Monday, June 07, 2010

A History of Christian Archie Comics

To read the Archie publisher's modern day thoughts about Christian Archie comics check out this excellent article written by Jim Windolf.

Much like any other child, I was always big into comic books as a kid. My seven year old mentality always leaned away from superhero fodder and more in the direction of, if you will, gay-er items. Comics that featured fuzzy bunnies or talking animals, adaptations of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and certainly, the neutered teenage exploits of Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge, Betty Cooper, Reggie Mantle et al.

Hence, it was a frantic insanity that took over my little body during the second grade spring break when I discovered an old box of coverless comics in my grandma's basement. Flipping through the stack of old comics, I feigned apathy at things like Captain Marvel, a Dell movie adaptation of LAD: A Dog, and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (it was an issue that featured Don Rickles - the bizarre genius of this was something I wouldn't appreciate until I was full grown). What always grabbed my attention at that age were Archie comics. Whether the given title be Pals n' Gals, Pep, or Life with Archie, it did not matter. As long as it featured Jughead's misogyny and a page of Li'l Jinx that I was guaranteed never to laugh at, I was game.

I still distinctly remember the weird and creepy sensation that came over me as I read the coverless Archie comic I found in the box. It featured all the familiar characters, going through their typical trials and tribulations at Riverdale High, and the artwork was the same as usual. Yet, as I read it, I felt as if it had been made in outer space. Something was off. Something seemed completely wrong. After finishing its twenty-eight pages, I had a feeling that I found an artifact from the moon.

Since it had no cover, it would not be until a few years later that I would discover exactly what it was that I had read. It was called Archie's Something Else! written and drawn by an experienced Archie comics staffer named Al Hartley in 1975. It was over the top right wing, pro-Christian propaganda, cleverly disguised as a run-of-the-mill Archie comic. It featured a sequence in which Betty Cooper prays in the cafeteria prior to eating lunch. An exchange between Archie and a reporter visiting the school goes this way:

REPORTER: Archie, that girl over there... she seems to be falling asleep ...
ARCHIE: Oh, that's Betty. She's Praying!!!
REPORTER: Praying??? You mean that sort of thing goes on in this school?
JUGHEAD: Of course!!! A Lot of us thank the Lord for our food!
ARCHIE: We thank him for EVERYTHING!!!
REPORTER: Doesn't it EMBARRASS you to sit in front of your fellow students and say grace???
ARCHIE: We'd be embarrassed to sit in front of GOD and NOT say grace!!!

I remember thinking even as a child that Archie was being totally insincere and deceptive. Having read hundreds of Archie comics I knew full well that ol' Archie Andrews was lying to the media. Even at the age of seven I was perceptive enough to call this creepy version of Archie on its bullshit.
These bizarro Archies were a by-product of a company called Spire Christian Comics. Spire itself was but a mere by-product of the giant Christian literature firm The Fleming H. Revell Co. that had been churning out weirdo Christian pap since the 19th century (like romance novels that showed the consequence of 'sin'). Their comic book line first hit the stands in the early seventies and was the brain child of, already established comic artist, Al Hartley. Hartley was not a full bore Christian from day one, but the reactionary politics that were often prominent in the Spire Comic line were sewed deep within him at an early age.

Al's father was the now legendary right wing congressman from New Jersey, Fred Hartley. Perhaps second only to Joe McCarthy for unsavoury notoriety, the senior Hartley's extreme anti-everything views are remembered and recounted often by political scholars. The ramifications of his outrageous 1947 Taft-Hartley Act are still felt in America today. The law remains on the books and is exercised often. It is credited with ultimately dismantling the American labor movement that had made so many gains during the twenties and thirties. Remarkably, President Truman used his veto power to nix the bill when it was first introduced because it was in his opinion, "a slave-labor bill." However the House and the Senate were able to veto the veto (how this works I do not understand).

The law put extreme restrictions on striking, just short of making it illegal altogether. Picketing would become illegal under the bill, as would solidarity striking, and companies were allowed to set up separate non-union shops, which in turn would make their secondary unionized shop illegal(!). The act also made it illegal for a labor union to donate to a political campaign, but of course not for a business owner or corporation to do the same. It also made strikes illegal that "imperiled the national health or safety," a phrase that has been interpreted broadly by successive governments. National health or safety is, apparently, in jeopardy anytime there is a large strike in America, according to those who wish to crush the protest. The law made it easier for employers to use the police to get rid of 'rogue' workers. Taft-Hartley included provisions for firing any and all employees (i.e. supervisors) who were not sympathetic to the company side, even if the employees in question were not members of the union or partaking in a labor disruption. Another stipulation required union leaders to file affidavits declaring that they were not members of the Communist Party. These are just some of the bill's endless points, all of which were solely in favor of the employer, and today, big corporate business. In short, it was wide sweeping, brutal and devastating.
Discussion of the bill has fallen by the wayside in the United States today (just like union membership itself - currently hovering below ten percent of the country's entire workforce, thanks in no small part to the Taft-Hartley bill) and Ralph Nader remains its only vocal critic.

So, this was the father of the man whose rendering of Archie and the gang filled me with the sense of having been touched. The young Al Hartley was still in his twenties when his father was busy dismantling the labor movement. Al had been freelancing, doing various work with different comic outfits and newspapers. In the early sixties he would find himself working for Marvel comics and hitting his stride illustrating many of the "girl" titles like Patty Powers, Sherry the Showgirl, Linda Carter: Student Nurse and Patsy Walker: The Prettiest Gal in Town!

A few years would pass until Hartley found himself working on the notorious adult-themed comic strip The Adventures of Pussycat, syndicated in various men's magazines. It would eventually be anthologized in a one shot magazine of its own. The influence on the better known Little Annie Fanny which appeared in Playboy for years (courtesy the artistry of former Mad Magazine ground breakers Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder) is obvious. The Adventures of Pussycat might seem like a very strange project for the man responsible for converting the Archies to Christianity. Well, Hartley thought so too. The year was 1967 when he walked into his publisher's office and said he could no longer work on the project. He mentioned feelings of being "sterile, numb, and filled with fear." Shortly thereafter, Al Hartley and his wife became born-again Christians.
That same year Hartley joined the staff of Archie Comics. There, he was reunited with many comic veterans like Dan DeCarlo, who he had worked with in the past on the increasingly dated "girl" comics. Al believed that God was responsible for his job at the Archie organization. After having quit Pussycat, Hartley was desolate and out of work. Out of the blue he received a phone call from the editor of Archie who offered him a job. Al concluded after the fact that "God had sent him." Hartley worked on stories that were no different than any of the other artists at their New York offices, although at times he tried slipping in religious messages and not-so-subtle Christian themes into the stories.

Hartley put together a story titled Summer Schooling and Some Are Not around 1970 or 1971 (the copy I have is reprinted in Jughead with Archie Digest # 34, September 1979, but I'm unsure when it first appeared). The story revolves around everyone hitting the beach while poor Archie must attend summer school. Mr. Weatherbee is none too keen on spending the summer within the walls of Riverdale High either, so he persuades Archie to go for a drive to Riverdale's ghettos (?!) to load a large group of Black children into his jalopy!!

MR. WEATHERBEE: You're going to learn by doing! That's the best way! You want to help people? Okay, we won't waste time figuring out how to help them - we'll just go ahead and help them! Okay! Let's hit the beaches, Archie!
ARCHIE: I'll bet these [African-American] kids have never seen the ocean!
[Archie and Mr. Weatherbee look on at the children playing on the beach]
MR. WEATHEBEE: They could easily get the feeling that everything's against them, but it doesn't have to be that way!
ARCHIE: [Speaking to Black child] Y'know, pal, Robinson Crusoe walked on a beach like this - he thought he was all alone - the only man on the island - but one day he saw a footprint in the sand - and he knew it wasn't his footprint! And he knew the print hadn't been in the sand for long - or high tide would have washed it away! So because of that one little print, Robinson Crusoe knew he wasn't alone on the island! Y'know, pal, God has put thousands of prints here to show that you're not alone! And we don't have to look far to see God's prints - nature is full of them! But he wants us to play our part too - God made the rivers - we have to build the bridges! He made the mountains - we have to make the trails! There's a lot for us to do here pal and he says the most important thing for us to do is to love each other!
CHILD: I've heard people talk like that before, Archie, but I've never believed them! Y'know why I believe you, Archie?
ARCHIE: No, pal, why?
CHILD: You just didn't say you love me, you put your arm around me! And your arm says it better than your tongue, man!

Of course, Archie never bothered to learn this child's name, but he, Mr. Weatherbee, and the large convoy of Black children pile back into the jalopy and drive off singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. A pretty brazen story for a secular publication. Archie Comics, with their countless titles, always in need of pages to fill, published it - but it did bring a rebuke from Hartley's boss. Hartley was told point blank to cut back on the God crap. Hartley said years later, "I knew God was in control, so I respected my publisher's position and naturally complied."

