This is my favorite comics-related thing of the week. Brandon Graham recently posted two great mini comics on his website (which you should follow) based on a Betty and Veronica short by Gladir and DeCarlo. One is by Graham, and the second is from the talented Emily Carroll. As you might imagine, the stories are gorgeous and visually inventive, but they also transform a plot-driven story into one that’s focused on character.
The original is a wonderful classic short set in the Archie universe – its a pretty conventional ‘seeing reflections of home everywhere’ story.
We follow Betty and Veronica as they seek adventure outside of the familiar climes of Riverdale and flirt with Don and Benny, two guys they meet at the mall. Once Betty and Veronica realize that Benny and Don are gender-flipped versions of themselves, they get weirded out and decide to leave.
Boo Hoo Deja Vu is a reminder of of the appeal and the limits of Archie Comics stories. There’s something beautiful about the simple purity of the Archie characters – Betty’s a virtuous working class blonde and Veronica’s a popular wealthy brunette. The two compete for the affections of a redhead with freckles. There have been minor changes and embellishments over the years, but the basic idea remains unchanged. At their best, Archie comics deliver the pleasure of soap opera without the distractions of continuity. It’s tremendously entertaining, especially if you read them in the way that they are intended to be read – as confections. You could pay a little more attention and notice that the dialogue is a bit flat and inauthentic, or that there’s not much interaction between the girls, or that the story comes to an abrupt end just as it starts to get interesting, but why would you?
Brandon Graham and Emily Carroll transform a story about deja vu into one about escape from the familiar, from the roles that we create for ourselves (and which are created for us) in high school.
Graham pushes the narrative to the background and narrows the focus to Betty and Veronica. The boys are reduced to mere reflections in a story about friendship between two teenage women.
There’s something wonderful about the fact that the boys are completely besides the point in Graham’s version of the tale. It’s all about two girls who’ve decided to put the masks aside and enjoy each other’s company on an impromptu road trip.
Graham gently pushes back against the reactionary strains in the original – the lesson that every place reminds you of home is replaced with the notion that the world is filled with strange adventure. He evokes the moment when one first steps outside of the cramped hierarchy of high school and realizes that the world is delightfully strange and unfamiliar.
Carroll goes in the opposite direction and embraces the darker implications of the narrative.
There’s something vaguely predatory about how Betty and Veronica’s male dopplegangers approach them in this version of the tale, about how they’re in silhouette for the majority of the story and their facial features are never fully identified. Even Don and Benny’s word balloons are sinister. I love how Carroll completely changes the tone without changing a single line of dialogue in the story.
I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when the subtext finally became the text and the boys merged into an amorphous blob.
I’m not incredibly familiar with Carroll’s work, but this was pretty fantastic. I’m going to have to follow her work more closely in the future.
I’d love an anthology where creators reimagine random Archie tales. I’d really love to see Archie give the creators working on their books the space to occasionally shift the tone of the stories or do more unorthodox, character-driven work.