Archive | Archie

A Centennial Salute

Flag Day is June 14th, and this year isn’t just any Flag Day, it’s the 100th anniversary of Flag Day. Yes, in 1916 President Wilson established the date as a way each year to say, “Hurrah for the red-white-and-blue.” Flag Day isn’t an official Federal holiday the way Memorial and Labor Days are, and unlike “big” holidays such as Christmas and New Years, it has always pretty much passed without notice on the nation’s comics pages.

Still, since we haven’t done a “fantasy comics page” in a while, I thought it might be fun to mark this upcoming centennial with a new fantasy page made up of strips published on the fortieth anniversary of Flag Day, June 14th of 1956. Aside from their date of publication, there’s another common thread running through all of these strips. Can you guess what it is? (Click on any strip for a larger view.) Join me on the other side for the answer …

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ARCHIE

NANCY

SCAMP

POGO

GORDO

HENRY

GRANDMA by Chas Kuhn

REVEREND by Bill OMalley

RIVETS by George Sixta

 

Note that, besides sharing the same date of publication, all the strips above feature one-word titles …

Blondie and Archie are “big name” strips with LOAC connections, while to the best of my recollection we’ve never run a Nancy in this space before.

Dick Moores and writer Ward Greene served up this installment of Scamp, while Pogo certainly needs no introduction to lovers of good comics everywhere. Gus Arriola’s Gordo always puts a smile on my face, while Henry serves up a very different view of childhood.

Finally, we put three now-relatively-forgotten strips into the mix: Grandma, from Charles Kuhn (who did hard manual labor, including serving as a fireman aboard USS Connecticut during World War I, then spent years as an editorial cartoonist before starting Grandma in 1947, when he was fifty-five years of age); The Reverend, by Bill O’Malley (a prolific magazine cartoonist who lived on the West Coast, placed work in magazines ranging from Ladies Home Journal to Playboy, and had his cartoons — related to golf, travel, and his “Two Little Nuns,” Sister Maureen and Sister Colleen — all collected into book form); and Chicagoan George Sixta’s Rivets (the lead character was based on several Navy mascots Sixta had observed during his own military tour of duty; Sixta worked for the Chicago Sun-Times; originally produced the strip Dick Draper, Foreign Correspondent; and published cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post, which is where Rivets made its debut before becoming a Field Enterprises comic strip). The star of Sixta’s strip is supposed to be a wire-haired terrier, and since my own dog is part (predominantly!) terrier, how could I pass up including Rivets in this “one-name wonders” fantasy comics page?

Here’s hoping everyone has a Happy Flag Day —

 

Archie’s School Daze 1960

We just sent the first book in the Archie’s Swingin’ Sixties series to the printer, containing all of Bob Montana’s dailies from the start of the school year 1960 through spring vacation in 1963. Here are the first nine dailies to whet your appetite! Click on any daily to see a larger version.

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More Buttholes

The April 2, 1947 Archie daily featuring Riverdale’s favorite teenager using the word “butthole” continues to generate interest. We promised you a follow-up on this subject, and here it is.

Our late-May feature on the American Dialect Society (ADS) and their investigations into Archie’s usage of “butthole” prompted Friend of LOAC Mike Fontanelli to send us the following:

Hi Bruce,

Still laughing over your recent LOAC blog post re: ARCHIE and his anachronistic potty-mouth! I have a wild guess – based purely on conjecture – that the term was short for “buttonhole,” (i.e., something that’s stamped out, assembly-line fashion.)

I admit I’ve found no usage of “buttonhole” as an adjective. (It’s only usage seems to be as a noun or a verb: meaning to detain someone against their will. That usage almost fits, albeit awkwardly.)

Also too, notice that the letterer, whether or not it was Montana himself, ran out of room in that speech balloon. Shortening words is sort of a colloquial/teenage slangy motif, (as in “What’s the dif?”, etc.) Perhaps he just shortened it for practical reasons, assuming the meaning would be clear from the context.

Well, I admit this is a stretch, but at least it’s kinda feasible. I only offer it as food for thought. I predict thousands of letters and emails to follow! This mystery will boggle linguists and dialecticians and for years to come…

Best, Mike Fontanelli

Mike is a leading authority on Al Capp/Li’l Abner, by the way – you can read his invaluable essays on Al and his Dogpatchian hijinx.

