‘Archie’ art on display
Thomaston — Archie Andrews, perennially spotted at Pop’s Chok'lit Shoppe, can be found this month at the Highlands Coffee House on Main Street/Route 1. Framed original comic strips by Bob Montana are on loan from the collection of Ray Montana, son of the late cartoonist.
Ray Montana lives in Union and is a regular musical performer at the Highlands, which hosts a well-attended Open Mic on Thursday nights, a First Sunday Jazz Jam and occasional live band nights. Bass player Ray, a man of many genres, plays with jazz quartet Exact Change and is already booked for many a summer farmers market with folk duo Dusty & Joanna.
Ray originally was introduced to the Midcoast via his father, a longtime resident of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region who arrived in the 1960s to bring his Friendship Sloop, the White Eagle, to Lash Brothers Boat Yard for repairs.
“It was a beautiful boat! It sailed on Lake Winnipesaukee for years. It was in the movie ‘Carousel’; my parents got engaged when my father took my mother to see ‘Carousel’ at a big theater in New York City,” Ray said.
Bob was a founding member of the Friendship Sloop Society, and raced the White Eagle in its first race. Both he and Ray raced, on others’ sloops, in the 1970s. The White Eagle is now in Massachusetts, being rebuilt by current owners Bill Cronin and Cynthia Pendleton. Ray said that “somewhere in a box” he has a Friendship Sloop Society publication with a cover drawn by his father.
Bob Montana was born into a vaudeville family, so he traveled around most of his early childhood. But as a teen, his family settled in Massachusetts and he attended the old Haverhill High School, which became the visual inspiration for Riverdale High. Montana developed Archie Andrews and pals while working as an illustrator for MLJ Magazines. “Archie” was such a hit that MLJ became Archie Comic Publications. Other artists eventually did the comic books, but Montana wrote and drew the six daily and Sunday strips, which appeared at one point in some 700 newspapers, for three decades. He died in 1975 at age 55.
A few years earlier, Bob had sold the White Eagle and purchased a 21-foot lobster boat from a fiberglass shop in Rockland, which he took back home to Lake Winnipesaukee.
“So we had a lobster boat on the lake,” said Ray.
When he and his wife decided to move to the Midcoast, Ray said they looked from Belfast to Damariscotta for a house they could afford. The search was not going so well when they decided, somewhat on a whim, to visit Friendship.
“I hadn’t been there since I was a teen and though it would be fun. We ended up finding a house there,” he said, adding that they later discovered that house had been owned at one time by Wilbur A. Morse, who built the White Eagle in 1914.
“That was a name I’d known since I was 6,” said Ray. The couple since has built and moved into a house in Union.
Moving with him was his trove of “Archie” strips and other art works by his father; he and his siblings divided them up equally after their father died.
“They live all over the place! Lynn is in New Hampshire, on the same land my parents owned; another sister is in South Carolina and my brother’s in Seattle,” he said.
Bob Montana “drew” with a brush and the pace was such he had to come up with a strip every day. The quality of his “blacks” and details are rarely seen in comics today; Ray likes to point out the small visual gags in each panel that culminate in a punch line that accompanies the verbal jokes. By some time in the 1970s, he said, it’s likely another artist drew the bodies after Bob created the storyline and character heads. But the bodies were all his in the early days and during World War II, some of them reflected the popular pinups of the day — Veronica appears in a particularly iconic pose in one strip on the Highlands wall.
Ray said his father was an early supporter of environmental issues, as illustrated by a strip on view from June 1970, just weeks after the inaugural Earth Day, set during an anti-pollution parade.
Ray has made a set of limited edition prints of “Archie” strips using museum-quality paper and ink, available for purchase for $20. He also is considering selling some of the original strips … and he would like them, and his father’s fine art — including a Route 1 tour of Maine drawings — to be seen in a different light.
“I’d love to do a show at the Farnsworth of his work, a retrospective. They show Robert Indiana, so why not Robert Montana?” he said.