Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing… Just when we think we’ve grown up and out of it, “it” creeps back into our memory with a vengeance. To most, this leaves a pleasant buzz, to others it’s a nightmarish hell called ‘guilty pleasure’. One man’s you-know-what is another man’s shinola, one would obviously guess.
One of the more bearable attacks (as well as the prettiest) is the long-forgotten grande dame of Saturday morning animated television, Josie Jones and the rest of the members of Josie & The Pussycats! Be-boppin’ to the beat of those innocent days long before MTV. However, with all the popularity supporting the TV show (and now the movie version), many fans don’t really know that Josie, herself, goes farther back than that.
One of Josie’s roots is planted at almost the beginning of one of the oldest comic book publishers in the business and a corner of American pop culture … Archie Comics! For 50 years, Archie Comics produced wholesome and clean titles with ‘teenage’ appeal; good, simple fun with a little innocent chaos and romance thrown in for good measure. This formula and it’s central character, Archie Andrews, has proven to be a stable and successful franchise spawning countless titles, has branched-out into outlets outside of comics, spin-off’s, merchandise, and, of course, rip-offs. However, its other claim to fame is better known and is quite often acknowledged, Archie’s girlfriends: Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper.
While Archie tried to stay ahead of this love triangle with Betty and Veronica, male readers couldn’t believe that, at times, Archie would run away from these incredibly attractive women. Why not just date them BOTH and get it over with?! But this male logic would have ended the longest plot line in history, as well as some satirical running gags at the same time and quite possibly end Archie Comics. Female readers wanted to BE Betty and Veronica and the guys wanted to date them.
If you were intellectually put off by the simplistic plot and dialogue, the artwork would make up for it. With any given Archie title, you were sure to see some of the finest examples of American ‘Good Girl/Pin-Up’ art.
With the success of the main titles and characters, the company would produce more spin-offs and solo titles for their demanding readership. Sooner or later, the idea of a red-headed female counterpart was the next step for the editors, but it didn’t come easily. After a couple of titles that quickly came and went, the idea was put to rest.
Then came Dan DeCarlo, born Daniel Salvatore DeCarlo in New Rochelle, New York in December 13, 1919. Dan came from an artistic family background, although it was recreational. It was his father who took this family trade and applied it to his regular job as a landscape gardener. Dan inherited his father’s art streak with gusto and would take every opportunity from a very early age to draw…anything and everywhere. Dan would later admit that he didn’t remember a time when he didn’t have a pencil or a crayon in his hand. Living in what many historians refer to as the age of comic strips (Prince Valiant, Bringing Up Father, etc.) would fuel his artistic determination even further which lead his decision to become a comic strip artist. Dan’s art and determination served him well during his high school years when he created a popular strip for the school’s paper…maybe too popular, as it was such a hit that the principle canceled it after three strips.
After school, Dan made plans to attend art school (Art Students League in Manhattan) at night and, to pay the bills, work for his father and other odd jobs during the day.
However, plans were laid astray on December 1941, the start of WW2, and Dan found himself drafted into the Army and shipped to England. After awhile Dan was assigned to the drafting department and began to illustrate various Army publications and design nose art for bomber planes. It was also during this period that Dan met (and would later marry) Josie Dumont through a blind date in Belgium.
When he came back from the war, Dan began to make samples to sell for advertising. One of Dan’s sisters
showed him a want ad from Timely Comics (it would later turn into Marvel Comics) and he decided to give it a shot. After a false start, he was quickly hired by Stan Lee for one of their teen titles, ‘Jeannie’. Soon, Dan’s quality work and high productivity increased to the point that he was taking on Timely’s other teen titles, ‘My Friend Irma’ and ‘Millie The Model’. It was also during this point that Dan was quickly developing his now famous style, using Marilyn Monroe as an influence. The editors were quite happy with this, provided that Dan didn’t make the connection too obvious.
Despite the increasing workload at Timely, Dan freelanced to other comic publishers with a few good-girl/pin-up illos on the side. He even opened a studio and was able to hire assistants for the inking chores: future Archie artist Rudy Lipick and younger brother Vincent.
LEFT: Josie and Dan DeCarlo in their youth RIGHT: Josie Dumont in the 40's