An early version of the story that was my first experience of Christian Riverdale in Archie's Something Else!, was published in the very secular issue of Reggie and Me #55, May 1972, a good three years before the version in Archie's Something Else! The Hartley story was titled The Eye of the Beholder. Both stories revolve around a new student at Riverdale High who is a rebellious hippie. Although the design of the character varies somewhat in each version, both state the character's name as "Legion." Here is an excerpt from the 1972 secular version of the story:

ARCHIE: Hi, Pal! Glad to have you at Riverdale High!
LEGION: What did you mean by that crack?
ARCHIE: We want to be your friends!
LEGION: Humph! Hypocrisy turns me off! Why don't you tell the truth? Your middle class values won't let you relate to me! My life-style irritates you! Come on! Admit it!
REGGIE: Brother! You've got a real chip on your shoulders! We won't knock it off, but we'll help you lift it!
ARCHE: What's your name, pal?
LEGION: Name? My name is Legion, for we are many!
ARCHIE: Are you a poet?
LEGION: I found reality, man! Everybody else is just playing games! Like who needs that [school] bell? Are we a herd of cattle?
REGGIE: But you've got to have some system!
LEGION: System? System's a DRAG! I do my own thing!
REGGIE: You can go that way for a while but tomorrow you'll pay for it!

The story makes no direct reference to God, but in every other way it is the template for Hartley's Christian version. In both, Legion is a troubled hippie who protests against the current order of capitalist America not because he truly despises it, but because of the confusion he feels from a bad childhood. The Archie gang's attitude to the hippie in the secular story contradicts much of what The Archies were doing in the comics just a few years earlier. Stories in the late sixties often featured the gang donning hippie garb and going to love-ins. One late sixties secular story even had Jughead strolling around town barefoot, choosing to drop out of society, while his friends tried to persuade him to take a bath.

Other moments in the Reggie and Me spread were touched on later. In both secular and Christian versions of the story, Legion decides to spend his time in art class, abandoning life drawing in exchange for painting protest signs.

LEGION: How does this grab you? [Legion holds up a sign that says "Society Stinks"] Come on, you lackeys! We need a real demonstration of student power to shake up the system! [Legion is surrounded by signs that read "We Want Shorter School Hours," "Homework Denys My Liberty!" and "Teachers Are Oppressive."]
REGGIE: This guy's a trouble maker!
ARCHIE: If he doesn't cool it, he's going to disrupt the whole school!
MOOSE: Shall I plant my knuckles in his whiskers?
BIG ETHEL: Wait, Moose! That's only a temporary solution! He needs something more powerful than your fist - he needs LOVE!

The Christian version is far more direct and also features Big Ethel as the savior to the hippie. It almost seems like the last panels in the secular version continue on in the Christian take. These panels may even have been in the original before publisher John Goldwater stepped in and told him to take it easy. From Archie's Something Else:

LEGION: Yeah man - well, like I've been talking to Big Ethel in the cafeteria!!! Well, I'm new here at Riverdale High - You wouldn't believe my past - I've been into everything!!! My folks are divorced - and neither of them pays any attention to me! Life seemed like a lousy trip! And then this chick started to rap - I figured she was a real cornball!!! But as Big Ethel talked - I realized she was on the level! She was concerned about me!!! And when she began to share LOVE - and JESUS - it was really something else! And y'know - it wasn't just her talking to me - I felt God talking to me too!

So Al Hartley's interpretation of the Archie gang in both the religious and secular camps portrayed them as straight-shooting, anti-hippie, all-American kids. But every Archie artist, although following the same basic model sheets, displayed their own style that made them identifiable. Beyond mere brush strokes, each artist's interpretation also slightly altered the Riverdale gang's state of mind. In Archie #198 from March 1970, Harry Lucey's story, The Terrible Tube, has Archie trying to convince his father the virtues of the exact thing he and the gang had been denouncing Legion for in the Hartley tale.

ARCHIE'S FATHER: Is there anything on [television] of an educational nature?
ARCHIE: There's a great one on! It's live from Pugnacious University! Now let's all sit back and grab ourselves a little higher education from old P.U!
TELEVISION: Our next program comes to you live from P.U. Campus.
STUDENTS ON TV: Bring up more rocks! Fascist Pig! BURN! BURN! Police brutality! Kill the fuzz! Let's take over the administration building!
ARCHIE: Boy! Demonstrations turn me on! Pop! You turned it off!
ARCHIE'S FATHER: Before it turns my stomach!
ARCHIE: Pop! Protests are in! That's where it's at!

In Lucey's version, Archie Andrews turns out to be even more sympathetic to the protest movement than Legion the Hippie.

After working in the trenches of secular Riverdale for five years, Hartley would receive a phone call from the aforementioned Fleming H. Revell Company. They wanted to know if Hartley, who they already knew to be a devoted born-again, would be interested in a freelance assignment. Could he illustrate, for them, a comic book adaptation of David Wilkerson's "inspirational" book, The Cross and the Switchblade. The book had already been made into a successful Christian exploitation movie the year before, starring the unlikely duo of Pat Boone as preacher David Wilkerson and first time actor Erik Estrada as a hoodlum.
Ironically, the Comics Code Authority, the morality review board founded in the nineteen fifties to monitor comic content in order to determine if a given comic book was beneficial or detrimental to a child, were unable to approve a Christian comic like The Cross and the Switchblade as it violated some of the CCA's rules of acceptability. It wasn't that propagating Christianity was off-limits, but references to characters who were either high or addicted to drugs (prior to being cured by David Wilkinsons' Christian ethos) defied the strict rules against depicting or mentioning drug use. The Comics Code Authority was instated after crack-pot psychologists had been vocal about their "findings." Namely, that horror and crime comics (primarily those published by future Mad Magazine head cheese William M. Gaines and his EC Comics group, were responsible for violent, anti-social behavior in children).
Hartley accepted the project and 1972's The Cross and the Switchblade was the first comic book published by Fleming H. Revell. It was quickly followed up by other adaptations of best selling Christian books that the company retained the rights to.

God's Smuggler
was next, a campy tale of a Christian gentleman smuggling bibles into Communist countries. The story has him battling wits against Lenin look-a-likes and sadistic, goateed, book store owners.

The Cross and the Switchblade and God's Smuggler both sold quite well, no doubt helped by Hartley's authentic comic book art style that made them appear strikingly similar to any other comic book on the newsstand. The success of these first two titles gave Hartley an idea that would help more readers receive "the word." At the end of 1972, Hartley approached the Jewish publisher of Archie, John L. Goldwater, with the prospect of using his star characters over at Spire Christian Comics. Goldwater believed it to be a virtuous idea, and allowed Hartley full use of the characters for free. The exact details are hazy, but no licensing fee was charged, however Goldwater would share some of the profits made from the Christian Archie line. It should come as little surprise that Goldwater, despite belonging to a different religion, would give Hartley his blessing for such a venture. Goldwater had been one of the founding fathers of the Comics Code Authority and was a staunch supporter of comic books with a clean and moral center.

Prior to converting the Archies entirely for Spire, Hartley continued with his subtleties in the normal entries. Hartley did all of Life with Archie #129, January 1973. The issue revolved around the Riverdale kids weighing the question of when life was better - in the old fashioned 1890s or the early 1970s. Riverdale's braniac, Dilton Doiley, explained the virtues of the 1890s.

DILTON: [In the 1890s] no one calls a policeman a pig! And women are treated more than equals.
REGGIE: Come off it, Dilton! There are plenty of things wrong in [the 1890s] too!
DILTON: Of course! But have we made things better or worse?
REGGIE: Well, I guess it's true - the air and water [were] purer ...
DILTON: What about the people? [Were] they purer?
ARCHIE: Y'know gang, I think Dilton's got a point... There [was] something different about ... people ... they seem happier ... and families seem a lot closer ... Man! It would be great if our world could find that spirit!
VERONICA: But where do you look for it?
BETTY: That's easy! You look up!

So the concept of Christian Archie comics was born. At the start of 1973, Spire introduced the first Christian Archie comic plus a total of twenty more Christian comic books, all written and illustrated by Hartley.
Archie's One Way was the world's introduction to a truly born-again Riverdale. Archie and Jughead mistakenly wander into a Christian discussion group being held in a coffee house when Jughead follows a sign promising free food. The difference between this comic and all the other Archie comics before it became apparent to any child reading it on its second page.

CHRISTIAN GUY: Looks like we've got a new customer!
ARCHIE: Jughead's always ready to eat!
CHRISTIAN GUY: Sort of makes a spiritual point, doesn't he?
ARCHIE: What do you mean?

CHRISTIAN GUY: Well, Jesus said the food of this world would never really satisfy!
JUGHEAD: Oh, I wouldn't say that!

CHRISTIAN GUY: Yeah, there are a lot of things that seem cool for a while... but sooner or later we can choke on those things.
JUGHEAD: Cough! Cough!

CHRISTIAN GUY: Many of these kids were hung up on all kinds of thing - drugs - sex - you name it - but they've found a better way to fill their lives!
JUGHEAD: This guy's one of those religious nuts - let's split!
[a woman brings in more food]
JUGHEAD: However, we don't have to panic - there's no need to rush!
CHRISTIAN WOMAN: Since you like our free food - you shouldn't miss out on the greatest gift of them all!
ARCHIE: What's that???
JUGHEAD: Careful, Arch - she's one of "them" too!
CHRISTIAN WOMAN: I'm talking about God's love and grace and forgiveness wrapped up in Jesus Christ!
JUGHEAD: I've never been very religious!
CHRISTIAN WOMAN: I'm not talking about a stuffy religion - I'm talking about a living relationship! Jesus can fill your life with a real power and peace that you wouldn't believe!
JUGHEAD: Even MY Life?
CHRISTIAN WOMAN: Christ has become real for all of us! He can do the same for you!
JUGHEAD: Maybe we ought to hang in here a little longer, Arch!
ARCHIE: Don't tell me you want to eat more?
JUGHEAD: No - I want to HEAR MORE!

With that, Archie and his gang were born again, and would remain so, at least in this odd netherworld, for the next eleven years. All six of the Christian Archies released in 1973 are interesting, campy, hilarious and bizarre in their own special ways.

A Spire title called Archie's Parables featured the ever-so-Christian Pals and/or Gals in different settings throughout history. Three separate stories place them in the medieval era, in outer space visiting life on other planets and in World War One with Mr. Weatherbee sporting an Iron Cross helmet and flying in a hot air balloon marked 666! Archie and Jughead play American pilots taking out a raid on the German balloons. As they approach we see that the balloons are marked with phrases like 'The Bible Isn't Relevant' 'TV Beats Church' 'Sermons Turn Me Off' and 'The Music's a Drag!' Arch and Jug penetrate the balloons with bullets, Archie proudly announcing, "We deflated every lie, Jug!!!" Hilariously, the only balloon shown deflating is the one that says the music is a drag. One story takes place in the wild west where Archie is sheriff and Moose his deputy. Jughead comes running after Sheriff Andrews, shirtless and draped in headdress,

JUGHEAD: Sheriff! Sheriff!
ARCHIE: Ah, here comes my faithful Indian companion, Pronto.
JUGHEAD: Sheriff, they got heap big trouble at the school!
[Betty is shouting in front of the school, dressed as the old west school teacher.]
BETTY: When they took the bible out of school - more and more problems came in! Now we have books that say we all came from monkeys and the students are starting to act like it! Our young people deserve better than this.
[Betty then holds up a school book titled Evolution is For the Birds and You] Sheriff Archie approaches the wealthy Mr. Lodge for help, and with his financial support, opens up a Christian bookstore to counter the evolution propaganda! He delivers the books in a stage coach that says Fleming H. Revell Co. on the side.
In Archie's Love Scene Jughead's pet Hot Dog stars in a story called God Spelled Backwards. Hot Dog fantasizes that he functions as a human, walking upright, and dressed in bell bottoms, head band, and other hippie regalia. Hot Dog pontificates...

HOT DOG: It's strange being a human being - after you enjoy all those wild things - then what??? There must be more to life than this!!!
[Hot Dog wanders into a Christian discussion group]
CHRISTIAN MAN: Welcome - there's just one thing that separates man from animal -
HOT DOG: He's speaking to me!
CHRISTIAN MAN: Animals can eat and think and communicate to a degree - just as man does - but they can't worship!
HOT DOG: Worship? What's that?
CHRISTIAN MAN: Animals just aren't capable of faith!
HOT DOG: Faith???
CHRISTIAN MAN: And without faith man becomes an animal!

Archie's World has the kids packing up and taking off to tour the world as missionaries.

STEWARDESS: I heard you're going around the world...
ARCHIE: Right! And our first stop is New York City!!!
STEWARDESS: The big apple??? I thought missionaries went to jungles!!!
ARCHIE: Well, most cities in the world have become jungles!!! There are young missionaries in every city in the world - sharing God's good news!
[The next panel depicts an anonymous character speaking to a hippie, presumably, high on acid]
MISSIONARY: God loves you, pal - he'll bring you off a bad trip - if you'll let him!

Later in the issue Archie and Jughead meet a doctor in an unspecified country, working in a small village.

ARCHIE: Doc, how do these folks pay you?
DOCTOR: They don't - God does!!! God led me here from the United States ... I'm glad I'm a medical missionary!!! I have no worries about malpractice suits!!!

Archie's Clean Slate, another 1973 entry, starts with Archie being terrorized by the devil, dragged by the ankles into a pit of fire. The issue has both Archie and Big Ethel overwhelmed with a desire to be popular. However, Betty Cooper, the blue eyed and blonde haired staple of Archie comics, convinces them that their desires are misguided. For whatever reason, the more aryan looking Betty, time and time again, is shown to be the most Christian of all the characters, usually speaking at the end of each story as the voice of reason, delivering a speech that converts one of the gang or shows them the err of their ways via biblical lessons. In this ish, Betty points out a newspaper article about an actress's suicide stating, "Some girls have found that popularity isn't the answer..." just prior to launching into a spell about desiring God instead. The "clean slate" referred to in the comic's title is explained in the last story titled Final Exam. Two new Archie characters named Jerry and Debbie are introduced as Riverdale High staples despite having never appeared in an Archie comic before (or since).

JERRY: There they go - Mr. Clean and the fairy princess! Tell me [Betty] - does your halo ever give you a headache?
DEBBIE: It must be awful - going to school with us sinners!
JERRY: Come on, Archie - why don't you try a new life style and live a little?
ARCHIE: You know how I feel about drugs and liquor, Jerry!
JERRY: Man! You really are out of it! [Jerry and Debbie climb into a car]
ARCHIE: Jerry! Let me take you home! You shouldn't drive now!
DEBBIE: Let's split, Jerry - before he starts to preach!

Debbie's statement is probably what most kids were thinking once they started reading one of these comics.

ARCHIE: They were great kids - before they got into the drug scene!
BETTY: Arch, we've got to help them to see when God fills our life, you don't need anything else!

Jerry and Debbie speed down the road and get into a horrible car accident. Laying amidst the rubble, Debbie looks up at Betty and says, "Betty - I - I've learned plenty about life - but nothing about death - and I'm scared!!! You tried to tell me there's more to life but I'd never listen! Well, I want to live differently - I want a clean slate!"

In Archie's Sonshine, the gang goes to the beach where a bearded man in a van lectures everyone on the proper way to live. He explains that "Liberace in all his splendor is not as colorful as these flowers!" An odd statement for a Christian on so many levels. The issue is one of the first to convert the usually cynical Reggie Mantle.

ARCHIE: Reg - you seem speechless!!!
BETTY: Cat get your tongue???
REGGIE: No - I - I think GOD did!!!

The last Christian Archie comic of 1973 had a low print run and is today one of the most scarce, titled Christmas with Archie. 1973 was Hartley's most prolific year and there is no doubt he was inspired by the concept of Christian comics. 1973 included several other interesting Christian titles under the Spire banner.

Certainly the most famous of the non-Archie titles released that year is Hansi, The Girl Who Loved the Swastika. Its jarring cover surely has had the effect over the years Hartley intended, one of shock. Contrary to the subconscience wishes of shitty comic readers, it is not a glorification of racist Christianity but, of course, an indictment of Nazi-ism, and, not quite as predictably, Communist Russia.
Tom Landry and The Dallas Cowboys is another collectable published at the same time. It was one of three 1973 Spire comics based on a movie made by Gospel Films Inc. of Muskegon, Michigan. In subsequent years, Gospel Films renamed their outfit Compassionate Capitalism Inc. The company helped finance and create pictures with a Christian bent, and then acted as "Christian film missionaries," flying their film cans around the world for special screenings. Most of their funding came from billionaire Richard DeVos, founder of Amway Corporation, owner of the Orlando Magic, and one of the wealthiest people in America. DeVos has donated several million dollars in recent years to the notorious nut house Focus On the Family. Gospel Films' website offers clips from various oddities like 1967's Gospel Blimp (one of the other film's Hartley adapted that year) and an eighties movie called Super Christian. Gospel Films Inc, registered as a charity, has been able to maintain itself, and create its films tax free since its inception in 1950.
In the Presence of Mine Enemies was another motion picture put out by Gospel Films, adapted by Al Harley for Spire. Both the movie and the comic paint the US government's position on Vietnam in a favorable light and as a Christian war, although this is not the crux of the story. The plot concerns American POW Howard Rutledge who prayed his way out of a Vietnamese prison cell. Rutledge twice unsuccessfully ran for congress on the Republican ticket in the early eighties.
Up From Harlem uses many stereotypical elements found in Blaxploitation pictures of the time period to get the biographical message of pastor Tom Skinner across. The issue is full of what is obviously a white man's interpretation of what 'street language' sounds like. The result is both ridiculous and false. The issue starts with Skinner crossing paths with a prostitute.

