Thomas: How did historycomics.net get its start, and how has it changed over the years?
Tim: I am eternally grateful to AJ Juliani, a noted educational leader today, who was once upon a time, a staff developer in my school. He kept pushing me to share what I was doing in my classroom on social media and to develop a website. I really did this reluctantly, as I thought that teachers should be “humble” and not show off – and that people wouldn’t care what I do in my classroom. He walked me through the steps of setting up Twitter and gave advice on setting up my website – even sharing it with others once I brought it online. Because of his advice, my world completely changed and I realized how much more impactful educators are once we can share with, and inspire, one another. I am no tech guru and I still have much work to do on my website, but it is a labor of love. I have now linked it to TeachingWithComics.com because I want folx to realize that my work is not “just” on history comics, but comics that can be used in all classrooms and all levels. I always tell educators that we need to share the awesomeness that is going on inside of our classrooms – that we need to control the conversation about education. While we are doing that, we will help to inspire the next generation of teachers as well.
Thomas: Your book, Teaching With Comics and Graphic Novels, joins a growing chorus of professionals advocating for the many benefits of reading comics. It’s a format and not a genre, after all. What have been some of the successes of integrating comics into your classroom? How do you address a student struggling with comics?
Tim: Any student can struggle with reading comics, especially as many have never read a comic before my high school class! GASP! Often, it is my most advanced readers who initially struggle the most with reading comics. Every educator, no matter the subject or grade level, needs to be a teacher of reading and this is no different. Before teaching any comic, it is vital to demonstrate how to read a comic with students, to go in deep on a few pages, and showcase the power of the medium before giving them time to read in a more independent manner. Once this is done, there are so many engaging comics to use, such as Star Wars #021 (2015) where I teach evidence-based essay writing at the beginning of the year. The story is from the Stormtrooper’s point of view and the students debate if they are “good or evil.”
We also have powerful discussions based on the wordless comic, Nat Turner, created by Kyle Baker. Without words, students are challenged to read deeply into the images and to understand that these images will have different meanings for different readers. The March and Run graphic novels (graphic memoir based on Congressman John Lewis’ life) make the Civil Rights movement personal and accessible to my students. The free online comic, Madaya Mom(from ABC News and Marvel) tells the story of a family just trying to survive a horrific siege of their city during the Syrian Civil War. We were lucky enough to have the authors and artists interact with Zoom with our students. I could go on and on, but then, that’s what my book is for! LOL! I share a lot of the lessons that I do in my classes in my book with the intention of helping educators understand how to get started.
Thomas: You present about comics all over the place. What are the most frequent questions you get from other educators?
Tim: The most common question I am asked is how to get comics at low cost, or even free for the classroom as budgets are always tight. The most visited page on my website is where I list free online comics that are perfect for use in the classroom. There are a surprisingly large amount of these free resources available.
Another is how to convince reluctant administrators and/or parents on the literary merit of graphic literacy. I show them the teacher guides I have created, such as this one for the graphic adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerhouse Speak. All of my lessons are connected to Common Core standards and showcase the power of visual literacy. These concrete examples open the door for lesson planning for educators who are just beginning to go down the awesome rabbit hole of teaching with comics.
Thomas: Let’s talk gateways into comics. Your children write reviews of the comics they read – what were their early favorites? For that matter, which comics won over any students who maybe weren’t excited about comics?
Tim: Teagan – anything by Raina Telgemeier, the entire Phoebe and Her Unicorn series from Dana Simpson, the Emmie and Friends series from Terri Libenson, the Friends books by Shannon Hale, and Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden. Charlotte – The Time Museum by Matthew Loux, Olympians by George O’Connor, anything Archie comics, Poison Ivy. Liam – New Kid by Jerry Craft, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Dogman by Dav Pilkey
Thomas: What trends in comics and education have you excited right now? Any that make you wary?
Tim: The only thing that makes me a bit concerned is when publishers try to latch onto the success of comics without understanding the power of the medium. I have seen comics that are text heavy and with illustrations that do not add any depth to the storytelling. This is not only disappointing but also dangerous in that it places another hurdle in accepting comics in the classroom.
Where I am most excited is in the representation of not only characters but also the teams who create the comics as well. I LOVE that my own three children are growing up reading stories where they are literally seeing all folx in their heroes. To have heroes such as a bi-racial Spider-Man, a Korean Hulk, a Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, LGBTQIA+ characters, neuro-diverse, non-traditional families, etc. is just amazing. To them, it’s always been the norm.
Thomas: What resources do you recommend for librarians and educators who want to learn more about quality graphic novels for their collections and classrooms?
Tim: There are so many fantastic resources out there that it’s easy to get lost. Of course, there’s No Flying No Tights! I love following the ALA Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable and what they share about comics in libraries. One often overlooked gem is that of your students. Seriously – I have found so many great titles just by asking students! Also – don’t be shy about going into your local comic book store. This sounds like an obvious resource, but so many adults are leery about going into this place that they feel may not welcome them if they are not a comics expert. I’ve been in stores across the country and I have never had a negative experience. It is not the exclusive den of nerd-dom that many see in their minds – comic stores are welcoming places – just tell the employees what you are looking for – maybe science class – and they can point you in the right direction. People say to me all the time that I have a comic for everything and that is mainly true!
Thomas: Finally, what is a hidden gem that you would recommend to the world, given the chance? (This is your chance!)
Tim: As I am answering this interview, NASA announced its Artemis mission and intent to return to the moon! I was lucky enough to meet with representatives from NASA at Awesome Con in Washington, DC in the summer of 2022. They showed me a comic that just blew my mind! It is a free online comic about a fictional future mission to the moon to place the first female astronaut there. There is an app that can be downloaded that can read the comic aloud and also makes the text available in both Spanish and English. The app also has a powerful virtual reality component to it that my kids (and I) love! Go to the app store and download the NASA’s First Woman app!
“It was a dark and stormy night, the kind that reeked of cliché and begged for a fireside ghost story.” Thus begins the graphic novel rendition of the revamped and darker take on the classic Archie comics in Riverdale: The Ties that Band. Written by Micol Ostow and illustrated by Thomas Pitilli, this original story situates itself in season 4 of the popular television series.
An interconnected plotted story featuring the main Riverdale characters begins with Jughead thrust into a noir-like scenario. One long weekend, while cramming for a writing deadline at Stonewall Prep, he drags Moose with him to the library on a rainy night only to get locked in. As the rainstorm rages on into the night, they discover a mysterious note with a cryptic image of three overlapping infinity symbols accompanied by a name: Ivanovniki.
Elsewhere, other key characters in Riverdale find themselves trapped in similar situations of confinement: In a game of cat and mouse, Betty and her sister Polly are stalked by a madman in a motel; Archie and Reggie find themselves led to a high-stakes Escape Room puzzle game and they struggle to find a way out; Veronica and Cheryl are hounded by zombies in an empty shopping mall. What mastermind has set up these deadly traps? What mystery lies behind the cryptic symbol in all of these scenarios?
This intriguing spinoff of the hit television series Riverdale conjures up a roller coaster of baffling thrills that perplex the Archie gang. Ostow’s writing combined with Pitilli’s artwork deliver a suspense-filled mystery played against a taut timeline that unfolds with rapid pacing, unpacking a critical sequence of events simultaneously. Slick character designs against the dark, gothic backgrounds generate a sinister style, coloring the ambience with a shadowy, eerie mood comparable to the hit tv series. Each story ends on a mysterious note, leaving more questions open than answered, like an itch that wants to be scratched. Here’s hoping a sequel is in the works.
A gripping storyline set in the Riverdale universe, this graphic novel appears to set the stage for a larger episodic mystery waiting to be unraveled. This title will add a thrilling mix to young adult library collections, particularly for fans clamoring for more stories from the CW’s Riverdale series.
Riverdale: The Ties that Bind By Micol Ostow Art by Thomas Pitilli Archie, 2021 ISBN: 9781645769583
Since Mo Willems first released the consistently popular Elephant and Piggie series, there has been a slow but gradual increase in the marketing of comics for beginning readers, culminating in an explosion of titles in 2019 that continues through the present. Along the way, many have sought to recreate the enduring appeal of Elephant and Piggie from Mac Barnett’s somewhat controversial Jack books to a scattering of series by Charise Mericle Harper. Perhaps the closest in appeal and popularity is Narwhal and Jelly, with a variety of titles by Jonathan Fenske coming in a close second albeit without the name recognition of Mo Willems.
This latest offering marks the debut of a “husband-and-wife creative duo” who started this transitional comic book series for their young daughter. It blends the classic odd couple format of easy readers with the more child-like outlook, showcasing the silly adventures of two fox friends.
