When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait for the next issue of Archie Andrews to appear on the newsstand. In case you aren’t familiar with Archie, he is a comic book character who first appeared in 1941, along with his two girlfriends Veronica and Betty, and his best friend Jughead. The story is centered on Archie’s school activities and his romantic adventures with Veronica and Betty. There were a couple of villains in the persons of the school librarian and the principal, who tried unsuccessfully to dampen Archie’s enthusiasm. There was a soda shop in town where the kids gathered, and the occasional after school dance. Archie’s stories were wholesome, feel-good events about the kind of people we all knew, with adventures that were somewhat like our own.
When my daughter was small, we spent many hours reading Archie comic books, each of us taking turns reading one page before the book was reluctantly passed to the other. She would often turn sideways on the couch trying to peek at the next page to see what was going to happen next. I confess that I sometimes did the same. The publisher recently announced that the last issue of the comic book will be published in July, and Archie will die while taking a bullet for a friend.
Even though I haven’t read a comic book in years, Archie is still there in my head and it saddens me that the publisher would allow him to be killed off in this manner. I still cringe when I remember the flood of emails I received when I killed off one of the main characters in my novel Redemption. After I had thought about what I had done for a few days, I went back and changed the ending and emailed the readers a copy of the chapter I had changed. “Thank, you, thank you!” the next batch of emails said.
If there is a lesson for writers to learn from this, it is the fact that Archie is a real person to most of us. It is hard to identify why this is so, but if we ever manage to grab hold of this reality, some of us will become famous in the same manner as Vic Bloom and Bob Montana did. Ours will join the ranks of the other unforgettable characters like Archie, Scarlett O’Hara, and James Bond. Most characters in literature are vastly different from the rest of us, with nervous tics, larger than life characteristics, or the ability to change from a wolf into a person. I think the magic in Archie is the fact that he is so much like the rest of us that we are awed by the image he presents. It is almost like looking in a mirror. Think about the characters in your own novels. Why do you like them -- why should someone else. If they fall short of your expectations, maybe it is because they aren’t enough like you or the people who will read your books.