The crispy bun glistening with melting butter that sits atop the patty, barbecued to perfection, and glazed with just the right amount of marinade, completed with three layers of melting cheese, crispy-fresh tomato and lettuce with a crunchy bottom bun on which this magnificence sits as if atop a pedestal, complemented with zingy mustard and tangy ketchup with chilled creamy choklit shop soda to wash it all down with.
Even though it was mentioned earlier that there wouldn’t be any more of this, yours truly realised the importance of an appropriate invocation as a literature student. Hence, the above beauty is not only an invocation to the food gods to whom I sacrifice the first bite of my Hamburger (Nah), but also an invocation to you, oh! Blessed Reader, who I wish, never goes unsatisfied after a meal. This is to tantalize and invoke your taste buds, your imagination and an interest in the ‘form’ that will be addressed today: Comics.
If you too belong to a typical Indian household that looks down upon comics as a waste of time and compares comic book-language to the grandeur of ze novel to the detriment of the former, then, you like a typical Indian child must have also developed a guilty pleasure for the same, much like thy secret midnight rendezvous with chocolate cake.
Now, I would like to clarify the difference between a comic and a graphic novel at the very onset of this piece. A graphic novel is, well, a novel but with pictures and illustrations. A comic, on the other hand, is an illustrated story but in the form of a periodical. They might be produced with a specific time gap and, usually (not always) have connections between the actions of one issue and the next.
Graphic novels are misconstrued as a “finer” version of comics to which Neil Gaiman wrote:
“I felt like someone who’d been informed that she was not actually a hooker, she was a lady of the evening.” (telegraph.co.uk 2009)
Having clarified that, here’s why I feel Comics deserve a place in Literature. Besides the obvious fact that they deal with words (duh), ideas, concepts, and stories or anecdotes, Comics mistakenly have been seen “as a Genre rather than the medium that they are” (telegraph.co.uk, 2009).
A medium that might include a rainbow of genres like romance, history, comedy and so on and so forth, much like all other mediums in Literature. However, I stray from my path when I assume the role of a defender of the comics when my job, clearly, is to analyze the trope of food in this medium of literature, much like any other.
If it’s not clear from the food described in my invocation, the comic series I will be looking at today is Archie, Comic Publications, Inc., or alternatively, Archies. The reason I went for these is not nostalgia, emotion or my love for Forsythe Jones but another argument that redeems Comics as a medium. While Novels are set, and hence fixed in the particular time and space they occupy, Comics I would say, are more fluid in nature. They evolve as time passes, as the story is constantly high-end, especially in the case of Archies. Another argument would be that because the story is being worked on and is constantly evolving based on the so-called “real life” and context it borrows from, it alters based on the changes that take place in reality. Thus, Comics become progressive and evolutionary in nature.
A classic example can be taken from Archies which was first published on 22nd December 1942. John Goldwater wanted the comic to be a story about a normal relatable person. In this endeavour to be “relatable” he created a character that to this day embodies characteristics of “present” day America, while simultaneously retaining seventy- seven years of the history of the USA as his story. Archie is relatable to the present and the past.
From World War II, when he represented the youth of the country engaged in hard work and its evolving culture, to present day, when the Archie comics embody issues of LGBTQ rights (the recently introduced Kevin Keller), and Feminism, Archie never aged beyond his teen years. It was his story that did, and even now, it continues to put on a new skin with each era it bears witness to.
This passage of time is very clear in the food culture of the said series too. A series that began with the humble cuisine of war, representing the reality of keeping wastage and extravagance to a minimum, has evolved today to the fine cuisine culture of massive consumption. The “type” of food consumed by the characters shows this too. While sandwiches and punch remains a staple, we go from ice-cream sodas to Choklit Shoppe to Teriyaki Mushrooms and the USA cuisine by Gaston to Pizza Culture. Pizza entered popular culture in the USA during the 1940s and it was at this time, when it began sprouting around the country from 1945-1960, that it also appeared as a staple of the gang, never to leave again. As America recovered from the war and a celebratory, indulgent decade followed, Jughead Jones, the glutton, was born.
Before I move on to characters and their relations to food, I must mention why Pizza was and is still such a staple of the gang in the Archies, even though Pop sells mostly Burgers. As many historians have noted, Pizza unlike popular American food like Hot dogs and hamburgers is a communal food and hence, inserting it into the comics and American History shows a coming together of the community.
This coming together hence also reflects a key trait in Jughead, clearly distinguishing him as an individualist and a glutton through instances like him never sharing his pizza (except when required, like for charity, which casts him in a positive light for the readers) and being capable of eating twenty-five pizzas alone (in a competitive eating event).
