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December 28, 2010

'Archie' comic changes with the times, examines real-life topics

HAVERHILL — The "Archie" comic strip, created by Haverhill's Bob Montana and based on life at Haverhill High School in the late 1930s, has taken another step toward the 21st century.

A few months ago, an openly gay character by the name of Kevin Keller made his debut in the strip. Veronica had her eye on the new guy but he politely turned her down.

Now, in the episode slated for release tomorrow, Archie and his gang face the death of a popular teacher, Geraldine Grundy, from cancer.

Jane (Donahue) Murphy, who graduated from Haverhill High in the same class as Montana, 1939, said if he were still writing the strip, these recent developments would not have taken place.

"It wouldn't be what he would have written," said Murphy, who knew the late Montana quite well. She lived on 14th Avenue, he on Sheridan Street, and they often walked to and from school together, she said.

Maybe the current creators of "Archie" need to "bring in the new crowd" to keep readers, Murphy said. Officials at Archie Comics Inc. have said the strip needs to reflect today's real-life issues.

Montana focused on the simpler times of yesteryear. Murphy recalled that on one rainy day, Montana "gave me his hat." Years later, that event was depicted in the comic, she said.

Murphy said although she ended up marrying another classmate, William "Buddy" Murphy, she and Montana went to the junior prom together.

The characters in "Archie" are based on real-life characters who attended Haverhill High in the late 1930s. Murphy said Archie was none other than her lively cousin Richard Heffernan.

Montana, who was a polite and quiet young man during his Haverhill High years, really admired the outgoing Heffernan, she said, and would often ask about him.

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