Winter 1956-57; Archie Comic Publications Inc.; no editor listed in the indicia, but the creative mind in charge is clearly identified in a feature on the inside front cover; "Meet the Cartoonist of Little Archie-- BOB BOLLING". Little Archie introduces a photo of Bolling at his drawing board, who thanks the readers for the tremendous success of the title's first issue, and promises to keep Little Archie "cute, lovable and laughable in every issue". Little Betty adds a news flash, "Starting next issue, LITTLE ARCHIE will come out every three months as a giant-sized 100-page magazine for 25c!"
On the front cover, Little Archie and Little Veronica are standing in the snow in grown-up clothes, before a snowman preacher, about to carry out a play wedding. Veronica likes this game, but Archie seems destinctly dubious. A poetic caption reads, "Bride and Groom, and Preacher too; Will the wedding be spoiled, or will it go through?" Why wouldn't it go through? Well, Little Betty is approaching from behind with two kettles of hot water and apparent murderous intentions toward the "preacher"....
The "wedding" theme continues in the untitled lead story, as Archie, Betty and Veronica (I'm not going to keep identifying them as "Little" each time) notice a sailor and his girl cuddling on a park bench. The girls are romantically delighted-- "He probably left his ship and the WHOLE OCEAN just to be with her!", but Archie thinks the sailor has his priiorities confused; "If I was on a Navy ship I'd be FISHIN' all the time!" Despite Archie's lack of interest in romantic pursuits, both girls decide they want to "go steady" with him, and seize his arms in a tug of war; "Leggo! He's mine! Mine1 MINE!" "I ast him first!" Archie demands that the girls stop pulling at him like a wishbone-- "I'm too young to die!"-- and points out that, anyway, he can't get engaged because he doesn't have a ring. Veronnica offers her "spaceman's super secret decoder ring" for the purpose, and suggests, "When we're 13 years old and all growed up, we can get married!" Betty greets this idea with derision; "HA! Archie marry YOU? You can't even COOK!" "Humph! I never saw any of your mud-pies come out so good!" "I don't mean mud-pies! I mean REAL food that's eatable for HUMANS!" The girls nearly launch into a fight, which Archie tries to forestall by saying he can't marry both of them, so "I'll just have to be a HERMIT and fish the rest of my lonely life!" (a fate that doesn't seem to distress him too much at this point). The girls still have other ideas, however, and agree on a cooking contest to win Archie's hand; ""We'll both make a speshul real food meal for Archie and he can marry the one whose food he likes best!" Archie tries to demur-- "What if I don't WANT to get married?"-- but the girls insist, "EVERYONE wants to get MARRIED!" and Archie finally agrees to abide by the result of the cook-off.
Betty gets the first chance to impress Archie, with her own special concoction, "chock'lit soup!" "Not bad! The slices of bananas 'n' strawberries make it a new taste thrill!" "Stop actin' like the TV ;nouncer!", a scornfull Veronica advises. Archie is puzzled, however, as to why Caramel the cat is so interested in his food. "I guess it's because you're eatin' out of her BOWL!" Archie suddenly loses some of his enthusiasm for the dish, while Veronica gloats, "HA! I knew something smelt FISHY!"
Now it's Veronica's turn, and she takes Archie (with Betty tagging along) to her home where her mother is working in the kitchen. (Hmmm.. From my youthful reading of Big Archie comics, I remember Veronica's father Mr. Lodge being around a lot, but I don't recall her mother being seen much, if at all. Was Mr. Lodge supposed to be a widower, divorce being unheard of? Is this nice lady we see here doomed to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next few years?) Ronnie explains her mission to make a pie crust for Archie "'cause I know THE WAY TO A MAN IS THROUGH HIS HEARTY STOMACH!" Mrs. Lodge chuckles at her daugher's misquote and corrects it, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!" Ronnie sets to work with her "Kiddee Kooking Kit,", and her mother puts the resulting crust in the oven. Meanwhile, Ronnie is momentarily upset by the disappearance of the engagement ring, aka her secret spaceman decoder ring. But then the pie is ready and it's time for the big test. "I know you'll love 'em, Archie! They've got VITAMINS!" "Aw! I always spit out the vitamins!" And indeed, Archie does spit out something-- not vitamins, but the decoder ring that got baked into the pie crust. And so, the contest is decided; "My jaw still aches from that decoder...so I guess the best cook is BETTY!" Betty is gleeful, Veronica cries in frustration...but then, when she reports to her mother on the outcome of the contest, she tells her that even though Betty won the contest, Archie is going to go steady with Veronica and marry her. How did that work out? "Betty still doesn't know how to use her cooking tools! I found out that the way to a man's HEART is through his STOMACH-- but you've got to start on his HEAD first!"-- as a dazed Archie sits on the kitchen floor, with a lump on his head inflicted by Ronnie's rolling pin.
