By JOHN BRANDI
Two teachers walk into Archie Comics headquarters.
This isn’t the beginning of a joke, but an attempt by educators, with the help of a “teaching kit,” to show comic books belong in the classroom.
Fast forward and this teaching kit, comprised of “six and 10 issues of comic books,” now belongs to Archie Comics’ co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit, part of her private collection now on display at the Mamaroneck Public Library.
It’s no surprise the teaching kit is Silberkleit’s favorite item in the collection. As a former art teacher, she has found there’s a “thread of connection [between] education and fun,” between Archie and children.
“Archie has always been accepted into the classroom,” she said. “As long as there are children in schools, [and] as long as everyone hearts Archie, there will be Archie.”
The library is showcasing seven decades of the famous redhead and pals in a display entitled “It’s Always Time for Archie Comics.” The collection, which opened this month and ends June 27, will feature items ranging from old tin lunchboxes to a present day licensing agreement for an Archie makeup line with MAC Cosmetics.
“[It’s] showing the decades of merchandise that emerged beyond the comic book,” Silberkleit said.
Program coordinator for the library Linda Bhandari said they were approached by Archie Comics to use the space after Silberkleit saw another exhibit. Bhandari said it wasn’t a problem securing the space because Archie is a local company.
“[The exhibit] has been getting positive feedback,” Bhandari said. “[It’s a] large collection of very diverse items.”
Items, Bhandari said, that would normally not be seen, or people would not know exist because they come from a private collection.
Silberkleit sees Archie and his gang as a tool for social change. She said the characters in the comic teach children “how you can work conflict out [by] getting along.” Silberkleit is “embracing and harnessing the power of comic books” to tackle issues such as bullying, environmental concerns and diabetes.
As for Archie’s fictional hometown of Riverdale, Silberkleit said it shares qualities not only with Mamaroneck, the company’s headquarters, but also cities around the world.
“All communities around the globe have Riverdale in them,” she said. “Riverdale is everywhere.”
Silberkleit recently came back from a trip to India where she said people shared with her their “personal experiences with Archie.” While there, a woman approached Silberkleit and told her about an Archie-patterned dress she owned and how the woman was going to send Silberkleit a photograph. Silberkleit said she was “amazed at how Archie Comics has fared globally” and has made such an impact on people from childhood through to adulthood.
The Archie universe has even started to explore today’s shifting social norms.
An openly gay character, Kevin Keller, was introduced to keep the series “inclusive and to promote the message of being OK with who you are,” according to Silberkleit.
“Archie reflects contemporary culture, and sexual identity is an important part of [that] conversation,” she said. “Archie promotes opinions, thoughts of real people. Our audience sees themselves in those panels.”
“Life With Archie,” another version of the comic series, was created to show the gang as adults. This July, Archie will die in issue No. 36 and the series will end in the following issue. Silberkleit said this doesn’t mean the end of teenage Archie, but his death
represents a natural process that everyone experiences.
“I wonder if [Archie Comics’ founders] 75 years ago ever knew what they would be giving the world,” Silberkleit said. “Archie [Comics] is genderless, it’s timeless, it’s for all walks of life. The beat goes on for seven-plus decades.”