Archie 12

Alternating Currents: Archie 12, Drew and Taylor

Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Archie 12, originally released September 21st, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Drew: In 2011, Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted out 22 “story basics” she learned at Pixar. Every one of them is useful (and I encourage any storyteller to check them out, even if I cringe at how Coats’ list of lessons became “rules” as they were compiled by various bloggers), but #19 has always caught my eye because of how fickle audiences can be with coincidences. I suspect Coats is generally right, but I can’t help but think the magnitude of the coincidence is important, as well. Small coincidences that help characters get out of trouble (say, that the villain’s dropped weapon fell near enough to the hero to reverse the fortunes of their battle) would be more palatable than big coincidences that get them into it (say, that the dropped weapon landed on a button that began the self-destruct sequence on the ship just as it was hurtling towards the hero’s hometown). And, of course, these rules only apply when we’re concerned about verisimilitude — nobody ever complains about the outrageous coincidences in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon because those coincidences are precisely what make those cartoons so entertaining.

All of which is to say I think there are a few more variables in play than helpful/unhelpful in determining the success of a coincidence. Moreover, the specific profile of the coincidences in a narrative might help define it’s tone; an action thriller might allow for bigger, more unhelpful coincidences than would be appropriate in a parlor drama, for instance. In this way, a coincidence that strains credulity might not be a problem with the narrative so much as a sign that you’ve misjudged the tone of that narrative — different stories require different levels of credulity. As you may suspect, Archie 12 contains a few big coincidences that threw me for a loop, and while it would be easy to cry foul, the fact is that Archie has always been a bit cartoonier than I’ve been giving it credit for.

The drama of this issue really hinges on the coinciding of several unlikely factors. In the wake of his loss of the mayoral race, Hiram Lodge opts to move his entire family out of Riverdale immediately. Veronica calls Archie, but his phone quickly dies, and with his car also dead, Archie no way to reach her. Betty swoops in to save the day (just as she’s getting an untimely “show up now or we’re done” ultimatum from Sayid), rushing to take Archie to the airport, but they’re too late.

On the first read, these coincidences drove me nuts, mostly because none of them actually change the dramatic outcome of the issue. Actually, there’s an even bigger culprit, an event so aggravatingly and unnecessarily coincidental, I was annoyed with it before I even knew what the repercussions might be:

phone-y

I defy anyone to find a teenager who could possibly leave home without their phone, let alone one who is anxiously awaiting word from his girlfriend. If he’s too groggy to think straight, then the phone falling off the table is simply unnecessary. It didn’t feel believable, and what’s worse, it didn’t seem to accomplish anything. Archie eventually does find his phone, and hasn’t actually missed anything at that point. It’s only the phone dying that causes any strife, but given that he’s in his home when it happens, also has a solution that would be obvious to any phone owner.

And, as I suggest, none of the coincidences ultimately change the course of the narrative. Even if Archie and Ronnie had reunited the second she texted him, even if his phone hadn’t died, even if he had been able to drive himself to the airport, there’s nothing either of them could have done to prevent Mr. Lodge from forcing Ronnie onto that plane. These coincidences do conspire to bring Betty to Archie’s aid (at the expense of her own relationship), but they were on good terms again, anyway.

That’s an aggravating fact, if you’re concerned about the plot. If, however, you’re concerned about the coincidences themselves — the same way you would in a Wile E. Coyote short — then this issue is a blast. The impossible piling-up of misfortunes isn’t a weakness if its impossibility is the very point of the story. Archie isn’t just about a guy and his relationships, it’s about how things regularly go hilariously wrong for our beloved doofus. He doesn’t just forget his phone; he knocks it off the table because he’s a clutz. He’s not just stranded at his house; he can’t use his car because it’s a hunk of junk. He doesn’t just fail to make it to the airport on time; he mistakes a stranger for his girlfriend because of course he does.

This series is at times very earnest, which I think allowed me to forget that it’s ultimately a cartoony teen comedy. Goofy, impossible things are going to happen from time to time because goofy, impossible things are one of the joys of reading Archie. Getting mad about that is the same as wondering why Bugs Bunny can talk, and who wants to be that joyless twit?

Taylor, did you have to reorient yourself to enjoy this issue, or were you more on board with the goofiness from the start? Also, what did you think of the new art team of Ryan Jampole and Thomas Pitilli? I thought they fit into the style established by Staples/Wu/Fish beautifully, but I’m hoping you have more to say than that.

Taylor: The new art really does compliment the storytelling of Archie, and that’s perhaps especially true of this issue. Thinking about the comedic pile-ups you describe, Drew, makes me look at this issue in a new light. Taken strictly as a comedic adventure it’s actually quite entertaining because I can overlook some of the things that seem a bit unrealistic and therefor troublesome. Considering this, I find the stylized drawing style of Jampole and Pitilli a wonderful compliment to the action because it heightens the absurdity of the events taking place in issue 12.