Their first two adventures were released simultaneously and there is no introductory matter, so readers will only know from the publisher’s blurb or the author notes at the back that these are two fox friends. Archie, a fluffy white fox with pink cheeks who looks rather more like a sheep with pointed ears and Reddie, a more traditional-looking red fox with perky red bow, tackle a number of simple friendship issues and mysteries. In one story, Archie hides a pizza he finds and when Reddie tries to solve the mystery, he tries to convince her there’s nothing to find. In the other story, Reddie is trying to get Archie to a hat party with her, but he refuses to go until he has his favorite, just right hat.
The simple stories don’t really include any lessons, other than showing how a friendship works, but they are silly and light-hearted stories of two friends. Neither conform to gender stereotypes; Archie has fluffy white fur and pink cheeks, and spurts into tears (completely with a runny nose) when he’s upset while Reddie’s only decoration is her plain red bow. Reddie is marked out by her super active mind (and body) and she bounces through the pages, the sharp orange and white angles of her body, dressed in just a pair of white pants, dancing and gesturing.
Most of the backgrounds are pastel with slightly darker polka-dots, with bold lines showing the two characters, a handful of friends, and a sprinkling of set pieces like hats, the occasional plant, pizza box, etc. It’s hard not to compare any new transitional comics to the classics, and this new series doesn’t have the bold simplicity of Elephant and Piggie, where the humor rests on a few simple phrases and lines, but it’s still quite funny and the silly adventures of Archie and Reddie will intrigue young readers who are ready for something more challenging and can decode panels and speech bubbles that move the story through dialogue. There are a few more complex textual challenges, including some wordplay and some longer words to intrigue readers as well.
While it’s too soon to tell if this will have the staying power of other classic couples, all the way back to Frog and Toad, it’s a fun addition to a genre and format that’s rising rapidly in popularity and shows promise of attracting young readers who like simple comics and silly stories. Purchase where you have young readers who just can’t get enough transitional comics.
Archie & Reddie series By Candy James Penguin Random House Razorbill, 2021 Vol 1: I Really Dig Pizza ISBN: 9780593350102 Vol 2: We Will Find Your Hat ISBN: 9780593350133 Publisher Age Rating: Preschool – grade 3
In the forests of Greendale, a cauldron aflame bubbles, while a familiar platinum white-haired girl stands over it, preparing her spell to undo a monstrous curse. Unsure if it will even work, Sabrina Spellman covers her worry with sass directed at the target of her spell: a high school classmate.
In Sabrina: Something Wicked, the teenage witch is busy as always juggling her mortal friends and potential romantic interests against her magical responsibilities. While deciding between mortal Harvey Kinkle’s and bad-boy Ren Ransom’s affections would be bad enough, Sabrina is also keeping a big secret from Ren. The friend she is helping with the curse is Ren’s sister Radka, and as it turns out both of them are cursed to fuse together into a wendigo creature. Radka remembers these monster events, but Ren is blissfully unaware. Can Sabrina solve the curse without mucking it up with another one of her spells? And just who created this curse in the first place?
Kelly Thompson is one of my favorite writers for female-voiced characters. She is over at Marvel writing Captain Marvel and Black Widow and even did a 25+ issue run reimagining Jem and the Holograms for IDW. Her Sabrina feels like a mix of the Netflix spooky era with some of Thompson’s own ideas, and she really nails this moody, smart teenager vibe. Her Sabrina can be dark and stormy, but also really funny and witty. But Thompson slips into other characters easily as shown in a dinner scene with Sabrina’s aunts where Zelda is shown to be very heartfelt behind her exterior and Hilda is very fidgety and emotionally responsive.
Husband/wife duo Veronica and Andy Fish are on art and the style seems like they infused the technicolor art of old Archie comics with the darker tones of a Netflix show. It really works in night scenes or magical scenes when tonal shades of red, green, blue, or purple are used to differing effects. I also found myself laughing at character faces during comedic moments, as often we would get less detailed reaction faces reminiscent of overly comedic scenes in a manga or anime. I’m not surprised to like the art here, as I did enjoy the first volume in the series.
Sabrina: Something Wicked is a follow-up to the Sabrina the Teenage Witch miniseries by the same creative team, but more than stands by itself as it gives all the important details to the reader. It does include a recap page for those who want to know more, but selective buyers may want to just purchase the first book to have the full story.