PROSTITUTE: You speakin' about love, man???
TOM SKINNER: That's my bag!!!
PROSTITUTE: It's mine too, honey - and I'm ready!!!
TOM SKINNER: Have you ever tried making love to God???

PROSTITUTE: Man, I can't groove off God! I've got to make a living!!!

A few other examples of Hartley's attempt at Harlem vernacular in this comic book include, "If we pull off this rumble tomorrow we'll be number one in Harlem!!!" "Right on!!! The fuzz will freak out!!!" "I'll dig some rock [and roll] while I plan!!!" "Hey, Tom, I wanna rap - last night when you gave us that Jesus jazz - I had my knife ready!!!" Much of the comic is laced with more of the same. Skinner, like Landry, coupled the All-American concept of Jesus with the All-American love affair with football. Throughout the seventies he served as "team chaplain" for the New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Redskins.

You can download all of Up From Harlem, Gospel Blimp, and Hansi as pdf files here.

There's a New World Coming was based on another Fleming H. Revell Co. book, this one written by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey believes that the bible is literal and a concrete book of prophecy. The comic book promotes some of Lindsey's examples from the Book of Revelations that apparently prove that everything in contemporary times was previously predicted in the bible. Much of the comic is based on the Cold War mentality of the day, and is rather out of date.
One of Lindsey's most famous quotes appeared in a 2004 article he wrote in which he describes the American 'liberal' as an "enemy that hides in the shadows, doesn't play by any of the rules, and is determined to use any means to bring about our literal annihilation." The eighty year old Lindsey, today, serves on the board of TBN, the Christian television and media empire formerly the domain of Jim and Tammy Faye. Lindsey is one of the leading Christian pundits currently trying to debunk scientific concepts on global warming and a strong supporter of the Guantanmo Bay prison.
On the Road with Andrae Crouch profiled the journey of the gospel musician of the same name. It is one of the more apolitical of the comics and one of the more credible. Crouch had his greatest successes in the early eighties, landing guest spots on The Jeffersons, SCTV and Saturday Night Live.

Through the Gates of Splendor
was based on a book that profiles Christian missionaries in Ecuador. At one point in the comic, the missionaries are mocked for their decision to go to Latin America by racist naysayers, "Why throw your life away for a bunch of savages??? People here have every opportynity to hear and study God's word - those jungle Indians have none!!!"

Other 1973 titles were My Brothers' Keeper, Live it Up, Crossfire, The Hiding Place (also a film) and In His Steps - camp classics - all. Two more titles were directed at a younger audience with Spire's 'Kiddies Christian Comics' line: God Is... and
Noah's Ark. Hartley took a well deserved break in 1974 and started up with the Christian Archies and more film adaptations in 1975.

The aforementioned Archie's Something Else demonstrated that in 1975, the students of Riverdale High had not yet lost their faith. Three additional Spire titles were added to their ballooning catalogue of Christian comics that year. Sales were brisk. The original agreement according to Archie's secular publisher was for the Christian comics to be sold in Christian bookstores exclusively. However, I can say from experience, that I amassed a near complete collection of these comics over the years from the shelves of secular book stores, comic shops and even in the comic section of a large grocery store chain.
Time to Run was a Fleming H. Revell Co. property that had been turned into a 1973 motion picture by a different movie company, this time by Billy Graham's World Wide Pictures of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The picture even had a soundtrack LP released featuring compositions by Tedd Smith and orchestrations by fifties jazznik Lennie Niehaus. The story revolves around a teenager who rejects his father, a CEO of an atomic energy plant, and finds salvation at a Christian rock concert, hanging out with Christian hippies. The other two comics Al Hartley put together for the year were strictly by-the-numbers titles Adam and Eve and another WWII themed piece called Attack!
Other than the comics featuring Archie Andrews and friends, the Spire Christian Comics featuring celebrities on their covers are the most sought after. As far as these items go, none compare to the memorable issue, Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. Available for your reading pleasure online here. It was the only comic the, by now, exhausted Al Hartley released for the outfit in 1976.
Archie Gets a Job hit the stands in 1977 and picked up in the utterly ridiculous world that we last saw Jughead Jones and the rest caught up in two years earlier. Mr. Weatherbee, intent on finding something relaxing to do on his summer vacation, starts up a Christian bookstore adjacent to an old lighthouse by the beach. Archie is looking for something to do during his summer vacation and, much to Weatherbee's chagrin, eyes up the help wanted sign in the bookstore window. As a way to keep Archie as far away from him as possible, the red haired menace's jalopy is refitted as a "bookmobile" and is used to distribute Christian literature up and down the beach.

This issue is the first of many that would cross reference and cross advertise other Spire publications. Archie hands Big Ethel a book he is certain she'll love. The next oversized panel shows a picture of an actual book by Al Hartley's son (named after Al's father) Fred Hartley. It exclaims "At Your Christian Bookstore Now!" The name of the book is Update: A New Approach to Christian Dating. Jughead is drawn below the book saying, "He really knows the score!" A strange endorsement from Riverdale's self-proclaimed woman hater. Dilton Doiley approaches Archie looking for some intellectually gratifying literature as Fred Hartley's book does not interest him.

DILTON: Well, I'm not interested in girls or dates!!! Do you have books on ecology? Or solar energy??? What about sociology???
JUGHEAD: Try the bible!!! Who can tell us more about things than the one who put it all together???
REGGIE: What about sports???
ARCHIE: The bible tells you how to be a winner!
REGGIE: Oh, brother! You guys are turning into a couple of freaks! Selling Christian books on the beach is just too much!
ARCHIE: Well, it sure beats pushing drugs and porno here!

The snide look on Archie's face as he shouts this Reggie's way indicates that Mr. Mantle had been hustling something on the side and that his 1973 conversion in Archie's Sonshine didn't last.

1977 also saw the introduction of a new character that Hartley would star in a total of seven comics. Also a part of the Spire 'Kiddies Christian Comics' line, Barney Bear was an ultra-religious bear cub (contradicting the preacher in Archie's Love Scene who stated matter-of-factly to Jughead's dog that animals are not capable of faith). Barney Bear Wakes Up! and Barney Bear The Swamp Gang! were the first two in the series (Hartley unable to resist even in the comic titles his obsession with peppering everything with exclamation marks). The latter has Barney Bear overcoming gang warfare through prayer. One of the last panels of the issue shows four bears, a hippo, a rhino and a crocodile kneeling in a circle, praying together.
Four new Spire titles appeared in 1978. Archie's Family Album, Alpha and Omega (a religious take on Star Wars), Paul: Close Encounters of a REAL Kind and the most fascinating - Born Again.

Born Again was first a book written by Chuck Colson, then a film starring Dean Jones, and then a comic book by Al Hartley. Colson was chief counsel to Richard Nixon when Watergate went down. The comic book depicts Colson as an unknowing, innocent bystander, with no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-ins, or any dubious acts perpetrated by Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or any other members of his staff. The comic shows Colson going to prison in order to prevent another colleague from taking blame. However, no guilt or remorse is evident, although Colson does emphasize his faith in God.

In real life, Colson was heavily caught up in the Watergate scandal. During the Watergate court sentencing, Colson was given the maximum prison term permitted under federal law for obstruction of justice. According to Wikipedia, some of Colson's duties under Nixon in the late sixties included lobbying efforts for the Antiballistic Missile System and the president's "Vietnamization program." Colson was responsible for compiling Nixon's famous Enemies List and coming up with strategies to discredit or demonize opponents of the Vietnam War. In October 2003, Colson was co-signer with four other leading evangelicals outlining their theological justification and support for the invasion of and war upon Iraq. In subsequent years he became a regular guest of the George W. Bush White House.
Archie's Car was the first of six Spires in 1979. In previous Spire Christian Comics, occasional biblical utterances that escaped a character's mouth were flagged with an asterix. A corresponding comment at the bottom of the page directed the reader to a section of the bible that featured the same theme. However, by 1979, enough of Hartley's religious work was in print that he could do a bit of self-promotion instead. On page 14 of this issue Betty Cooper shouts, "The bible says EVERYBODY is tempted!!!" Rather than direct the reader back to the good book, Hartley says 'See Archie Gets a Job pages 30 & 31.'
Archie's Car was also the first Christian Archie to feature a letters page.

