DRAWN & QUARTERED
A new book collects works of Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo
You'd think that cartoonists have a happy life, drawing such funny stuff all day long. And yet, it's a cutthroat business, and the captains of industry are quick to crush the life out of the creative team if they think another buck can be squeezed out of them.
The case of Dan DeCarlo comes to mind. Rarely has a comic artist's work radiated such cheer, and yet the closing years of his life were involved in a bitter struggle. This is all annotated in the book "Innocence and Deduction -- The Art of Dan DeCarlo," by Bill Morrison (Fantagraphics Books).
You might not know DeCarlo's name, but you know his work. He was the primary artist for Archie Comics in the late '50s and '60s and devised the signature look for the books, concentrating on the adventures of Betty and Veronica. DeCarlo's light, breezy and disarmingly sexy-without-being-creepy visions of young womanhood were just the thing for a generation that grew up on Barbie dolls.
Prior to that, DeCarlo cut his teeth on a 10-year run of Marvel Comics' "Millie the Model." An Army draftsman during the war, he painted pinups on the noses of airplanes and met his wife, Josie, a Belgian citizen, during the Battle of the Bulge.
A decade later, while they were on a cruise ship, Josie DeCarlo wore a cat costume to a party, and the cartoon light bulb clicked on over DeCarlo's head. He invented Josie and the Pussycats for Archie, and the comic book was a hit. Other DeCarlo inventions included "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Cheryl Blossom" and those pages in the back of the books where kids would send in their fashion suggestions and Betty or Veronica would model them.
DeCarlo learned totally by accident of the subsequent "Josie and the Pussycats" movie that was released in 2001; Archie Comics neglected to inform him. When DeCarlo, exhausting other means, hired a lawyer to investigate his legal rights to the character, Archie dropped him cold, after a 40-year working relationship.
In 2000, DeCarlo won the National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Comic Book for "Betty & Veronica." He died a year later.
"Innocence and Seduction" -- is the title a play on the infamous anti-comic tome "Seduction of the Innocent"? -- is a nicely mounted survey of DeCarlo's work over the years, and many of the illustrations are scanned from originals, complete with Wite-Out corrections. (Comic fans like that!) Although the book is clearly a dedicated labor for the author, it's rather thin on the "Betty & Veronica" years, likely because reproduction permission from Archie Comics was hard to get. The cover is particularly weak: a DeCarlo "sexy" panel cartoon from the men's magazine Humorama.
The inside of the book, though, is brilliant and shows off DeCarlo's tightly minimalist inking combined with high energy and clever storytelling -- and those groovy gals.