Archie Comics Publications, Inc. History

Address:
325 Fayette Avenue
Mamaroneck, New York 10543-2306
U.S.A.

Telephone: (914) 381-5155
Fax: (914) 381-2335

Website:
Private Company
Founded:1939 as MLJ Magazines
Employees:23
Sales:$15 million (2002 est.)
NAIC:511120 Periodicals Publishers; 511199 All Other Publishers

Company Perspectives:

Archie Comics is the only family-owned and independent publisher in the industry. Goldwater's and Silberkleit's fathers formed the comic book publishing company, MLJ Magazines, in November 1939. MLJ Magazines was named after its three founders, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater. Archie was first introduced in comics in December 1941, and the company adopted the name of its flagship character in 1946. Today, Michael Silberkleit and Richard Goldwater provide millions of loyal fans across the country with more than 25 Archie Comics titles published each month.

Key Dates:

1939:
MLJ Magazines is founded by three partners.
1941:
Archie Andrews makes his first appearance in a comic strip.
1942:
The infamous Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle is born and Archie gets his own comic book.
1943:
Archie is featured for the first time on the cover of a comic book.
1946:
MLJ Magazines is renamed Archie Comics Publications.
1968:
Filmation's animated Archie television series debuts on Saturday mornings.
1969:
"Sugar Sugar" by the musical group Archies tops the pop charts.
1987:
An updated Archie animated series returns to television.
1990:
Adult versions of Archie and his pals star in a live-action television movie.
1993:
Archie Comics produces a Sonic the Hedgehog comic book insert for Sega.
1994:
The "Love Showdown" between Betty and Veronica hits the comic books.
1997:
Archie Comics Online debuts on the Internet.
2000:
Archie's 500th issue is published.
2001:
Archie Comics Entertainment LLC is established.
2002:
The 60th anniversary of Archie Comics is celebrated.
2004:
IDT Entertainment buys an equity stake in Archie Comics Entertainment.

Company History:

Everyone knows Archie, the flagship creation of Archie Comics Publications, Inc., even though they might not know his last name (Andrews). Add Betty, Veronica, and Jughead to the mix and millions of fans will respond in more than a dozen languages. Archie and his Riverdale sidekicks have long been a favorite among comic book and newspaper readers, but the Archie gang has appeared in animated and live-action television productions, topped the music charts, educated the public to the dangers of alcoholism and AIDS, and raised awareness of cerebral palsy, missing children, and environmental issues. Archie Comics, the company behind the lovable icon, also brought Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and Sonic the Hedgehog to comic book and television prominence. Archie, however, still reigns supreme with an average monthly circulation of 850,000 or 16 million comic books annually.

Three Guys and an Idea: 1939-43

In November 1939 three gentlemen with loads of creativity and big dreams formed MLJ Magazines. The M came from Maurice Coyne, the L from Louis Silberkleit and the J from John Goldwater. The new company's goal was to produce comic books, the first series of which was Blue Ribbon Comics. A second series was called Top-Notch Comics, and a third, Pep Comics, appeared in 1940. The first volume of Pep Comics featured a superhero called "The Shield." The Shield was an American patriot, battled international foes, and appealed to a predominantly male audience.

In order to attract more female comic book readers, the founders of MLJ decided to create an average, wholesome type of character experiencing the ups and downs of daily life. Goldwater (the J of the firm's name) came up with a character loosely based on Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy roles beginning in the late 1930s, with some real life inspiration from Goldwater's own friends growing up in New York. Goldwater's creation was Archie Andrews, a redhead with freckles. Archie's best friend, Jughead, was based on Goldwater himself and his relationship to a high school pal who also happened to be named Archie.

The first likeness of Archie Andrews came courtesy of Bob Montana who became the principal artist for the Archie series. The first Archie comic, written by Vic Bloom, debuted in December 1941 (a rather infamous month in U.S. history) in Pep Comics volume 22. Archie was the standout in this issue, not because his story was outstanding but because he was an average kid and not a superhero like other characters in the issue. Goldwater and his partners had little idea they had just launched what would become an international phenomenon.

The first Archie story revolved around a new girl who came to town (Riverdale), Betty Cooper. Also introduced was Jughead Jones, Archie's best friend, who had no interest in females whatsoever. Archie and a growing number of Riverdale folks were featured in both Pep Comics and another line called Jackpot Comics. By the time Pep Comics volume 26 arrived in April 1942, Archie and his antics were gaining an audience. This particular comics issue was pivotal, as it introduced a character who would shape stories for decades to come. Wealthy, attractive Veronica Lodge arrived in Riverdale and Archie found he was attracted to two gals--flashy Veronica and wholesome Betty. Hence one of the most famous love triangles was born, as Veronica and Betty became rivals for Archie's affection.

Despite the era's love of larger-than-life heroes, especially as the United States fought in World War II, Archie brought a fresh and welcome perspective to comic books. He was ordinary, silly, and willing to go to outrageous lengths to impress the girls of his dreams. Veronica was feisty and added a spark of mischief to the stories, while Betty was America's sweetheart. Jughead was comic relief but also demonstrated loyalty to pal Archie.

As MLJ Magazines realized Archie's potential, the young everyman was given an increased presence in its comic books. The first Archie Comics volume came out in 1942, while Archie received his first Pep cover in 1943 (volume 36); became Pep's lead story by volume 49; and filled an entire Pep comic by volume 51 (while also filling the pages of his own line, Archie Comics).

Laughter Takes Center Stage: 1944-59

Archie had taken center stage at MLJ by 1944 and soon his teen and merry band had their own comic book line. Archie was not, however, MLJ's only product. The firm had several different comic book lines and was continually trying out new characters. One of these was Katy Keene, a beauty queen introduced in 1945. Katy became a popular pinup girl with GIs fighting overseas and was soon featured in several comic book series. The following year, 1946, MLJ Magazines changed its name to Archie Comics Publications (ACP), reflecting the growing popularity of Archie and his gang.

By the early 1950s ACP had several popular comic book lines, and had segued into a radio show featuring the Archie characters. While there were still a few action heroes in the company's comics, comedy had become the firm's primary credo. In addition to Archie and Pep comics, other lines such as Laugh Comics, Archie's Pal Jughead, Archie's JokeBook, Life With Archie, and a spinoff title featuring Betty and Veronica were added. ACP had also begun making yearly "jumbo" editions of its titles, and added new characters to the Archie saga including bad guy Reggie Mantle, shop owner Pop Tate, Jughead foil Big Ethel, and personnel from Riverdale High School.

Changing Times: 1960s

As America experienced the 1960s, so did Archie and the gang. Clothing, attitudes, and language changed in the comic books to reflect the times. Katy Keene was no longer the belle of the ball and her comic line was discontinued in 1961 (though she would return in the future). Batman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were popular television programs and Archie mirrored the renewed interest in superheroes and spies. Archie became a Batman-like action hero called Pureheart the Powerful in 1965, while a Man from U.N.C.L.E. spoof, The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. hit store shelves.

Archie mania swept the nation but the teen really hit the big time when the company inked a deal with Filmation to produce a Saturday morning television show featuring the Riverdale kids. Debuting in 1968, the animated series was wildly successful and even spawned a musical group called the Archies who produced an album of catchy tunes. One of the album's singles, "Sugar Sugar," went all the way to the number one slot on the Billboard music charts in 1969.

Archie Comics did not rest on its Riverdale laurels but continued to come up with new storylines in the 1960s. One of these was Sabrina, a teenaged witch who was given her own TV show and shared space with Archie in a new series called Archie's TV Laugh Out (though Sabrina was given her own comic series later). Another female, Josie, who had been introduced back in the 1940s, received little attention until she donned a cat suit and started a girl band called "Josie and the Pussycats" in 1969. Both Sabrina and Josie had their own TV shows (the former produced by Filmation and the latter by cartoon giant Hanna-Barbera) and graced the pages of comic books, but each would make a bigger splash in the decades to come.

Turbulent Times: 1970s-80s

The dawn of a new decade, the 1970s, brought toy licensing agreements and numerous spinoff titles for Archie characters including Betty's first solo outing and editions in varying sizes and slants. One brilliant marketing endeavor was the release of "digests," reprinting original stories from ACP's earliest years and offering them to readers who had not been born at the time of their publication. Archie's appeal was soon crossing generational boundaries, as the grandparents and parents of Riverdale's current audience were brought back into the fold. In 1975, however, everyone at ACP was saddened by the death of Bob Montana who had drawn Archie for three decades. Don DeCarlo, who had created the likenesses of Josie (of Pussycat fame), took the reins and became the principal artist for Archie and his Riverdale pals.

In a nod to one of the more important issues of the decade, several ethnically diverse characters were introduced to Riverdale High School. African Americans Chuck Clayton and Nancy Harris, and Hispanic Americans Frankie Valdez and Nancy Rodriguez became regular features in the comic books. Despite racial diversity and reprinting early Archie stories, the Archie television show was canceled in 1976 as comic book sales slumped in the last years of the decade. Many titles were cut and the ACP's corporate belt tightened. One bright spot, however, was the unexpected return of World War II pinup Katy Keene who was revived by a Saks Fifth Avenue window designer who featured blowups of Katy in her displays.

The 1980s found ACP making bold moves to revive its audience. A racy new character, Cheryl Blossom, stirred up controversy in 1982 when she was introduced in Betty and Veronica volume 320. Cheryl had no shame and liked to show off her well-endowed body, much to the dismay of Betty and Veronica. Cheryl also had a twin brother named Jason, and the two immediately caused trouble for Riverdale's wholesome high schoolers. After two years, Cheryl Blossom and her brother disappeared; like their predecessors who vanished, however, they would turn up again.

Despite fluctuating sales in the comic book industry, ACP continued to find new niches for its characters. Betty's Diaries began publication as a standalone title in 1986 after years as a feature in Archie's JokeBook while the Riverdale pals went back in time to middle school in another animated television series called The New Archies in 1987. Neither of these ventures, however, did exceedingly well and they were consequently discontinued.

An Archie Renaissance: 1990s

Early Archie experiments in the 1990s proved outlandish as the United States was in the thrall of George Lucas and his Star Wars saga. ACP responded with space adventures such as Archie 3000 and Jughead's Time Police. While the new titles were imaginative, they did not last. One change that did last was ACP's switch to soy-based inks and recycled paper after readers wrote in about environmental concerns. A risky move was a 1990 live-action television movie called Archie: To Riverdale and Back, featuring grown up versions of the Riverdale gang. Aired on NBC against popular shows of the time, the movie did not fare well--in part because most of the adult characters were portrayed as embattled and unhappy, but also because most longtime fans never equated their favorite comic book heroes as dealing with such heavy issues as divorce.

While Archie faltered, however, something else took hold in the minds of kids around the world. Sega mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, created in 1991, was given its first comic book treatment by the artists at ACP in 1993. Designed as a promotional leaflet for Sega products and based on the character's cartoon show likeness, the comic proved so successful Archie and Sega inked a deal to produce a comic book series. Sonic went on to star in two different animated series and was featured in numerous product tie-ins throughout the decade and into the next.

While Sonic rocketed to fame, the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle got a major boost in 1994. Still torn by his feelings for both Betty and Veronica, Archie receives a blast from the past in the form of a letter. Though the letter-writer is kept a secret, Betty and Veronica learn the author is female and has feelings for Archie. This, of course, stirs up a whirlwind of feminine competition by Betty and Veronica to secure Archie's heart. Carried over several titles and weeks, readers find the mystery woman is none other than Cheryl Blossom, last seen in 1985. Cheryl's return was met with so much enthusiasm that she was featured in several titles over the next few years, until she was given her own comic book series in 1997. Her twin Jason had been resurrected as well.

