The Best of Archie's Madhouse
edited by Craig Yoe
Back in the mid-1950s, Mad Magazine was fresh and new, doing satire in comics form in a way that hadn't been done before.
So of course it spawned a million imitators, of which Archie's Madhouse was not only one of the most unlikely but also one of the most long-lived. While imitators like Nuts!, Get Lost, and Eh! flashed in the pan and then folded, Archie's Madhouse lasted from 1959 to 1982, albeit with numerous changes in its content and title.
This book collects some comics, house ads, and single-page gags from the first decade of the magazine's existence. Archie's Madhouse originally ran comics that featured the standard cast of characters—Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and the long-suffering Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy—but after 18 issues, the Riverdale gang left and were replaced with one-off stories and a few recurring characters. All the stories are heavier on gags than plot, with bad puns and references to pop culture carrying most of the humor.
Like the magazine itself, the book is divided into sections: Teenagers, Monsters, the Way Out Section, Outer Space, and Good Guys. Naturally, given the provenance of the comic, Teenagers is the biggest section and has some of the funniest work. In addition to the Riverdale gang, we get to see Ronald the Rubber Boy, Lippy the Hippy, medieval teenagers, and my favorite pair, Chester Square and Lester Cool, who are sort of the Goofus and Gallant of hip. The book also includes the first appearance of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (but she's in the monster section), a few stories featuring the superhero manqué Captain Sprocket, and a parody of secret agent shows.
The artists include the classic Archie artists Dan DeCarlo, Bob White, and Joe Edwards, among others, and there's even a monster story by Wally Wood. Unfortunately, no writers are credited, so the minds behind the gags must remain anonymous. The earliest comics do have a bit of a Mad Magazine feel to them, but the comic quickly evolved into a collection of random goofiness.
Because they satirized popular culture, the comics may seem dated to modern readers, but they are sort of a cleaned-up time capsule: Archie explains how to become a rock 'n' roll singer, Frankenstein turns out to be a hippie, and Agent X-48 is more interested in sales and gossip than stopping a supervillain. In one surreal Joe Edwards story, creatures called Blips explain how they morphed from blips on a radar screen to spies who hide out in abstract paintings, paisley patterns, and gag greeting cards to spy on Earthlings. It's as good an explanation as any for mid-1960s design.
Archie's Madhouse is more silly than biting; as Yoe says in the introduction, "The counter-culture aspect of Madhouse was as older white guys from the suburbs saw it." There's no sex or drugs, and the rock 'n' roll is closer to the Monkees than the Rolling Stones. It's still good fun, though, and a great way for kids or adults to kill a couple of hours.-- Brigid Alverson