Today, Ryan D. and Taylor are discussing Jughead 14, originally released April 5th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: After five years of teaching high school, it became clear to me that I do not envy teenagers in this decade. Kids have an entirely new plane for making mistakes to which I was not privy in the early 2000s — one which revolves around the ubiquitous little pocket-computer everyone has now, coupled with unlimited internet access and an expectation to hold a social media presence. Technology is, in many ways, a blessing and provides opportunities beyond our dreams less than twenty years ago, back when the world-wide web pretty much just hosted cool websites like “HampsterDance,” but I can only imagine the trouble I would have gotten into if I were sixteen today. Jughead Jones finds himself in a predicament in issue fourteen, a very modern problem, and he just can’t seem to please everyone when the internet is involved.
This is my first Jughead issue, so I had very few expectations of how author Ryan North would handle the Archie universe with my only frame of reference being the terrible, terrible Riverdale TV show which of course I watch. Right off the bat, we understand that Jughead’s in trouble because of a prank he played involving the newly-formed band, which Jug and the crew put together due to the wishes of “King for a Month” Reggie. While Jughead tried to make amends, the real journey here follows Jughead as he learns some harsh truths about the vicious anonymity of the internet community. But can he use the fickleness of the modern digital fame machine to his own advantage?
Well, sure he can, and maybe we’ll all learn something along the way. Because that’s how these kind of comics work, right? The characters always play to their types, and Jughead’s appeal lays in the fact that he is, essentially, a clown. Like a clown trained in the Gaulier/Lecoq style, the delight of the audience comes at the expense of the character, and the deeper the clown finds themselves in “the predicament,” the higher the stakes rise and the more desperately the clown must try to dig themselves out. Here’s how this issue handles that phase of the process:
With Jughead’s mind made up and the second panel’s dramatic, anime-esque smash-zoom to his eyes, he uses memeology to escape his quandary. Are the individual attempts particularly funny? Well, sort of, if you enjoy very referential humor to stock photoshop memes, some of which come from 2006; however, their funniness isn’t what’s most important. What sells this bit is the stupidity of his attempts and the earnestness behind them — the lengths Jughead allows himself to go to fix the problem as his digital footprint will always be tied to these terrible videos. After all, it isn’t the clown’s prat-fall which makes us laugh, but the exasperation in the act and the look on the clown’s face as they sit up, desperately hoping that the stupid act of self-degradation solved the predicament.
This, I would guess, is the reason why Jughead perseveres as a character with whom people can identify and want to watch.
The other comedic component in issue fourteen which I most appreciated comes from artist Derek Charm’s use of page composition. Take these two pages for example:
Charm uses the repetition of images here extremely well to get across the futility of Jughead’s actions, but he also uses the visual storytelling here to make a kid typing on his phone an interesting scene. I also enjoyed his use of a YouTube-like video player as panels later; this gives a very dynamic feel to what could be very visually unstimulating scenarios, and as quippy as North’s verbiage reads, I think the success of this issue rests squarely on Charm’s shoulders.
Taylor! I’m still not sure if Jughead is necessarily the type of comic I would go out and pick up, but I appreciate a lot of the moving parts here. Anything here strike you as particularly well-handled? And are the footnote jokes of North still working for you as a comedic gimmick?
Taylor: It’s funny that you mention the footnotes Ryan. Usually North is sure to include footnotes on every page of his comics, but they are conspicuously absent on several pages in this issue. While North has an undoubted talent for meta-humor, maybe he’s beginning to tire of its continued use on every page of every issue he writes. There’s more to support this theory than just the absence of something, though. I’m used to reading North’s footnotes and getting a good laugh three or four times each issue. In this issue the footnotes feel more strained and it feels like North is growing weary of producing meta-humor at such a rigorous pace. Uninspired quips such as the “traitorgator” joke on page six seem to hint that as much is true.
While North is most comfortable working with humor, I think the redeeming virtue of this issue is the theme it presents. As you said Ryan, North uses this issue to address the dangers of social media and the internet. As such, I think North presents a good lesson about the fickle and ethereal nature of internet stardom. As soon as Jughead actually tries to perpetuate his internet fame, he virtually insures he will be a one hit wonder. This is made abundantly clear when Veronica shows up at Jughead’s house the day after he’s posted his follow-up videos.
All of the merchandising Veronica had sunk money into suddenly dries up because no one thinks Jughead’s lame second act is any good. This hints at the nature of the internet and memedom in general, where lighting strikes once and randomly. Jughead trying to cash in on his internet fame is the equivalent of the “Damn Daniel” kid going on Ellen. Trying to build upon internet fame at best feels forced and at worst seems like a desperate plot for money. Memes, by their very nature, come out of nowhere and that’s a huge reason why they are so popular — no one sees them coming and the surprise of their arrival is wonderful. Jughead has learned this lesson the hard way.
The other lesson North presents in this issue is that the internet controls a person’s personal narrative, whether they want it to or not. While most of Jughead’s friends are able to bask in the glory of new found fame, Betty is mortified to learn that she has been reduced to a meme. Her problem with internet stardom is that it is eclipsing the things she would rather be known for.
Before Jughead’s video, Betty had carefully crafted the way the internet saw her. She had her own website, full of achievements she had accomplished and, most importantly, which showed up on the first page of Google. Now, when she googles her name, Betty finds that she is the butt-end of a joke and that her site probably won’t be seen except by the most avid Google searchers. What Betty and Jughead learn here is that despite its immense power for good and fame, the internet can easily take that which it giveth. No amount of work on Betty’s part can resurrect her good internet name and things are only slightly righted because Jughead proves to be such a moron. The internet is not for the faint of heart and those who would seek its fame should be weary they don’t suffer Betty’s fate.
In the vein of this moralistic storytelling North provides a coda at the end of this issue that takes its cues from Animal House. All of the characters involved in Jughead’s misadventure learn something and the reader is told as much in the closing pages. Of particular note is what Archie learns.
The tongue-in-cheek humor used by North here is spot on. Obviously Archie hasn’t learned anything from his mistake with Betty and Veronica, and in no way will this come back to bite him in the ass later. In short, he has learned nothing. And this perhaps hints at North’s primary message all along. The internet quickly forgets memes and the people who generated them. In such a society, it’s easy to forget what’s really important to us as we eschew regular human contact for the little glowing screen in our pocket.
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