The prime example of the absurdly comedic in this issue is Hiram Lodge, loser of Riverdale’s mayoral race. We all know that Mr. Lodge is a grump, but that caricature is taken to new heights in this issue. When news breaks of his loss in the election he does not take it well, to say the least.

truly-outrageous

He explodes and yells at everyone within earshot before eventually storming off claiming that he’s “too angry to speak.” Aside from the current presidential election, it would be hard to envision any real candidate, much less a mayoral candidate, taking the loss so hard. Read straight, this episode would seem silly because no one acts this way, but read as a comic farce, it’s much more entertaining.

A big part of making this issue strictly comedic is the artwork. Jampole and Pitilli go all out in stylizing the epic unraveling of Lodge in defeat in the panel above. What I first notice is the manga-style action lines emanating from Lodge’s head. These at once focus our attention on Lodge’s face while at the same time hilariously showing his surprise at losing the election by such a wide margin. I can just image the way this panel would play out in animated form and that adds to the over the top humor of Lodge predictably losing the election because he’s basically terrible in every way. Moreover, the features on his face are drawn with exaggerated proportions that belie any of the actual anger I may feel from Lodge in this scene. His eyes are huge and off-kilter and his mouth takes up the lower third of his face. This makes him look more like a Daffy Duck drawing than a real human being and the result is nothing but hilarious to me.

It’s not just Lodge who gets this cartoonish treatment. Several characters throughout this issue have outrageous reactions to bad news and in every case it’s funny. Like Lodge, the characters in these reaction panels are looking directly at the viewer and are very stylized. Here’s one of Archie:

blam

The similarities are striking between the two panels and that explains why both are so funny. Again, we have the manga style reaction lines, oversized facial proportions, and a character freaking out. The added bonus in this panel that adds to the humor is the inclusion of Archie’s phone. As he furiously types we see his frantic fingers ricocheting off his phone screen. Again, this is a huge exaggeration of this motion that in more realistic issue would be out of place, but it works here. I’m used to seeing these embellishments in comedic comics and not titles like Archie which tend to skew toward realismBut thinking of the events in this issue as a comedy makes everything work. For me, this humor works primarily because of the art.

This is all a long winded way of saying that yes, I did have to reorient myself to this issue and the way it’s being told. Upon first read it seemed like average faire — crossed lovers, low-stakes political intrigue and what have you. But the more I think of this issue and Archie in general as being primarily comedic as opposed to dramatic, the more I like it. It’s actually really funny thinking that Lodge’s reaction to losing the election would be to skip town virtually overnight, and when I think about this issue and that image of him sitting up all night, angry, arms crossed in bed, it’s all just so rich. In the end this change of position has made me come round to this issue. Much like the humor of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon where characters react to danger with bug-eyes and dropped jaws, this issue sustains itself on showing its characters reacting to terrible, coincidental events and that’s what makes it fun.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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8 comments on “Archie 12

  1. I suppose it speaks to the quality of the drama in the last few issues, but it’s funny that both of us had forgotten that Archie is, at heart, a comedy series. I think this is maybe the first time the gags have been so integral to the story — there’s no way to talk about this issue without mentioning some of the absurdities, which I think hasn’t really been true of previous issues, where the gags are more auxiliary to the plot.

  2. On the ‘rule’ around coincidences, you have to treat it like any other narrative rule. I’ve always like the writing advice that only when you completely understand why a rule exists, you are allowed to break it. And I think as a ‘rule’, that coincidence one is a good one. Especially as I don’t think that Drew’s example about the villain dropping a weapon near a hero in battle is a coincidence – it is the consequence of a series of actions that occurred throughout the battle that led these two characters to be where they are. I mean, the Wile E. Coyote example is the perfect example of this rule in action. Wile E. is the protagonist, and therefore the coincidences work against him.

    Also, an interesting question for everyone, since both Drew and Taylor appeared to have issues initially getting their head round it, what would you guys say the problems was? I am kind of reminded of some of the stuff discussed in the Doom Patrol thread. Sounds like a major tonal issue

    • This issue definitely has a different balance of comedy and drama from much of the run so far, but I think my difficulty with it really comes down to 1) my relative unfamiliarity with Archie and 2) the emphasis on earnest dramatic beats in recent issues. I think those dramatic beats absolutely fit within the overall comedic tone of the series, but it was easy with my limited sample size to read the series as a teen drama with lighter moments rather than a teen comedy with dramatic moments. So when this issue approached the particular story beat of Veronica leaving Riverdale without a chance to say goodbye to Archie with such an irreverent tone, it effectively asserted a “teen comedy with dramatic moments” identity that didn’t jibe with what I had in my head.

      And I really do think that’s on me — Archie is and always has been a comedy series. Bojack Horseman might not read as a comedy to folks who have only seen the most depressing episodes, so confusion might ensue around more extended comedic sequences, but I think that’s mostly a phenomenon mostly caused by ignorance. As Taylor said, this issue is a lot of fun when read as a comedy — we’d just been using a slightly wrong lens on it for a while.

      • Still, you’ve been reading the entire Waid series, haven’t you? Surely you shouldn’t need to read more Archie than Waid’s stuff, especially as Waid’s stuff was advertised as a new and different thing from the previous Archie comics. I gave up on this series in issue 4, when it was revealed that Betty’s only friend only cares for Betty in order to ingratiate herself with Archie, but surely if you have read all eleven other issues, the fact that you were reading this book with the wrong lens is a flaw

        • “Flaw” really depends on the person applying that lens. A lot of folks were disappointed in the way LOST wrapped up because they thought the show was ultimately about explaining the mechanics of its mythology, when it had really always been about its characters. The mythology was the icing, not the cake, but fans lost perspective largely because the icing was what made the show so unique. I don’t think LOST ever misrepresented its priorities, but fans could get it wrong right up to the end of the series because it was still compelling, even when using the wrong lens. I think a similar thing happened with Archie. I was using the wrong lens all along, but it worked, so I didn’t have any cause to question it. It was only in this issue that approaching it as a “drama with jokes” broke down, so it was only now that I had to reevaluate. “Comedy with earnest emotions” fits all of the previous issues just as well, but explains this one MUCH better.

        • Except we develop that lens from the content itself. You can say that LOST is all about the characters, not the mythology, but when everyone else watched the show and look at it from a very different lens, you have to ask why. There is a reason that LOST’s finale is to this day widely agreed to be terrible. There has been no revaluation of the LOST finale, no vindication by history because regardless of people saying it was about the characters the whole time, it consesus is still that it wasn’t fit for purpose. Back when Breaking Bad finished, I saw essays describing why Breaking Bad’s finale worked but LOST didn’t. Back when Lindelof briefly became the biggest screenwriter in Hollywood and created a long list of really shitty blockbusters, I saw articles contextualizing his career that explored why Lindelof’s crappy blockbusters and the LOST finale all shared the same common fatal flaw (even as they praised the early stuff). The LOST finale still has not been vindicated by history, for good reason. Because regardless of the show the creators thought everyone was watching, they didn’t create the finale for the show people actually watched.

          So I still think it is fair question to ask why you haven’t been reading it with the right lens. Because there are a hell of a lot of stuff out there where such readjustments don’t need to happen

        • I think audiences tend to take for granted exactly how they should be approaching a given work, because it’s so intuitive. Some of that intuition comes from the work itself, but some of it also comes from our own preconceptions about it. Archie’s genre is comedy, full stop. As a comedy, it can freely mix in dramatic beats. However, if one forgets that it is a comedy, and only relies on the mixture of comedy and teen melodrama, it’s possible to misread that mixture as a drama with comedic moments. Throw in an opening arc with Fiona Staples, an artist I very strongly associate with “drama with funny bits,” and it’s easy to see why someone would make the mistake — at least with a limited sample size.

          Honestly, because we apply our lenses so intuitively, I think we are largely unaware how constantly that lens is being renegotiated with works that we’re interacting with. Some narratives are more interested in exploring that negotiation than others (Psycho takes a hard left turn at the end of its first act, while Jaws never confuses its point for a second), but we whatever adjustments we make are generally subconscious.

          In this case, Taylor and I were both aware of that change, but I only think because we had gotten away with using the wrong one for long enough to take it for granted. We were letting our limited associations with the series obscure the simple fact that Archie is first and foremost a comedy.

        • I agree with all you are saying about how comedies can have dramatic elements, and that the lens is constantly renegotiated as we read (though I think Fiona Staples amazing art in the first arc did a great job in making you think the book was a comedy first).

          But I think my big disagreement is the idea that the entire work should be read with a single lens – I think that in storytelling, different parts of the story are supposed to require different lens. When a comedy goes more dramatic, you are supposed to adjust your lens in response, and when a drama goes more comedic, you are supposed to adjust your lens again. Because as you say, the lens is constantly being renegotiated.

          So isn’t part of the writer’s job to be actively participating in that renegotiation and to make sure that the reader is never using the wrong one? I’m not saying you need to explore it in interesting ways, but you need to be aware of what lens the reader is going to use to read the story.
          You’ll never get everyone, but everyone here are advanced readers. So what does it say that when the story shifted from a more dramatic section to a more comedic section, the readers of Retcon Punch did not naturally shift lens? If the lens is constantly being renegotiated, why weren’t you prepped for the comedic nature of this issue? Why is it your fault that you were unprepared for this issue?
          Because there are a long list of comedies that manage to successfully transition from funny to dramatic and back again perfectly naturally

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