When Archie Comics announced that Archie will die in the July 16 edition, no one was more saddened than Archie himself, who turned to his friends in the Riverdale High School cafeteria for comfort. “Hey, Jughead! Have you ever wondered what’s out there, beyond the last cartoon panel?”
“Nope. Are you having an existential crisis, Archie?”
“Gee whiz, Jughead, I don’t know.”
“Archie, you should be happier than Scrooge McDuck. Veronica and Betty are crazy about you!”
“They’re as transparent as Casper. Veronica is a materialistic elitist and middle class Betty is hopelessly bourgeois.”
“Come on, pal! Your band toured with ‘Josie and the Pussycats’!”
Archie stared at his cold Sloppy Joe. “Transitory fame.”
“You’re the most popular ginger in the world!”
“Don’t ever call me that again.”
Archie bit his broadly brushed lip. “Haven’t you heard? The cartoonist who inked us all into existence is erasing me soon.”
Reggie slapped Archie on the back. “Who are you taking to the Saturday dance? Veronica or Betty?”
“Does it really matter who I take to the dance? Nothing matters.”
Archie threw his milk carton against the wall. “We’re all just ink stains destined to be forgotten, Reginald.”
Jughead raised his hand. “‘Calvin and Hobbes’ won’t be forgotten.”
Veronica pursed her well-drawn lips. “Jughead’s right. Lighten up, Mr. Freckles!”
“I hate my freckles! With this complexion I’ll probably get skin cancer and die a horrible death! Oh, wait! I won’t live that long!” Archie began to sob. “I can’t live in an indifferent universe.”
Veronica touched Archie’s hand. “I know what matters. It’s all about having nice things, silly boy! Like your super swell sweater vest.”
Slamming the table with both fists, Archie shouted, “Veronica, I’ve been wearing the same vest since Pearl Harbor!” He shook her. “Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s all about?” Archie pointed above her head. “Who inks the word balloons above your head, Veronica? Everything you say and do is predetermined! We’re all just cartoon puppets in a cosmic farce!”
“Gee whiz, Archie. Let go of me!”
“Veronica, why don’t we age? Why isn’t Little Lulu dead? Why hasn’t Charlie Brown put Snoopy down? Why am I still driving a ‘jalopy’? We’re all trapped here, in Riverdale, frozen in time! And for what? To make 12-year olds chuckle?”
Betty appeared with a full tray.
“Hi, Mr. Freck —!” Veronica slapped her hand over Betty’s mouth in a futile attempt to save her from Archie’s wrath.
Archie glared. “Do you think we have a purpose, Betty?”
“To marry the boy of our dreams,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes.
Veronica agreed and fluttered her eyelashes.
Archie buried his face in his hands. “Some days I just want to be found lying face down in a pool of whiteout.”
Reggie sighed. “You need help, Archibald.”
“All the help in the world doesn’t change the fact we exist in an indifferent cosmos where our common fate is pointless suffering and death!”
Betty set down her milk. “What’s death?”
“The last panel. The ultimate question.”
“The ultimate question? Are you going to ask one of us to the dance? Archie, I accept!”
“No! I’m not!”
Veronica soured. “Well, what then?”
“Do any of you line drawings have any curiosity? What happens to us after the last panel? Do we return to the ink bottle? Do we come back in a different form? Or is there just a vast empty void of nothingness?”
Jughead raised his hand. “That would be ‘Family Circus.’ ”
Reggie spoke. “I believe I was a squirrel in the comic strip ‘Mutts’ in a past life.”
Archie ignored them. “Did our lives begin when the ink was brushed across the paper or did it all start in the inkwell? How did we get here? Did we evolve from cave paintings? Stick figure petroglyphs? Who created the cartoonist who created us?”
Betty and Veronica were terrified. Jughead and Reggie were silent.
“You’re all asleep! I wish I were in an adult underground comic!”
That’s the last they saw of their friend.
Later that summer at the funeral reception at Pop Tate’s malt shop, Principal McLeod, respecting Archie’s wish, read the following note aloud:
My fate predetermined, I died heroically, saving the life of a stranger. Don’t feel bad for me. That’s how I would have wanted to go. Betty and Veronica, I have a confession: I always had a thing for Lois Lane.
And gee whiz, Jughead, lose the beanie.
More importantly I want all of you to know I’ve been redrawn. I’m in a better place, a place where I hope to meet three-dimensional women, explore sequential art theory and wear a blazer with elbow patches. Look for the first issue of “Professor Archie Comics” in August.
A. Andrews, Ph.D.
Riverdale Junior College