Last year for Black History Month I profiled Black Panther, the first black superhero (see that newspost here). This year I’m sticking with the black comic character theme with a mini-history of Chuck Clayton, one of the first non-white characters in Archie comics.
These days Chuck is an established member of the Archie comics gang, although he’s never been as prominent in the group as other characters like Jughead or Reggie. But in 1971, he was introduced expressly for the purpose of adding more diversity to the cast.
Chuck was not actually the first black character in Archie comics, with Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats preceding him by two years. I chose not to profile her mostly because she’s not a terribly interesting character. It is interesting, though, that she was introduced without any explicit racial cast – she was simply included in the lineup of Josie’s band without comment.
In contrast, Chuck’s first story in Life with Archie 112 featured a small anti-racist message. But while I’ve sometimes been critical of Archie comics’ clumsy attempts to include ‘token’ characters in their comics (in the past several years they’ve added a gay character, an overweight character, and a disabled character, among others), I think they did a fairly good job of integrating Chuck. That first story wasn’t just about Chuck – it was about Archie learning a slightly cheesy lesson as well as his typical attempts to date Veronica. Chuck is very much involved, but he is injected into the life of the main character rather than loudly introduced, which I think allowed the character to become “part of the gang” more easily.
As Chuck became more established in the Archie universe, his personality expanded beyond the initial tokenism. His character became an amateur cartoonist, the basis for a number of Archie stories. In 1976 his girlfriend, Nancy, was introduced, and later his father was added as a coach at Riverdale High. The same year, another publishing company – possibly with the help of an Archie comics artist – attempted to introduce an Archie-style humour comic with an all-black cast called Fast Willie Jackson. Unfortunately, the comic lasted only seven issues. Chuck, meanwhile, continues to be a part of the Archie gang and was even given his own major storyline recently, “The Cartoon Life of Chuck Clayton.”
For those of you in Canada or the US, be sure to check out what’s going on in your city right now for black history month! Even my rinky-dink prairie town has a number of events, so I can only imagine that there are very cool things going on in bigger cities. If events aren't your thing, pick up a book or two this month - Souls of Black Folk is beautiful and the kindle version costs about a dollar, or if you're up for something a bit longer/more academic, Chicago's New Negroes is one of my favourite African American history books.
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HippieVan at 12:00AM, Feb. 5, 2016
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