Everyone has that life-changing moment, which, no matter how insignificant, will define their personality and outlook for the next few years, perhaps even their entire lives. Thousands of kids picked up a guitar seeing Slash rip out that solo on Sweet Child O' Mine, tens of thousands of shirtless kids fashioned bats out of everything from wood to plastic bottles after watching Sachin Tendulkar make mincemeat out of Michael Kasprowicz, and perhaps hundreds had turned to diligence after watching their successful dad work on Excel and come home with a promotion (not as sexy, but the great Indian middle class reality sinks in at some point).
This moment usually happens during one's impressionable youth. You're still malleable and can be a grouch one day, a cool funny dude the next day, a serious I-want-to-be-class-topper the next day, and so on. We've all done it - the multiple personality disorder afforded by an age of singular digits is among the most pivotal forms of self-exploration.
It was in my confused youth, that I came across a comics magazine from a friend. I had always been a fan of animation - cartoons, drawings and stuff, but this was a first for me, an entire book with just comics. And in colour too. Woah. He lent me the book when I was home, sick. This happened around the 4th standard, I reckon. That was my first Archie.
What followed changed my life a little. Not only did my drawing style itself get altered (and if you look at some of the sorry garbage I put out on some of the sites, you'll see a bit of resemblance to the Archie cartoonists' style of drawing), but my outlook on life.
Just like how we wannabes on Twitter use #youprefer, #yog and machaan to appear cool and with the 'in' bunch, in those days, Archie provided us the alternate vocabulary to be elevated to the strata of cool. While my other childhood obsession, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ingrained 'dude' into my lexicon for life, the escapades of the perpetual 17-year-old teens from Riverdale contributed to my repertoire of slang ("Wassup, man?"), repartees ("Yeah, right!") and sounds ("Wham!").
It's not just the unique lexicon that stands as parallels between Twitter and Archie, of course. Both had a bunch of early adopters which would automatically be deemed cool by those who didn't get it. Both had inside jokes and a language of their own (I've used #youprefer in real life way too many times for comfort) and both gave you a high when not understood by friends or family not in the know. You'd be cool or a freak, and most of the times, in that order.
"Oh, nee andha comics vaikaraya? BANG! BANG! HEEYA! WANNNH!", being exaggerated statements from uncles.
The cultness of Archie built up, also because it was fairly expensive. Back in the days, in Bahrain, a Double Digest would cost the equivalent of 250 rupees, which was a fair deal for a middle-class family. Finally, like many others of my generation, an Archie comic became the prize for excellence in examinations. Trips to India were awaited with bated breath not for the perpetual rain or the annoying poojas, but for trips to Paico Book Stores, where I would stock up on Blytons, Tinkles and - of course - Archies, a collection of 10 which would be finished at a sitting. They would be re-read, of course. Despite knowing what exactly the plot was going to be, the re-reading of an Archie gave us a sense of satisfaction, like the existing memory we had of the story had been reinforced (the same reason why we feel incredibly satisfied when we hear a good cover version of a song we love). And the re-read would be savoured. It was like taking the best points of sipping fine whisky and bovine rumination. Only it was with comics.
Archie, Jughead, Reggie and Dilton taught us how to react in certain situations. When we could afford to be funny. When it was best to just shut your mouth. When it was good to polite to someone. What to do to be popular. I have attempted exercise routines at various points in life, the first was when I was around 14 - I had an Archie story where he and Reggie were doing exercises in the gym (only to be usurped by Jug at the end of it all, of course). I diligently woke up for about 2 weeks and did all those exercises.
I also learnt about things that neither a boring childhood in Bahrain or the wise people at NCERT could have taught me - shopping malls, fashion, girlfriends, credit cards, holidays, music - and a little bit of life itself. The concepts of cellphones and the internet were first introduced to me through these comics. Who couldn't claim, at some point of time, to have been influenced by the antics of this mad bunch? Who couldn't claim to have wanted a tee-shirt with an alphabet on it, whatever it meant?
Today, the person who I am (or try to be) owes a large part to Archibald Fred Andrews and his friends. The cynicism of Reggie, the irreverence of Jughead, the aptitude of Dilton, the cartooning skills of Chuck (yes, I know), perhaps somewhere we even wanted to have the body of Moose. And walk around starting every sentence with 'D-uh!'
I haven't read too many Archies in the recent past, but whenever I do try to read them, I somehow see a sense of them trying a little too hard to adapt to modern audiences. The fact that they've managed to keep their comics clean is a fantastic effort, in this day and age.
It's fantastic to see Archie still lives and thrives. Many times I've downloaded entire torrents, more out of tribute than knowing that I'll end up reading them. But like the cool people today say, "What is there?".