“Forsythe P. “Jughead” Jones III is best recognised by his insatiable appetite and interesting choice of headwear.” (archiecomics.com)
He first appeared in Pep Comics #22, 1941 as Archie’s close friend and, his voracious appetite soon followed in later issues (mostly post-war). He is capable of eating superhuman amounts of food in one sitting, and the interesting part is – he never gains a pound!
While some have attributed this to his metabolism, others have attributed it to the fact that it is his brain working at a better speed that burns the calories. If it’s his metabolism that we are attributing it to (In a comic, he exchanges his metabolism for the best pizza in the world, which indicates that the authors agree with the metabolism viewpoint), then it hints towards a trait that pertains to not just Jughead, but society as a whole – the trait of having rampant desire, the lust to “consume” everything in sight and yet, not having to face any consequences. This particular argument translates to no-reins Capitalism and commoditisation that American Society embodies too.
The irony lies in the fact that, just like Jughead, American Society has to face the consequences of their “consumption”. Jughead is constantly drowning under the debt of his tab that he runs up at various eateries. It wouldn’t be too far flung a statement to make that American Society too, is drowning under a similar kind of weight.
Moving on to another argument of his mental capabilities, it is a widely agreed fact that Jughead indeed, is a very intelligent person who if required can perform miracles, but rarely does, until it is absolutely required. The one and only time his “superior” senses kick in are when he is avoiding girls or foraging for food. If we look at it from an evolutionary perspective, looking for food and, escaping predators is a massive part of our evolutionary history. Life for our ancestors and us is about sustenance – the struggle to survive in this world. Those who could forage for food better and fight off external intrusions the best i.e., could protect themselves, survived, and thereby, were recognized as belonging to the superior strata of human beings. This automatically puts Jughead Jones in the more advanced category of the human race.
This finally brings us to the topic of the female population in the series and their relation to food. Just like other aspects of the comic have been affected by the temporal space they have been set in, so has the comic’s approach to dealing with the women in the series changed. The females have come a long way from being just the love interests and men’s potential dates to today having a mind and opinion of their own (clearly showcased in the many series which are now “Betty and Veronica” and not Archies). From embodying the sweet girl-next-door who loves cooking and is perfect wife-material for your best friend, the female characters have evolved into girls who can be basketball players and scientists. Gender roles did undergo a change in the society and hence, the comics.
Food as a trope of course, was recurrent in this case too. A woman who could cook was the ideal choice for a man to marry. Hence Betty Cooper, the original love interest of Archie was, and still is, one of the better cooks of the series – the perfect girl who bakes cakes and cookies for the men in the series to consume. Veronica Lodge, on the other hand, is one of the worst cooks out there, but then again, who needs to learn cooking if your father’s money can hire the best cook out there for you? The choice of food and, the ability to cook food, hence distinguishes between the girls’ class and financial status.
The class is also indicated in the type of food the girls are happy consuming. While Betty is fine with a simple lunch at home, Veronica prefers high-end restaurants for dates. When Veronica deigns to cook with her very own hands, she falls into the realm of the “common man” who has to sweat in front of the stove, as she herself mentions.
Jughead has always shown a preference for Betty over Veronica, with whom he has a love-hate relationship. His hate for Veronica sprouts from his dislike of her snooty aristocratic habits, while his love for Betty, though mostly attributed to Betty’s sweet nature, is also because the latter cooks for him. This makes one wonder about the larger argument of misogyny that Jughead might embody. The only time he spends time with the girls is when Ethel (his pursuer) promises food to him or, when Betty cooks for him or, Veronica makes Gaston cook for him. This could be a larger statement about how he likes his women relegated to the realm of the kitchen or the domestic sphere where they can serve him in one way or another. When they try to cross these boundaries (like Veronica does by asserting her power through wealth over him) i.e., escape the bounds he sets for them (literally, in Ethel’s case when he locks her in the kitchen and, refuses to let her out till she promises him food), he makes his dislike clear.
The misogyny through food is also displayed in the manner food is consumed by women. Women were expected to eat daintily and delicately, and in small amounts, to control their figures – body issues being quite prevalent in the comic series with the notion of “dieting” for women. We know times have changed now that they have introduced love interests like Debbie and Joani, who are just as passionate about eating as him, and female competitors in eating contests make an appearance too.
However, I do concede that I do not consider Jughead a misogynist because firstly, there is a deliberate softening in his nature towards women as the story progresses, and secondly, he embodies the type of society he is part of at a particular point in time and so cannot be blamed for his views on the subject.
Having said that, there are so many characters like dear ole’ Hotdog (the dog) and Moose, with debates, arguments and, seventy-seven freaking years’ worth of stuff to be analysed through the trope of food which links the comics to American Society. I could go on and on, probably as long as my foodie wish list (No, not really) yet time, space and, attention constraints do not allow it,
So, until next time – don’t forget to enjoy what you consume, be it literature or food.
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.
Written by Devika
Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain