PITTSFIELD

In all matters related to comic books, I defer to Eagle sports reporter and Friday columnist Derek Gentile. He knows tons more about this subject than I do. But I do have a comic book story to tell today, so feel free to read the panels and turn the pages through this narration.

We were out shopping this weekend for a holiday gift for a 9-year-old boy who in recent months has discovered the joy of comics. His favorite, for now at least, are the "Archie Comics." We were fortunate enough to find some at Palmer's Variety on Elm Street. The woman behind the counter was nice and took time to explain that while they didn't carry the regular-sized comic magazines, they did have what are called double-digest books, a smaller-sized version with more pages.

The woman added that they didn't carry the regular comic books because they just don't sell well. She said the price on those were somewhere between $2 and $3. I don't know what kids get for allowances these days -- or even if youngsters still get a weekly stipend -- but it seemed to me that the price is indeed somewhat hefty. I think the last time I paid for a comic book it was 12 cents. The bigger double issues were a quarter.

I would "borrow" the money from my mother's change purse. I think she knew but let the transgression slide in the interest of my passion for reading. I bought most of my comic books at the Dalton Avenue Variety and occasionally at Kirk's Variety on Tyler Street. Those weren't easy purchases to make. During those pre-teen and early-teen years, I enjoyed Superman, the Legion of Super Heroes and the Justice League of America. But I bought my share of Archie's.

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Archie Andrews was the main character in the comic of the same name. The red-headed, freckle-faced teen attended Riverdale High, and there's a school of thought that traces the Riverdale design to a high school in Haverhill. Archie's best friends were Reggie Mantle and Jughead Jones, while Archie's girlfriends included Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

I didn't know any Reggie's growing up, so when reading the voice inside my head pronounced that name with the hard "g" sound. As a young and blooming fan of the New York Yankees, I knew of Mickey Mantle but couldn't know that a Reggie would someday become a big part of pinstripe lore. Ironically, the comic book names were secured in print long before "The Mick" burst upon the national sports scene.

Reggie was sort of a wise-guy prankster, but nothing over the top. Jughead, meanwhile, was so totally politically incorrect, it's scary to think that he continues to appear in Archie books today with that same style. A lazy and uninspired student, he wore a crowned fedora which made him look even less mainstream. He always wore the same ragged sweater with a big "S" on the front. He was always eating but never put on a pound. Quite frankly, he wasn't that likable.

Jughead, a nickname he was given for perhaps obvious reasons, was bullied beyond belief by friends, other students and teachers. Reggie was very rough on Jughead although the friendship seemed to survive. Jughead was supposed to be portrayed as someone who was actually smarter than he looked. But that was never my perception as a reader. The beanie Jughead wore was like the one that Goober wore on "The Andy Griffith Show." It was a hat made popular by garage mechanics in the 1930s, one website explained. Goober, come to think of it, was no genius either.

I'm guessing you won't find "Archie Comics" in elementary or middle school libraries. All this brings us around to why I think I bought "Archie Comics." As a young man coming of age, I thought Betty and Veronica were flat-out gorgeous. Betty was blonde and was the sweet and simple girl next door. Of course, no girl who ever lived next to me had Betty's looks.

Veronica, meanwhile, was a dark-haired beauty. She was a bit rich and a little spoiled but remained grounded by hanging out with the other four. Veronica, too, was tough on Jughead. She was too amped up for Jug's laid-back style.

I'm not sure which one I liked more. I had the same problem with Ginger and Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island." Come to think of it, I read The Jackson Twins back then every day in The Eagle. I liked Jan and Jill.

OK, so Archie wasn't a super hero. But he had Betty on one arm, Veronica on the other, and Jughead's unyielding loyalty. Reggie? He was Archie's muscle. Archie first appeared in comics in 1941. So, that makes him a little more than 70 years old. He still looks good and he's still smiling. Wouldn't you?

Oh, and a final question. I never knew girls to read comic books. That's not to say they didn't, but I never knew one who did. What's the scoop on that?