Graphic Novels · Reviews · Young Adult

More than a Sidekick: The Jughead Spin-Off

Picture1Title: Jughead
Author(s): Chip Zdarsky and Ryan North
Illustrator(s): Erica Henderson and Derek Charm
Publisher: Archie Comics
Release Date: 7/26/16 and 3/14/17
Rating: 5★
Recommended For: Fans of Squirrel Girl, Lumber Janes, and Ms. Marvel

YAY: I loved everything about this reboot, from the art, to the characterization, to the delightful mix of nonsensical yet heartfelt storylines. Jughead and the crew are so much fun.

NAY: I don’t even know? I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about the series. Not enough Betty or Veronica, maybe. On Goodreads, the reviews for the first volume are hit-or-miss, so some might not enjoy the series because it’s a little too weird and a lot more fantastical than the Archie series.

If you read my post from Wednesday, you know I had some problems with the Archie reboot by Mark Waid. I had gone in with some preconceived notions of what to expect based on what I knew from the original run, images I had seen online, and what I had heard about the TV show that (I wrongly assumed) was based on the new run. Maybe that’s my problem, but other than the art, there just wasn’t much going on in the two volumes I read that I was interested in. For more thoughts, click here.

Jughead, though, was a completely different experience. The first volume, written by Chip Zdarsky and illustrated by Erica Henderson (the same person who illustrates Squirrel Girl), opens with Jughead mercilessly making his way through a video game called “Dragoncide” during a sleepless, junk food-filled all nighter. But hey, as Jughead says himself, “I move so little and eat so much, I no longer need to sleep to feel rejuvenated. I am like unto a God, Archie Andrews. Respect me as such.” His attitude is cut short, however, when Archie and Jughead get to school and learn that Principal Weatherbee is retiring, and the new principal seems a lot more… military. Normally Jughead couldn’t be bothered to care, but the first item on the new principal’s ‘to do list’ is replace the regular cafeteria food with high-nutrition gruel. Jughead has never had an arch-nemesis before, but hey, he’s really up for anything.

The second volume picks up a few months later during summer break. Jughead’s parents don’t consider his video game testing job the best use of his time, so they demand he take to the great outdoors and do something. Anything. Just get out of the house once this summer, please. So Jughead decides to steal Archie away from his summer job and head to a cabin in the woods for some bro time. When they get there, though, it seems like Jughead is the only one there for relaxing. This story ends in issue 8, as does Chip Zdarsky’s writing. From here, Ryan North (the writer for Squirrel Girl) takes over for issues 9-11. His storyline brings in Sabrina, a teenage witch who is new to town and works at Pop’s Diner as the burger mascot. Upon their first meeting, Jughead isn’t sure if he wants to be her, or befriend her. “My judgement was clouded by the fact that, on some primal and fundamental level, all I really want to do is hang out with a giant talking burger. I know that about myself now, and I accept it gladly.” A misunderstanding results in a comedy of errors, and sends Jughead out on a… date?

The first thing that I loved immediately about the Jughead comics is the ensemble cast. Yes, Jughead is clearly the main character, but every character is so distinct and interesting they can stand on their own. In the Archie comics, it read like everything and everyone exists only in relation to Archie. In this comic, everyone clearly has their own lives and interests, but they still take time to support and care about what their friends are doing.

Also, and this may sound like a weird thing to like, but the communication in this series is so great, especially in volume two. It seems like a popular way to create long-term conflict is for writers to prolong or delay or even out-right not write communication between characters, so issues fester and bubble and explode into problems. Sometimes, this trope works well, but other times it just leaves me clutching the book, screaming “FOR GODS SAKE WE LIVE IN THE AGE OF TECHNOLOGY JUST PLEASE GOD T A L K T O E A C H O TH E R.” When there are conflicts in Jughead as a result of miscommunication, there is a point at which the characters involved come to the realization that the best way to solve this is to talk it out, and it results in great scenes with excellent relationship development. You hardly get that in young adult novels, it seems, much less comic books, so it was very much appreciated.

Second, if you have heard about asexual Jughead, it’s first mentioned in issue four in volume one. Also, Kevin, the first gay character in the Archie universe, is introduced in issue two, where Zdarsky makes it clear that Jughead and Kevin are good friends and hang out together often. In fact, Kevin is often right in the middle of Jughead’s schemes, and they are shown together almost as often as Jughead and Archie. In the Archie comics, for those interested, Kevin has yet to be introduced, and Jughead is not confirmed as asexual. Kevin is apparently introduced in single issue 13 or 14, but I can’t confirm this since I’m waiting for the volumes to come out.

I was so, so please with the representation of Jughead as an asexual character. I can’t speak for everyone on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, but personally I found the issues Jughead encounters and the conflicts that arise from other people’s interaction with his orientation to be honest and relatable. Plus, it’s so refreshing to read a character who has already come to terms with his sexuality, and apparently, by the way the comic books introduced it, has already come out to at least his friends, if not more. However, when he does come out to new people, it is handled so well, and so respectfully. For those looking for good representation of asexuality, I highly recommend this series.

I’m definitely going to continue with the Jughead comics, even though I’ve heard news that Mark Waid is going to be writing for Jughead at some point. I’m already attached to the characterization that Zdarsky and North have started, but I know how quickly a new writer can take a series in a new direction. Here’s to being optimistic.


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