Favorite Stories Starring Women: Betty and Veronica
|March 22, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics, Ladytexts|
Y’all know the drill by now – it’s time for another Favorite Story Starring Women! Today, it’s Betty and Veronica.
By “Betty and Veronica,” I of course mean, you know, Betty and Veronica…but also Betty and Veronica Digest, Betty and Veronica Double Digest, Betty, Veronica, Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica, B & V Friends Double Digest, and dozens more. No, I haven’t read them all – I doubt anyone has. But you guys, isn’t that amazing? Remember how yesterday I said that only four superhero books starring ladies have cracked 100 issues? These gals have had their own comic without a break – and usually more than one comic, at that! – since 1951.
Moreover, today Betty and Veronica (and all permutations thereof) is the only mainstream American comic marketed directly and exclusively to women.1 Seriously! The only one! Even Wonder Woman, who was created to get little girls to read superheroes, and Birds of Prey, known above all for being a gateway comic for female readers, can’t claim that distinction – they’re still marketed to men, and male editors and executives at DC still spout off about how women “just don’t read comics” while taking the money of all the women who, you know, do.
But this isn’t about DC. It’s about Archie Comics, and how they’re the only mainstream US publisher who values little girls as an audience. It’s about Archie Comics, and how they’re the only mainstream US publisher who puts their comics where new readers can find them, i.e. newsstands and supermarket checkout aisles.2 It’s about Archie Comics, and how they’ve emerged in the past few years as the most progressive comic book publisher out there: not just with their aggressive digital distribution model and their early adoption of Spanish-language editions, but their insistence on making up for former racist policies with several high-profile interracial romances, not to mention their new star, Kevin Keller, who’s shown on covers in military dress uniform, marrying a dude. It’s about their strong stance against conservative backlash and their insistence that Riverdale is a world without hate and prejudice. It’s about the way cheesy, nostalgic Americana can be more forward-thinking than any depressingly deconstructed superhero.
But that’s Archie Comics. What about Betty and Veronica? Why are they my favorite? (Me being the most important part of the equation here, of course.)
I didn’t actually get into superheroes until I was in college. There was no readily-accessible internet, no webcomics. I only got to read the funnies every other Sunday, when I visited my father in New Rochelle – at my mom’s, we got the New York Times, a serious business paper with no time for comics. The sum total of my comics-reading world was a stack of Calvin and Hobbes collections, which I read over and over again – and Archie. For a kid with no friends or family members who liked comics and no comics section in the paper, Archie was accessible, grinning cheerfully from the spinner racks at Waldenbooks and next to the tabloids and gum at the Key Food registers.
More importantly, there was Betty and Veronica, living a fantasy adolescence that I assumed was basically what would happen when I grew up. Surely there would be surfing contests and internationally-famous garage bands and hilarious misunderstandings about the prom! Surely there would be an endless stream of boys to carry my books and buy me root beer floats! (This all totally came true, by the way.) I read my beloved digests over and over again and laughed at Veronica’s antics and wanted to be Betty, with her sunny personality and skill at everything and Great Tragic Romance.3 And oh, the fashion! Big-shouldered prom dresses, crimped side ponytails, neon everything, overalls for days! Truly, the early 90s were a blessed time for haute couture. (No.)
(Speaking of fashion, one thing I find particularly charming about Archie then and now is that they accept reader submissions – both fashion ideas and actual drawings of the characters. I love that they make their readers feel included and special, especially in an era when DC brought back its letter columns for like three months before rebooting them back into the trash. It reminds me of being eight years old, sprawled on the floor of the beach house we’d rented for the summer, painstakingly trying to copy Betty’s bouncy ponytail and cute upturned nose. The DeCarlo style is harder than it looks!)
There’s something powerful about giving little girls books about young women with unfettered freedom and endless talents. Like Nancy Drew, Betty and Veronica had the money (well, Veronica did) and parental approval to go anywhere they wanted any time they wanted and the ability to handle themselves with aplomb when they got there. A ski trip in the mountains? Daddy will fly us out and we’ll win the slalom! A quick trip to Paris? Mai oui, bien sur! The Riverdale Museum’s been robbed? Those dastardly thieves won’t get away from Betty and Veronica! No, it’s not the slightest bit realistic, but little girls already live in a world where their age, their gender, and societal expectations restrict their choices at every turn. It’s good for them to read something that tells them, “you can.”
As ridiculous as the world of Archie can be, there’s something joyful and valuable in it. Each time I bump another DC comic off my pull list for being too dark or depressingly or sexist or byzantine, I pick up a Betty and Veronica Double Digest, which never fails to make me smile. And thanks to Archie Comics’ graceful move into the 21st century, I look forward to doing so for a good long while.
Where to Buy: Everywhere! The current Betty and Veronica-headlined titles are Betty and Veronica, which is a floppy, and Betty and Veronica Double Digest and B & V Friends Double Digest, both of which are, you know, digests. I see the digests regularly on newsstands and in supermarket checkout lanes. You can also get all three in your regular LCS, and possibly at your local bookstore. The Archie digital store offers all floppies and I think maybe the digests (???) same day as print. And there’s a host of collections on Amazon – I’d guess Archie: The Best of Dan DeCarlo is your best bet for classic B&V stories.
Similar Recs: Other kid-friendly slice of life humor comics starring girls? I got nothin’. But this seems as good a place as any to mention the late lamented Boom! series Darkwing Duck, which starred a dude but prominently featured his feisty daughter Gosalyn, and which is now all collected in trades.
- Please note two key words: “mainstream” and “American.” That – sadly – basically means “superheroes and Archie.” If you can think of another mainstream US comic that caters to women, please let me know! I WILL READ IT. ↩
- I refuse to believe that DC and Marvel can’t put their heads together and figure out a way around the Diamond distribution monopoly. They generate 90% of the content and revenue for the industry – they are in charge here. ↩
- Nowadays I realize she can do way, way better than Archie, but when I was seven I wanted her to get the boy. ↩