‘Josie’ may have been in a lull, but DeCarlo wasn’t. In 1982, he was asked to create “another girl that who was more villainous than Veronica - snobby, richer, more troublesome.” Thus, Dan’s second redhead creation, Cheryl Blossom! Cheryl was one babe that every guy in Riverdale (including Archie himself) wanted and she knew it. She also knew Archie had a tug-of-war relationship with Betty and
Veronica and she played this love triangle to her advantage. About a decade later, this set-up lead to a rarity in Archie Comics ranks....an ACTUAL 3-part mini-series, called ‘Love Showdown’. After the series made its mark (sorry, the triangle remained intact), Cheryl got her own regular series.
During this time, Dan’s sons were graduating from collage, they all decided to follow in their old man’s footsteps and took up the family pen. After Dan trained his boys by helping him with his output, they became successful comic artists in their own right. When Bob Montana died in 1975, Dan was the obvious choice to take up the daily Archie strip as his style had replaced Montana’s years ago.
Even though Dan was full time with Archie (work for hire full time, actually), old habits died hard as he continued to do freelance work for other companies. He penciled Marvel’s Star comic The Smurfs and had a reunion of sorts when he drew some of his old characters from his Timely days like Irma for a back up story for Marvel Valentine Special #1. However, Archie took offense to a couple of these
assignments. One small incident between Dan and Archie was a innocent pin-up Dan did for Harris Comics for one of their Vampirella Pin-Up issues (right).
The ‘vamp’ incident was a mere drizzle compared to the thunderstorm of trouble that developed when Dan was approached by Penthouse Magazine for their adult anthology comic series. Penthouse editors offered an idea of a strip about a trio of female musicians, much like the Pussycats, called ‘Pets’. Dan liked this proposal but he began to have serious doubts when he received the script, “it was too wild”, as he later described it, and told Penthouse he couldn’t do it. The editors offered to a rewrite and Dan agreed to do the
model sheets. Unfortunately, the re-writes didn’t change matters much and Dan turned them down again. By this
time, however, Penthouse had already advertised the strip with DeCarlo’s name on it! Penthouse made a deal that Dan
would be listed only as an “consultant” and hired another artist - a former Archie artist, John Workman. When the
magazine was printed, DeCarlo’s name was on the cover and featured prominently over the strip.
When this issue hit the stands, the (you-know-what) hit Archies’ fans and gave Dan a hard time over it. According to
rumors, Archie demanded that Dan get their approval before accepting any freelance job in the future. This issue is rare, out-of-print and considered a highly collectible item.
Dan DeCarlo's version of Vampirella
LEFT: just a couple of character designs from the
What ‘Josie’ needed now was a ‘spark’ to save her from her rut and it came in as a combination of nostalgia and cable TV. In 1991, Ted Turner’s pioneering and maverick cable empire (which included CNN, TNT, TMC and more) continued to expand its reach when he created The Cartoon Network, a 24 hour animation/cartoon channel. Using the early Warner Bros./MGM cartoon library that Turner already owned and his close association with Hanna-Barbara, he had more than enough to fill the schedule. Soon afterwards, Turner bought H-B outright and began to dig deep into their vaults. One of the finds was the ‘Josie’ shows.
This rebroadcast of ‘Josie’ started off with a marathon and a regular prime late afternoon slot. Thanks to continuous airings and consistent time slots (usually shown along side other H-B shows of the same era), ‘Josie’ was reintroduced and finally recognized in the limelight of animation and cultural consciousness.
In 1995, ‘Wild Kartoon Kingdom’ (an imprint of ‘Film Threat’) welcomed her back by posing such burning questions as, “Why (does) Josie...always sing a song while running away from their enemies?”, “Are Josie and the Pussycats all maternal twins with different haircuts?”, and, possibly, the biggest question of all, “Is it wrong to fantasize about cartoon characters?” For what it’s worth, this seemed like a positive review, even the editors rated the show a 9 in watchability and a 10 on ‘sex quotient’. ‘Q’, the British music magazine, named ‘Josie’ as one of the top sexiest in animation, describing the Pussycats as “eponymous, beleopardskinned, Russ Meyer-esque...”