Dear Al,

I'm in prison because I got off on the wrong foot and made a mistake! I read a couple of your Spire Comics and had my eyes opened to a lot of things! I'd like to get some Spire comics for my kid brother!

Carl C.

Al Hartey Responds:
Thousands of Christians all across America are distributing Spire Comics FREE in prisons!

One wonders reading Carl's letter if he isn't actually Chuck Colson.

Jughead's Soul Food was the other Archie title that year. Hartley lets up a bit for this ish, not hitting any religious notes until page twenty-one. Jughead and Moose sit together in the cafeteria...
JUGHEAD: Shall we pray???
MOOSE: Pray???
JUGHEAD: Sure! I like to thank God for my food!
MOOSE: Duh - I never do that!!!
JUGHEAD: My dog doesn't either! He just eats!!! He can't understand the real miracles God puts into our food!

It is rather remarkable that Big Moose didn't clobber Jughead for comparing him to his pooch, but none of the Archie characters ever stayed true to their traditional persona in Christian Archie comics.

The year featured two more lame Barney Bear titles and the introduction of new characters The Brothers, who were actually two blonde white guys. Adventure with The Brothers: Hang in There followed the exploits of two Christian missionaries in a third world country who defeat a revolutionary uprising of peasants who are fighting against a corrupt government and imperial powers. The brothers tell them to put down their arms, pick up their bibles, and live with it. It portrays local revolutionaries as using the villagers for their own gain, rather than having any sincere concern for their well being. The influence of Al Hartley's father is vastly apparent in this one and could easily be a metaphor for Papa Hartley's attitude towards unions. The final title in '79 was Jesus, who I don't know too much about, but I'm pretty sure he was one of the guys also indicted in the Watergate scandal.
Sales must have dropped for Spire come the nineteen eighties because the amount of issues published with each new title became less and less. Many of the Spire comics from the early eighties are considered scarce.

Archie and Mr. Weatherbee continued the new focus on cross promoting other Spire products within the story itself. Everyone is off to summer camp in this edition and camp counselors Jughead and Archie stumble upon a rotating rack of Barney Bear comic books in the middle of the lodge. A crowd of young kids are very excited at the prospect of all these comics and demand Archie read them to them (after hearing the content, I'm sure that they were disapointed). In the middle of the comic there is a order form that encourages schools to order Spire Christian comics in large quantities. A drawing of Miss Hagley has her saying, "Spire Comics are the most popular books in our school library!" Adjacent, Miss Beazley and Svenson the Janitor explain, "They're big in the cafeteria too!" "Und no von trows dem avay!!!" Maybe not - but as soon as I hit the age of fourteen, I traded all of mine in at the local shop in exchange for some Mad Magazines.

Archie's Festival was the next Spire comic to include a letters page. More and more it seemed like the letters were made-up by Hartley.

Dear Al:

I ran away from home and joined a carnival! I wanted to be part of something exciting! But I learned that life is no carnival - and a carnival is no life! Then someone gave me a Spire Comic and I learned that Jesus loves me! Jesus has given me a whole new life! And that's really exciting!!!

Ken W
Salt Lake City, Utah

It's the telltale triple exclamation that gives away Al Hartley as the author of this one. The issue also featured something new. Archie's Prayer Page, very similar to the letters page in tone, it had the added tome of asking readers to pray for the writer of the letter.

My sister is into drugs and my folks don't know about it! Please pray that she'll turn to Jesus and kick the habit before she messes up our whole family!

Bernice K
Brooklyn, NY

Hartley's morality continued in Archie's Date Book, the first of two Archies in 1981. It featured a story about Archie's problems in finding the right girl. The center of the comic features a two-page survey about what kind of a person you, the reader, would date, and what kind of a person you think Archie should date. Questions include Could you trust someone if God can't trust them? and Is it important to date someone who trusts God?
One of the final panels in Archie's Date Book shows the gang walking through a sleazy 42nd street style district, past movie theaters with marquees announcing X rated movies with titles like 'Divorce, Any Style,' 'Crime Pays' and my personal favorite, 'Sex Sex.' There is also a marquee for a film called 'Sin City,' making Archie's Date Book more prophetic and accurate than Hal Lindsey. Hartley editorializes with a caption that says, "Movies tell us it's okay to do things that MESS US UP!" The next panel shows the Archie gang with shocked and disgusted looks on their faces as they watch TV. The panel reads, "TV makes vulgar jokes about things that should be PRIVATE and SACRED."
The very last panel is a giant Archie head with small imagery around him bumbling on dates with Betty. Betty says, "That's why I like dating you Arch - it's always exciting - but never X-RATED!"

Archie's Roller Coaster starts with Spire cross promotion right off the bat. Archie and Veronica are wandering around a fair ground. Ronnie demands that Arch win her a stuffed Barney Bear doll (as far as I know, no Spire Christian Comics merchandise was ever peddled beyond the comics themselves, although the turnstile racks with the metal plates at the top advertising "Spire Christian Comics on Sale Here" might score a few dollars - I saw one a couple years ago in a Trotskyist bookstore). A trip passed the funny mirrors gives Betty the opportunity to pontificate to everyone about the bible being God's mirror.
Spire Christian Comics were sparse with only a few titles trickling out in its final couple years, all of which are near impossible to find today. A couple more Barney Bears, a final anti-revolutionary stint with The Brothers, some patriotic pablum about Yankee Doodle and the final three Christian Archies, all obscurities: Archie and Big Ethel (1982), Archie's Sport Scene (1983) and the last ever Spire comic Archie's Circus (1984).
Hartley's always weird and sometimes creepy line of Spire Christian Comics, finished with 49 titles in all. The Archie titles far outsold the rest and remained in print for over ten years after the demise of the concept itself. He did a few more religious comics on his own, outside the realm of Spire or Fleming and continued to occasionally contribute horseshit to the normal world of Archie. Hartley received an award for his over thirty years of (creepy) achievement in the comics field, at the 1980 San Diego Comic Convention. He died at the age of 81 in 2003.
Further Reading:
History of nineteen fifties Catholic Church Comic: Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact
The Stupid Comics Website Deconstructs Spire's Archie and Big Ethel
Download Spire Christian Comics as pdf files including:
Archie's Something Else!
Archie's Parables
Archie's Date Book
The Cross and the Switchblade
God's Smuggler
The Hiding Place
My Brother's Keeper
There's a New World Coming
Up From Harlem
Hansi The Girl Who Loved the Swastika
Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
In His Steps
Born Again
Adventures with the Brothers: Cult Escape
Adventures with the Brothers: Hang in There

Labels: , , ,


Blogger urban improv said...

A weird side note. In Marvel Comics Patsy Walker later became Hellcat and married the Son of Satan. Not sure Al would have approved.

7:09 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

great trip down memory lane, had all of these growing up

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey that's great man, I read your thing in Vanity Fair and it led me here. Awesome. I'm going to check out the podcast too.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are great. I read many of these, years ago. How do you purchase these now, I wonder? That's how I found this site...looking for order info. These comics had a profound impact on my life, I'd like to have them. I've looked for years, but just recently thought to use the internet

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a strange twist, my brief flirtation with shoplifting as a 10 year old was lifting the spire christian comics from a local dept. store in the Canadian Prairies. I remember the Swastika one, the one about André Crouch, one about missionaries in a jungle of "barbarians" and the concept of "smelling like paper".
I never got into comics really and the x-tian Archie was just as creepy as the plain Archie; unusually anachronistic and pointless as far as my 10 year old brain could tell.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved these comics and have many of them. I didn't find them weird or creepy at all.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks - It's fantastic to trace the genesis of much of my neuroses! My born-again mother smuggled many of these titles into the pile of comics that me and my brother coveted - and I have to say that I do have a soft spot for their bizzare allegories, appalling segues, footnoted bible quotes and 50s bustlines. Kind of like Jack Chick for pre-teens. I'll never forget the feeling of sitting down with a new comic to discover by page 2 or 3 that there was a great big baseball bat with JESUS written on it smacking me on the back of the head. I kept expecting her to spring a fake Mad magazine on us...

My absolute favorite was Born Again - if you thought Gordon Liddy's version of Watergate was a tad myopic, it has nothing on Chuck's sad tale of woe and redemption.

And don't get me started on the God-bothering Peanuts comics.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Mike D. said...

I had a stack of these from a Baptist bookstore in Hanover Ontario, including 'Born Again' which made Chuck Colson out to be far more cuddly than he was reputed to be, as Nixon's hatchet man and all...

