Charming, Lighthearted Nonconformity: “Jughead #214”

Forsythe Pendleton Jones III? You know him, trust me. He’s one of those rare iconic characters from the comic medium that isn’t a superhero or villain. People that haven’t enjoyed a comicbook in decades can immediately recognize him. Heck, people that have never read a comic still know his nickname and can at least picture that unusual crown-shaped hat of his. Of course, I’m referring to Archie’s best friend, Jughead.

He’s a character best known for his do-nothingness, his appetite, and, yes, that bizarre crown-shaped beanie. Compared to the rest of the Archie gang, Jughead seems the least complicated though he’s rightfully starred in his own book for ages. Issue #214 of Archie’s Pal Jughead is one that captures the essence of the character best and, at least as far as Jughead goes, puts him in fairly epic yet reliably comical situations.

As usual, the issue is divided into four tales, including two single page funnies that wouldn’t be too out of place as a newspaper comic. Both single page stories, “Slouch Potato” and “Gut Reaction” (with scripts and pencils by Ruiz) are barely entertaining at best as Jughead delivers a weak punch line to conclude each silly anecdote. Better jokes have been placed on the wrappers of Bazooka bubblegum.

Fortunately, Jughead’s quirky traits are better put into use in the issue’s two lengthier stories with one tale centering around his hat and the other focused upon his insatiable appetite.

Jughead’s crown-shaped hat probably wasn’t out of fashion when he first appeared in Pep Comics in the 1940s, but today it works in issues like #214, albeit unintentionally, as a visual cue to the character’s nonconformist attitude. This commitment to going against the norm comes into play in “Getting a Job.”

While Archie and Chuck head off to find a summer job, Jughead relaxes on the beach, content with doing what he does best–stuffing his face. While the storyline’s not exactly an account of economic woes, it’s worth pointing out that even in Riverdale these days, it seems hard to find employment. But as the innocent story by George Gladir proves, if any guy can stumble upon a way to make money doing what he loves, it’s Jughead.

After a famished Jughead’s devouring of a hot dog draws an astonished, hungry crowd, he’s hired by Big Joe’s to be photographed eating food. As a munching model, he quickly

increases sales for the restaurant. It’s always been fun to watch Jughead munch munchies and, boy, in panel after panel he really puts it away in “Getting A Job.” The plot would seem too good to be true, but it’s this kind of idealistic wish fulfillment that makes the Jughead comic so likable.

Certainly, elements like believability, insurmountable conflict, and dramatic twists aren’t typically expected with Jughead, but the charming simplicity of tales like “Getting A Job” harken back to the delightful feeling of reading the newspaper’s comics page during your adolescent years.

Pat Kennedy’s skillful pencil work in this first story is more than adequate; though, it also should be said that all of the various artists on Archie titles, including this one, don’t receive enough credit for seamlessly maintaining that universe’s trademark look.

The other substantial tale issue #214, called “The Souvenir Collectors,” finds the Archies band so popular that fans are stealing the group’s belongings. However, one fan takes the ultimate Jughead keepsake, his hat, leaving the group without its good luck charm and the title character without his mojo.

As a result, Jughead spends most of the story struggling, and without his trademark headpiece, becomes a bizarre sight to see. After just a few continuous panels of seeing Jughead’s uncovered head, it becomes obvious that the hat really does make the man. When it seems like the Archies’ luck is bound to take a turn for the worst, the group’s biggest fans show up to help locate the missing hat and swipe it back from the thief. Gladir’s story takes an unexpected though believable detour and Stan Goldberg’s artwork is as reliable as ever.

The end, while far from hilarious, is sweet. A casual reader might not think anything of it when Jughead says, “You’re tops! You deserve the ultimate Archies souvenir and you’re going to get it!” Yet, the simple tale finds the legendary group interacting with, and praising the devotion of, their biggest fans. “The Souvenir Collectors” works as a pleasant tribute to the faithful, devoted fans of the entire Archie universe.

It’s worth nothing that Goldberg’s work in “Collectors” is a little flashier and mature in its execution when compared to anyone else’s drawings of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica. His pencils show a fondness for close-ups on characters both old and new, which does aid in making the tale seem as dramatic as it would be for the lead character. Goldberg also includes a bounteous assortment of background detail, like in the large panel that shows a wall-to-wall collection of the Archies posters, pillowcases, banners, and photos. His flair is to be expected though; he’s been Archie Comics’ flagship artist for decades.

All in all, if you’re looking for some especially lighthearted entertainment on your pulpy pages, you could do much worse than Jughead #214. It might not take the crown or win any awards, but it’ll briefly satisfy your appetite for some unpretentious fun.

RATING 6 / 10