I Knew a Reggie
Lately, I have been thinking about the Archie series of comic books. Some people think about their jobs, their families, global affairs, etc. I think about things like Archie comics.
For those of you unfamiliar with this series, Archie comics star Archie Andrews, a typical American teen living in the "Anywhere Small Town" of Riverdale, U.S.A. The series follows the wacky adventures of Archie and his assorted friends (Archie's best pal, the apparently tapeworm-afflicted Jughead, love struck Betty, snooty rich girl Veronica, et al) parents and teachers. The series has been around forever (well, at least since the 1940's or so). It was turned into a super-popular TV cartoon in the Seventies, and the "musical group", "The Archies", even had a top-ten song, "Sugar, Sugar". This comic book series has been delighting readers for generations. The series is so successful, I probably didn't even need to write the description above.
I loved the Archie comics as a kid (I liked the cartoon show too, but I was bothered that the characters on the show never sounded the way they did in my head. Veronica with a Southern accent? Come on!).* As a pre-teen, I thought that Archie and his friends' experiences were what I had to look forward to as a teenager. What fun that would be, I thought! Two pretty girls fighting over me! A cool vintage car of my own! Hanging in the Choc'lit Shop and watching my friend try to trick the owner out of hamburgers! My biggest problem would be staying out of detention in school and deciding which hot chick to take to the "big dance".
Of course once I became an actual teen, the reality was little different. Actually, it was quite a bit different. Archie had mislead me, but I didn't hold it against him. If the story lines had depicted the teenage experience in a realistic manner, it would have been one of the most depressing series ever. Imagine a story where an overweight Archie suffers from chronic acne, while two jocks call him names that question his sexual orientation. While a plot like this would have prepared me for some of what teenagerdom had in store, I doubt I would have been a fan of those kind of tales. I am glad the writers of Archie kept me ignorant for as long as they could, and I have always enjoyed the series.
One character in the Archie comics , though, was completely realistic: Archie's "friend" Reggie Mantle. Actually calling Reggie a "friend" isn't really accurate. He was an egotistical, mean spirited, prank-playing, backstabbing, self-centered weasel. To sum up, he was an a••shole. He was also Archie's chief rival for the hand of Veronica. (I know, why didn't Archie just choose to be with the all-around sweeter and just-as-pretty Betty is a question we will never have the answer to. Only Archie knows for sure.) Reggie was constantly causing problems and distress for poor Archie, but Arch still hung out with the jerk. Why?
I don't know. I do know that I am in no position to question Archie's choices. I hung around with plenty of "Reggies" growing up. Jerks whom I called "friends" who would desert me at the first sigh of trouble, lord their good fortune over me and usually make me feel insecure and miserable. Why did I hang out with people like that? Generally, I think it has to do with geography. As a youngster, you're pretty much stuck where you are, and you are stuck choosing your friends from among what's available. Most of the time, the only thing you have in common with a childhood "friend" is that you are both the same age. Later, when you grow up and move on, you happily put most of these "childhood pals" in the rear view mirror. If Archie had been a real person, I doubt he would have any contact with Reggie now.
Perhaps one thing that made the comics enjoyable for me, was that, unlike real life, usually Reggie always got his just desserts. Many a tale ended with him being chased by an angry girl/adult/mob, or sitting in a pile of mud in his new suit. I think this kind of fantasy helped me endure the "Reggies" in my life.
I wonder if any of them are sitting in a pile of mud right now?
* I must mention one of the reasons I loved the comics so much was the fantastic artwork they had. Cartoonists Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey and, my favorite, Samm Shwartz were all cartoon giants. Those of you unfamiliar with their work should do a Google search for them right now! Sadly, except for DeCarlo, not much of their work is readily available. A disgrace.