FANZINE #5: Peaceful Number Three
by Michael Shorkey
For decades many Comic Book Fans have constantly debating “Who is Number One?” when it comes to being the Top Dog of the Comic Book Publishing Business, DC Comics or MARVEL Comics. But… For a long time, there has been a publisher who has held Third Place firmly in hand. Some may think Dark Horse or Image, but those companies wish that they had the legacy and longevity that this company has had… Archie.
When you first think “Archie” you think “That company that makes all those Archie Andrews Books? The same company that used to publish those Sonic the Hedgehog comics?” Yes, that very same one. But let’s look at its history. Started in 1939, one year after the debut of Action Comics No. 1, the company “MLJ” was founded by Maurice Coyne (M), Louis Silberkleit (L) and John L. Goldwater (J) and when they entered they were like most companies around that time, making Costumed Heroes that sold like hotcakes.
Characters like the first Patriotic Hero, The Shield, who pre-dated Captain America by a year. In fact, the reason why Captain America’s Shield changed from the Traditional Medieval shaped one to the Circular Frisbee was due to the fact that Marvel was worried that MLJ would Sue them over the similarities it had to The Shield’s Costume Design. They also made other heroes like The Black Hood, who was so popular he got his own Radio Show similar to characters like The Shadow, The Green Hornet, and others.
Like many Comic Book Publishers during World War II their Hero characters were the Blood of the Business. But after the war due to the decline in popularity in Masked Crusaders, they needed a New Business Model, something to keep them afloat. They found that in the character Archie Andrews, a young 1950’s Teen that many young readers at the time could identify with. He proved so popular that MLJ left the Super Hero business and even changed the company’s name to Archie Comics. While the Justice League and the Avengers battled for sales the perky Teens of Riverdale worried about School and Socializing in Post-War American culture.
Unlike Archie, MANY companies either merged or folded, leading many heroes to never again take up space on a newspaper stand or bookshelf, that is of course except for Marvel and DC who still pushed out Top Quality Hero Stories. Archie Comics did try to get back into the Super Hero business multiples times such as in the 1960s, the 1980s, in the 1990s (With DC’s help) and even as recently as the 2000s and 2010s but to little to modest success.
Archie Comics still makes a lot of money to this day with its merchandising and Licensing, some might not know this but that popular Television Series on the CW ‘Riverdale’ is based on Archie and his Friends. Their comics sell well due to their way of doing business, putting them in check-out lanes of Grocery Stores and Gas Stations right next to the Crossword Puzzles, Coloring Books and Sudoku.
They know their audience and market, aim for All Ages and give an appropriate amount of Nostalgia/Fan-Service, and to this day they still sell comics, whether it be Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats or licensed comics (Archie is well known in the Sonic the Hedgehog Community for their various contributions).
DC and Marvel are owned by Large Corporations (Warner Brothers and Disney) but in recent years their sales have dwindled, leaving many to believe that their Comic divisions will be closed in the near future with the Marvel and DC heroes being licensed out to smaller publishers. But Archie is a Privately owned company with their main focus being the easy to pick up and read comics.
Archie may have been 3rd place for the past century, but now they may outlive their competition, and perhaps even license Marvel and DC heroes themselves in the future, maybe even see the Crusaders meet the Avengers and/or Justice League. The MLJ heroes are currently retired, but someday we may see them again, and if Archie markets the heroes like they do with Archie Andrews perhaps they can finally archive success with a Fresh Market. Only time will tell.