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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Betty's Diary

Today's blog entry is all about two of my favourite things in the whole wide world.

Writing and Archie Comics.

For those of you who have been following along with this blog over the last three years, I am sure that you know that I love writing.  It has always been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, and I certainly can call it more than just a hobby.  I mean, I've done this blog every day since 2011.  That takes dedication!

And, for those of you who have been with this blog a while, you know that I have a soft spot for Archie comics.  I have a huge collection of them at home, and I credit Archie comics to keeping me sane during a rather tumultuous childhood.  I have been reading them since I was five years old, and I don't see myself giving them up some twenty-eight years later.

Well, I thought that for today's blog, I would take my love of writing and my love of Archie comics and combine them into one subject.  Sounds impossible, right?

Well, not really.  You see, there is one character in the Archie comics world that would write all about their days in Riverdale, their struggles in school, and of course, obsessing over a certain red-haired teenager.  But this person also recorded her biggest fears, her wildest dreams, her anxiety about growing older, and the beauty that life could bring.  She definitely could be considered a whimsical, thoughtful, intelligent, and emotional young lady and no matter what was going through her mind, she would always tell her stories so eloquently and passionately.  She very well could have had her own book series.

Oh, wait.  She already did.

Today we're going to be looking at the Archie comics serial "Betty's Diary".  And this is a serial that really should have lasted a lot longer than it did.  I will get to more on that a little bit later.

Now, truth be told, Betty Cooper has always been seen as the girl-next-door type.  A bouncing blonde who always does nice things for her neighbours, who always gets straight A's in class, and who almost always has a really kind word to say about everybody.

(Well, unless you're Veronica Lodge or Cheryl Blossom, or anyone else who happens to come between her and Archie Andrews, that is.)

And one character trait that Betty always seemed to have was the fact that she loved to write.  Heck, on this cover of Archie from the 1950s, she is writing in her diary!

This trend would continue over the next thirty years or so, and usually whenever we saw Betty writing in her diary, it would often be used as a gag in which Betty embellished the truth.  Like, for instance, if she was blowing up balloons for Archie's birthday party, she would write about Archie making her feel breathless.  You know, stuff like that.

It really wasn't until the 1980s that Betty's diary entries became more...shall we say, personal.

The Betty's Diary series began in the summer of 1985, initially as a one-off title that was a part of the "Archie Giant Series" title.  It was issue #555, to be exact.

In the title, it featured four stories from Betty's point of view as she wrote about her daily happenings in her diary.  And unlike the one-page gag entries that we were used to, these were full page stories that really dug into the depths of Betty's personality.  She shared stories about how she had feelings for Archie mixed in with teenage angst and worry about friendships, school, and life in general.

And the book was a huge hit with readers.  So much so that the "Betty's Diary" one-off became an entire Archie series.  The first issue came out in 1986.  Have a look at the cover below.

(And, yes, I do own the first issue.  Actually, I have about half of them.  I am missing a few, but I could probably find them online if I wanted them that badly.)

But the "Betty's Diary" series of books was absolutely unlike any other Archie comic series out there.  It was so radically different, it was refreshing.  I mean, yes, titles like "Archie", "Jughead", "Betty & Veronica", and "Pep" were comic series that were designed to make you laugh.  And yes, there were some light hearted moments in the "Betty's Diary" series that made you chuckle and smile.

But "Betty's Diary" also had a lot of warmth and joy, as well as a lot of sadness and angst.  You see, the majority of the stories in "Betty's Diary" were written from the perspective of a seventeen year old girl.  And anyone who has been, or has known a seventeen year old girl knows just how stressful of a year it is.

And certainly, Betty wrote a lot about some of those things.

There was one story in which she questioned whether working hard was really worth it.  It was a tale that brought Betty's older sister Polly to town, and Polly told Betty that she and her friends studied hard while the head cheerleader goofed off and slacked on her studies.  Interestingly enough, that cheerleader ended up making the sandwiches that Betty and Polly ate during their lunch meeting!  So, Betty wrote about how she learned the lesson that working to meet a goal was good after all.

Another one had Betty examining the relationship she had with her own mother, and how she wore many hats - fashion consultant, barterer, sewer, friend, confidant...and most importantly, the best mother a girl could have.

You see, they were sweet stories that often had wonderful resolutions that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

And yes, she did write about her dates with Archie.  A lot.

