One of the most notorious parodies of Archie was a 1954 Mad Magazine piece called ‘STARCHIE’. This short piece was a sharp stab at all things wholesome Americana Archie-style as it portrayed the lead characters as juvenile delinquents with twisted names like Starchie, Bottelneck and Wegie.
Even back then, Archie Comics founder John Goldwater was highly sensitive about how people treated their characters, especially if it was done for parody. The MAD strip was particularly sensitive to them and it was surprising that it didn’t result in a legal case, considering the hostile relationship
between Archie and MAD. (see The Story Of Josie for further details)
The story’s relentless sharp quality (both material and satirical) was provided by writer and MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman and artist Will Elder (pictured below).
When interviewed about the lack of legal response to the Starchie piece and his relationship with Goldwater, MAD publisher William Gaines remarked, “We hated each other’s guts. As I recall, [John] Goodman was pretty angry about our parody but he didn’t do anything about it. I think it was because
I did it once and that was it. I hit and run. [The object of the parody] might get mad, but by the time the incident is over and it’s not repeated.”
Even though MAD was safe from Archie’s retaliation, the artists behind the piece would not be so lucky.
One of the more celebrated Goodman Beaver’s stories was ‘Goodman Goes Playboy’, published in Help! #13, Feb. 1962. This comedic moral tale finds Goodman returning to his hometown after five years away and ends up meeting his “old gang”, who resembled another “old gang” from Archie Comics with the usual tweaked names. Apparently, the gang are now all swept up in the Playboy “lifestyle” that verges on the Greek days of Rome with Archer as the leading role. After fighting with now-ex-playmate Veromica and witnessing a shotgun wedding of Joghead and the very pregnant Bette, Archer drives Goodman to his lavish mansion to show him around. Goodman is totally shocked at the sights of an orgy and a pleasure dungeon and mentions that the whole scene resembles the “decline of Rome”. When he asks Archer where he got all of this from, Archer becomes unhinged and reveals that he sold his soul to the devil for it all and payment was due that very night.
During this rage/rant, Archer accidentally sets fire to his
pad and is last seen playing a violin admits the tremendous
blaze. The next day, the gang meet at the malt shop and
disbelieves Goodman’s story of the night before. However,
a very suspicious shadowy figure interrupts their discussion
and shows them a small little jar that contains Archer’s soul.
They are all horrified to find out that Goodman was right all
along and becomes fully aware of Archer’s circumstances.
In the next and final panel, the gang suddenly forms a line
to sign up with the figure for a similar deal, while Goodman
is left confused and conflicted.
After reading the comic, one would notice that this strip was
a jab at Playboy Magazine, the “lifestyle” they were selling
and at its head honcho, Hugh Hefner (who was referred to
as the devil, no less!!). Unfortunately, Archie Comics didn’t
see it that way.
RIGHT: a large frame from
Goodman Beaver Goes
Playboy. This an elaborate
orgy scene courtesy of Will
Elder's insanely detailed ink
BELOW: the final frame.
There's was a price tag that
everybody was willing to pay,
much to the dismay of
Soon after the issue hit the racks, lawyers for Archies contacted Help’s publisher, James Warren, complaining of copyright infringement and that the storyline “undermined the valuable property my client has developed in these wholesome characters” and demanded the remaining copies be taken off the stands.
Instead of fighting what was believed to be a weak case, Warren reached a financial settlement with Archie and the matter was laid to rest. That is, until Kurtzman and Elder used the story again for a Goodman compilation book sometime later, with serious visual alterations to the Archer characters by Elder so is not to confuse them as Archie- inspired figures. Despite these precautions, Archie threatened to sue again and, like the last time, Warren tried to negotiate and Archie ended up owning the story and the original artwork.
There have been arguments and discussions, then and now, how this case would have won, largely on ‘free
speech’ and Fair Use, but Kurztman and Elder ended up signing all rights to the story to Archies. The defining
decision to settle in such a matter was due to financial reasons. In a 1984 interview, Kurtzman admitted: “John
Goldwater felt very strongly about the sanctity of his Archie characters. The first settlement was primarily Jim
Warren’s decision. Since he was the man who supplied the cash; I wasn’t in the position to argue the point. As far as we could see, going to court, even if we’d won, would have been a Pyrrhic victory…you know, the operation is a success but the patient died. The same holds true the second time. Goldwater seemed prepared to spend money in court. We weren’t. And that’s an unfairness in the system. You can get a better quality justice if you are prepared to pay for it.”
Near the end of this case, Kurtzman’s lawyer told his client: “Next time an issue as interesting as this comes up, please be rich.”
When Kitchen Sink Press asked Archies permission to use the ‘Playboy’ story for their 1984 collection book,
Michael J. Silberkleit, the publisher/chairman, reacted strongly against the request stating the usual copyright
infringement argument, thus wouldn’t grant permission. When Kitchen Press announced a revised ‘Playboy’ version with the Archie/Archer characters blocked out for the book, Archie officially threatened a lawsuit and injunction against the publisher. Thus, when the book came out, only small fractions of the original art was used with a detailed account of the matter.
Even though John Goldwater and Michael J. Silberkleit have tried to kill off the story and have locked the actual
artwork in their basement, Goodman Beaver continued, through he ended up with a sex change.
After Help folded, Kurtzman and Elder approached Playboy with a comic strip with a female version of Goodman that would be later named Little Annie Fanny. Showcasing a far better sense of humor than Goldwater, Hugh Hefner bought the idea and Fanny made his…I mean, her debut in October 1962 in an episode called ‘Madison Avenue’.
Thanks to the internet, copies of ‘Goodman Goes Playboy’ has been floating around and has become a favorite with comic collectors and those who are interested in the growing sub-culture unofficially called ‘illegal art’, underground art works removed from public viewing due to copyright issues and hyper sensitive copyright holders and their lawyers, like the Negativland U2 single that was pulled thanks to threats from U2 record label and Casey Kasem and a Karen Carpenter movie filmed with Barbie dolls that was supposidly destroyed thanks to an injunction by Richard Carpenter (both example can now be found on YouTube).
The legal controversy behind the 'Playboy strip had been fading in recent years as well. In 2004, Comics Journal magazine re-printed the strip in full size and content in issue #262 without authorization from Archie and was met without any legal threats. Then Comics Journal discovered that Archie failed to renew their copyright over this strip and, thus, lapsed into Public Domain....where it remains through out the internet!
Enjoy your copy today!!