Archies
Meet the Archies
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Victor Gorelick has stayed with the Archie comic for 55 years
  • Greene: Gorelick was enchanted with the gentle simplicity of the problems Archie faced
  • He says while the world is complex and ugly, the world of Archie - Riverdale - is appealing
  • Greene: Archie, with his perpetual smile, is like a best friend for Gorelick

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- If a fellow is going to spend 55 years working in the same place, he would be wise to count his blessings that the place is Riverdale.

"The first day I walked in, in 1958, I was 17 years old," said Victor Gorelick. "I took a job as a fill-in art assistant."

He never went on to college. He never took another job. Today he is 72. His explanation for staying is so basic he can express it in a single sentence:

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

"I decided to stick with Archie."

And Betty. And Veronica. And Jughead. And Reggie. And, most of all, Riverdale, U.S.A.

It doesn't exist, of course, which is probably what makes the town so perfect. Nothing in real life could match it. Archie Andrews first appeared in a comic book in 1941, and that idealized town in which he and his friends have always lived has never been identified by state. Some readers assume it is in the Midwest, but Gorelick -- the longest-serving employee of Archie Comics, and now its editor-in-chief -- will go no further than to say that "it's in a place that has four seasons."

The summer, autumn, winter and spring in the pages of the comic books have never been the same seasons that Gorelick has observed outside the windows of the Archie offices in Westchester County, New York: "We have a four-month lead time. So the season an artist is drawing on a given day is not the same season we're living in actual life."

But actual life is not the key to Archie's eternal appeal, which may have a lot to do with what attracted Gorelick to the character, and the company, in the first place. He grew up in Brooklyn, an only child until he was 16: "My father worked in a fish market. He'd leave the house at 4:30 or 5 o'clock in the morning, he would clean fish and sell fish all day, and he would come home tired with fish scales and sawdust on his shoes. I would clean his shoes. He worked so hard for his money. He never took me fishing."

Archie Andrews' world, mythical though it was, had to have looked pretty swell next to that. When Gorelick, with Dwight D. Eisenhower in the White House, showed up for that fill-in job in the art department, his own comic-book tastes had tended toward "Tales from the Crypt."

But he soon became enchanted with the gentle simplicity of the problems Archie faced: "He's this klutzy, well-meaning kid who breaks things by mistake in Veronica's house, or who cooks a beautiful breakfast to bring upstairs to his mother on Mother's Day, but leaves behind a mess in the kitchen."

Gorelick's real life may or may not be any more irritation-free than anyone else's -- on the day we spoke he was battling a nagging cough that wouldn't let go -- but there is something to be said for being able, for all these years, to lose himself, professionally, in a comic-book world where matters are ever placid, ever sunny.

He has even been able to derive inspiration from the characters who live on those pages; Archie takes solace in having a close buddy, Jughead Jones, "who he can talk to and tell him anything." Gorelick said he has come to realize that his own Jughead Jones, his port in a storm, "lives in New Jersey. His name is Bert Bailin. I've known him for 65 years, since we were kids. He was my best man -- twice."

Ten presidents have succeeded Eisenhower during Gorelick's years with Archie, and the country has changed in myriad ways. Some of those changes have been reflected in the storylines of the comics -- racial and ethnic diversity in Riverdale, the introduction of a popular gay character -- and others have manifested themselves in the delivery systems for those stories: the disappearance around the nation of mom-and-pop candy stores with comic-book racks (although Pop Tate's Sweet Shop remains a vibrant Archie landmark), the rise in digital readership and availability of Archie apps. The Archie comic books continue to publish with new stories, in various sizes and lengths; no new Archie newspaper strips are being drawn, although reruns of the old ones are available digitally.

Yet what is constant in that make-believe town is more significant than what is altered, Gorelick said: "Behind everything is the idea that Riverdale is a place that is welcoming to anyone. The goal has always been to be a place of comfort to our readers, especially for our youngest readers." Nothing terrible or violent happens in Riverdale: "You have to keep that out of our town. Kids today go through metal detectors at their schools, there are police officers in the hallways, the drugs, the gangs." By design, "Archie lives in a world the way we might like it to be."

Gorelick understands how elusive such a world is. When he switches on his computer at work, the ugliness of news headlines on the screen reminds him that none of us really lives in Riverdale. Even in the corporate offices of Archie Comics there has been acrimony in recent years, with lawsuits and bitterness between two top officers. But in the editorial department, Gorelick's job is to keep his focus on pretend streets where nothing becomes much more complicated than "Archie getting a little bamboozled because he has made a date with two different girls on the same night, and he asks Jughead, 'How did I get into this mess?'"

After all this time, does Archie seem real to him -- even like a friend? "He's my best friend -- he's paid me every week for 55 years." Does he think about Archie after he's closed his office door for the night? "Constantly. I've got a framed oil portrait of him in my den at home." Does Archie's perpetual smiling youth ever make him consider his own mortality? "I know I'm not going to be around forever. Archie goes on."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT