ARCHIE (MLJ) COMICSPrimary Product: Comic Books
Producing Since: 1939
Noted For: Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Katy Keene, and a few minor superheroes.
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MLJ Comics, the forerunner of the Archie Series, was an outgrowth of the magazine publishing activities of Morris (sometimes spelled "Maurice") Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater, whose
first-name initials gave the company its name. They entered the comics field in 1939, with what had by then become a standard line of comics — a bunch of monthly anthology titles with superheroes on the covers and a variety of humor and adventure features in the back pages.
By the end of 1940, they had four such titles — Blue Ribbon Comics (with Mr. Justice, a knock-off of DC's Spectre, on the cover), Top-Notch Comics (where The Wizard and The Black Hood shared the cover), Pep Comics (with The Shield, the first of the patriotic-style super guys) and Zip Comics (featuring Steel Sterling, the original so-called "Man of Steel"). In addition, The Shield and The Wizard shared a quarterly, titled, appropriately enough, Shield-Wizard.
Over the next three or four years, they added one superhero after another to these titles — The Hangman, Black Jack, The Fox, The Web, Fireball like most comics publishers of the time, they rode the superhero trend as long as it would carry them. Meanwhile, in the back pages of Pep Comics, something was happening that would soon transform the company. It was the 22nd issue of that title, dated December, 1941, that introduced a carrot-topped teenager named Archie.
It was more than a year before they tried putting Archie on the cover. When they finaly did, it seems to have had a good effect on sales, because a few months later, they made him a regular in that position; and within another year, it was the superheroes that were relegated to the back pages. By the end of 1944, the MLJ logo had disappeared from the cover, and in 1945, all of the company's comics were labelled "An Archie magazine". The company has been known as Archie Comics ever since.
When the superhero trend petered out, most comics publishers tried westerns, science fiction, and just about everything else they could think of. But at Archie Comics, they knew exactly where their niche lay. From that day to this, the vast majority of the comics they've published have consisted of teenage humor.
In the late 1950s and early '60s, when everybody else was getting back into superheroes, Archie Comics tried a few, using "Archie Adventure Series" as a name for the line. A new version of The Shield and a couple of new guys named The Fly and The Jaguar gave way, in the mid-'60s, to a sudden wholesale revival of the old MLJ characters under a new imprint, "Mighty Comics Group". These were done as a self-conscious parody of Marvel by way of the campy humor of the Batman TV show. By 1967, they'd mercifully disappeared.
The company made a half-hearted attempt at a fantasy/horror line in the 1970s, using "Red Circle" as an imprint, but it didn't last long. Another attempt was made to revive the old superheroes in the 1980s, also under the Red Circle logo, but it, too, was brief. Since then, the super guys have made sporadic appearances, and were briefly licensed out to DC Comics in the early '90s, but the Archie line has never had much success when stepping outside its area of expertise.
But when the company sticks to what it does best, it prospers. Nowadays, it releases a half-dozen or so comics a month about Archie and his pals 'n' gals, along with a healthy line of digest-size comics sold through supermarket checkouts, containing the same characters. If the company strays from that cast, it's usually to do something aimed at a similar audience, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Katy Keene, Josie & the Pussycats, or a licensed version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Today, the owners of Archie Comics are still named Silberkleit and Goldwater — descendants of the company's founders. Alone among the old-time comics publishers, it's still holding out as a family-owned, family-oriented operation in an increasingly corporation-dominated media world.
Archie (MLJ) Comics articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: