Katy on the cover of the 1984 Comic Book Price Guide. Artist: Bill Woggon.

KATY KEENE

Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1945
Creator: Bill Woggon
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In 1945, the superhero genre, which had sustained comic books almost since the beginning, was falling out of favor, and many publishers were starting to cast about for …

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… new trends to replace them. But at MLJ/Archie Comics, they'd already found the style that would sustain the company for the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st — light humor, designed to appeal to teens. It was in this environment that Katy Keene made her first appearance.

She debuted in Wilbur Comics #5, dated Summer, 1945. She occupied only the back pages, however. The star of the book was such a perfect duplicate of the company's flagship character, Archie (tho he actually debuted three months earlier), that the publisher occasionally recycled "Archie" stories as "Wilbur" stories, with only the names changed. Katy continued for a few years as a back-up feature in comics headlined by Archie and his knock-offs before getting her own title in 1949.

Katy is the best-known creation of cartoonist Bill Woggon, who depicted her high-fashion world in a style that glittered so brightly, you could almost read it in the dark. A couple of Katy's contemporaries, Patsy Walker and Millie the Model, may have outlasted her, but in her time, nobody doubted Katy was the queen of glamorous comic book women.

What made her so, perhaps as much as Woggon's work, was her habit of using clothing designed by her fans. Every page of every story contained notes crediting readers for what she and her supporting characters were wearing — and to make sure there were a lot of them, she changed clothes constantly. She'd star in costume movies, do modeling gigs, dither about what to wear on a date … Readers got to see Katy and her friends in a dazzling array of outfits, and the Woggon touch made them all gorgeous.

All through the 1950s, Katy appeared not just in her own book, but also in the back pages of Laugh and Pep Comics, giant comics like Katy Keene Pinup Parade, and occasional issues of Archie Giant Series Magazine. But in 1961, it all came to an end. Superheroes were back, and other characters had a harder time sustaining themselves. Woggon went on to less stellar features, such as Dell's Millie the Lovable Monster, and retired from comics shortly after.

In 1978, blow-ups of Katy's comics covers were used as a nostalgic backdrop in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue. This led to a revival of interest. Before long, she was the subject of a regularly-published fanzine; and in 1983, her comic book was revived. At first, the comic was filled with reprints of Woggon's 1950s artwork; but later, other artists, including Dan DeCarlo (creator of Josie and co-creator of Sabrina) and John Lucas (who for years had claimed to be Katy's #1 fan), began crafting new stories — with new fashions sent in by a new generation of readers. The revival lasted until 1990.

Today, Katy Keene is not one of the Archie Comics superstars — but she sometimes occupies a corner of the company's Web site, as do The Black Hood, The Jaguar and other characters the company doesn't emphasize, but still wants to keep at least in the corner of the public eye. Also, John Lucas does occasional paper doll projects with the character. From 2006-07, she had a few stories in the back pages of Archie & Friends.

And to this day, readers send in clothing designs for her.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.