Archie Meets Ramones is a surprising and remarkable project for the 77-year-old comics publisher. I remember attending the Archie Comics panel last year at New York Comic Con and hearing the announcement that the titular teen from Riverdale and his pals would meet the first and most influential Seventies punk band.
At first, I thought that I maybe had just heard what I wanted to hear from the speaker. As someone who has a strong love for both the classic charm of Archie Comics and the raw and primordial sounds of the Ramones, this felt like a project made specifically for me, but one that would be hard to pull off.
Difficulties aside, I understood why Archie Comics would want to pursue a crossover with this seminal New York punk band. After all, Archie Comics are undergoing an exciting renaissance period.
The arrival of gay character Kevin Keller six years ago heralded a newly progressive era for the company. No longer were Archie and his pals stuck in the old-fashioned and hackneyed scenarios of comics past.
In the last six years, Archie Andrews has starred in books where he’s battling a zombie apocalypse, while Jughead has come to terms with his asexuality (he’s attracted to women dressed as burgers, natch), and Archie has even gone to the giant Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe in the sky.
And just yesterday, the new CW series, Riverdale, made its debut. It’s a stark and sexy reimagining of the characters, thrusting them into a Twin Peaks-like murder mystery where no one is as innocent as they seem.
However, meeting a real and known group of miscreants like the Ramones still seemed like a stretch for Archie and his crew. To rise to the challenge, Archie Comics recruited the best: the creative team of writers Alex Segura, Matthew Rosenberg, artist Gisele Lagace, and a slew of alternate cover artists, including legendary Archie illustrator Dan Parent and classic Ramones artist John Holmstrom, to hit all the right notes (pun thoroughly intended).
The bubblegum-pop roots of the Ramones are revealed as their complex real-life characters are stripped down into kind of prankster mentors that would fit tightly within the Archie Comics universe.
Recently, Archie met the Seventies band KISS in a crossover comic, which was the impetus for this project. “I really loved the Archie Meets KISS book that Alex [Segura] and Dan [Parent] did,” writer Matthew Rosenberg revealed in an interview with the creative team at New York Comic Con. “I’m not the biggest KISS fan… I’d joke with Alex about how much more awesome it would be if it was a band that I loved, so we joked about the Ramones, and Alex was like ‘Man, that would be awesome.’ I knew some people associated with the Ramones, and we reached out and got the ball rolling that way.”
Segura continues, “Once we started talking about it, it became a no-brainer. We had to do it. I think you can tell on the page how excited we all were to be involved in it.”
The plot is perfect. The Archies (the fictional in-comic band that predates the Ramones by over 20 years, weirdly enough) are having trouble gelling. A little magic from Sabrina the Teenage Witch and an old copy of the Ramones’ first album transport the gang back to New York in 1976.
What follows is a loving tribute to the ’70s Lower East Side punk scene, including cameos from some Archie-comicsized characters that look uncannily like Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, and even the Ramones’ art director Arturo Vega.
“[New York in 1977] is my musical sweet spot,” says Segura, “The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, all those bands. I already had a lot of in-store knowledge. I did read a few Ramones bios to get the details right, but it was more about telling a fun story and [artists] Gisele and Dan brought it to life in such a cool way.”
Essential Ramones locations like music clubs of yore Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs, as well as fictional Ramones song locales like Rock and Roll High School and the Pet Sematary get the Archie-Comics treatment as well. There’s something kind of funny about seeing ’70s New York City drawn so clean, but this is Archie, after all.
Artist Gisele Lagace explains that she watched the Ramones documentary End of the Century and looked at a lot of reference photos to boil the Ramones down to the Archiesque elements. “At first, I had to look at a lot of the pictures to make sure their likenesses were correct,” she explained, “but after a while, I was able to draw them a certain way so I could go without having to look.”
“If I had to draw [a Ramone], Joey would always be my favorite,” adds classic Archie artist Dan Parent, who contributed an alternate cover for the book. “He’s the Jughead of the Ramones.”
The plot and art play so well it almost feels like the Ramones have always been Archie-Comics characters, and if you were to look for back issues, there would be plenty. No more spoilers, but it’s unsurprising that this book has a happy ending befitting of both an Archie Comics story and one of the Ramones’ more heartfelt ballads.