Shortly after receiving Mike’s ruminations, we again heard from Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the ADS. One of their members had discovered something of interest:

[Here’s] something that Ben Zimmer [of ADS] noted during the discussion of Archie’s use of “butthole” … I’ve attached a full-page PDF of the comics page from that day from The Zanesville (OH) Times-Recorder.  As Ben notes, “butthole” is indeed seemingly (and partially) obliterated.  Looks to me that this is the only word on the page that is pretty illegible.  Even the teeny tiny print elsewhere on the page looks pretty good.

I’m guessing that Ben’s right:  someone, perhaps at the paper itself, was offended. Click anywhere on the page to see an enlargement of the strip.

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The folks at Archie Comics have recently taken steps to make their stories more topical or edgy (with the introduction of a gay character, and the twin “What If-?” Archie Marries Veronica andArchie Marries Betty story-tracks. Did they suspect that, sixty-five years ago, Archie would be generating so much additional interest over his casual use of the word “butthole”?

Betty and Butthole

No, those aren’t the female counterparts of Beavis & Butt-Head—they’re the featured aspects of Bob Montana’s April 2, 1947 Archie daily strip, the one in which Archie tells Betty his ushering job at the Riverdale cinema “gets kind of butthole at times.”

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This strip created a stir in some circles when it first appeared in our Eisner-winning 2010 Archie: 1946-1948. A book reviewer for one of the newspapers in my town of residence called special attention to this particular strip in her coverage of the book, noting that, “Googling ‘Archie + butthole’ generates literally dozens of hits.” We ran the strip again in this space in a February “travel back in time” piece showing the contents of a number of strips on the day-after-April-Fool’s-Day in 1947…and that appearance generated even more notice.

 

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The American Dialect Society was founded in 1889 and continues strong today, more than a century later. The Society is “dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it. [Their] members include academics and amateurs, professors and students, professionals and dilettantes, teachers and writers, undergraduates and graduates. Anyone can join the society!”

On May 9th, Society representative Bonnie Taylor-Blake sent me this note:

Hi, Bruce.

As you may have heard, there’s quite a bit of interest in the language contained in that Archie strip published on 2 April 1947 … The appearance of “butthole” in a 1947 comic strip is currently a big topic of conversation among members of the American Dialect Society’s email discussion list (ADS-L).  Linguists and lexicographers there are puzzled, mostly because (so far) we don’t have evidence that “butthole” was being used by Americans in the sense of boring or dull. It’s even debatable whether it was being used as a synonym for “dead-end.” It may have been used in the sense we’re accustomed to (blush), but evidence for that usage in the 1940s is difficult to find given that off-color connotation. Some have speculated that the appearance of “butthole” must have been the work of Montana’s letterer (if he had one) or possibly vandalism elsewhere in the production line. In the end, though, the question is whether “butthole” had a common meaning that was an alternative to how we now understand the word (blush).

Would you mind my asking you for your thoughts on this?  I’m particularly interested in whether you know if Montana’s use of “butthole” and its appearance in family newspapers raised eyebrows soon after the 2 April strip was published. How did Archie readers of the time react to Archie’s observation? Or did it pass without comment? I assume, based on your observation, that Archie aficionados have been aware of the appearance of “butthole” in that issue of the strip.  What’s the reaction among fans of the strip?  Did Montana ever say anything about his use of “butthole”?

In my May 11th response, I told Bonnie we’ve seen no reaction to Montana’s strip from the ’40s, and speculated on a few reasons why that might be possible. I was able to speak with more certainty on the matter of “vandalism” of the strip by other hands:

Based on what we know, Bob Montana did all his own work in the 1940s, including doing the lettering. By the 1960s, when he was in his forties, Montana had an assistant who likely shouldered the bulk of the lettering responsibilities, but Montana was only 27 years old when the strip in question appears—he likely wasn’t making enough money to afford an assistant. And even if Montana did employ a letterer, there is zero chance the use of “butthole” could have passed by him unnoticed. The process of producing strips is: writing/penciling/lettering/inking…There is absolutely no doubt Montana penciled and inked his Archie comic strips, which means even if he passed the penciled art to someone else so a written script could be lettered onto the art, the results would have passed back to him so he could finish the piece by inking it. And if a letterer took the finished artboard after it was inked and inserted “butthole” for a prank just before it was shipped to the syndicate, the letterer would have been out of a job so fast the air would have crackled.

The concept of a syndicate wag changing the text to insert “butthole” before the strip was printed is not a billion to none, but it is a billion to one shot. Syndicates don’t want controversy because it can lead to newspapers dropping features, which takes money out of syndicate pockets; if “butthole” was potentially offensive, an employee changing the original word to the more controversial term would be cruising for a firing. Even if “butthole” was not yet a common term, changing Montana’s text without his knowledge or approval would also be a great way to lose one’s job (syndicate managers don’t want to placate irate cartoonists any more than they want to deal with irate editors and their readerships!).

So—”vandalism” by a Montana letterer or syndicate employee is the remotest of remote possibilities. Does this indicate “butthole” did not have the same meaning we attach to it today? Alternately, could it have been regional slang at the time (Montana visited all then-forty-eight states during his parents’ Vaudeville days and spent his teen years in New England, specifically New Hampshire and Massachusetts)? If that’s the case, Montana may have included it knowing it had meaning—whatever that meaning might be—only in a specific geographical area and would pass essentially unnoticed by a national audience.

Bonnie replied to me later that day, saying:

I really appreciate your insight on this.  (There’s great stuff in what you’ve shared!)  I think the general consensus, given dozens of e-mails passed around the listserv, was that “butthole” must’ve been pretty innocent/innocuous, and not a reference to an anatomical feature. (But how weird it is to see that word on the funny pages in 1947!) But then the question for linguists/lexicographers has been 1) what did Archie mean? (the job was boring? dead-end?), and 2) how come we’ve not run across this before?  It’s pretty clear that this bit of slang has gone unnoticed by those who collect bits of slang. (If it has gone unnoticed, it’s a great find!  Maybe it existed in Vaudeville circles or in New England, as you’ve suggested, or perhaps in the military?)

ADS continues to ruminate on and research this matter, and it’s certainly a pleasure and an honor to have helped prompt this line of inquiry among such a distinguished group. If further insight emerges, we’ll be sure to let you know! Meanwhile, you can learn more about the American Dialect Society—and keep watching, because the first Archie Sundays collection has just been published.

 

 

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What could be better than a collection Bob Montana artwork? How about a companion collection presenting his pulchritudinous pencils (and inks) in full color? And who knows what sensational bits of slang will be revealed in this volume …?

The Great Montana

Bob Montana was born into a showbiz family. His father, Ray, was a banjo player on the Keith vaudeville circuit—billed alternately as The Great Montana, the Beau Brummel of the West, and (more modestly) as Montana, the Cowboy Banjoist. Bob’s mother, the former Roberta Pandolfini, was a Ziegfeld dancer.

As a young boy, the future cartoonist and his sister would sometimes put on their dancing shoes and join their dad in his finale.

Montana

It wasn’t as a hoofer, however, that brought fame to Bob Montana—it was his talent at the drawing board. Our collection of Archie dailies won the Eisner Award last year; our newest book showcases Montana’s Sunday pages. Archie’s Sunday Finest will be on sale in early May. Here are a few examples from the book, including the very first Sunday from October 1946.

I think it’s fair to say there was more than one Great Montana in the family.

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Where there’s a Will…

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As usual at the Will Eisner Awards, there was intense competition in the “Best Archival Comic Strip Collection” category; in fact, we were even competing against ourselves—both Bob Montana’s Archie and Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals earned nominations. As you can tell by the above cover, Archie took home the honors. It’s the third win in four years for the Library of American Comics, and we appreciate the continued support from you, our loyal readers.

With the busy San Diego Comicon over, it’s back to our drawing boards and computers. Deadlines loom ahead!

Three More Eisner Nominations!

The Eisner Award nominations have been announced. In the first three years since we created the Library of American Comics, we received six nominations and took home the award twice.

This year, we up it by one, with three nominations. The massive Polly and Her Pals has two: one for Best Archival Collection—Comic Strips. and one for Best Publication Design.

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Also nominated in the Best Archival Collection category is our tribute to Bob Montana’s earlyArchie newspaper strips.

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It’s gratifying to see the incredible cartooning of Cliff Sterrett and Bob Montana continue to be recognized. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of “Polly and Her Pals.” What better way to celebrate the strip!

Thanks to the Eisner judges for recognizing our efforts! Vote early and vote often!!!

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