The next story, also untitled, features more of the Archie gang, including Little Reggie, Little Veronica, and a plain girl named Ophelia-- all playing "knights". Archie fires off a catapult at a dragon, but instead of the dragon, he hits Principal Weatherbee with a basketball. Mr. Weatherbee is surprisingly tolerant, however; he's been trying to think of a school play theme that will catch the interest of Miss. Grundy's fractious class, and perhaps knighthood is that theme. Miss. Grundy in turn thinks of a way to use the knighthood fad to get her twin terrors, Archie and Reggie, to behave. Veronica is chosen as the princess, and only one boy will become her "heroic knight"-- the one who behaves best in the next few days. Meanwhile, Betty and Ophelia are relegated to the roles of peasant girls, and Betty has just one line of dialogue-- "Oh my goodness!"
Typically, Little Reggie is more interested in finding a way to get Archie "in bad" with Miss Grundy, than he is in behaving well himself. When Reggie spots the 8th grade cooking class's pies left unattended, he swipes one and refuses to share it-- "It's all mine! Every crumb!" "Crumbs for the crumb!" That is, until Miss Grundy shows up looking for the pie-napper, then Reggie is glad to toss the pie to Archie and have him be caught as the culprit. And so, despite or because of this unheroic deed, Reggie wins the role of heroic knight to Ronnie's princess. Her royal status goes to Veronica's head as she rebuffs Ophelia's request to walk to school with her; "I'm gonna be a PRINCESS and you're nothin' but a PEASANT!" As the elaborately armored Reggie picks a "bookay" for Ronnie, Archie grumbles, "I wish they'd made Reggie a KING!" "Why?" "Cause I'd like to CROWN him!"
But as curtain time approaches, all is not going well... Betty has forgotten her one line, and Princess Veronica hasn't shown up at all. A distraught Miss Grundy exclaims, "Oh my goodness!" which at least reminds Betty of her line. But the problem of Veronica is not so easily solved; as a phone call from the Lodge home reveals that Veronica won't be in the play. It seems the bouquet Sir Reggie picked for her consisted of poison ivy. And so the princess role goes to an understudy, homely, long-nosed Ophelia. She is delghted-- "Oh my hero!", but Sir Reggie is disgruntled-- "Oh my gosh!", Miss Grundy is discombobulated-- "Oh my head!", Betty is still practicing her line, "Oh my goodness!" and Archie is laughing himself silly at Reggie's discomfiture; "Ha ha! Oh my sides!"
Little Reggie is also the adversary in the next story, as Archie and Veronica visit him at his home and are puzzled when Reggie's dog Wags starts barking and jumping around frantically when the phone rings. Reggie insists it's because Wags likes people and knows there's a person on the other end of the phone line; "He's almost as smart as any HUMAN BEAN!" This sets Reggie off on a round of bragging about Wags, claiming the dog (a Scottie type) is a "police dog" and that he has won a "blue ribbon" award. When Archie points out that Wags doesn't look like a police dog and the ribbon hanging on the wall is white, Reggie says this is because "he's in the Secret Service" (laughing hysterically at his own joke) and the blue ribbon is white because dogs are "color blind".
As the three kids go over to Veronica's house to watch her color TV (apparently a luxury only the rich Lodges can afford at this point) Ronnie remains smitten by Reggie's "good sense of humor" as well as his smart dog, and Archie is jealous. When Reggie reveals that he calls home on the phone every hour to "exercise" Wags (because the dog jumps around when the phone rings) Archie gets a sneaky idea. Excusing himself from the TV watching, Archie sneaks into the Mantle home through the unlocked back door and is present when Reggie makes his next call. Picking up the phone, Archie pretends to be Wags talking; "Grr-rrowf! Hurry home! I'm hungry! Rowf! Pant! Pant!" Thinking his boast that Wags is almost smart enough to talk has come true, Reggie rushes home, after promising Veronica a "big surprise". Meanwhile, Archie returns to the Lodges' to find Ronnie calling Reggie's phone and getting no answer. She thinks Reggie is now snubbing her, but actually Reggie is on his knees begging Wags to answer the phone and talk again.
In a one page gag strip, Little Jughead asks Archie why he is shouldering a shovel. "Mom says I gotta shovel!" Is he clearing a path through the snow? No. Does he have to shovel coal in the cellar? No. What does he need the shovel for, then? Archie takes the shovel inside the house and opens a door to a scene of chaos, revealing his missiion with the shovel is to "TIDY UP MY ROOM!"
Finally, we find Principal Weatherbee upset that Little Archie and all the other kids in his class are obsessed with the TV adventures of the "Strange Rider", a Lone Ranger-like cowboy hero (sponsored by Bleepies cereal) , turning the classroom into a showdown at the OK corral. "Gad! The Strange Rider and Bleepies have got control of their little minds! If only I could hold their attention that well!" Weatherbee is further frustrated when he discovers that Archie doesn't remember "the famous story of George Washington and the cherry tree," but he knows every detail of the career of the Strange Rider. (I'm not sure here about Weatherbee's qualifications to teach real history to his class, considering that though George Washington was real, the story of him cutting down the cherry tree is just as fictional as any of the Strange Rider's exploits.)
Weatherbee makes an appointment to visit Mom and Dad Andrews, with the intention of insisting that Little Archie watch more "educational" TV and less Strange Rider. But while tuning in to one of his own favorite educational programs, Weatherbee accidentally tunes in to the Strange Rider and is himself mesmerized by the show. And so, after Mrs. Andrews sternly warns Archie to show the "cultured" Mr. Weatherbee that they can talk about other things than cowboys., the Andrews clan are hornswoggled when Weatherbee shows up at their door in full cowboy regalia shouting, "HOWDY, PARDNERS!"
in an inside back cover gag page, Little Archie shows up late at home one night and is punished by being sent immediately to bed. "Gee! Everyone's mad at me and I'm NOT GETTING ANY SUPPER!" Not exactly, Archie-- there is a scratch at his bedroom door, and it is Archie's faithful dog offering him a bone for supper. The back cover is a subscription ad offering four quarterly issues of LITTLE ARCHIE, at the new giant 25 cent size starting with $3, for one dollar. What's more, you get a ball point pen and personalized stationery and envelopes as a bonus. I took advantage of this offer, or one like it, myself. I don't remember if I got any free stationery, but I did subscribe to LITTLE ARCHIE for a year or two.
I've mentioned a couple of times, most recently in reaction to the Free Comic Book Day Little Archie issue, that I was a Little Archie fan as a kid. However, what I remember fondly are the funny, down-to-earth stories, rather than the fanciful "adventure" type stories that Bolling started doing later and that were picked for reprinting in the LITTLE ARCHIE TPB. I'm pretty sure I didn't read this actual issue when it first came out, since I was three years old at the time. (Come to think of it, Little Archie was launched almost simultaneously with that other classic kid strip and favorite of my youth, SUGAR AND SPIKE. I suspect, and the Don Markstein's Toonopedia entry on Little Archie confirms, that both kid strips were inspired by each publisher's desire to create its own equivalent of the then-popular Dennis the Menace comic book) However, the stories in this issue are the type that I remember enjoying when I was about Little Archie's age myself.