by KC Carlson
Okay, let’s start off this mini-history with a clip. Roger, please roll the video:
(If the clip does not start, please push the button in the middle.)
Despite being a big TV star, back in his “home” medium of comic books (and strips), Big Moose (or more formally Marmaduke Merton Matowski “Moose” Mason) is but a minor character in the world of Archie comics. Or maybe he’s “only pawn… in game of life”. But his often underdog nature (plus, he’s a classic “dumb” character in many appearances) makes him a favorite of many hardcore Archie fans. Assuming that Archie is actually “hardcore”, which I’m pretty sure it isn’t.
Lets take a look at some of Moose’s early history, something that not many people know about.
Big Moose is first introduced in Archie’s Pal Jughead #1 (no cover date, probably on sale in October 1949) in a story called “The Dangerous Sex”. Interestingly, he’s called Moose McGee in this first story; however, this character is obviously “classic” Moose in everything from his physical presence (larger than the other characters, well-muscled, and blond — here flat-topped with shaved sides) to his personality (extremely jealous). However, his familiar girlfriend Midge (also with varying last name) has not yet been introduced. So in this first story, Moose’s main squeeze is hot blonde Lottie Little (not to be confused with Harvey Comics’ Little Lotta – who is not introduced until 1953, anyway).
Moose thinks he catches Archie and Jughead staring at his girl, and he thinks Jughead is a threat to him for Lottie’s attentions, as he knows that Jughead has no steady girlfriend. Archie carefully explains that Jughead’s actually a woman-hater (“Jughead’s best girl is his mother!”), and this gives this proto-Moose another trait in common with “classic” Moose. (He’s not too bright.) Meanwhile, Lottie discovers from Mr. Weatherbee that she may not pass her math exam and he suggests that she cram with the school’s brightest math student — Jughead. (This is obviously before brainiac Dilton Doiley moved to town.)
Of course, Jughead is terrified at being pummeled by Moose, so he shows up at Lottie’s house wearing the world’s worst disguise — a fur coat pulled up over his head, a pink balloon with a face drawn on it, and Jughead’s omnipresent beanie on top of the balloon. He’s certainly no master of disguise. (Unlike Jimmy Olsen!) Lottie says not to worry, because Moose only stops by on Wednesdays. Two seconds later, the doorbell rings! It’s Moose! It’s Wednesday! Lottie is an airhead!
Amazingly, still-disguised Jughead gets rid of Moose by telling him (in now-unfortunate, but then-era-allowable broken English) “Solly! Noblody’s home! Goombye!” Amazingly, this does the trick, and Moose leaves. But then he realizes that Lottie’s usually home on Wednesdays and decides to wait to see who eventually leaves the house.
Caption: Two days later. Lottie tells Mr. Weatherbee that she passed her math test. The ‘Bee had already heard that her entire class passed the exam — except for Jughead, who will take the exam as soon as he can read and write again. Cut to: Pop’s Malt Shop. Archie is talking to a heavily bandaged and sunglasses-wearing Jughead, who says “ I hate ‘em, Archie! Every one of them! I only wish more were born so I could hate them too!” Our lesson: Those women stink. The End.
This story is reprinted in Archie Americana Series: Best of the Forties Volume One (Archie, 1991), Archie Firsts (Dark Horse, 2010), and The Best of Archie Comics (Volume One) (2011), as well as probably in a digest or two. In that last book, longtime Jughead writer/artist Samm Schwartz is given credit for the story.
ENTER MIDGE (KINDA)
Moose’s long-suffering girlfriend Midge Klump’s first appearance is occasionally credited to Archie’s Girls, Betty and Veronica #4 (no cover date, probably on sale in October 1951), but a character named “Midgie” Smith first appears in Archie’s Pal Jughead #5 (April 1951, probably on sale in February). She physically looks like “classic” Midge and is said to be the subject of Big Moose’s developing “terrific crush”. In the first panel of the story, titled “Of Moose and Men”, Betty says, “I pity any boy who even looks at Midgie from now on! Moose will tear him apart! You know how terribly jealous Moose is!” Both Archie and Reggie immediately change their plans for study sessions with Midgie. Yep, that’s Midge.
