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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

That Wilkin Boy

I thought that I would try something a bit different for the continuation of Sixties Week in the blog.  As I already mentioned before, this week is going to have only six days, as the seventh is reserved for "The New Archies Reviewed".  So, because I only have six days to work with, I tried to come up with interesting topics that still reflected the spirit of the sixties.

I think I've come up with a fantastic idea for today.  And, well...the source of this blog topic was inspired by a title within the Archie Comics Library - only it didn't start off as an Archie title.  Well, not exactly anyway.

You see, there have been a lot of characters underneath the Archie Comics umbrella that weren't really part of the Riverdale scene.  Of course, the most obvious examples of this currently is Sonic the Hedgehog.  Over the last few years, Sonic comic books have sold nearly as well as the Archie comics have.  You also have had Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch making frequent appearances in Archie comics over the years.

There was a period of time during the 1990s in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had an entire series of comic books that were released by Archie.  Super Duck, Ginger, Wilbur, and Debby were all titles that were featured in many early issues of Pep Comics.  And, let's not forget about Katy Keene, the glamourous supermodel whose career spanned from the 1940s to the 2000s - all without aging a single day.

Just what kind of moisturizer does she use?

As far as Archie comics went in the 1960s, it certainly was a busy decade.  Dozens of new titles were released during that time period.  Some only lasted a couple of years, but others lasted a couple of decades.  Let's see...there was "Archie & Me", "Reggie & Me", "Betty & Me", "Everything's Archie", "Archie's TV Laugh Out", "Jughead's Jokes", "Reggie's Wise-Guy Jokes", and at least a couple of other titles. 

And one title that was released in the late 1960s was one that didn't really feature any Archie characters (at least not back then anyway), but read similarly to an Archie comic.  It certainly had all of the elements of a standard Archie comic.  It had a love-crazed red-haired boy madly in love with the girl next door who happened to have the most strict father in the whole universe.  It had an excessively vain and slimy character who always dressed to the nines while plotting to play tricks on our red-haired hero.  It even had a dog who had a mind of his own as he made casual thoughts about the madcap adventures of his owner and his friends.

Believe it or not, the red-haired boy in the comic series even had his own band! 

Okay, so instead of the Archies, it was the Bingoes...but you get the idea.

Today we're going to be taking a look at the comic book series "That Wilkin Boy", a serial that began in 1968 and ran for approximately fourteen years, wrapping up in the early 1980s.  The comic book was illustrated by longtime Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, and the setting was a town that was called Midville - which is supposed to be a rock's throw away from Riverdale, though the comic book never really makes this clear.

The main protagonist of the story is Woodrow Wilkin...otherwise known by his nickname of Bingo.  And, no, Bingo did not get his name from sitting next to his grandmother helping her blot out every N-42 with a bright red bingo dabber at the local bingo hall.  If I had to wager a guess, he was likely named after Ringo Starr, only changed the R to a B.  At least that's my thought anyway.  After all, the first issue was dated January 1969, and Bingo kind of looked like a Beatle.

So, how can I best describe Bingo?  Well, he's seventeen, he's the only child of Willie and Wilma Wilkin, and his Uncle Herman lives with him as well - once a professional baseball player in his youth.  He plays in a band with his friends Buddy and Teddy, and he lives next door to the Smythe family.

Now, living next door to Samson and Sheila Smythe is a double-edged sword for Bingo.  On one hand, he lives next door to his girlfriend and one true love Samantha, who is sort of like a combination of Betty and Veronica's best features.  And unlike Archie, Bingo is a one-woman man.  But on the other hand, Samantha's father, Samson - a muscular type who can't stand weak willed people - makes fun of Bingo frequently, and he absolutely is against Bingo dating Samantha.  And Samson's dislike doesn't stop at Bingo.  He also can't tolerate Uncle Herman or Bingo's dad either.  This conflict between the Smythe and Wilkin families sets up a lot of the stories in "That Wilkin Boy".

Interestingly enough, the wives of Samson and Willie get along great, and both approve of the Bingo/Samantha relationship.  They often serve as the voices of reason in the whole family feud.  It's a wonder they didn't appear on the actual game show "Family Feud".  It was around in the 1970s!

(Actually, one could consider Rebel the dog the REAL voice of reason.  He says things that we're all thinking, but is completely oblivious to the rest of the characters in the story.)

Samson isn't Bingo's only adversary.  Sometimes his frenemy Teddy Tambourine can cause him a lot of problems as well.  You see, Teddy is the Reggie Mantle of "That Wilkin Boy".  If not for the sunglasses, you might consider Teddy to be Reggie's brother.

(In fact, if you took Reggie, Teddy, and Alexander Cabot III from Josie and the Pussycats and put them all together, it's essentially THE SAME CHARACTER!)

Of course, Teddy only is sneaky when he wants to steal Samantha away from Bingo.  There is a Teddy/Samantha/Bingo love triangle going on, but it's not as focused on as say, Archie/Veronica/Reggie.  In any other story, Teddy and Bingo get along well, and they even play in the same band together with their speech impaired pal Buddy - who I guess would be the Jughead in this story.

And since I mention Jughead in this, I thought that I would just mention this right off the bat.  In 2005, Jughead Jones came to Midville to visit Bingo and his family with good reason.  After 35 years in the Archie Comics world, the decision was make to permanently link Riverdale to Midville by making Jughead Bingo's cousin.  Yes, the link in the chain was Bingo's Uncle Herman, as it was explained that he was the brother of Jughead's mother.  Now, why they didn't just explain this in the comic book before, I don't know.  But not too much has been mentioned of it lately - mainly because the story in which Bingo and Jughead were revealed to be cousins appeared in "Jughead and Friends Digest #5" - a full thirteen years after the last issue of "That Wilkin Boy" was released.

So, why did "That Wilkin Boy" didn't have as much staying power as say Sabrina, or Josie?  Well, to be fair, it did start off strong, and it focused on a lot of serious issues and topics.

In one story, they dealt with racism when Samson discovered that the new family in the neighbourhood were Asian in descent, and he made a lot of racist comments (which was surprising for a comic in the Archie library).  But after Samson got to know them - and after the father of the Asian family took Samson out with a kung fu move - they became friends.

In another story, Bingo and Samantha are trying to take care of a young girl who they found alone and shivering in the rain, and Samantha gets hysterical to the point where this happens.

You don't see this in an Archie comic, do you?  And what's interesting is that after this panel, Samantha actually admitted that she deserved the slap because she acted like a child!  The last issue I remember this comic being reprinted in was dated 1987.  I can see why it hasn't been shown in nearly thirty years.

But I think ultimately what killed "That Wilkin Boy" was the fact that when you look at it, you really don't have any major difference from a standard '60s era Archie comic.  Bingo could easily be substituted with Archie.  Samantha is like Betty.  Samson is easily a Mr. Lodge type character.  Teddy and Buddy are like Reggie and Jughead.  It was just unnecessary to have both "That Wilkin Boy" and "Archie" to run the same stories - and since Archie had a lot more staying power, Bingo was jettisoned.

Still, "That Wilkin Boy" did have some good moments.  It's worth taking a look at.

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