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Bart Beaty is the man of 1,000 Archies

By Melanie Bethune, January 29 2015 —

When most people talk about Archie, the conversation doesn’t gravitate towards academic research. University of Calgary professor Bart Beaty might change that.

His new book, 12-Cent Archie, explores a decade of Archie comic history through 100 short chapters.

For research, Beaty purchased and read over 900 Archie comics published between 1961 and 1969.

“It took months to track them all down, mostly with online comics retailers in Colorado and Texas and across the United States,” he says. “People started getting word that I was looking for these things.”

However, finding the comics was just the beginning.

“Then it was arranging them, sitting down, reading them and taking huge, huge amounts of notes,” Beaty says. “I think I have about 900 pages of notes on these. You had to write everything down because you know you’re not going to be able to remember anything in the future.”

While writing 12-Cent Archie, Beaty says he found the comics particularly fascinating for the way they are able to reinvent their simplicity.

“These are very one-dimensional characters and they have very one-dimensional plots,” he says. “A lot of them barely have plots, these stories, but they’re still able to generate hundreds and hundreds of different scenarios and gags without repeating themselves as much as I thought they would.”

Beaty read comics voraciously in his youth but tapered off in his teens. He didn’t begin to look at comics with a close eye until his graduate studies.

“A number of works like Maus and Watchmen drew me back into comics [as an adult],” Beaty says. “I ended up doing a course paper on comics. One thing led to another and I ended up writing a dissertation on it years later.”

Since then, Beaty has published over a dozen books on everything from the formal elements of comic strips to a survey of superheroes. With 12-Cent Archie, he shifted focus to a series that hasn’t received much attention from academics.

“Everyone wants to write about great comics. No one wants to write about ordinary comics,” he says. “So I chose these comics that I’d always loved when I was really small and still remembered loving, but hadn’t read at all in 30, 35 years.”

Beaty says Archie provides an interesting commentary on how children’s media deals with, or rather, doesn’t deal with, social issues.

Archie is a comic that deals with the major issues of its time by not dealing with them,” Beaty says. “And what I mean by that is if you were an alien and came down to this planet to learn about the 1960s just by reading Archie comics, you would never know that there is a Vietnam war, you would never know that there was a civil rights movement and you would never know that there were black people because there are none in Riverdale in that era. They just kind of ignored all of the most important issues of their day.”

12-Cent Archie can be purchased on Amazon or at your local comic shop. 

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