I’m gonna come right out and say it: reading this comic was an emotional experience for me. The Ramones and the Archies both hold a special place in my pop-culture-loving heart. Seeing them interact together feels personal and justified in a way like these were two aesthetics co-existing that were always meant to be better together. This is a near perfect read, cover to cover.
The timing is perfect for a comic like this to exist: the Ramones celebrated the 40th anniversary of their debut album this year. At this point, they’re an iconic a part of the mainstream cultural firmament. But, unlike many of their Seventies rock radio counterparts, they’re definitely still the coolest.
The Archie Comics renaissance can not be downplayed as well. As the countercultural aspects of the Ramones have become more culturally acceptable, so have Archie Comics embraced more progressive countercultural geekdom. For example, Archie also crossed over with horror movie character The Predator this year and the results were both funny and truly terrifying.
The progression of the Ramones brand and the Archie brand have driven them to meet in a wonderful, pop-culture sweet spot.
The raddest way to read comics is to listen to music at the same time, and if you want a killer playlist to read while enjoying this very rock ‘n’ roll comic, please enjoy this Spotify playlist of Archies, Ramones, bubblegum, and NYC punk, or play the videos below:
1) “Get On the Line,” The Archies (1969)
One of the more demanding and soulful Archies tunes, the lyrics demand that we all get on the line for love. A great message for right about now.
2) “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” The Ramones (1977)
The quintessential Fifties-style rock song written by the Ramones about a teen both wanting to belong and stand out from the crowd. It’s in these topics where the Ramones’ catalog and the plots of Archie Comics most strongly intersect.
3) “Blank Generation,” Richard Hell and the Voidoids (1977)
Released in 1977 by NYC-punk innovator Richard Hell, this is the closest the scene gave us to a youth anthem. One can imagine Jughead rocking out to this in his basement, chowing down on burgers in between naps and walks with Hot Dog.
4) “Quick Joey Small,” Kasenatz-Katz Super Circus (1968)
A bubblegum song from the powerhouse production team of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, the prime competitors of Don Kirshner and Jeff Barry, the Archies’ production team. This track was written and sung by the terminally underrated Joey Levine — who Joey Ramone named himself after!
5) “Over and Over,” The Archies (1970)
This song apes the guitar line from the Music Explosion’s bubblegum hit “Little Bit O’ Soul,” which the Ramones covered on their 1983 album Subterranean Jungle.
6) “Little Bit O’ Soul,” The Ramones (1983)
Originally cut by the Music Explosion in 1967, the Ramones slightly update the arrangement. Joey’s vocals pull this one together in surprising ways.
7) “Rip Her to Shreds,” Blondie (1976)
This 1976 rave-up from CBGB power-pop-punk outfit Blondie is on the list because it’s all attitude. I can imagine an Archies cover of this with eternal spoiled rich girl Veronica on lead vocals.
8) “Baby, I Love You,” The Ramones (1980)
Covered by the Ramones for their bizarre 1980 collaboration with producer Phil Spector (which I recently recorded a podcast about), this is definitely a place where the Ramones and the Archies’ musical legacies meet. Jeff Barry, one of the writers on this track, was also the writer of the Archies’ ubiquitous 1969 hit “Sugar Sugar.”
9) “New Feeling,” Talking Heads (1977)
Released on Talking Heads’ debut album, this is the song their Archie-Comics counterparts are about to launch into when the Archies encounter them at Max’s Kansas City in the comic. This is Talking Heads at their early angular and jittery best.
10) “Rock and Roll Music,” The Archies (1969)
This is an almost bluesy number from our favorite Riverdale teens. I say “almost,” because this is admittedly a light and inconsequential song. But it’s about the deep love these kids have for rock ‘n’ roll, which is also what the plot of this comic is and also a sentiment that can be echoed in the Ramones’ catalog.
11) “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” The Ramones (1979)
A place visited by Archie and his gang in the comic, and also the titular location of the Ramones’ cinematic classic, how could I leave this song off the list?