25 Books Starring Comic-Book Teenagers Who Tried in Vain to Topple Archie from His Teen Humor Throne
1. Wilbur (Archie, 1944)
And who better qualified to start the ripping off of Archie Comics than Archie Comics itself? In retrospect, it makes sense; even if you’ve gone whole hog and changed your company’s name from MLJ to Archie Comics in honor of your biggest money-maker, there’s no point in putting all your teen humor eggs in one redheaded basket. Wilbur Wilkins — a well-meaning but klutzy lovestruck teenager with blond hair and a “W” on his sweater and therefore completely different from one Archibald Andrews — actually debuted before Archie’s first appearance in Pep Comics #22 (12/41), appearing in a copy of MLJ’s Zip Comics two months before America got its first look at Archie and the gang. But Archie beat him to the punch when it came to getting his own self-titled book, with Archie #1 appearing on newsstands two years before Wilbur #1. Given that both books were published by the same company, there was very little chance of anyone screaming copyright infringement, and Wilbur lasted a respectable 90 issues before cancellation in 1965. Why America embraced Archie and not Wilbur is one of those mysteries for the ages, though I’m sure someone with a theory on how success is shaped by where a person’s name lands in the alphabet is willing to weigh in.
2. Buzzy (DC, 1945)
One of the ways in which teenagers in the 1930s and ’40s started to establish their identity as a distinct social group was through their music, which mainly consisted of swing and jitterbug tunes almost tailor-made to drive their parents crazy (the more things change, etc.). He may seem square to our modern sensibilities, but Buzzy — a suit-wearing, trumpet-tooting, platter-playing hepcat — was as wild as they came in those days, and a few notes on his horn was all it took for his girlfriend’s portly businessman father to attempt physical violence on the young lad’s person (causing Susie to exclaim her catchphrase: “Popsy is killing Buzzy!”). Drawn by George Storm, Buzzy first appeared in All Funny in late 1943 and earned a promotion to his own self-titled book a year later, where he and his bandmates subjected the lovely hamlet of Cupcake Corners to typical teenage antics. Early issues had a certain wacky appeal (see “physical violence” above), but Buzzy and pals morphed into clones of the Archie gang after the first dozen or so issues, and “the rib-tickling misadventures of America’s favorite teenster” (as his first issue put it) carried on as such in a market rife with America’s other favorite teensters until 1958.
3. Suzie (Archie, 1945)
“If you knew Suzie like we know Suzie…” then what? For the love of God, man, what would happen if we knew her the way you knew her? What are you trying to tell us? Suzie looks as if she could be Betty Cooper’s older, slightly ditzier sister, but she also came with a clumsiness to match Archie’s. Fresh out of high school, she finds it hard to keep a job, but she has the beauty that keeps the boys lined up at the door (at least until they learn the trouble she unintentionally causes). Lucky for her that Ferdie (seen here), her slightly dorky boyfriend, is around to keep things under control. Keeping things interesting are Angela, Suzie’s niece who acts like an angel but is really a mischievous schemer, and Gregory van Dripp, a rich and vain young man who does whatever it takes to charm the ladies. Suzie had a respectable run in her own book, but she suffered the same fate as most other female leads when the industry decided that hero-hungry adolescent males were its main bread and butter — and the fact that a lot of those boys couldn’t be bothered to read about a buxom blonde who fancies dorky fellows is, quite frankly, baffling.
4. Patsy Walker (Marvel, 1945)
“Cheese and crackers!” was Patsy Walker’s catchphrase, which was… an oddly appropriate choice, when you think about it. Marvel’s only character to be continuously published from the 1940s to the 1960s, it was sales of Patsy Walker and Millie the Model that kept Marvel afloat long enough to usher in the Marvel Age of heroes, so all you fanboys better show some respect for the lady. She debuted as a female version of Archie, living in Centerville with her doting parents, a scheming rival/best friend named Hedy Wolfe and a cute/dumb boyfriend named Buzz Baxter; her book turned into more of a romance comic shortly before the end of its run in 1965. She and Buzz were brought back from comic-book limbo in 1972 to become supporting cast members in the Beast’s strip in Amazing Adventures; dumping her hubby, she went on to become a superhero named Hellcat, serving with the Avengers and the Defenders before marrying the Son of Satan. Surprisingly, that marriage doesn’t work out, and so she commits suicide, gets resurrected, and comes back to Earth with all kinds of powers acquired during her time in Hell. And all of this is considered completely normal and canonical to hardcore Marvel fans. Next up: Betty Cooper, Zombie Slayer!
5. Cookie (American Comics Group, 1946)
If Archie was the Walt Disney of teen humor, then Cookie was the Tex Avery, with more slapstick, pratfalls, and gags involving unusual props per page than just about any other teen humor comic. (Which only makes sense, given that Cookie’s creator, Dan Gordon, was a former cartoon animator.) The first Cookie story appeared in Topsy-Turvy Comics in 1945, and the diminutive character graduated to his own bimonthly book in 1946. His cast included the usual suspects: a businessman father, an understanding mother, a beautiful blonde girlfriend named Angelpuss, a slang-spouting pal named Jitterbuck, and a bitter rival named — swear to God — Zoot. His book lasted nine years and 55 issues — not a bad run, all things considered, but he remains a good object lesson for future cartoonists; namely, if you want to create a feature with legs, then try not to give your characters names that clearly mark them as products of the 1940s.
6. Candy (Quality, 1947)
First appearing in 1944 in, of all places, Police Comics (where she had a cozy berth next to Plastic Man and the Human Bomb), the buxom and brown-haired Candy was presented as a teenager with layers. While she was sweet and wholesome as a proper young lady should be, she was also quite outspoken and liberated, and she used all her assets to get what she wanted from the gullible men in her life (which is to say, all of them), but especially her boyfriend, Ted. Created by artist Harry Sahle (who had recently left Archie Comics for Quality), Candy used slang, adored boys and collected jitterbug platters, much to the annoyance of her parents, especially her businessman father — who probably got together for weekly meetings with Veronica Lodge’s dad and all the other businessmen dads of comic-book teenagers to shoot pool, compare hunting trophies, and enjoy the kind of man’s drink that today’s punk kids couldn’t handle.
7. Leave It to Binky (DC, 1948)
Superheroes were the clear sales leaders at the start of the Golden Age, but the end of the Second World War saw comic readers looking to other genres for their entertainment fix. Amid the crime and jungle stories hitting the stands, the success of Archie and his imitators proved there was a viable teen humor market. DC was already tapping into it with Buzzy, and so it went back to the well and launched Leave It to Binky in 1948, making Binky the first DC character to debut in the first issue of his own self-titled comic. (Suck on that, Batman!) Bertram “Binky” Biggs was yet another typical teenager, with a dog named Dopey, a girlfriend named Peggy, a rival named Sherwood, a rich uncle named Uncle Snootly (who also happened to be his dad’s boss), and a kid bother named (or nicknamed, one hopes) Allergy. Leave it to Binky folded in 1958 after 60 issues, around the time that superheroes were making a comeback, but by the mid-’60s a revival of teen humor books gave DC the incentive to bring it back, and so (after a brief tryout in Showcase) Binky #61 hit the stands cover dated July 1968. It was successful enough to spawn a spinoff in Binky’s Buddies, but it didn’t last as long as the first run, with #81 appearing in 1971 and, for no apparent reason, the following and final issue released six years later.
8. Andy (Ace Magazines, 1948)
Oh, for the love of… Look, if you’re going to blatantly rip off the industry leader, at least make some effort to hide your shame. For crying out loud, Andy even has the same hair as Archie, right down to the coloring and bunched-up bangs in the front (at least Andy isn’t sporting that odd waffle-iron pattern on the back of his head like some famous teenagers we could name). Then again, Archie’s owners would probably have a hard time proving copyright infringement considering how girl-crazy their boy is and how… very interested in botany Andy appears to be here, despite the other wonders of nature all around him (five bucks says the “big cash prize” contest advertised on the cover involved readers finding proof of Andy’s heterosexuality). Andy was published by Ace Comics, one of the smaller Golden Age outfits that published between 1940 and 1956. Their most successful book was Super-Mystery Comics starring Magno the Magnetic Man, so yeah, Andy and his two whole issues of teenaged hijinks never really stood a chance.
