All the Archie/Betty/Veronica talk the other week got me thinking again about Archie comics, to the point that I promised on my other blog that I wouldn’t make such references for a while. (But I made no such promise here.) One question that interests me: we can see, from the immense public interest in this gimmick, that the Archie characters are some of the best-known comic book characters around, for better or for worse. (I say it’s for better if they are drawn by someone as great as the late Harry Lucey.) Yet they’ve never been adapted into other media with anything resembling real success, unless you count “Sugar, Sugar,” and that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the comics. There have been several TV cartoons, but all of them kind of stunk; the main question is whether the Filmation cartoon stunk worse than “Archie’s Weird Mysteries.” There was that live-action TV movie where they’re grown-up and return to Riverdale, and many, many rumours about possible feature films, TV series and stage musicals, which never come to pass. How many comic book characters are that popular yet have such a dismal track record in adaptations? For God’s sake, they did a flop movie version of Josie & the Pussycats, which flopped because they didn’t include Pepper in it, but not an Archie movie.
One reason why the adaptations never happen is that the Archie world is so generic that you can do virtually the same characters and setting without actually having to adapt the comic book. I can think of at least three successful franchises from the last 20 years that owe an obvious debt of inspiration to Archie comics: 1) Saved By the Bell; 2) High School Musical; 3) Beverly Hills 90210. (I doubt Darren Star intended to do a California Archie show with the Peach Pit standing in for the Chok’lit Shoppe, but that’s what he came up with.) It’s not like superhero comics, where if you want to use the specific powers and villains in your movie, you have to pay for them. There’s no copyright on the concept of teen hijinks and chaste love triangles.
Also, the Archie characters are harder to cast than superheroes, because superheroes depend to a large extent on the costume: you put the actor in a Superman suit, he looks like Superman. Casting someone who looks like Archie, let alone Jughead, let alone Betty and Veronica (who, let us remember, have the exact same face) is much trickier. How do you convince us that this guy is Archie, just because he has red hair and maybe wears an “R” on his shirt?
Still, I think that with all the zillions of comic-book movies around today, it would make sense for someone, somewhere to do an Archie movie. It could even work if they went back to the old Frank Doyle scripts for inspiration on how these characters should talk (which is to say, like old-time Vaudeville comedians).