In his July 14, 2000 article on bubble-gum music (“Why ‘Greatest Bubble-Gum Hits’ Is Not An Oxymoron”), LA Times famous (and notorious) music critic Robert Hilburn picked “Every Beat Of My Heart” as one of the best in this gender saying, “This single is an inviting Phil Spector’s legendary ‘girl group’ sound and the Southern, horn-accented heat of Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ period. The big question here is why this record wasn’t a hit?... Maybe it’s too good for the bubblegum market.”
In the late 90’s, a fan got impatient for a digital reissue and
released all available ‘Josie’ recordings (with a few rarities) on a collectors bootleg CD. You can sometimes find this at specialty record stores and, of course, on E-Bay. The only ‘legal’ digital ‘Josie’ available is the ‘Heart’ track on ‘25 All-Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits’ on the Varese Sarabande label (7) and, if you’re really lucky, a old laser disc collection of the complete ‘Josie’ TV series from Japan.
During this same time, MCA Records released ‘Saturday
Morning’, a tribute CD filled with alternative bands covering themes from the old animated shows. Among the highlights in this set were ‘Spiderman’ (The Ramones), ‘Scooby-Doo’ (Matthew Sweet), ‘Johnny Quest’ (Rev. Horton Heat) and, of course, ‘Josie’ covered by Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly. The CD even offered a lyric section!
Archie brought her back in 1993 with a new issue number one, a DeCarlo cover and centerfold (Allison Flood inks). For die-hard fans, this was a treat! However, the biggest surprise was that out of the 48 pages, only 8 contained new material. The rest of the issue was reprints of ‘Decisions, Decisions’, ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’
and ‘Up, Up & Away’.
ABOVE: Cover of the bootleg CD
Number 2 (early 1994) followed the same pattern. The new story was called ‘Love & War’ and it had the girls go up against a bunch of Bon-Jovi types who called themselves ‘The Snake Brothers’. The reprints this time were ‘Work Of Art’, ‘To Grandmother’s House’, ‘Brawn Is Beautiful’, ‘If The Spirit Moves You’ and ‘Maxim Mix-Up’. This issue also contained a long-lost feature - a letters column. Unfortunately, the sales weren’t up to the publishers expectations, and thus ‘Josie’ was unplugged....again.
In the April 1994 issue of Tower Records’ ‘Pulse!’ magazine, Josie and the ‘Cats were featured in the ‘Flipside’ section, entitled ‘Josie & The Pussycats: The Original Riot Grrrls’. Valerie tells Josie about a ‘Riot Grrl’ article in Pulse! (of course), and that there more ‘Grrl’ groups than ever before. These groups not only play their own instruments but manage their own bookings, crew work, finances and merchandising. “...and get this,” Val adds, “some bands have even signed deals to appear in comic books? Now where did they get that idea?”
Two issues later, a letter was printed protesting the Josie/Grrrl comparison. It concluded that the Pulse! comic was
“denigrating to the powerful young women who make up this movement...(Riot Grrl) bands address topics that ‘Josie’ would never touch.” This letter from Seattle ended by demanding a apology for printing “this ...piece of misleading trash.” Not many were buying the nostalgia, especially with cultural misunderstanding involved.
This was one of many small bumps on the road to rediscovery for Josie. Although there some merchandising (a refrigerator magnet and few T-shirts), these were limited and wasn’t much push behind them. Even some hardcore collectors didn’t catch many of them. Archie, for reasons only known to itself, didn’t really know what to do with her (there was an unconfirmed rumor that they were planning to sell her off). Alas, nostalgia was not finished with her yet, as there was one ace in the hole....