Let’s hope Jughead is good at delivering an eulogy. Archie, the once perpetually teenage comic book character, is about to die. This death is not during some tug-of-war gone awry between Betty and Veronica but is instead from an assassin’s bullet meant for his friend who is a gay senator campaigning for gun reform.
When did Archie move beyond vanilla trips to the malt shop and begin tackling serious real-life topics? There’s reason certain cartoons are collectively known as the funnies and it isn’t because the characters make readers think too hard over their morning coffee.
Granted, the popularity of graphic novels and society’s move further and further away from an idealized 1940s projection of life mean that readers probably do have more of an appetite for story lines rather than punch lines. But we’re not talking about “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. We’re talking about Archie, a squeaky-clean kid from wholesome Riverdale.
If Archie can get real, just think of how other iconic comic strip characters would fare with a modern makeover. Doonesbury wouldn’t work; that strip already had a lot going on without any added creative license.
But over in “Family Circus,” little Jeffy will grow up and have a prescription drug problem. This, of course, is not surprising. Growing up in a house haunted by the invisible “Not me” is enough to drive anybody to self-medication. In rehab, he can meet up with Hagar the Horrible. That Viking never met a drink he didn’t like.
Beetle Bailey is probably long out of the Army, coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and wondering when Veterans Affairs is finally going to approve his benefits. Maybe Sgt. Snorkel can write U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier on his behalf.
Cathy probably got divorced and is back navigating the meat market of single life while Blondie dumps Dagwood for a husband with a heavier pocketbook. Dagwood consoles himself sharing sandwiches with Daisy the dog and flirting with neighbor Tootsie. Blondie becomes an overly processed Real Housewife of Joplin, Missouri, and daughter Cookie runs off to the Jersey Shore.
Psychiatrist Lucy will overprescribe Zoloft and Xanax for Charlie Brown’s depression over the little red-headed girl’s indifference. Pig-Pen will finally discover personal hygiene and Schroeder will become a top-notch music producer with a fondness for autotune. The teacher, jaded by years of school violence and changing curriculum standards, will be heard speaking about “wah wah wah Columbine locks wah wah wah metal detectors wah wah Common Core wah wah wah standardized tests.”
Marmaduke will find a new calling as a K-9 dog while Clifford nabs a starring role on the next sad Sarah McLachlan-scored SPCA commercial. Garfield may hit the end of his nine lives, leaving Odie and Jon aimless for weeks and weeks of subsequent strips. Calvin finally grows up, no longer able to wax philosophical with Hobbes, and Dilbert gets a management gig at a hot Internet startup. Even the Born Loser might finally catch a break.
Truth is, though, out here in the three-dimensional universe we tend to dislike our beloved cartoon characters changing too much or getting too heavy. The real world is messy and serious enough; at least let the comics live up to their name.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.