4:54 PM  
Blogger Foolster41 said...

Meh, the archie comics were rather cbeesy (Which isn't much change from the secular current version.), same for thye "brothers" comics and the "Barney bear" stuff.

But I had a few of other ones including Paul (a modern telllling of the life of paul which I thought was pretty inovative), Cross and the Switchblade, The Hiding Place, Through Gates of Spelndor and God's Smuggler. The last 4 are versions of biographies that I thought were pretty darn good comic versions of the originals.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. haters. Show some respect. You can't blame Mr. Hartley for trying to clean up his life and redeem his talent for good or even for God. Just because you may not agree with his beliefs does not make him weird, creepy, or even fanatical. They call that intolerance. Besides, the guy was writing these in decades before where cultures were drastically different. They talked differently, believed different things about the world. It's like watching an old movie and criticizing the way they dress and and talk and the colors of their furniture. Pointless. Besides: "...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God". - 1st Corinthians 1:18

12:50 PM  
Blogger Lily of Philly said...

Woah, flashback! I had all these comics as a kid. Where's the one that shows how rock musicians draw big pentagrams on the floor, and pray to Satan before they record an album?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

There is no better experience than personal experience and God's Smuggler inspired me to smuggle Bibles into Russia (during the Kruschev years) successfully getting by the border guards because there is no fear when one is walking in God's will and the calm assurance of his perfect love for all. Especially those who are daily experiencing persecution for their faith in Jesus.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Mtomato2 said...

I think you are a pathetic, insecure, farce. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Maybe the spire comics, drafted by Hartley, were a bit on the corny side from our perspective, thirty-five years later, but they were, as I vividly recall, quite cutting-edge and effective at the time they were produced. Your little tirade here, helps prove my point. You seem to remember an awful lot about them, considering they were such an incidental, off-hand memory of yours.

Whether you agree with the tenants of Christianity (at least it's an ethos) or not, it is, by definition, a proselytizing institution. It is what Christians refer to as "The Great Commission" and their onus is to use their talants, such as they are, to perform this task. Al Hartly did a magnificent job at this, eschewing, I'm sure, other opportunities at huge incomes. All this, to follow his personal convictions. Which you, here, lampoon.

I may seem a prude, but you are intellectially dishonest. I have respect for those who follow their convictions at any cost. Al Hartley is to be applauded and appreciated. You, in my opinion, need to find a different fight. One where you at least can be honest.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Bob Bourne said...

mtomato2 said: "I think you are a pathetic, insecure, farce... Maybe [they] were a bit on the corny side ... but they were ...quite cutting-edge and effective at the time they were produced. Your little tirade here, helps prove my point. You seem to remember an awful lot about them, considering they were such an incidental, off-hand memory of yours."

Hartley's Spire Comics ARE memorable because they were completely unique. Hartley had a distinct style that is identifiable immediately. This is remarkable when you take into account that he was still required to draw in a "house style" both at Marvel and Archie. I have had a love/hate relationship with his art since I was a child. I think it is an appreciation of his ability but also an appreciation, today, from a perspective of camp. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "cutting edge" but they were effective in the sense that everyone who read one as a child remembers them. I credit that to their uniquity more than the message they were conveying. I can't think of any other popular secular character in history that was LEGALLY LISCENCED to preach a religion. You see bastardized Disney characters used to teach Islam on weird TV shows in the Middle East occasionally, but they certainly don't have the trademark owners blessing.

mtomato2 said: "Whether you agree with the tenants of Christianity (at least it's an ethos)"


"Al Hartly did a magnificent job at this, eschewing, I'm sure, other opportunities at huge incomes. All this, to follow his personal convictions. Which you, here, lampoon."

I disagree. This is not a lampoon. I give the legitimate history of the comics with my own opinion peppered in various places. Were it a Lampoon I would exagerate or create fabrications about the comic in order to make fun of them. As they stand they are hilarious on their own. I have not fabricated any quotes or historical incidents in the creation of the comics. When I say they gave me a weird or creepy feeling as a child I am being sincere. No lampooning would make them funnier, in fact it would probably take away from their unintentionally humorous value.

"... you are intellectially dishonest. I have respect for those who follow their convictions at any cost. Al Hartley is to be applauded and appreciated. You, in my opinion, need to find a different fight. One where you at least can be honest."

I'm not sure what you think I am fudging. Do I respect Al Hartley? Yes, because I am a comics fan and I enjoy the work of all the classic comic book artists whether they be Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, Dan DeCarlo, Sam Schwartz, or Al Hartley. That doesn't mean that I like everything that DeCarlo or Kirby or Hartley ever did. I certainly am glad the Christian Archies exist, I think they are a marvelous piece of history. I appreciate them more today than I ever did as a child. I didn't enjoy them as a kid like I did the secular Archie Comics. Although, for the record, I never cared for the secular shenanigans of Li'l Jinx. If you could clarify what exactly you think I am being dishonest about, I could address it. But I don't see anything in the piece that I was being insincere about.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Mtomato2 said...

Kliph, I may retract some of the more personal things I said about you, um, personally. I may have been off base, and I was certainly unlike my understanding of the character of Christ when I made them. I cry your pardon. I feel I may have misinterpreted your intentions in your article.

The ethos comment was a vague reference to an obscure line from "The Big Labowski", a Joel and Ethan Cohen movie.

I mainly took offense at what I perceived to be a general trashing of Al Hartly being true to his convictions. I guess if truth be known, some of his Archie stuff was a bit creepy (to me) at times, mostly, I think, because of his tendancy to exaggerate the character's motions and all the little stars, swirls, swooshes and... "emotion lines"... (?) around his subjects.

I'm not being very clear, here. I apologize. Regardless, I was always just sort of impressed that Hartley alwasy seemed to stand so firmly on principle.

Peace out.


5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, time to put away the Christian Archie comic books and learn that Congress can vote to override a Presidential veto, but this rarely happens because it requires a supermajority vote (2/3, rather than 50% +1).

There, see? It took almost as long to learn something important as it did to type that nonsense sentence about vetoing vetoes. Priorities. Seriously.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God's Smuggler was published in 1972, Nikita Khruschev was removed from power in 1964 and died in 1971. So unless John was so inspired by Hartley's work that he managed to bend time and space he's either lying or deeply historically confused.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed that your other blog, Classic Show Biz, has links to The Price is Right from 1961. My grandmother was on that show June 28-30 of 1961. I've emailed NBC to find copies of the show, to no avail. How did you find copies of the show? I'd appreciate any advice or help you're willing to offer. My grandmother turns 90 in November and I'd love to have a copy of that show for her family to enjoy.
With appreciation,
Susannah (

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice item. Had no idea about Pussycat before, but in my comics archives I probably still have several of the other titles. Either they were given out at churches, or (being in the rabid comic collector generation) I lifted them from church as a kid; more likely the former. It was rare to see the insane Jack Chick style books then, but they would turn up randomly. Compared to the Chick craziness, these others weren't extreme in any way. They were fairly common in MI. Probably also turned up in Christian bookstores, but the only bookstores I liked had sci-fi paperbacks, Mad magazine, and comic books.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as the person looking for the PIR's possible that it may not exist in recorded form. Man, many shows were destroyed or erased from that period, unless they were filmed, and many of those filmed shows aren't available, either. Famously, almost all the Ernie Kovacs shows were lost because the studio was going to erase all of them to save 7 cents per tape. Archival TV was unknown in 1961; it was disposable entertainment.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. It's like a really bad flashback.

Not like I'd know, actually.

I remember these comics, though. My cousin had most of the Archies (only ones she owned) and I wound up with some Barney ones and I know I had God's Smuggler and Cross & Switchblade, but I have no idea where I would have gotten them.

8:02 PM  
Blogger ruby said...

worst camping experience: rained the whole trip and the only reading material around were christian archies and gold key comics. blurg.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write (and update) this article - an enjoyable read.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article... brought back a lot of memories. My first Spire Comic was a copy of "God's Smuggler" that was given out as a freebie in Sunday School. Before long I had heaps of the old Spire Comics (both Archies and non-Archies) in my collection as a kid... even back then I knew they were kind of lame but I couldn't help myself, if I came across them in a store I'd buy'em up anyway. They were like passing a bad car crash on the highway; you couldn't help but look.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed Al Hartley's trademark "three exclamation points" at the end of nearly every sentence. Wow!!! That got annoying really quick!!!

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats a very interesting post. I have been inspired. Thanks.