9. Dudley (Prize, 1949)
Oh, you boys and your usage of car lingo to describe the chicks — I tell you, some comedy classics are classics for a reason. Dudley is the blonde fellow with a penchant for exclamations like “Gloria from Peoria!” or “Mona from Pomona!”; his buddy Milt is the dark-haired boy who always has a money-making scheme or two up his sleeve. Writer/artist Boody Rogers came up with this strip for Prize Comics, a Golden Age publisher with such characters as Atomic Man and the Green Lama on the payroll. Dudley was like the missing link between Archie and L’il Abner, with lots of visual sight gags and silly names for the other cast members (the balding school principal, for instance, was “I.B. Bigdome”), and it must have seemed like a winning combination in those Dogpatch-obsessed times (ask your grandparents). Not so much, though, as “the teen-age sensation” went down for the count after just three issues.
10. Henry Aldrich (Dell, 1950)
In a sense, this list wouldn’t have been possible without this happy-go-lucky fellow leading the way. Bumbling teen Henry Aldrich first appeared on Broadway in a 1938 play titled What a Life; radio and the moving pictures soon beckoned. His popularity is often cited as one of the inspirations behind Archie, so it’s a little surprising to learn Henry didn’t get his own book until 1950, when Dell won the licensing rights to the character. (In those days, Dell was the largest comic publisher in the U.S. and was noted for its many licensed titles featuring animated characters from the Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Hanna-Barbera studios, among others.) Quoth Wikipedia: “Henry Aldrich was an endearingly bumbling kid growing awkwardly into adolescence, and The Aldrich Family [the sitcom-like weekly radio show that inspired this short-lived comic] often revolved around Henry’s misadventures with the girls and with his friends.” Sound familiar?
11. Ginger (Archie, 1951)
“America’s typical teen-age girl”… ah, yes. After all, how many of us haven’t lusted after our realistically rendered high school teachers while wearing the kind of form-fitting sweater that a Red Cross worker might employ as a tourniquet? The girl brassy enough to merit two taglines on her cover got her start in the pages of Suzie in 1945 before migrating to her own book in 1951. Drawn by George Frese with wide cute-as-a-button eyes, Ginger inhabited a strip that was a symphony of motion, with speed lines, flying sweat drops, and little hearts constantly popping up in the air around her head. As demonstrated here, she had a habit of falling in love with her more realistically rendered high school teachers, but she could and did take charge when necessary, often to the dismay of her father Fred Snapp, whom I feel safe in assuming was a portly businessman of some sort. Friends and cohorts include best friend and sidekick Dotty, Dilton Doily lookalike Ickky, and blond non-entity Tommy Turner. Wait a second: “Ginger Snapp”….? Oh, those crazy Golden Age artists and their madcap names.
12. Jetta of the 21st Century (Standard, 1952)
Speaking as a citizen of the 21st century, can I just say how totally ripped off I feel about the whole flying car thing? Jetta, which came along several years before The Jetsons, was basically Archie set in the future, but a 1950s version of the future where flying cars, clanking robots and jetpacks were the ultimate symbols of humanity’s progress. Archie artist Dan DeCarlo created Jetta and her space-age pals for Standard Comics; it ran for all of three issues between December 1952 and April 1953. In most logical universes, a three-issue teen humor series published by an all-but-forgotten publisher wouldn’t attract much attention more than a half-century after the fact. But this is DeCarlo we’re talking about here, and so Airwave Publishing issued a 64-page reprint volume in 2005, containing most of the original Jetta material and images of Jetta drawn by top contemporary artists. So hang in there, Andy and Dudley and all the rest — there may still be hope for you yet.
13. Howie (DC, 1952)
Howie stands out from the rest of the teenaged pack by being the only teen humor star to actually go into military service during the run of his series, with a banner at the top of #5 proclaiming “He’s in the army now!” No doubt Howie was trying to harness some of the military mojo of other beloved comic characters who followed the same career path, characters like… um, Beetle Bailey? At any rate, life in the military didn’t slow down his libido, as Howie and Melvin found plenty of opportunities to chase young women both in and out of uniform (one cover gag has the two boys looking seasick in a rowboat while one of their female companions wisecrack, “Now I know why you boys aren’t in the navy!”). Of course, every army man needs a taskmaster to keep him honest, and Central Casting fulfilled that need here by supplying Sgt. Cragg to hound our boys (“I meant WAX, not WACS!” he once bellowed, making a joke that probably went over big with Bob Hope’s fanbase). Total issue count: 18. Contribution to the morale of the American GI: priceless.
14. Gabby (Quality, 1953)
“LOUDER AND FUNNIER” is how Gabby was pitched to the kids — although, when you think about it, you have to wonder just how loud any comic-book character can actually get. Maybe “louder” was a reference to his wardrobe choices. At any rate, Gabby Hyatt, also known as a “teen-age laugh riot” because it says so right there on the cover, was probably (as the “Hey kids” blurb suggests) marketed to younger readers, if only because it’s hard to imagine teenagers of the 1950s enjoying the Catskills-style musings of a pompadoured doofus in a bow tie. Number of issues starring Gabby: 9. Number of issues of various comic titles starring lovable Western movie star Gabby Hayes: 129. ‘Nuff said.
15. Freddy (Charlton, 1958)
Years before Charlton tried to cash in on the Silver Age with half-assed superhero titles printed on inferior paper stock by shoddy printing presses, it tried to go up against Archie with a half-assed teen title printed on inferior paper stock by shoddy printing presses. (Fun fact! There’s actually a fellow named “Freddy Charlton” listed on Facebook.) Freddy was essentially Archie with a dye job, and he came complete with an oddball best friend and a wide array of interchangeable girls to chase. But while your standard Archie story is a wholesome look at middle America and the antics of its apple-cheeked adolescents, Freddy and friends were leering creeps (how, pray tell, can one sell a comic featuring a lusty middle-aged man actually chasing a young woman with his tongue hanging out and not feel some amount of shame?), and their stories revolved around such uplifting themes as “Freddy’s new moustache smells really bad but he’s the only one who doesn’t notice it.” So close, and yet… not really.
16. Dunc and Loo (Dell, 1961)
Artist John Stanley is best known for his many years working on the Dell Comics version of Little Lulu, which he handled from the 1940s to the ‘60s. By that time, he was branching out into new titles, and one of them was Around the Block with Dunc & Loo (later shortened to just Dunc and Loo), a comic that focused on a pair of teenaged lotharios. It was unusual in that it didn’t purposely ape the Archie house style, a decision directly attributable to illustrator Bill Williams, another veteran of the comic business. Dunc was the smooth-talking, dark-haired fellow who was nattily attired and forever focused on girls, with Beth O’Bunnion as the main object of his lust (and her father and overprotective brother the main obstacles in his way); Loo dressed sloppily and had a kid brother, Joey, who often had his own adventures. And unlike most other teen humor comics that took place in fictional small towns, Dunc and Loo’s adventures took place in New York City. It was a nice bit of verisimilitude, but it didn’t matter much in the end, as the book only lasted eight issues.
17. Josie (Archie, 1963)
Created by artist Dan DeCarlo in a clear attempt to repeat a winning formula, Josie is pretty much Archie’s long-lost twin sister: redheaded, wholesome, slightly klutzy, and easily distracted by the opposite sex. Most of her supporting cast was introduced in the first issue, including best friend Pepper, boyfriend Albert… and Melody. The platinum blonde bombshell whose speech balloons were peppered with musical notes was the closest a Code-approved comic could get to offering raw sex appeal, and she maintained her sweetness by remaining blissfully unaware of the many collisions and crashes around her caused by men who stared too long at her loveliness. (She gave the book such a boost that a proposed Melody spinoff was scuttled for fear that Josie’s book would lose too many readers.) Spoiled rich kids Alex and Alexandra Cabot soon joined the cast and the book changed its name to Josie and the Pussycats with issue #45, which it remained until the final issue in 1982. Josie and her bandmates may not have achieved the level of success as Archie and his crew, but they’re the only Archie property that can proudly say they were the basis of one of the most underrated comic-based movies of the 2000s. So there.
