Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Archie tangles with the Clampetts and the Munsters!

The official car of hillbillies.
Man, I knew I read these stories but it's taken me all this time to find proof.  Proof that I'm not insane!  Years ago, on a roadtrip, my mom bought me a little Archie paperback with the weirdest little trifles in it.  Instead of double-dating with Betty, Veronica and Reggie or scarfing down hamburgers with his foodie pal Jughead, Archie was scuba diving into undersea civilizations and meeting thinly disguised versions of families from television.  Now, thanks the wonders of the Internet, I now know these were reprints from Life With Archie, the unusual Archie comic that frequently featured the Riverdale gang in strange settings or as superheroes.

The book contained the scuba diving adventure, plus a truly lame story where the whole gang live in prehistoric times and involve themselves in a primitive form of golf, which they amusingly call "glof."  I'll deal with the undersea antics later, but right now while they're hot on my mind I want to spend a little time with my two favorite tales, the ones that have haunted me down through the ages, when a simple Google search about 10 years ago would have brought peace and possibly sobriety to my household.

The first, "The Riverdale Hillbillies," comes from Life with Archie #28 (July, 1964).  Veronica's dad needs money to keep his business afloat but instead of petitioning the federal government for a bail-out like today's brand of super-risk-averse capitalists, he asks his second cousin Clem Lodge, the "richest man in Sassafrass County."  Many years before a branch of the Lodges migrated south (I'm not sure where the others headed because where the heck is Riverdale anyway?) and settled in the Ozarks where they amassed a fabulous fortune.  So claims Mr. Lodge, who apparently isn't prepared for Clem and his less-than-modern appearance when he and his family show up in the Archie comics version of that weird car the Clampetts used to tool around in.

Okay, they're not perfect caricatures of The Beverly Hillbillies cast, although thinking about it now, Mr. Lodge does bear a slight resemblance to Milburn Drysdale.  Artist Harry Lucey made a few modest alterations to the guest cast in the interests of parody, fair comment and avoiding litigation.  Clem looks a smidge like Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, but with a brushy mustache.  Close, just not a dead ringer.  The costume is dead-on, though.  The floppy hat, the collar-less undershirt, the weathered suit jacket with jeans years before all the other California millionaires made that look au courant.

Lucey changes the others even more.  Instead of Irene Ryan as Granny, we get Grampa Gooley, a bearded old fellow who dresses like a stereotypical female witch for some reason.  Ellie Mae is bisected into two little girls named Lulu and Lily, each half the age of Donna Douglas' character.  And Max Baer Jr.'s lovable lunkhead Jethro becomes a huge hunk-a-man called... wait for it... Mildew.  Veronica takes a personal interest in his well being, complete with flying hearts and-- from a heretofore unknown part of her anatomy-- a BOINNG sound effect that isn't symbolic because Mildew can actually hear it.

Oh man, she doesn't even care that he's her cousin!  And I'm sure Mildew is even less concerned.  If ya know what I mean.  But don't worry.  Nothing comes of it.  Apparently Veronica's sexual arousal was merely a passing fancy, or else she somehow satisfied it off-panel at some point.

The hillbilly Lodges have all sorts of comical hayseed misadventures over the next few pages.  Grampa Gooley tries to bathe in the washing machine, Mildew mistakes an inflatable pool toy for a monster and Lulu and Lily destroy half the lawn and Mr. Lodge's prized dahlias with a riding mower.

And what is this vast amount Mr. Lodge needs to keep his fortune?  The impossible-to-obtain sum of $500,000.  That's all it takes to threaten a worldwide consortium of real estate holdings, aerospace plants, hotels and fast-food restaurants.  He gets cousin Clem to help him out with a uranium mine, they all race to the Ozarks and back to beat the impending deadline, using the deed to the mine as collateral Mr. Lodge saves his vast financial empire-- only to find out he owed the money to cousin Clem in the first place.

I have to admit there's one panel that confused me as a child thanks to my imperfect grasp of English.  At one point Grampa Gooley cooks dinner with a toaster, burning the food.  Here it is:

Okay, obviously I knew the meaning of the word "hot."  "Grub" is the one that threw me.  This was before I learned it was just another way of saying "food."  I distinctly remember thinking the plates were burning Grampa Gooley's hands and "grub" was some kind of painful grunt the poor old guy was making.  Well, I puzzled over that for a while and even acted it out.  "HOT... GRUB!" I'd say in an approximation of an old man's voice, one who'd left far behind him the familiar rustic comforts of his hillside shanty and was now suffering third degree burns to feed his family in the confusing modern world of 1964 Riverdale.

Anyway, you can read the entire thing for yourself at a neat little blog called Eep!  Omigosh! that, unfortunately, appears to have died sometime in 2009.  It's a fast-paced tale complete with a little bit of meta-humor.  Pretty far-sighted for the mid-60s.

The second story, "Archie Meets the Kreeps," is from Life With Archie #39 (July, 1965).  This one made a stronger impression on me at the time, as evidenced by my vivid memory of its final panels.  A strange young woman named Wendy bewitches Archie with a love potion and takes him home to meet her family, who prove to be stranger still.  After Archie and a jealous Veronica escape, Wendy transforms into her normal appearance-- that of an anthropomorphic fish.  Yeah, right at the end of the story you learn a talking fish has been putting the mystical moves on our favorite mixed-up teenager.  Wendy the fish-girl is heartbroken at having lost Archie.  Aunt and Uncle Kreep attempt to console her, but it falls flat.  This is where I learned the idiom "There are plenty of other fish in the sea."

Even though Wendy isn't particularly nice, I felt for her.  Just a little.  She would spend the rest of her life isolated from others her own age, never knowing the joys and terrors of true love, something Archie, Betty, Veronica and even resident misogynist Jughead would take for granted.  And I wondered how a Frankenstein's monster who's a Fred Gwynne lookalike and a vampire resembling Yvonne De Carlo could possibly be aunt and uncle to a fish.

A stronger impression, yet a skimpy write-up.  I wish I could tell you more about "Archie Meets the Kreeps," but I haven't read it in thirty years.  I'm dying to, though.  Here's hoping it sees a reprinting, and soon.  Someone out there really needs to collect this material into a book featuring the strangest Life with Archie stories.  If you want to know more about "Archie Meets the Kreeps," including its relationship to none other than Frank Frazetta,  Scott Shaw! has you covered, once again proving there is nothing-- not a single weird, outlandish or freaky comic-- that I can remember that someone else hasn't already written about at length on another blog.  And better.

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