8:22 AM  
Blogger erinandjon said...

wow, thanks for posting this!! Oh, how the memories of being violated by fake Archies came flooding back... but how could you leave out the CLASSIC image of Jughead saying "It's amazing!!! I'm FULL!!!" So, so funny. In a mocking, ironic way, of course.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok these were really creepy and ticked me off no offense but not everyone beleives in god i was surprised at these comics now before yaw go yell at me its just my opinion when i found out about these comics i was like really shocked it reminded me of the movie 2012 doomsday before u yell at me about relating the christian archie comics to 2012 doomsday waqtch the movie before cuz it barely focuses on the end of the world it focuses more on beleiving in god or trying to convince u too beleive in god.....
plz dont hate on me im jsut a kid >.<

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is cool to see all those comics brother and I had everyone of those!
The article however does not realize that these comics were directed for Christian Children.
Comics promoting Christian values and ideas of the time. Each book the Al Hartley turned into a comic were best sellers and very popular amongst adult. Tom Skinners book was very profound and deeply emotional.
What is disturbing is that the writer of this article would not dare to desparage an Islamic childrens publication.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Monty P said...

Very interesting, informative read. My grandparents had most of those comics, and as a kid, I loved them (I grew up in a Christian family). I found the Archie ones really cheesy, and, as I think about them now, way over the top religiously (but then, I find regular Archie comics to be cheesy and over the top as well, although not in the same way, obviously). Many of the more biographical ones were better.

So thanks for all the info. As I grew up, I had often wondered how Archie had become a Christian....

2:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree with your idea that it was a frantic insanity that took over my little body during the second grade spring break.
History term paper

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story as for me. I'd like to read a bit more concerning this theme. Thnx for sharing that information.
Joan Stepsen
Cyprus call girls

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ONCE again another Christian basher who wants to spread hate by hating on Christians!!! READING an Archie's SPIRE comic "made you feel as if you were molested???" WHAT a ridiculous analogy and one I find totally offensive! I LOVED THESE comics as a kid and never felt molested after I read them but rather uplifted!!! I felt molested after reading your article!!! HATER!!!!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Bukko Boomeranger said...

By any chance do you know if Al Hartley related to Nina Hartley, the notable porn star? Because it would be hella ironic if this cartoonish Christian cartoonist was the father, or even father-in-law, of someone so raunchy.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Nancy Green said...

Very brave to revisit those days, I still break out in hives when I think about it. Congrats on being cited in Salon.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Nice article. I found the Andre Crouch and the Corrie Ten Boom ones in the reception area of the YMCA as a kid and always wondered where they came from.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Bunnyman said...

What a brilliant post. You brought together everything that was cheesy and manipulative and blatantly dishonest about the Christian takeover of Archie comics! I still clearly remember seeing my first "Christian" Archie, the one with the police officer "witnessing" to Archie and I thought WTF is going on???

A really enjoyable and well-done trip down the bizarre-o rabbit hole of Christian Archie comics.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bwa ha ha, I remember these.
Back when I was under the power of christian indoctrination, I thought these comics were great. Now that I'm an Atheist, I can't help but laugh at them. I wish Linkara would do a review of some of these!

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You "had a feeling similar to that of being molested"?
You really need to go and get your head sorted out, if you frivalize such a real physical and mental ordeal by comparing it to reading a comic book; something that you would forget about 30 minutes later.
Just because a comic character does something unusual in NO way compares to molestation. Either that or you had a very bizarre childhood.
That is a pathetic, ridiculous comment to make and you should REALLY think about victims of molestation before trivializing their experiences and equating them to reading a comic book that was changed.

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mom bought my brother and I "the cross and the switchblad" and maybe another one from our church, which wasn't even too conservative. We were little but could tell the comics were really lame. Mom didn't understand until she actually read one, then thought it was as cheesy and stupid as we did.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Comic Nut said...

Lilly of Philly wanted to know "Where's the one that shows how rock musicians draw big pentagrams on the floor, and pray to Satan before they record an album?" that's a "Crusader" issue by Jack T. Chick not a Hartley comic.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Comic Nut said...

Bunnyman said "You brought together everything that was cheesy and manipulative and blatantly dishonest about the Christian takeover of Archie comics!" Takeover??? there were like 30 of these comics that hardly anyone (even most Christian's I met) have ever heard of!?! If there was a successful "Christian Takeover" of Archie comics, explain to me why Spire, the company who put them out, doesn't exist today and Archie comics has Sabrina the teenage Witch and Kevin Keller a homosexual?

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Comic Nut said...

I have to agree with some of the other comments in being shocked at your statements in saying "you felt like you had been molested"! If all it takes for you to feel that way is to have a few people TALK about God in a comic, you must shrivel up and die at the sight of your average Christian walking down the street! Dude you are soft like a marshmallow.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone have an idea on the value of an autographed copy of these? I don't have the comics in front of me but I have two Al Hartley signed comics one of them is the first comic shown on this blog.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Steve C. said...

I like and recognize nearly all the various Archie® artists: Dan DeCarlo, Bob Montana, Dick Malmgren, Samm Schwartz, Al Hartley, Joe Edwards,Bob Bolling [whose stories rival the Airplane and Naked Gun flicks for wordplay, as he wrote them..]

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I must echo the comments here that suggest you are being narrow-minded in your reading of the Al Hartley comics.

For instance, Hartley's view of African-American culture was clearly deficient. However, it's not like he could have done a lot of research on the topic. There was no BET at the time, and a guy like Hartley couldn't exactly go into the ghetto and ask to tag along with a random person of color to see what their lives were like. (Those were the days of riots in Detroit, after all).

What we see in Hartley's comics is a world built from the imagination of a culture different from yours (or mine, for that matter), and one built for an explicitly polemical and proselytizing purpose. Hartley was not trying to present a realistic picture of his world, or to subtly manipulate the opinions of others. His heart was on his sleeve, and he was genuinely trying to do a good thing (despite his personal failings). He was trying to share a message which had apparently brought him a good deal of personal peace, while engaging the troubling trends of his time (drugs really are bad, yo) with the message that everyone can have a life in which they feel loved and secure.

All of that said, however, there are two things that I find genuinely disturbing in the Hartley comics.

First, Hartley retains Dan DeCarlo's pin-up style character designs for female characters (and not just in his Archie books). In a story about how we need not be concerned about things like physical appearance because God loves us all, it's more than a little jarring. Reading these comics as a hormone-soaked adolescent boy left me feeling... conflicted.

Second, in his 1979 recounting of the life of Jesus, Jesus has brown hair, but distinctly Anglo-Saxon features, a tall, muscular build, and these blazingly blue eyes. The evil Pharisees look decidedly Semitic. I'm a Christian, and I have been all my life. It offends me deeply that Hartley used racial imagery as a shorthand for Christ's goodness.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know how Congress overrides presidential vetoes? Maybe you should treat yourself to a brief self-education in basic, elementary civics before you go around making bombastic political declarations and disparaging the religious beliefs of others. I'm confident that you won't allow this comment on your blog--ironically, your kind is always the least tolerant of opposing viewpoints--so consider it a personal message. Jerk.

10:20 AM  
Blogger DAS said...

It cracks me a up a lot how many people are coming in here screaming about how much you obviously hate "god;" how you MUST if you would DARE recount all the inanities of crazy-ass proselytizing comics.


Um. I've read a great many things that gave me that same feeling -- most of them having nothing to do with religion, though a few did. It's an honest statement. Reading things that completely bastardize your beloved childhood can make you feel violated, dirty, and hurt.


It is the point, actually. Christianity proselytizes. And using established secular characters to do so is, to me, dishonest. You pull kids in by using happy-fun imagery they already know, then bombard them with religious statements. No matter WHAT religion it is doing this, that is dishonest.

And my favorite:

I guess I'm the only one who caught your first response to that about America being a "foreign country." I wonder how many commenters know the depth and breadth of the lawmaking powers of, say, Britain or Canada.

Fun read, anyway. And you're right: These comics are all funny enough on their own without any help. Wow. So much cheese.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Christian Bookstore said...

Wow this does bring back some memories. Nice one.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Archie's Datebook and Archie's Festival are clearly drawn by Dan Decarlo over Hartley's layouts. I never see anyone mention that.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Preta said...

Archie forever!

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Carl said...

[Woah, flashback! I had all these comics as a kid. Where's the one that shows how rock musicians draw big pentagrams on the floor, and pray to Satan before they record an album?]

That wasn't Spire. That was a Chick comic called "Spellbound."

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Chloë said...

I didn't read all the comments, so I'm not sure whether this has been said already, but: I'm thoroughly impressed with this well-researched post! Incredible stuff. I knew about the Jack Chick comics (which are eeeerie) but I didn't know that Archie too had been Christian-ified. Wowza. Anyway THANK YOU for this well-written post! It was a great, informative, jovial read!

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first comment for spin!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Albie The Good said...

Great blog, and quite informative in many ways.

It also brought a rush of memories. I had a LOT of these comics. I was right in the original target market for these mags [born in 1964 to Baptist parents] and my Mom would always bring me a few when she shopped in the city [Tucson, AZ] with her church buddy Mildred.

Now... Would I have preferred some IRON FIST or SGT. ROCK? Absolutely.

Do I have nightmares and bitterness about these blatant propaganda sheets. Nope. I liked 'em... still do, actually.

Hey, I give Hartley a lot of credit! It took guts to do what he did. You don't think he knew full well these efforts would bring him nothing but mocking and ridicule from the world at large... even years after his death? Clearly he was smart AND worldly enough to know it implicitly.

The explanation is simple, really. He was serving a different master and decided to go all in... in absolutesincerity and earnestness.

I ain't judgin' anyone else here... but i'll tell ya plain:

I would NEVER sit and criticise a man like that, no matter what side of the fence I was on.

J.C. said it best: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!"

But seriously... thanks for the blog. I enjoyed it. :)

2:20 PM  
Blogger Albie The Good said...

Oh and... I gotta say I will always love TIME TO RUN, but more the movie than the comic. The movie was notable for it's well-balanced and literate script, which was less a stereotypical "gospel pitch' than a real examination of the peculair identity issues of a given time and place in this country's history [the lates '60s and early '70s.]

I think Hartley actually missed an opportunity by toning the film down too much. The movie, though, remains one of the best pieces of Christian fiction I have ever yet come across.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That a pretty neat trick by "John," who claimed that "God's Smuggler inspired me to smuggle Bibles into Russia (during the Kruschev years)...". According to the Grand Comics Database, "God's Smuggler" was released in 1972. Kruschev was deposed in 1964 and died in 1971.

2:49 PM  
Blogger ralahinn1 said...

What do you think of this:
I don't think
Archie is " Christian" any more. What happened?

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite Spire Archie comics were the ones where Sabrina was burned at the stake and Kevin was sent to an ex-gay camp.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous archie comics said...

Lucky for those people who had them all, how I wish I can bring back the old times and buy the old and classic archie comics.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That "wierd" feeling you had reading these as a child is called conviction.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al Hartley is my cousin. That side of the family is pretty fucked up. This is his son:

6:16 PM  
Blogger TlalocW said...

I remember the Archie gang bringing Christianity to the Old West comic. If I remember correctly, there was a subtle wink and nod to segregationist views as Betty, the schoolmarm, was complaining about kids from the wrong part of town being (the 19th-century equivalent of) bussed to her schoolhouse. A couple of decades too late to espouse that opinion, but it was there.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BEST COMMENT AWARD! COULDN'T HAVE SAID IT BETTER! I'm willing to BET there is still a Market for this stuff!!!

Shane said...

Wow. haters. Show some respect. You can't blame Mr. Hartley for trying to clean up his life and redeem his talent for good or even for God. Just because you may not agree with his beliefs does not make him weird, creepy, or even fanatical. They call that intolerance. Besides, the guy was writing these in decades before where cultures were drastically different. They talked differently, believed different things about the world. It's like watching an old movie and criticizing the way they dress and and talk and the colors of their furniture. Pointless. Besides: "...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God". - 1st Corinthians 1:18

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BEST COMMENT AWARD, at least in my Opinion! I'd be willing to bet there is STILL a Market for this stuff...even in this decrepit world!

Shane said...
Wow. haters. Show some respect. You can't blame Mr. Hartley for trying to clean up his life and redeem his talent for good or even for God. Just because you may not agree with his beliefs does not make him weird, creepy, or even fanatical. They call that intolerance. Besides, the guy was writing these in decades before where cultures were drastically different. They talked differently, believed different things about the world. It's like watching an old movie and criticizing the way they dress and and talk and the colors of their furniture. Pointless. Besides: "...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God". - 1st Corinthians 1:18

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Rob Lambert said...

This article fills in lots of gaps; I had wondered about the connection between Al Hartley, Archie and Spire Comics. Hartley began drawing for Archie in the mid-1960s. His style notorious in two ways: The six-inch waistline on female characters; and very deep close-ups that made an Archie character look more realistic than cartoonish. As early as 1970, Hartley began including references to Christianity in reguar Archie Comics, particularly Christmas issue stories. Wholesome Betty was always the one to pull out a Bible just as the situation seemed dire. This also happened often in Spire stories. I was only able to find a copy of ARCHIE GETS A JOB at an antique store I uploaded a few others from a Google site entitled SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS. I didn't see Hartley's work on the Spire comics as being overtly radical. What he did was break an Archie Comics taboo. He gave the Archie gang a spiritual side the mainstream was reluctant to use as a tool. Thanks for a great article!!!

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You come off like a bigger "hater" in the actual post than in the comments. It's well researched but I can obviously see it's written by someone biased with all the little digs throughout.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Mark Lechman said...

I'm sorry, can you explain again how the beliefs of those who produced this comic are less correct than yours?

10:27 AM  
Blogger Urvy1A said...

Had these comics still been published, would Archie convert Mega Man or Sonic The Hedgehog?

3:22 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

You Christian fundies are full of it, and need to get a life.

Mr. Nesterhof has NO (and I do mean NO) reason to look at these garbage comics favorably; they are garbage, and deserve to be treated as such. These books were nothing but a blatant attempt to force fundamentalist Christianity onto young readers, and he felt dirty, used and lied to after reading them even as a young boy (he was already going to church and Sunday school; why did he need these books then?) These books were just plain bad, and nobody should have to defend them at all.

If you fundie Christians want to get reinforcement of your cult-like beliefs (and I'm sorry, but what you believe isn't what Christ taught at all), I suggest that you look elsewhere and leave Mr. Nesterhof alone; you all already have the massive amounts of 'Christian' media to look and and get yourselves wet over without coming to this blog and attacking him for what he has to say.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surprised that MGM Studios ( who was the original owner or the creators of Barney Bear) and William Hanna and Joseph Barbera didn't file a "Cease and Desist" order from the courts to Spire Comics and Al Hartley on thier so-called Barney Beat ripoff!!

11:44 PM  
Blogger ericpaddon said...

Your entire blog entry is a nice demonstration of how anti-Christian bigotry is the one form of religious hatred that is considered acceptable. As one who admired these comics as a child and who was not "molested" by them (funny though how left-wing bigots like to ignore that when practiced by the likes of Roman Polanski but I digress) but learned to apply some lessons to my own faith that remains strong today, I say, thank you Al Hartley and God bless you!

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Ana Banana said...

Wow. Never ending proof that Christians, no matter where they go, are entitled assholes. It's like a goddamn miracle.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a family vacation we took in the 70's when I bought one of these bastardized Christian Archie propaganda comics at a gas station.

I couldn't believe I had never noticed that Archie was a Christian comic before and I never read any Archie titles again.

I had spent a precious part of my allowance on that crap and ruined Archie forever for me.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Is it just me or does the dog lying next to Barney Bear on the cover of "Barney Bear Wakes Up" look like Muttley on "Dastardly and Muttley"?

8:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Is it just me or does the dog on the cover of "Barney Bear Wakes Up" look like Muttley in "Dastardly and Muttley"?

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find most concerning is the fact that you don't understand how a veto override works...

3:50 AM  
Blogger TheBobcat said...

Wow,so many of these comments are defensive; all he did was express his personal opinion about some cheesy comics. He isn't criticizing any of you or your beliefs personally

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a bunch of these and even to a Christian kid growing up some of them were downright creepy. I also think it's ironic that "Archie Gets a Job" introduced me to the word "porno" long before secular sources did.

6:21 AM  
Blogger WestVirginiaRebel said...

I remember some of these from when I was a kid-they were often in school libraries and yes, they were creepy even then, and unintentionally hilarious. They were like some weird parallel universe version of normal comics.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My children, grand children and I all enjoyed the 'Spire' books.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good and informative article. I tend to agree that the 'molestation' comment was a bit extreme, but its not like this is a PHD dissertation. I'd ignore the nasty comments, there is absolutely nothing to warrant them but a dislike of opposing opinions. Anybody that thinks this guy in any way deserves respect for writing christian comic books is an idiot. Archie comics themselves are bad enough, but this is just pure propaganda. Archie comics biggest market is girls between 6 and 12, so using it to sell christianity is just brainwashing. The comics made from movies is a different story, and as you say, I wonder just how worried Mr. Goldwater was about whether these got sold outside christian bookstores. And that doesn't even get into the message inside, which sounds more like the jehovahs witnesses than anything else.

Got anything on 'deputy dawg'?:)

3:08 PM  
Blogger Polygon said...

Good reply. Hansi is my favorite, and she is still alive.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

See: John Todd Witchcraft in the music

6:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home