Note: I have decided to publish articles that no one else wants to! This one was written a few months ago when they killed Archie. It took a piece of my childhood with it. So I wrote about it.
For better or for worse, here it is.
Archie Andrews died recently. I am shocked, saddened and heartbroken. My condolences are with Betty, who, I am certain, is far more heartbroken than me.
When Archie’s coffin was lowered, I can safely say, it took with it a good part of my childhood. In my growing years, no victory seemed sweeter than beating my brother at getting to the Archie double-digest first. While he used muscle, I just resorted to some good-old tattletale (it’s the prerogative of the youngest child and I most determinedly defend it). It worked like a charm.
Back then, when gay was a happy word, if someone had told me that Archie would die taking a bullet for his gay friend, I would have been incapable of giving a coherent response, except for the monosyllabic and all-expressive “huh?” Why, I would most certainly have wondered, would someone be killed for being merry? “You’ll know when you’ll grow up” is what my father would have probably said. Indian parenting is so much about letting kids figure things out on their own.
I grew up in a small-town and reading Archie comics formed a large part of our recreation-time. It was a sheltered kind of life and unlike my Delhi-bred niece, who, at fifteen, has just returned from a summer-reading course at Stanford and is now threatening to discuss The Republic with me, I didn’t know much about America when I was about that age. In our small little town and even smaller world of elite girls’ school, where I spent many bubble-encased years, we knew nothing about American senators, gun control or gays.
America, to us, was synonymous with Riverdale High. It was where Archie and his friends went to school, in a town called Riverdale. From where we were looking, at a time when foreign-returned aunts brought us Wriggleys, scented erasers and Camay soaps, Archie and his friends seemed to inhabit an extremely fascinating world, one that we had nothing in common with, but one that captivated our imaginations nonetheless. These comics were our sole window into the thrilling American life. They provided us with a delightfully vicarious existence, away from our dull-school lives, as we read about ice-skating, dating, school-lockers, sundaes, cafeterias and luncheon meat (even my parents couldn’t tell me what on earth that was). There was something so alluring, so, can-this-be-for-real about Archie’s world that we were hooked onto the comics, which we never bought, but shared a rented copy from a nearby hole-in-the-wall library.
Yet, this was not the only reason for our reading the comics. To us, the characters felt strangely alive and true, and even though our lives life in small-town India and Archie’s in Riverdale-America could not have been more different, we could (mostly) relate to their issues. I totally got Jughead’s sense of humour, or Betty’s constant yearning for Archie’s attention, and his obsession with Veronica, or Reggie’s devious mind, or Moose’s duh brain. We even named one of our teachers Miss Grundy (the resemblance was striking).
So great was my fixation that at one time, and this does embarrass me, I seriously contemplated making a Riverdale High poster and putting it right under the WHAM one on my wall. My mother protested and asked me what Riverdale was. At the time, my mother’s apparent lack of knowledge of American geography shocked me. “It’s one of the most famous places in America” I had answered nonchalantly. Years later, when I lived in New-York, I realized that the name was fictional, and that luncheon meat tasted like dog food.
Now they’ve gone and killed Archie. I could never have imagined then that things would get so serious for Archie. However, I refuse to allow the image of him taking the bullet to sully the one from my childhood. Archie, to me, will always remain an innocuously obtuse, predictably clumsy (you knew he’d knock over the pot just as Mr. Lodge would walk in) and foolishly dim, freckle-faced fellow, whose biggest aim was to please Veronica and Mr. Lodge.
For me, Archie comics represent the gay years of childhood. Yes, gay. It has more than one meaning.