I’d rate the series for teens and up, and the publisher rating happens to agree! The voice of Sabrina that Thompson creates would resonate with those readers still searching out parts of their identity in a world that often has other more pressing issues to attend to than self-exploration. I would recommend this series for any YA collection, and will likely purchase a copy for my library (if I haven’t already).
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Something Wicked Vol. 02 By Kelly Thompson Art by Veronica Fish, Andy Fish, Archie Comics, 2021 ISBN: 9781645769620
On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda.
This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Art by Robert Hack ISBN: 9781627389877 Archie Comics, 2016 NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
My first comics, longer stories than the Sunday newspaper and collections of Peanuts and Garfield borrowed from the library, were the Archie comics. After pining over them in the grocery store checkout line I would get bags of hand-me-down clothes from my cousin with similarly passed down Archie books in little digest formats. I devoured these in my upper elementary school years, loving the glamorous world of teenagers that seemed to suggest the 50s and the early 90s were all the same. I must have read dozens, but I don’t have a single one among my books saved from childhood, they were ephemeral and timeless; the world of Archie continuing on long after I had moved on as a reader. I was still years away from my larger comics awakening as an older teen, but I think an understanding and love of the format was first planted in me by the Archie comics. While I haven’t kept up with all of the decades of Archie comics since my childhood, I have enjoyed the moving Mark Waid updates and the fascinating gritty trajectories of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale. When I saw this foray into modern middle grade comics I knew I had to check it out.
The Riverdale Diaries: Hello, Betty! treads the familiar middle grade territory of changing friendships at the start of middle school. Betty Cooper writes the titular diary, narrating her confusion and frustration as her best friend Val Smith (presumably the future Pussycat band member) pursues her passion for music. Val’s interests are clear to the reader from the start, making the split between the friends a byproduct of Betty’s inability to really listen to her friend and a benign oblivious bossiness. While Betty is still wrapped up in Sparklespacelandia, the STEM fantasy world they created as little kids and played through the summer (à la Cardboard Kingdom), Val picks a music elective and learns electric guitar from very cool pink haired classmate Toni Topaz. Suddenly left without her buddy, Betty has to choose Drama as her elective, a catchall for students not fast enough to snap up other options. She becomes fast friends with Kevin Keller and they team up against the mean girl energy of haughty diva Veronica Lodge. As Betty finds her footing using her imagination to fuel the class play, she also starts to mend her friendship with Val. She even finds a way to work with frenemy Veronica.
The writing isn’t particularly remarkable. The kids feel younger than 6th graders, the pretend world Betty and Val have played all summer feels several grades younger. The characters don’t so much develop as Betty finally starts to understand more about them. Betty’s arc and the characters’ realistic interactions were the strong points, but it falls short of Sarah Kuhn’s previous work in Shadow of the Batgirl. A lot of characters are introduced, the “cast” page at the beginning lists 16, including the Drama teacher and Betty’s cat. Val, Betty, Veronica and Kevin Keller get the most play, but Archie, Jughead and a deep bench of side characters from the Archie world are present too. The titular diary element is somewhat confusing. We see Betty writing in a book, we see that she is drawing the ideas from the fantasy world, and we have boxes of first person narration, but it isn’t always clear how they’re connected. While much of the narration resembles the inner thoughts and feelings of a diary entry, there’s no familiar diary entry format and some boxes read more as general narration such as “The next day.” The disconnect was jarring at times but might not bother young readers.
The art hits a sweet spot between classic comic strip kids like Peanuts and the traditional Archie character designs. J. Bone finds a style that brings in the older comics but makes them feel accessible to modern kids, not at all dated. The heads are cartoonishly a bit oversized with spare facial features but enough for plenty of emotion. Betty, Archie, Jughead and Kevin are pink, but Val, Veronica and many of the side characters have a variety of skin tones. Nothing in the book adds any dimension to their cultural identities. The overall color palette is bright with varying blocks of flat color in place of backgrounds for many of the smaller panels. I loved the emotive bolts of color and sound effects interspersed throughout. There’s great dynamic movement in the characters. Visually it’s a delight to read. My 7-year-old daughter spotted it over my shoulder and knew right away she wanted to read it.
Volume 1 of The Riverdale Diaries is successful in bringing the fun and melodrama of the older Archie comics to a new, young audience with a story that speaks more directly to them. It’s not the best example of middle grade writing but it’s much more rewarding than the shallow catty, backstabbing love triangle that engrossed me in my first Archie forays. Elementary readers who enjoy realistic school comics will find a lot to love. A lack of clothing styles and technologies that pinpoint a time will keep it relatable for years to come. I’ll be grabbing it off the shelf for kids disappointed when all the Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier are checked out and I’m curious to see where the series goes.
The Riverdale Diaries, Vol. 1: Hello, Betty! By Sarah Kuhn Art by J. Bone ISBN: 9781499810547 BuzzPop, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Character Traits: Black
Betty and Veronica have come a long way in their 80 year history. From being each other’s biggest rivals, to now being each other’s BFFs, we have a whole new series of stories in this first original graphic novel. This series features a new artistic style, as well as brand new stories that haven’t appeared in any other ArchieComics.
Riverdale High School has a career fair that has all the students buzzing. Betty and Veronica initially have quite different strategies for tackling the day, but quickly find themselves so awe struck by all the amazing role models that they decide to take in the presentations together. Veronica, the affluent and well networked one had very low expectations for what the first speaker, a female senator, had to say. However, once she hears the incredible struggle she went through to get where she is today, she becomes excited to learn as much as she can. There are great lessons of challenging your expectations, not making assumptions, and taking risks to try out new ideas. The story takes fantastic turns as the girls are shown as actual politicians, singers, models, superheroes, and astronauts. It’s a positive story that emphasizes to young females especially, that they can do anything they set their mind to.
Illustrator Brittney Williams does an amazing job of reinventing the world of Riverdale. In this series, we find the town is full of a diverse population representing all different backgrounds. Betty and Veronica have big, dramatic eyes that are often used to emphasize emotions. There is a wide variety of panels to keep things aesthetically interesting, and functionally, to set the tone for that segment. Action scenes with words popping out of the page, sepia-toned memories from the past, and brightly colored story panels will keep readers engaged. Betty and Veronica do show off their bodies a bit. There are some short skirts, and cleavage included, as you would find to be typical of their outfit choices in other ArchieComics. There isn’t anything overtly sexual, the language is clean, and the fighting scenes when the girls are super heroes aren’t excessively violent.
This is an Archie comic, however it is quite a different style of writing and drawing from what you may be used to if you’ve read them in the past. There are a lot of modernizations added to this new version of the Riverdale gang, for example, cell phones, social media usage such as YouTube make-up tutorials, and The Hills (MTV television series that ran from 2006-2010) are thrown in. The illustrator does a wonderful job of including diverse characters that show different religious beliefs, races, and backgrounds. And, of course, the characters don’t just stick around Riverdale anymore, they get to explore outer space and all kinds of different roles that they wouldn’t have done before.
The only criticism I have is that the humor really fell flat or just wasn’t there. ArchieComics are known for being funny and this one just really wasn’t. This book does feature a lot of positive female characters who are in leadership positions, and in careers that are typically male dominated. Overall, if you are looking to add a comic book that showcases diversity and strong women, this would be a good series to start adding to your YA collection.
Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship, Vol. 1 By Jamie Lee Rotante Art by Brittney Williams ISBN: 9781645769859 Archie Blue Ribbon, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 12 – 17 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Character Traits: Creator Highlights: Related to…: Classic to Comic
Welcome to the United States Space Force (USSF) Greendale! Named, of course, in reference to the notorious town of Greendale and familiar to any fan of the Archie Universe. Traveling on an interplanetary journey aboard the USSF Greendale are Josie, Valerie, and Melody; the three members behind the iconic Josie and the Pussycats trio.
Even in space, the band is epically successful and well-loved by their fans. Exhausted from their latest performance along a cross-galaxy tour, the bandmates are placed in cryogenic sleeping pods on the USSF Greendale until their next stop. However, the girls are awakened early by the discovery of a gelatinous, shapeshifting, flesh-eating monster on board.
Now, this sounds like a premise that, if done right, could be a lot of fun. A campy bubblegum pop girl band versus a demonic space creature sounds like a futuristic grindhouse dream. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with Josie and the Pussycats in Space. The five-issue collection left much to be desired.
As someone who has loved Josie and the Pussycats since my inaugural viewing of the poorly received 2001 film adaptation, I found this comic pretty hollow. Josie, Valerie, and Melody don’t display any defining characteristics. In fact, aside from vapidity, no member of the trio shows any particular characteristics at all. Only once, at the opening of issue one, does the reader ever see the band in true Josie and the Pussycats fashion: on stage in leopard print attire. Without this moment, and the ever-present cat ear headbands, it would be difficult to identify this comic as a Josie and the Pussycats entity at all.