18. Seymour, My Son/More Seymour (Archie, 1963)
Seymour has to count as one of the oddest entries in the teen humor file, but not because of anything Seymour ever did. On the contrary, he is very much the typical comic-book teen, lusting after girls and unintentionally causing havoc in equal proportions. No, what’s odd about Seymour is that he appeared only twice in two one-shot issues: Seymour, My Son and More Seymour, which appeared one month apart in 1963. SMS was narrated entirely from the point of view of Seymour’s exasperated father, while MS used a more traditional third-person narrative to tell Archie-like stories about Seymour and his buddies (in one story, Seymour is forbidden from going to the beach until he finishes his chores; by the time his efforts have nearly wrecked the neighborhood, Seymour’s father is begging him to go away). Artist Dan DeCarlo created Josie and Seymour at the same time for Archie Comics, and while Josie was just different enough to find her niche in the Archie-verse, it’s likely that Seymour’s too-close resemblance to the company’s biggest star sealed his fate.
19. Tippy Teen (Tower, 1965)
Tower Comics is best known among comic fans for its short-lived title T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, one of the more interesting superhero team titles of the 1960s. But Tower published more issues of Tippy Teen (including a spin-off titled Tippy’s Friends Go-Go & Animal and a magazine called Teen-In, featuring Tippy and the gang) than all its other titles put together. So why didn’t Tower follow MLJ’s example and just rename the company Tippy Comics in honor of its biggest star? Probably because Tippy showed up too late to stand out in a crowded field, or (as is more likely) because there was very little effort to differentiate her books from Archie comics, right down to the two companies sharing the same creative personnel: Archie veterans Samm Schwartz, Dan DeCarlo and Bob White were the artists behind the adventures of Tippy, boyfriend Tommy, and best friends Go-Go and Animal. So, while her stories were perfectly fine examples of the genre, there was very little to set them apart from the far more established Archie books, and her final issues hit the stands in late 1969. The short-lived Atlas Comics brought her back in the 1970s by running reprints (and, inexplicably, renaming her “Vicki”) in five issues, but she hasn’t been seen since.
20. Bunny (Harvey Comics, 1966)
Harvey Comics is best known for publishing kid-friendly comics starring Casper, Richie Rich, Little Dot, Hot Stuff and the like, but it also dabbled in other genres from time to time. Bunny, a buxom blonde who was constantly high on life, was one of the company’s few attempts to tap into the teen humor market. But where most Archie stories have a timeless appeal to them, Bunny was aggressively trendy, making her a product of the ‘60s even more so than Cookie a product of the ‘40s; every issue laid on the love beads and psychedelic artwork a bit thick, and when Bunny ran out of “groovy” slang to use, her (very male, very middle-aged) editors made up their own words: “zoovy,” “zoovers” and the like. The result was something that couldn’t decide if it was celebrating or making fun of contemporary youth culture, and despite gimmicks like having Bunny wear fan-designed fashions or inviting fans to join the “Bunny Ball In Club” (which… what?), the self-styled “Queen of the In Crowd” left the party after just 20 issues, with one more issue inexplicably popping up five years later.
21. Henry (M.F. Enterprises, 1966)
It didn’t get more bottom of the barrel than M.F. Enterprises, a fly-by-night publisher whose biggest claim to fame was publishing the adventures of a superhero who stole the name of one of the industry’s most famous heroes and battled villains using (I kid you not) his ability to separate his head and limbs from his torso. But even a company that clueless could figure out that teen humor was big in the ’60s, so it tried to capitalize on the interest in teen books with Henry, a by-the-numbers affair by writer/artist Bob Powell. Red-headed protagonist? Check. Comical second banana? Check. Good-looking brunette? Check. Blonde girl who couldn’t be more of a rip-off of Josie’s Melody if she tried? Check. An issue that spoofed “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” by having the kids form “C.O.O.L.C.A.T.S.” to fight evil in ways that were completely different from the Archie gang’s “Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.” stories? Check. Really, it’s a miracle that Moose and Reggie didn’t show up and beat someone’s sorry ass before the book sputtered to an end after seven issues.
