Libraries are awesome places. Books, movies, comics…for free. Growing up, we didn’t really have a lot of comics in the library (although I did discover a “best of” Batman collection once, and some Peanuts books), but now that hard cover and paper collections of comics are the norm, it’s much more common. I’ve discovered a lot of good stuff at the library over the years, including Bone, Future Foundation, New York Four, Animal Crackers and more.
But I’ve also pretty much exhausted my library at home (Perth), rarely is there something new that I’m interested in. Fortunately, I’m currently on holidays in Adelaide with my in-laws, and it turns out their local library has a completely different collection of comics to browse through, including…
Jughead, vol. 1, by Chip Zdarksy and Erica Henderson.
Now, this isn’t the first volume of Jughead comics to come out, not by a long shot, but it’s the first collection of Jughead’s series in the relatively new New Riverdale line, which debuted in 2015. It all started with Mark Waid’s & Fiona Staples’ Archie relaunch, but Jughead soon followed. I haven’t had the chance to read this version of Archie yet (it hasn’t shown up at the library) but Jughead is a treat!
I’m only familiar with the broad strokes of Jughead Jones from the scattering of Archie comics I read as a kid: largely not interested in girls but passionate about burgers, often displaying a zen-like wisdom that goes far beyond his best friend Archie’s, and thus occupying a fairly unique place in the series’ landscape. This series stays true to all of that, but crafts a more complex longer-form story that runs over the six issues reprinted in the volume, as well as a fresh approach to the art.
The plot of the book is all about how Jughead comes into conflict with a new principal at his high school. At first, the new administrator’s strict approach to education isn’t much of a worry for our hero, until his militant approach limits the availability of burgers in the cafeteria. For Jughead, this is a bridge too far, and it causes him to pass out and have a Game of Thrones-style nightmare. When he wakes up, he commiserates with his friends makes a discovery that changes his life forever: you can make food. This inspires Jughead to join Betty’s home economics class (“So…this is a class,” he realizes) where he learns to make his favorite food, thus giving him the ability to defy the principal by sharing with the school his new power of infinite burgers.
And that’s just the first issue. From there, the story continues as Jughead becomes more and more distraught over a wide array of changes that the administrator is making, eventually coming to suspect him of a deeper plot that is worthy of a six issue epic.
Jughead volume 1 is an example of good storytelling. Each issue tells a complete plot while at the same time adding up to an engaging overall mystery-adventure. There is the humor and lightness one should expect from an Archie story, but added depth to the plotting and character development that the zany-quick pacing of “traditional” Archie stories do not allow. Each issue also includes a dream sequence of sorts, which allow the creators to revisit some classic Archie variants: we’ve got Jughead as a superhero, Jughead as an agent of the Time-Police, things like that. So the whole thing reads like someone playing in the Archie sandbox with the gloves taken off, but without breaking any of the core concepts (something that couldn’t really be said, for example, of the Riverdale TV series).
Erika Henderson’s art is big departure from the Archie house style that I grew up with, but that just helps make the reading experience more immersive (I can only assume that the work of Fiona Staples and others on the core Archie title is doing the same sort of thing). It’s not just that the figure-work is different, it’s that the compositions themselves have been freed up to be a lot more creative–something that can be seen right on the first cover, with the low angle shot of Jughead holding a knife and a fork. Like the writing, the art shakes up the norm without completely deconstructing it, and I enjoy that.
Maybe even enjoyed it enough to buy it, and some of the other New Riverdale line of comics. Certainly enjoyed it enough to snatch up other volumes from the library, should they appear. We’ll see!