Multiple references to space-themed media are made throughout the comic; a passing mention of the fictitious planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars universe, multiple homages to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien film, and a brief mention of the USS Sulaco spaceship popularized by James Cameron’s 1986 sequel film, Aliens. These tongue-in-cheek winks at the audience only emphasize the detachment of the writers from the source material.
It is difficult to determine for whom Josie and the Pussycats in Space is intended. Older, longtime fans will probably find the comic bland, lacking the notorious kitsch associated with previous adaptations of the classic characters. Younger readers will probably be turned off by several instances of gory imagery present in the work. Perhaps the comic is made exclusively for those looking for an easy, quick read with some fun artwork?
Despite all of its faults, Josie and the Pussycats in Space is competently illustrated. The coloring throughout the work is vibrant and does most of the heavy lifting in conveying tone to the reader. Most notable are the scenes of the actual space monster. Artist Devaki Neogi manages to draw a creepy, gruesome creature worthy of any R.L. Stine book.
Ultimately, the premise of this book, paired with a great cover and built-in fanbase, may be enough to entice potential readers.* Given the influx of Archie Universe TV show adaptations in recent years, including Riverdale, Chilling Adventure of Sabrina, and Katy Keene, this comic may tide over readers eager for more content. However, this reader was thoroughly underwhelmed.
*Jose and the Pussycats in Space is currently an original and digital only exclusive title for Comixology, which does not allow subscriptions for libraries and therefore this title is not readily available for libraries to purchase in digital form. Other Josie and the Pussycat titles are available on Hoopla. Comixology exclusives are available as print on demand paperbacks via Amazon.
Josie and the Pussycats in Space By Alex de Campi Art by Devaki Neogi ASIN: B07ZHBQ4G7 Archie Comic Publications, Inc, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 12+
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18) Character Traits: Black,
Reviewing Betty and Veronica: Senior Year is a bit like reviewing vanilla ice cream. It’s great! You can’t say anything bad about it! You can order it up plain, add sprinkles, douse it in chocolate sauce, stick a cherry on top, the works. But no matter how you dress it up, there’s something tried and true underneath: a formula that works and can be retold again and again while staying fresh, despite whatever toppings you layer over it. With Senior Year, Jamie L. Rotante and Sandra Lanz deliver a solid if unremarkable comic, though that’s not a demerit. The book is good. But it’s Betty and Veronica, and what you see is what you get.
The premise here is that Betty and Veronica have been portrayed in a variety of ways over their 70-plus years, but readers haven’t seen them reach their senior year of high school—until now, of course. And what we get is what you’d expect. The on-again, off-again girlfriends of Riverdale start their senior year as fast friends, have a misunderstanding, a falling out, reconnect, another misunderstanding, feelings of hatred and resentment, repeat ad nauseam until it all somehow works out in the end and we return to the status quo. Betty and Veronica, and some Archie Comics in general, can sometimes feel like the comic book equivalent of a family sitcom with their recycled story lines and predictable plots. And even though that’s the case in Senior Year, that sitcom-feeling is like the warm cozy blanket that prime time television so often delivers.
Rotante’s deft writing handles the cast of Archie characters with demonstrative expertise, and rightly so. She’s written these characters before in other iterations, most notably in Betty and Veronica: Vixens. The plot does feel rote, and anybody who went to or is going to high school will see the tension coming from a thousand miles away. College applications and spurned relationships, all the pinnacles of teenage drama are present. What Rotante excels at is finding the humor in the mundane. Familiar Archie readers always expect there to be a Betty/Veronica tug of war over the affection of Archie Andrews, so Rotante delivers humorous moments, like at a New Year’s Eve party when Archie moves in for a kiss with Betty only to be stifled, or in this clever exchange at prom after Betty and Veronica tend to Archie after he falls off the stage:
Archie: You two just saved my life. And I’m so sorry. Veronica: About what? Archie: I just hate to see two best friends fight over me. Betty and Veronica: HAHAHA!!
(Spoiler: Archie’s love is not at stake, despite his smugness).
The same workhorse principles at play in the writing go for Sandra Lanz’s art. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but the art serves the story in an accessible clear line style. When paired with Kelly Fitzpartick’s colors, readers are met with a visually strong and incredibly readable comic that revels in a bright, diverse palette. The art may not stand out to wow readers, but it simply gets the job done, which is exactly what a book like Senior Year needs.
