Originating in 1939, Archie comics have been beloved by children and people of all ages for decades. Featuring beloved characters such as Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie, the comic series has been a presence for generations, though less so now due to the popularity of the Internet and decline in comic book readership.
These comics have been around since our grandparents were children, their values and characters originally written to suit the social norms of that time. However, the beliefs our grandparents had, and those we have today — in regards to marginalized social groups and people who stand out amongst the crowd — are very different.
Archie comics have always pushed the envelope when portraying sexual attraction with their teenage characters, but have only recently begun taking steps to address the acceptance of people with any kind of differences in appearance or sexual orientation.
In 2010, Archie comics introduced Kevin Keller, the series’ first openly gay character. Writer Dan Parent said in an interview, “It shows that Riverdale is in the 21st century.” This character was greeted with almost completely positive appreciation, as readers felt the character signified genuine inclusion rather than a stereotypical addition.
For a comic as popular as Archie, the writers should have paid attention to who their readers really were.
Most recently, Archie comics have come back into the spotlight with the popular addition of Veronica’s cousin, a new character named Harper. Based on Toronto author Jewel Kats, Harper is the first character to appear in these comics in a wheelchair. This new character further illustrates, as Kat said, that “everybody knows someone with a disability, whether it’s a co-worker or a student in your class or your neighbour.” With this newest addition, Riverdale seems to be better representing today’s reality.
Still, this begs the question: why are these changes only happening recently? Sure, when our grandparents were growing up, LGBTQ people were not as accepted, and people in wheelchairs were not always seen as fully-functioning individuals. But, why is a character in a wheelchair only being added this year, instead of 10 or even 20 years ago?
No matter what, people may not be comfortable with the idea of certain types of people — that cannot be changed. But today, it should not be excused. For a comic with as many readers as Archie, the writers should have paid attention to who their readers really were sooner.
Hopefully in the future we will see more diverse and realistic characters appear in Archie and other comic book series. People of varying abilities are part of the diverse and accepting culture in which we live, and it’s time to start illustrating as such.