Archie Comics’ Bold New Direction and Why It Matters

I can still remember how I felt when I opened up the first issue of the Archie Comics reboot and saw Sheila for the first time:

Archie1panel

So excited about this character!

Sheila is the girl in the middle, and the caption is the one I used in my original blog post about the issue. When I posted that review, and when I squee’d over this panel on Twitter, I knew nothing about the character except that she was Asian and she appeared to be a main character in the new series.

I admit that my reaction surprised me, because up until that point, I don’t think I ever quite really thought much about Riverdale needing an Asian character. It’s a lack that I didn’t realize so much until it was filled, and that’s really important, because as an Asian woman growing up with Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew and, yes, Archie Comics, I never really expected to see myself in those pages. I wish now I’d appreciated more the character of Claudia Kishi in the Baby-Sitters Club, but I’d always been drawn more to Stacey the math genius and big city fashionista. Growing up, I never really noticed how few Asian main characters there were in the books I read and loved, and it’s sad to realize that the presence of a character like Sheila is so surprising to me.

I even remember a story Archie Comics did a few years ago, where a Japanese student started at Riverdale High. It was a one-off story in a digest, and basically had the student explaining her life in Japan and how the customs are very different in America. I remember wishing that Archie Comics had given that student a story beyond making her an object lesson in Japanese culture, but also found myself happy that they featured a Japanese character in the first place.

Sheila’s addition to the gang is huge to me. She is an aspiring fashion designer who appears to have grown up with Archie and the gang, and in a recent issue, was even unwittingly a part of one of Reggie’s schemes. She’s like a Dilton or a Midge who will have her own part to play in the Riverdale story moving forward, and I think that’s awesome.

All this to say that I really love the new direction Archie Comics is taking. Kevin Keller, who was introduced a few years ago as the first gay character in Riverdale, has since become firmly entrenched as a main character. I love that, because unlike that Japanese student whose name I can’t even remember, Kevin’s inclusion in the series is as a fully fleshed out character, whose story arc is developing right alongside Archie’s and Betty’s and Veronica’s.

And then Archie Comics goes ahead and does this with the rebooted Jughead #4:

Jughead

It’s one thing to make a classic, beloved, main character like Jughead gay — and Archie Comics didn’t even dare do that in 2010, opting instead to add a completely new character — and it’s quite another to make him asexual. Can you think of any asexual character in popular books, movies or TV right now? I can’t. Gay and lesbian characters are thankfully becoming more visible on screen, trans characters are starting to become more visible, and while a lot more work can still be done in terms of representing the full gender and sexuality spectrums, I can honestly say that I can’t think of any character in books, TV or movies right now who is asexual.

And now we have Jughead Jones, probably the smartest, savviest character in the Riverdale universe. Bravo to Archie Comics for, not just featuring an asexual character, but also daring to do this with an already established main character, instead of adding a completely new one whom they can keep or discard depending on public response.

Here’s the thing: I’m imagining how many Archie Comics readers are out there who are asexual and who never expected to see themselves in a book, never mind in a comic book series whose target audience is children and whose main story revolves around a love triangle. How many of them will see this and squee with excitement much as I did when I first saw Sheila? It’s too early to say if this is a one-off, or if it’ll even be picked up in other Archie series. But even this one panel is huge.

To be honest, I don’t know how readers who are asexual feel about this panel, if they are as excited about it as I am and as media outlets are, or if they wish Archie Comics had handled it differently, much as I felt about that Japanese student story. I’d be interested to find out, but for now, I hope that it meant at least as much to them as having an Asian character in Riverdale meant to me.

What does the new Archie Comics have coming up next? I’m excited to find out, but more importantly, I’m excited because now I actually feel like I can dare to hope. I hope that a Filipino character eventually moves to Riverdale. I hope that a plus size woman joins Riverdale High and is considered hot enough to capture Reggie Mantle’s eye. I don’t even know what else I hope for, but I do hope. And for once, I don’t feel like I’m daring to hope — I’m just hoping. Because the new Archie Comics has already proven its willingness to push boundaries and inject reality into Riverdale, and now the possibilities are endless.

One thought on “Archie Comics’ Bold New Direction and Why It Matters

  1. Pingback: #RoadToRiverdale with Archie Comics and Penguin Random House Canada | Literary Treats

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