Little Archie, Little Veronica and Little Betty. Artist: Bob Bolling.

LITTLE ARCHIE

Original Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1956
Creator: Bob Bolling
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The idea of trying to market younger versions of popular characters was hardly new when Archie Comics brought out a kid version of the teenage star Archie. To cite …

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… only one prominent example from the same medium, Superman had not only been spun off as Superboy — he'd already made several appearances as Super Baby. But the direct impetus for adding Little Archie to the lineup probably had more to do with the fact that over in newspaper comics, Dennis the Menace was quickly becoming a sensation.

In 1956, cartoonist Bob Bolling (who had been working on the company's earlier Dennis-inspired character, Pat the Brat) received an assignment from editor Harry Shorten (There Oughta Be a Law) to submit material about Archie, from back when he was Dennis-sized. Shorten was passing on instructions from publisher John L. Goldwater (a mover behind The Comics Code Authority), which expedited the usual approval process for a new series. Little Archie #1 hit the stands later that same year.

It didn't exactly take off like a shot. In fact, it was the following year before the second issue came out, and the third didn't hit the stands until 1958. But apparently, those two test issues were reasonably well received, because it started being published on a regular basis with #3. 1957 and '58 also saw the introduction of a couple of ancillary titles, Little Archie Animal Land and Little Ambrose.

The star of the latter comic (which only lasted one issue) was one of several new characters Bolling introduced, to address the concerns of Archie's new age group. Ambrose was the kid who got picked on a lot. Another of Bolling's new characters, "Fangs" Fogarty, did much of the picking. These were in addition to the standard, expected cast members, such as Little Jughead, Little Betty, etc.

Gradually, Bolling (whose first job in comics was to assist cartoonist George Shedd on the short-lived and nearly forgotten adventure strip Marlin Keel) started to involve Little Archie in more complex adventure stories. First, they were simply the sort of adventures young boys have, but they evolved into the sort young boys might wish they had. Pirates, gangsters, cowboys … if young boys enjoyed reading a particular type of adventure, Little Archie would experience it. In the 18th issue (Spring, 1961), he even met a couple of Martians named Abercrombie and Stitch, who became recurring characters. It's these stories that have led many of his fans to compare Bolling's relation to Archie to that of Carl Barks to Donald Duck. Tho not everyone goes quite so far, he's generally agreed to be a master at crafting adventure stories for young readers — a fact he demonstrated later with Marvel Comics' Wally the Wizard.

It was in #24 (Fall, 1962) that Bolling introduced his greatest villain, Mad Doctor Doom — a mad scientist, bent on conquering the world (with the assistance of his dimwitted nephew, Chester), whose secret laboratory happened to be in Archie's neighborhood. (The similarity to the name of a certain well-known super-villain is purely coincidental — like The Red Tornado and The Vision, they were introduced at almost exactly the same time, so it's unlikely either inspired the other.)

As the 1960s wore on, Little Archie expanded to the point where Bolling could no longer do it alone. Other Archie Comics regulars, Dexter Taylor prominent among them, started handling him; and tho Bolling remained associated with him for a long time, Little Archie began to blend in with the rest of the line. Many of teenage Archie's schticks, such as his musical combo "The Archies", and his superhero aspect Pureheart the Powerful, became part of the Little Archie scenario as well. By the '70s and '80s, except for his size, it was hard to see much difference between Archie as little kid and Archie as big kid.

In 1987, DiC Enterprises (Captain Planet, Care Bears) brought out a TV cartoon, The New Archies, which purported to be a prequel to the many Archie cartoons that had been parading across the small screen for decades — Archie in junior high school, placing it directly between Little Archie and Archie proper. By that time, the Little Archie series was in decline. Archie brought out a comic book version of The New Archies, but it lasted no longer than the TV show did.

Little Archie is still a part of the company's output, but a small one. There are rumors of a relaunch from time to time, and Bob Bolling occasionally comes out of retirement to draw some new Little Archie material. In March, 2004, Archie Comics brought out several of his reprinted stories in a paperback anthology. But the property is largely dormant.

— DDM

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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.