But, perhaps one of my all-time favourite arcs that was ever featured in the "Betty's Diary" series was the one in which she befriended a kindly elderly lady named Lydia Wyndham, whom she discovered after buying a copy of "Wuthering Heights" from a used book sale and discovering that it belonged to Lydia when she was a little girl.  She tracked her down, and discovered that Lydia was already an established author, having penned several novels under the name of Elyse Smith. 

And Lydia became her personal mentor of sorts. 

In the first few issues of the series, Betty would ask Lydia for advice on how to deal with people, and how to handle certain situations.  And, of course, Lydia would always have the right words of wisdom for Betty - which makes sense because Lydia had lived a good six decades longer than Betty had and was more experienced in the world.  Lydia even showed Veronica a thing or two when she won a Snow Queen competition!  I don't know what issue that story was in, but if you can read it, it is wonderful!

And, one other thing that Lydia shared with Betty?  She was madly in love with an American soldier named Declan McManus, and the two were engaged to be married before Declan went off to fight in combat in World War I (remember, this series began in the late 1980s).  According to letters that Lydia received, Declan died in combat, and Lydia never fell in love again.

This relationship between Betty and Lydia lasted until issue #18.  That was the issue in which Lydia passed away, and Betty had to deal with the loss of her friend and mentor.  Shockingly enough, Declan McManus showed up unexpectedly after Lydia's death, revealing that he wasn't really dead which was kind of weird, but that was another issue altogether.  What made this arc really shine was the gift that Lydia left Betty in her will. 

You see, like Betty, Lydia also kept a journal.  In fact, she had fifty years of journals stashed away in her attic.  And Lydia made sure that Betty received every single diary. 

It was a priceless treasure for Betty, and after Lydia's passing, Betty often wrote diary entries imagining what life was like in the early twentieth century, and even using one of Lydia's poems to inspire her in a songwriting assignment.  It just went to show that the impact that Lydia had on Betty was strong.  I think that's why I really appreciated that story arc because of the mentor relationship between two different generations.  It really was an interesting read.

The "Betty's Diary" series ran for forty issues, with the final one being printed in early 1991.  And, I honestly was sad to hear that the series only lasted five years.  I mean, I know that 1991/1992 was an experimental year in Archie comics history, with the company making bold moves to stay relevant, but they should have kept the "Betty's Diary" title going.  It was one of the more mature comics that Archie Comics has released, and I think it should have gone on longer.

But for what it was worth, "Betty's Diary" stories would occasionally appear in the "Betty" and "Betty & Veronica" titles well into the 2000s.

There was also a graphic novel published a few years ago that compiled the greatest hits from "Betty's Diary" into one volume.  If you can find it, do so.  It's a nice collection of stories.

And, recently, the Archie Comics team decided to release a rebooted version of Betty's Diary by releasing the diaries that a then 14-year-old Betty might have written as a high school freshman in a novel format as well.  The cover is up above, if you want to check it out.

Now, the reason why I really wanted to do a blog on "Betty's Diary" was to show everyone the main reason why I write a blog in the first place.  Now, granted, Betty certainly packs a lot of emotion into her diary, and probably reveals some of her deepest, darkest secrets about everything going on in her life.  And honestly, that's what a diary is for.  You use it to write down everything you want out of life, and all the fears you have in life, and all the worries that you have.  It can be a real cathartic experience and it can make even the worst days seem better.  Certainly I can see why Betty is deemed one of the most well-rounded characters in Archie Comics.  She is probably in touch with her feelings more than anyone else in the entire community of Riverdale, U.S.A.

And that is why I do my blog too.  Granted, I don't reveal as much as Betty does in hers (I have to keep some secrets myself).  However, what I do reveal makes me stop and think, and if I am feeling bad, it helps me get things in perspective, and I feel better for venting it out.  I certainly don't intend to make people feel like they are a psychologist listening to a patient of theirs (as one thoughtless, now former Facebook friend accused me of doing).  Though I won't apologize for anything that I write in this space because it is my own space, and I can choose to write about how I am feeling or what may be going through my mind.  I know that not everyone will agree with my stances, and that's okay.  But there's a way to disagree without coming across as a jerk, and if you feel a need to make a negative comment against someone just to get a rise out of them, do yourself a favour, and don't read it.

(Besides, in Betty's case, she openly admits to having three diaries.  And the third diary contains her deepest feelings, so it must always stay hidden.  So she lucks out that way - especially when protecting her thoughts from Veronica or Archie!)

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