Betty and Veronica thus realize that both Archie and Reggie have been two-timing them with Midgie. Veronica: “Men are snakes! Men are no-goods! You can’t trust a man any further than you can throw a piano!” Betty: “Men are lower than nothing!!” Overhearing, Jughead slowly backs away. Veronica: “Oh, Juggy! W-we didn’t mean you, Juggy — You’re the only man in Riverdale we trust! We know you we weren’t dating that Midgie person!” Betty: “Because we know you are a women-hater! We know you would never two-time us, Juggie!”
Confidant that he’s the one guy in town that Moose won’t be suspicious of, Jughead heads home — only to bump into Moose, who needs a favor. He wants a romantic poem for Midgie, and he knows that Jughead writes them for Archie to give to Veronica. Since he’s comically beating Jughead to death while he’s explaining all this, Juggie has no choice but to agree to the plan. He arrives at school early the next day to do the deed, but early-bird Reggie hears him thinking out loud about words that rhyme with Midge. “How about “bridge”?” suggests Reggie. Jughead is found out and exclaims “Moose? Oh, you mean Moose!! Pooh! Who’s afraid of that big heap of lard!!”
Naturally, big-mouth Reggie can’t keep a secret, and soon all the males in Riverdale are raising money for Jughead’s upcoming hospital or funeral bills. Meanwhile, all the girls can talk about is Jughead writing poetry to Midgie while not being afraid of Moose. “Gosh! Isn’t he just simply super!” a generic girl gushes. “Hmm-m! I’ll say! I think we girls have been all wrong about Jughead–” says another.
In the very next panel, we finally meet Midgie (who looks like an early ‘50s version of today’s Midge), who is telling Moose “I’m so sorry Moose — but Jughead has stolen my heart! He even writes poetry about me, I understand. You had better stay away from me, he’s frightfully jealous y’know!” Next panel: Moose charges into the Malt Shop screaming “Okay you guys — Where is he??” at an empty pair of shoes on the floor. One guy says “H-he was standing there until you came in!” while another guy pointing straight up says “H-he went that-a-way!”
Moose goes on the rampage and finally finds Jughead, but just as he’s about to clobber him, a mob of angry girls surround them both. “Unhand that gorgeous hunk of man, before we girls tear you to pieces” Moose (in tiny letters): “Y-yeah-h, s-sure, girls!” as he lets go of Jughead and flees in panic. Meanwhile, the girls surround Jughead. “We saved him, so he’s all ours, girls! Let’s keep him for a pet!” says one. “Let’s cut off locks of his hair and save them!” cries another. “He’s mine! I saw him first!” exclaims another.
Somehow, Jughead escapes, and rounding a corner he asks Archie and Reggie to help him. “Do you want to save him, Reg?” asks Archie. “Nope! I’m not saving any girl-friend snatcher!” Finally, Jughead catches up to the fleeing Big Moose. “Aw c’mon Moose! Please!! Beat me up so I’m sent to a hospital! Anything! Don’t let them get me!” cries Jughead, pulling at Moose’s sweater. “Nix, Jughead!! Leggo! You want I should get killed?!?” says an obviously frightened Moose.
So that’s Midgie/Midge’s first appearance. One panel, and all of Riverdale is in an uproar!
This story is reprinted in The Best of Archie (Putnam, 1980), which is long out of print, but used copies still can be found. No creator credits are provided, either by Archie or the Grand Comics Database, and I don’t have a good guess, other than it’s probably not drawn by Samm Schwartz.
MORE MIDGE CONFUSION
Curiously, the Wikipedia entry for Midge Klump states that the character was designed by Dan DeCarlo. I’m not sure that is exactly the case, but I can see where confusion might lay. That issue of Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica (#4) is usually cited as DeCarlo’s first issue drawing the characters, and it’s fairly obvious that DeCarlo has drawn some of the stories in that issue, but not the story that Midge appears in, which is titled “The Big Fix”. I don’t know who drew it, but it’s in a much different style than the other DeCarlo stories in this issue.
For the record, the DeCarlo-illustrated stories in Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #4 are “No Picnic” (4 pages), “As You Were” (3 pages), and “Fish for Dinner” (5 pages). DeCarlo was initially told to draw like classic Archie artist Bob Montana, which he’s obviously struggling with in this issue, but it’s hard to disguise DeCarlo’s signature style. By the 1960s, Archie Comics were asking new artists to emulate DeCarlo’s drawing style!
“The Big Fix” is worth reading, as it sets up another element of the early Moose and Midge relationship — namely, that Midge is just as jealous of Moose and reacts in a similar way as he does. When Betty tries to get Archie for herself, she concocts a wild story in which Veronica has a huge crush on Moose, which Moose seems to respond to. At least to the point of thinking that Archie is “monoperlizin’ his gurrl Veronica” and sets out to pulverize him. Betty is horrified at what she’s inadvertently started and confesses the whole thing to Midge, asking her to warn Archie about Moose. But Midge sees the story in another way…
Moose eventually catches up with Archie and threatens him. (“I’m gonna hit you so hard, your ears will stick out of your pockets.”) But the whole thing is resolved when Midge sneaks up behind Moose and clobbers him with a baseball bat, showering him with comic book stars, and knocking him out. (And breaking the bat in two!) Veronica crushes on Archie for standing up to Moose “for poor little me!” and Betty is left out in the cold, once again.
I’m not sure if this story has ever been reprinted outside of a possible digest appearance. Only one (other) story from this issue has been indexed at the Grand Comics Database. I have no guesses on who drew this, other than it’s not DeCarlo. It might be George Frese — although he signed his stories in earlier issues, and this story is not signed.
MOOSE AND MIDGE: TOGETHER AT LAST
Moose and Midge’s combative relationship would remain a fixture for years in the comics, until the comedy in it wasn’t very funny any more as we became more enlightened about similar real-life relationships. In fact, there’s a whole sub-group of Moose-Midge-Reggie stories which indicate that maybe Midge had some strong feelings for Reggie as well (or just possibly loves to flirt with him simply to drive Moose crazy). Or at least enough for Reggie to consistently take the risk (and subsequent clobberin’). This is one crazy triangle.
One thing you can be sure of, especially in the 50s and 60s stories, is whenever Moose or Midge gets jealous enough to involve others, there will be wild, manic stories with many crumpled bodies flying through comic panels. And it’s not just Moose doing the punching. Midge and Reggie would also occasionally get physical (although not in that way), with Midge (not Moose) doling out black eyes to Reggie. In the Archie Universe, as well as everywhere else, love is strange.
Another interesting thing about Moose and Midge’s relationship that’s now forgotten is that after the characters were initially established, Midge was often drawn exceptionally petite. This was probably done as additional visual humor (the tiny girl with the giant hulking boyfriend), but in the hands of an artist like Harry Lucey, the small and slender Midge (combined with her often angry attitude) often matched (or bettered) Betty and Veronica in “hotness”. By the 1970s, Midge was back to being drawn as an average-height teenager. And even Moose was slimmed down a bit, to make him less of a hulking threat to everyone.
COMING SOON: More on the secret history of Moose Mason, including the origin(s) of that incredible name. (Useless Hint: He’s supposedly of Russian ancestry!) Plus, is Moose actually dumb?
KC CARLSON ASKS: So, does anybody out there know exactly when Moose McGee first became Moose Mason? Similarly, Does anybody know exactly when “Midgie” Smith became Midge Klump? I’m still looking, but there’s a lot of old Archie comics out there to find and read, and I’d sure appreciate a pointer or two in the right direction.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.