by KC Carlson
Josie DeCarlo passed away recently after a very long and mostly happy life. She raised a loving and successful family and provided great inspiration for her husband Dan. Normally, this wouldn’t be the basis for a column about comic books, but Josie DeCarlo was one of comics’ greatest muses, serving as model both for Josie of Josie and the Pussycats as well as bandmate Melody. In addition to his long career at Archie Comics drawing their classic characters, Dan is also known for drawing many of the most beautiful women in comics. I think it’s safe to say that considering Josie’s (the real one) impeccable sense of style, fashion, and beauty, there’s probably a little bit of Josie in every woman Dan ever drew.
Dan and Josie met on a blind date while he was stationed in Belgium during World War II. They married after the war ended (and Josie immigrated from France) and settled in New York. In 1947, their twin sons, Dan Jr. and James were born. Remember their names.
Needing money to support his new family, Dan quickly found regular work at Timely (now Marvel) Comics. Over the next 10 years or so, Dan was primarily responsible for drawing Millie the Model, but also did a number of other notable series including Jeannie (his first regular assignment), My Friend Irma/My Girl Pearl, and Showgirls. Dan and Stan Lee also teamed up for a series of (mostly unsuccessful) newspaper strip attempts, including one about a mailman named Willie Lumpkin.
In 1957, Timely (then called Atlas) made a disastrous business deal which affected their distribution, and that, combined with the fact that Stan had a closet full of inventory that was bought and paid for, meant there were massive layoffs. Dan DeCarlo went freelance for several companies at this time, most notably Archie Comics, where his primary assignment was Archie’s Girls, Betty and Veronica, a title that he worked on (in two different volumes) for 50 years! Starting with issue #4 in 1951, Dan tried to contribute at least a few pages in each issue, eventually taking over the book entirely somewhere in the mid-1950s — an amazing run of first-rate work, however you count it.
Also during this time, Dan continued to attempt to break into newspaper comics. He came up with an idea for a strip about a typical contemporary teenage girl in a suburban family. Here’s where Josie comes back into the story, coming home from the hairstylists with a brand new hairdo, a fluffy bouffant with a tiny ribbon. That became the hairstyle for the teenage girl lead in the strip, now titled Josie.
Circumstances prevented Dan from developing Josie as a full-blown newspaper strip (only a few samples were prepared), but since he was now freelancing for Archie, he decided to show the samples to them as a potential comic book. They agreed, but it did not appear until 1963 — first appearing in Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals #23, which was almost simultaneously published with She’s Josie #1.
One of the other prominent characters in the Josie strip was Melody, a stereotypical dumb blonde, with a visualization not unlike a young Marilyn Monroe. But she also had another inspiration — Melody’s sing-song voice (depicted by musical notes in her word balloons in the early days) came directly from Josie DeCarlo and her wonderfully musical voice!
She’s Josie originally was seen as slightly more sophisticated than the slapstick Archie adventures of the time. Dan designed it that way, subtly indicating that Josie and her friends were a couple of years older than the Riverdale gang. (Never strong on actual continuity in their comics, Archie Comics has remained vague on where the Josie cast lives, although it’s usually implied that they’re from one of “the next towns over”.) The pre-Pussycats comic frequently included hippies, drop-outs, folk/rock guitar players, and student protests — which also gave it more adult (or at least older kid) appeal.
Dan wasn’t big (or consistent) on the last names of the characters in She’s Josie. Josie’s last name (when used) was Jones in the comics — until Melody’s last name was given as Melody Jones, at which time Josie became Josie James. When the Josie and the Pussycats movie came out in 2001, all the surnames were changed — to Josie McCoy, Melody Valentine, and Valerie Brown (originally Smith in the comics). Archie Comics officially adopted the new surnames for the comic books at that time.
When Josie and the gang first became the Pussycats, Josie DeCarlo was once again instrumental in inspiring their stage costumes. Josie once wore a pussycat catsuit (complete with a long tail and “ears for hats”) to a cruise ship masquerade party. Another memorable DeCarlo & DeCarlo style was born!
One more funny bit of Josie business before moving on. Dan had plenty of opportunities over the years to draw himself into Archie stories — usually when the Archie gang visited the company offices or on their (now frequent) visits to comic book conventions. But in these appearances, he usually drew himself as a middle-aged (or older) man. Below is an rare appearance in Josie (#38) of an, I assume, teenaged Dan DeCarlo running into two of his greatest creations. Enjoy some amazing cartooning.
OTHER JOSIE (DeCARLO) APPEARANCES
One of the more charming things about the Archie Comics of the early 1960s was how they often ran pin-up and fashion pages in many of their comics. Frequently (as in the earlier Katy Keene comics), many of them were inspired by Archie fans and credited (as “Suggested by”) directly on the comics page. (This is hugely ironic since Archie refused to publicly credit their regular artists and writers for decades.) Josie suggested several of these pinup ideas. Thus, it came to be that Josie DeCarlo (under her maiden name of Josie Dumont) was credited as an Archie “creator” long before Dan — the guy who drew thousands of pages and covers for the company — was publicly acknowledged.
(By the way, Dan penciled all these pages, plus all the other ones appearing in this column. During this era, these pieces were most likely inked by Dan’s brother Vince DeCarlo. Rudy Lapick was another of Dan’s frequent inkers around this time.)
Here are several examples of Josie’s “credits” at Archie Comics. (Click on them to make them larger.)
I’m fascinated that, back in those more innocent times, the home addresses of of contributors were included. I wonder if this was the DeCarlo’s home address in Scarsdale at the time of these illustrations.
In recent years, Josie DeCarlo, with the support of a large number of devoted comic professionals, has kept Dan’s memory and work alive. (Dan passed away in 2001.) Dan was anonymous for most of his career, becoming “the good girl artist” — like the similarly (then) anonymous Carl Barks was “the good duck artist” — but now it seems everybody knows who he was. Josie’s passing was also noted by media outlets and entertainment sites, which commented on her as major inspiration for both the movie and comic series.
According to Josie’s own words (from her introduction to Bill Morrison’s Innocence and Seduction: The Art of Dan DeCarlo — a must-have DeCarlo artbook and bio), Dan’s most important role was husband and father:
“Dan and I had a wonderful life together. He was easy to live with, due his great sense of humor and compassionate nature. He was always concerned with creating a happy life for us. He was very thoughtful and caring. He succeeded in building a wonderful life filled with love and memories to cherish.”
The two of them left behind tremendous legacies — both in comics and in their wonderful extended family.
A NOTE ON SOURCES: For these pages, I’ve listed the issues where I found them, which may — or may not — be the original source. Pin-ups and fashion pages were frequently reprinted in other Archie publications in that era — and much later in the digests. Frequently, when reprinted later, the names and addresses of the contributors were removed.
KC CARLSON SEZ: For more information about the DeCarlo family, including some very early credits for sons Dan Jr. and Jim, as well as more Dan DeCarlo artwork — pop over to Comics Worth Reading.