Sabrina, the teen witch who had been starring in her own comic series since the 1960s, was given the star treatment when Showtime produced a full length movie featuring her character in 1996. The movie scored high with young viewers because of its star, Nickelodeon actress Melissa Joan Hart, and led to a new television series on ABC. As Sabrina won over audiences on Friday nights during prime time, ACP launched Archie Comics Online in 1997. ACP had also become active in fundraising and cultural awareness by the middle and late 1990s; Archie was an official ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy in 1995 and ACP characters endorsed such healthy life choices as staying away from drugs and alcohol.

ACP lost one of its original founders, John Goldwater, the creator of redheaded Archie Andrews, at age 83 in 1999. At the time of Goldwater's death, Archie comic books were sold in three dozen countries worldwide.

A New Era: 2000s

Archie in the 21st century was not too different from Archie in the 20th, just that he had millions of virtual fans in addition to his diehard comic book readers. In 2000 Archie and his Riverdale pals joined select company when the 500th Archie comic book was published. This put Archie in league with such comic book legends as Superman, Batman, and Mickey Mouse. The millennium also brought a new business caveat: that everything old was new again.

Favorite heroes of bygone decades including Scooby Doo, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were back on television and even on the big screen and the folks at ACP, which included the sons of two founders (Michael Silberkleit, chairman and publisher, and Richard Goldwater, president and publisher) were poised to take advantage of the renaissance. In 2001 Archie Comics Entertainment LLC (ACE) was formed to license and market ACP characters. A big screen live-action version of Josie and her Pussycat pals debuted in April 2001 starring hipsters Rachel Lee Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson. A music CD and video version were also produced and released later in the year.

In 2003 ACE announced that Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge were headed to the big screen; Miramax had signed on to produce a live-action motion picture starring the Riverdale duo. While Archie, Jughead, and others would be part of the Betty & Veronica film, the ladies were the headliners.

In 2004 ACE sold a 5 percent stake in its operations to IDT Entertainment, a subsidiary of the telephone and network giant IDT Corporation. The equity stake partnered IDT and ACE to develop and market animated projects based on ACP's popular characters. Testament to the enduring appeal of Riverdale's high schoolers was the publication of well over two dozen issues a month featuring Archie and his gang. For six decades Archie comic books had enthralled American youth without resorting to sex, violence, or profanity. Other comic book heroes had come and gone, but Archie remained a consistent voice for generations of kids.

Principal Subsidiaries: Archie Comics Entertainment LLC.

Principal Competitors: Marvel Publishing; DC Comics Inc.; Image Comics, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Ames, Lynne, "Archie: A Teenager in His 60th Year," New York Times, January 6, 2002, p. 11.
  • "Archie Comics Names New President," Home Accents Today, April 2003, p. SS31.
  • "Archie Comics Pitches in to Help Save Environment," Playthings, October 1991, p. 10.
  • Cohen, Jeffrey, "Publications: Comic Books Take Off," Progressive Grocer, December 1995, p. 83.
  • Duke, David, "Licensors to Seek to Broaden Exposure," Playthings, October 1987, p. 66.
  • "DVD Insider: IDT Entertainment Acquires an Equity Stake in Archie Comics Entertainment LLC," Playthings, January 28, 2004.
  • Fuchs, Marek, "Archie, Model of Sobriety, Fights Teenage Drinking," New York Times, October 9, 2003, p. B1.
  • Hennemeyer, Doug, "Comic Relief for the Toy Industry," Playthings, October 1985, p. 62.
  • Henry, Gordon, M., "Bang! Pow! Zap! Heroes Are Back!," Time, October 6, 1986, p. 62.
  • McCormick, Moira, "Warner Vid Gets Head Start on Josie and the Pussycats," Billboard, March 3, 2001, p. 57.
  • Napoli, Lisa, "Why a Big Player in Telecom Bigwig Added Archie and Jughead to His Holdings," New York Times, February 2, 2004, p. 8.
  • Reysen, Frank, Jr., "Comic Books Turn the Page," Playthings, July 1995, p. 28.
  • Schulman, Milt, "Action Figures Gear Up for Comeback," Playthings, April 1992, p. 28.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.63. St. James Press, 2004.