The theme here is that while Betty and Veronica: Senior Year might be a bit vanilla, that’s exactly the point. Vanilla ice cream tastes good, and there’s enough toppings here to make every bite worthwhile. Archie newcomers and seasoned readers alike will find something to enjoy. Teens will appreciate the lessons of friendship that mirror high school life and even adults will have fun reading what is the comic book equivalent of comfort food.
Betty and Veronica: Senior Year By Jamie L. Rotante Art by Sandra Lanz ISBN: 9781682557914 Archie Comics, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: Teen (age 13 and up)
If the success of the CW’s hit show Riverdale and Netflix’s new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series is any indication, there’s something deeply satisfying about seeing classic, wholesome characters from the Archie Comics universe face gruesome challenges and risk a grisly end. The entire Archie Horror imprint, in fact, revolves around this idea, throwing the inhabitants of Riverdale into nightmarish scenarios that harken back to iconic horror books and films. The usual traits of a classic Archie story—girl-next-door Betty Cooper and rich socialite Veronica Lodge fighting for Archie’s attention, Archie clumsily yet endearingly looking out for his friends, Jughead eating everything in sight—mutate grotesquely. Seemingly harmless personality traits become crushing flaws or terrifying powers. Under the lens of old-school horror, the shiny veneer of silliness over the Archie universe cracks and buckles.
In Jughead: The Hunger, Jughead’s voracious appetite, a primary and humorous trait of nearly every iteration of his character over the decades, takes a sinister turn when he wakes one morning to find a dismembered classmate on the floor of his bedroom. Of course, his first move is to seek out the advice of his best friend Archie, who, it turns out, witnessed the attack himself. But before they can discuss it further, Betty Cooper shows up with her own dark secret: she is a werewolf hunter, sworn to pursue any lycanthropic threat that may appear, and her next target is clear: Jughead Jones. The series weaves together three different narratives: Jughead, who is on the run from his violent past in Riverdale; Betty Cooper, whose ancestry compels her to hunt down werewolves and who brings kind-hearted and conflicted Archie along for the ride; and Reggie Mantle, once Jughead’s victim and now a powerful foe in his own right.
Though this book is seriously gory and very dark, writer Frank Tieri never loses the playful tone and easy humor that makes an Archie story an Archie story. For example, as Jughead hides in a seedy hotel to evade capture, he complains to his dog, “most fugitives don’t have to worry about losing control and eating the pizza delivery man.” Tieri, a prolific comic book writer with many Marvel and DC titles to his name, perfectly melds striking horror with the innate improbability and zaniness of Archie Comics. Artists Michael Walsh (#0) and Pat and Tim Kennedy and Joe Eisma (#1-3) integrate the familiar faces of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead into a perfectly nightmarish version of Riverdale, and colorist Matt Herms really shines. Against blood reds and deep blues, every scene stands out: it’s stark, bleak and deliciously disturbing.
All of the series from Archie Horror are rated TEEN+, though the language is mild and sexual themes are minimal. Put simply, it’s because the titles are just really, really gory. There are several panels of bloody violence and mutilated bodies rendered with plenty of grisly detail in Jughead: The Hunger. This book is best suited to older teen and adult readers who can stomach the sight of entrails and viscera in nearly every chapter.
This first volume includes the Jughead: the Hunger one-shot that launched the series, as well as issues #1-3 of the ongoing series and the first issue of Vampironica, a similarly-themed story in which Veronica Lodge is a cheerleading vampire. Fans of the other Archie Horror titles—Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina—will find Jughead: the Hunger similar in tone and quality. It is just as dark and delightful as the other offerings from the imprint. Fans of supernatural horror comics like Wytches and Long Lost will find the darkness of Jughead: The Hunger compelling, while Riverdale fans may simply enjoy seeing these characters in yet another dangerous scenario. The premise of Jughead: the Hunger will satisfy classic horror aficionados and Gen-Z Riverdale fans alike, while the compelling writing and genuinely terrifying art has the potential to entice veteran comics readers.
Jughead: The Hunger, vol. 1 by Frank Tieri Art by Michael Walsh, Pat & Tim Kennedy, and Joe Eisma ISBN: 9781682559017 Archie Comics (Archie Horror), 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)