College, Museum Celebrate Archie Comics’ Haverhill Influence During October

Story courtesy of Northern Essex Community College.

Northern Essex Community College and Buttonwoods Museum celebrate the popular Archie comic strip and its Haverhill influences during the month of October with an exhibit of original comic strip art and two showings of the Haverhill premiere of Archie’s Betty, a documentary film exploring Archie’s Haverhill connections. All events are free and open to the public.

Bob Montana, the artist who created the Archie comic strip, spent his high school years in Haverhill, and it’s widely recognized many of his characters, settings, and story lines are based on his observations and experiences while a student at Haverhill High School during the late 1930s.

Throughout the month of October, the Linda Hummel-Shea ArtSpace Gallery in the Library on the college’s Haverhill Campus, 100 Elliott St., will feature original Archie comic strip artwork drawn by Bob Montana. The public is invited to attend a reception Thursday, Oct. 1 from 5 to 6 p.m. in the gallery. At the reception, comic art collector Shaun Clancy will share stories about the many familiar scenes depicted in the strip over the years, such as the Haverhill Armory, the Strand movie theater, the Hooker Howe Costume store, the Thinker statue located in front of the High School; and Brown & Gold, the Haverhill High School newspaper. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday 2 to 9 p.m., Friday, 2 to 5 p.m.

The college, in partnership with the Buttonwoods Museum, Haverhill, will host showings Thursday, Oct. 1 at 3 and 6:30 p.m., of the documentary film Archie’s Betty, which was released earlier this year. It will be shown in the Hartleb Technology Center on the Haverhill Campus, 100 Elliott St. The movie was co-produced by Gerry Peary and Shaun Clancy, and written and directed by Peary, both of whom will be there to share stories about their research and the making of the film. Also speaking will be Nancy Silberkleit, CEO of Archie Comics. In the film, Peary explores the origins of the Archie comic strip, including interviews with Montana’s high school classmates from the 1930’s. DVD’s of the movie will be available for sale.

Bob Montana (1920-1975) was born in Stockton, California, the son of ex-Ziegfeld girl Roberta Pandolfini Montana and Ray Montana, a banjo player on the vaudeville circuit.   He spent his childhood traveling, receiving his schooling backstage in theater dressing rooms. After his father died, his mother remarried and he moved to Haverhill, where his stepfather managed Hooker Howe, a theatrical costume shop.

Bob Montana, creator of the Archie comic strip and a former resident of Haverhill

At Haverhill High School from 1936 to 1939, he entertained classmates with his cartoon drawings and served on the staff of the Brown & Gold, the high school newspaper.

He moved to Manchester, N.H., during his senior year, graduating from Central High in 1940.

After high school he enrolled in the Phoenix Art Institute in New York City and began doing freelance work for a number of comic book publishers. John Goldwater, publisher of MLJ Comics, asked him to work up a high-school comic feature, which was how “Archie” was started. The first “Archie” comic appeared in the fall of 1941, and, except for a four-year stint in the US Army, Montana drew the daily comic strip until 1975, when he died of a heart attack near his home in Meredith, New Hampshire.

For more information on the movie premiere, contact Ernie Greenslade, NECC director of public relations, 978 556-3862 or [email protected]

For more information on the gallery, contact Professor Marc Mannheimer, [email protected]