This post is part of Forever Young, How to Love Comics’ celebration of Archie’s 80th anniversary. Find out more and read other posts in this series.
Take a close look at the first Archie Comics story in Pep Comics #22 from 1941. Here, you will find a crude drawing of a popular Archie character: Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, better known as Jughead.
Flash forward 80 years, and Jughead continues to remain a staple of Archie Comics pop culture. As the publication has expanded to include continual comic iterations, an animated show, a live action adaptation, and even a horror comic series, Jughead’s character has evolved along with it. Jughead has a three volume, revamped comic series from 2015 aptly titled, Jughead. An Archie Horror title imagines him as a werewolf, capitalizing on his famously ravenous appetite in Jughead: The Hunger. The ongoing, live-action Riverdale adaptation of Archie comics turned a character like Jughead Jones into a moody, self-reflective writer who lusts for Betty Cooper — a far cry from the lovable and hungry Jughead we know from the comics.
The insatiable appetite and witty one-liners uttered by the whoopee cap-wearing Jughead Jones gave Archie a dependable best friend and a male foil in 40s Archie Comics. Then, in 1949 he received his very own comic. Archie’s Pal Jughead #1 features an eclectic collection of stories where Jughead hilariously acquires the spotlight.
Before we continue, some of the stories in this issue includes some outdated references, the themes are played for laughs. Social awareness has changed in 80 years, so the late 40s attitudes reflected in these comics are not meant to be demeaning. Without further ado, let’s examine the plot, history, and creators involved in the very first solo Jughead story from Archie’s Pal Jughead #1 entitled, “Experiment Perilous.”
“Experiment Perilous,” written by Archie Comics co-creator Vic Bloom and drawn by veteran Archie Comics artist Samm Schwartz opens on a large panel that shows two fellow football teammates carrying a completely disoriented Jughead. While we normally recognize Jughead as a lazy, frequent Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe attendee, this early conception of Jughead imagines him as a contender on the football team. Still, this version reminds readers that he obviously isn’t a star athlete!
Samm Schwartz renders Jughead with his instantly recognizable extended nose and lanky frame. The bright yellow and red color palette on the page is utilized in the hilarious depiction of the multi-colored stars dancing off the nearly-concussed Jughead’s head.
Jughead’s specific character design was inspired by the famous comedian Stan Laurel. In the late 1920s, Laurel’s small nose and squinted eyes added to his charm as part of The Laurel and Hardy Show slapstick duo. In Pep Comics #22, Jughead’s original character design featured a snubbed nose, scrunched eyes, an elongated face, and prominent ears that distinctly resemble Laurel’s image. Later, Jughead’s physical features evolved, as his nose was significantly lengthened and his eyes widened to better match the other Archie characters. Despite Jughead’s character not developing the idiosyncrasies and habits that he is most remembered for until the 50s, his visual appearance has not morphed much since his 1940s roots.
On The Laurel and Hardy Show, Laurel was Hardy’s pal. Like this comedy duo, Jughead was created to function as the “buddy” character for Archie. Archie and Jughead’s divergent personalities balance each other out. Together, Jughead and Archie engage in humorous pranks and find themselves in sticky situations that echo the relationship that inspired their inception.
Credited for developing Jughead and essentially defining Jughead as a character, artist Samm Schwartz simplifies all the lines and colors this first Archie’s Pal Jughead story. One noticeable difference between later Jughead drawings and the ones featured here are the lack of any white for his pupils. Schwartz uses basic black lines and magnified eyebrow positions to delineate Jughead and, later, his Uncle Herman, in “Experiment Perilous.” The stylistic technique does work to distinguish Jughead as the star of his first solo title book.
Schwartz worked as the lead artist on Jughead’s stories through the end of the 40s, continuing on into the 50s and 60s. His animated, expressive art elevated Jughead’s character to new heights over the next few decades. Without Schwartz and his affinity for background gags and visual humor, Jughead may have never attained such noteworthy status as one of the most well-known characters in Archie comics. Jughead’s elastic body movements and Schwartz’s experimental dialogue bubbles in Jughead issues bring a stylish flare to the stories.
Further down the first page, Jughead’s right-hand-man Archie appears and questions Jughead about his health. Here, Schwartz draws a familiar-looking Jughead. He has changed into his familiar “S” sweater and his grey whoopee cap, while stars still float around his head. Reggie Mantle, Riverdale’s local jerk, jeers at Jughead and continually insults his teammate with a slightly out-of-date jab. Motion lines around Jughead’s hand and head indicate Jughead’s resentment toward the foul-faced Reggie. In defense of himself, Jughead returns the insult with a nearly incoherent statement that must be attributed to differing social context — or Jughead’s current head injury. The dialogue in early Archie issues can come across confusingly, but the confusion works to elicit laughter at the contextual dissonance.
Miffed by his injury and seeking revenge against Reggie’s cruelty, Jughead returns home to discover his Uncle Herman smoking in the Jones home. Jughead’s parents, sister Jellybean, or his beloved dog Hot Dog are nowhere to be found in the house. Archie Comics eventually introduces these characters as the Archie cast enlarges and the additions supplement Jughead’s character development.
Uncle Herman is a recurring character in Jughead’s stories that doesn’t usually play a significant role in his life. In this issue, Herman’s experimental invention does progress the plot and provides Jughead with an opportunity to enact his revenge on Reggie. Herman creates a chemical formula that, if ingested, can alter one’s personality. One formula can make its user fearless, while the other can create a false sense of cowardliness.
This issue caters toward Jughead’s pranking tendencies apparent in hundreds of Archie stories. While the story accommodates his dark desire for retribution against Reggie, it manages to oblige Jughead’s sillier, jokester sensibilities. Uncle Herman and Jughead attend the football game that he was not expected to play in as a result of his previous mishap. Jughead leaves out a candy with Herman’s “fearful” formula mixed into it that Reggie immediately consumes. In typical Archie hijinks fashion, the perilous formula completely destroys Reggie’s football performance in front of a large crowd. Then, Jughead swallows the “courage” formula and displays astonishing coordination and skill in a fluidly drawn series of panels.
Schwartz bookends the story with an illustrative callback to the yellow and red star imagery as Jughead leaves his opponents as dishevelled as the Jughead readers met in the first panel. The players are left harmed and disoriented like Jughead on the first panel of the issue. A true pro, Schwartz integrates SFX, a simple color scheme, and a boundary-stepping speech balloon in this action sequence to visually depict Vic Bloom’s witty narrative.
The story concludes with a startling revelation that Uncle Herman became so enraptured by Jughead’s performance, that he ate his notes for the formula! Ultimately, the resounding moral of the story is that the negative consequences of manipulation and scheming never pay off. But Jughead got a chance to steal the spotlight in “Experiment Perilous,” and Uncle Herman is used as the punchline. Jughead demonstrates how he is more than a wingman in Archie’s Pal Jughead #1; Jughead is the well-deserved star of his own life.
Archie’s Pal Jughead #1 can be read in Archie’s Pal Jughead Archives Volume One. You can find it in all good comic book shops, online stores, eBay, and digitally on Comixology and the Archie Comics app.