22. Swing with Scooter (DC, 1966)
James Bond, Emma Peel, the Beatles, “mods,” Carnaby Street fashion — all things British were cool in the 1960s, and American comic publishers were quick to take note. Swing with Scooter debuted with a cover date of July 1966, and it represented DC Comics’ first attempt to re-enter the teen humor market with an original character since the demise of Buzzy, Here’s Howie and the rest in the 1950s. The “fab” (or “gear,” or whatever the hell the word for “cool” was back then) fellow known as Scooter (after his preferred mode of transportation) was a Brit musician looking for love and adventure stateside in fictional Laurel City, with the help of friends Cookie, Kenny, Malibu, Penny and a few others. Early-issue art by the legendary Joe Orlando kept the book from looking like an Archie clone, but as time went on Scooter’s Britishness was de-emphasized and later artists were obviously under order to copy Archie to their heart’s content. Final tally: 36 issues, the final one staggering to the stands more than a year after the previous issue.
23. That Wilkin Boy (Archie, 1968)
In late 1968, Archie Comics brought back Wilbur Wilkins by changing everything about him except his name (and even then, an “s” got lost during the operation). Woodrow “Bingo” Wilkin is a shaggy-topped, typical teenager with a steady girlfriend (Samantha) and a band called the Bingoes; sources of strife in his life include Tough Teddy Tambourine (the garishly clad fellow seen up top who often schemes to win Samantha’s affection) and Samson Smythe, who is forever annoyed with his daughter’s taste in boyfriends (a running gag was the neighbor-vs.-neighbor rivalry between the health-obsessed Smythe and Bingo’s father, yet another stout businessman in the business of fathering teen-humor protagonists). His series ended in 1982, but Wilkin & Co. were brought back into the Archie-verse in 2005 when it was revealed that Bingo was none other than… Jughead’s cousin! And Suzie and Ginger are actually Veronica’s long-lost twin sisters! And then thousands of continuity-obsessed Archie fans demanded a Crisis on Infinite Earths event of their own to make sense of it all! (No, not really.)
24. Date with Debbi (DC, 1969)
Date with Debbi ran for 18 issues between 1969 and 1972 and largely focused on the many ways by which our young heroine tried to find happiness, often through dating. Clearly trying to out-Josie Josie in the “Archie in drag” competition, our freckle-faced heroine is often depicted as slightly more than a little boy-crazy. (A typical cover gag had her on the phone with a boy and referring to an index card while talking to him, while off to the side we can see a very large cabinet with many little drawers, all of them presumably stuffed with information on every boy in town. God, life was so much harder pre-Facebook.) Her book was popular enough to encourage a spin-off, Debbi’s Dates, which ran for 11 issues, but that’s about all she got, unless there’s a really obscure cameo in a Vertigo title that I’m not aware of.
25. Fast Willie Jackson (Fitzgerald Publications, 1976)
Fun fact: it only took 33 years for Archie’s supporting cast to feature a recurring non-white member (that would be Chuck Clayton, the athlete/aspiring cartoonist who first came on the scene in 1974; his girlfriend, Nancy, would debut two years later). The dearth of African-American characters in teen humor books (and, well, any comic book genre) inspired publisher Bertram Fitzgerald to create Fast Willie Jackson, the first book with a largely African-American cast to challenge Archie on his own turf. In theory, it sounded like a good idea; in practice… not so much. Jackson, the Archie analog, is portrayed as good-natured but not overly ambitious, and he, JoJo, Dee Dee, Hannibal Jones and the rest of the gang live in “Mo City” and take classes from militant feminist teacher “Jane Fronda” (ho ho). So far, so good — or at least inoffensive. But add one stereotypical militant black man, a caricature of “the Man” in the form of a racist white cop, extremely dated slang and costume choices, and stories like the one in which Willie’s entire crew is overjoyed at the prospect of having five dollars… well, you start to understand why the title lasted only seven issues. To its credit, Fitzgerald Periodicals also published a line of educational books about celebrated figures in black history; one can only imagine what Harriet Tubman or Dr. Martin Luther King would have said about Fast Willie Jackson if given the chance — though I’m betting it would not be language approved by the Comics Code Authority.