Article first published in Vol. 15, 1997.
By Sandra Pierce and Ruth Vise
America's social and cultural life has changed in many ways over the past five decades, but some things change very little. One of those is the comic strip " Archie," drawn for years by El Paso native Tom Moore. Although he is officially retired, Moore freelances and teaches computerized graphic art part-time at El Paso Community College.
Part of the enduring popularity of the Archie comic strip is that readers know what to expect of the characters. Archie Andrews is still the mythical boy next door; Veronica is the spoiled rich girl; Betty is the cute, sweet cheerleader type and Jughead's major activity is eating. Even in today's world where teens are beset by drugs, sex and violence, the Archie characters find an audience. The books still are found wherever comics are sold.
Image caption: "The Making of a Cartoonist" By Tony Moore
As the autobiographical strip above shows, Moore is an El Paso product through and through, even though the hospital in which he was delivered has gone through a metamorphosis, and his college has changed names twice. He met his wife, the former Ruth Kurz, as a college student, and the couple live in El Paso's Lower Valley in a big adobe house, parts of which are over 180 years old.
Moore drew cartoons for Texas Western's humor magazine, El Burro, as well as the school's newspaper, The Prospector, in the 1940s. For UTEP's 75th anniversary in 1989, Dale L. Walker wrote a feature article on Moore and the artist drew a full color, original Archie cover for the college's alumni magazine, Nova, featuring the Riverdale characters against a backdrop of Bhutanese architecture with Archie and Jughead wearing UTEP sweatshirts.
The El Paso Museum of Art featured the nationally known cartoonist last fall with a two-month exhibit called "Tom Moore; Archie and Friends." Moore's work and his huge comic collection drew thousands of area residents who remember the Archie comics fondly. During the 1950s, they were the top-selling comic in the country.
Image caption: Cartoon by Tom Moore
Warned he would never amount to anything if he didn't stop doodling in school, Moore produced cartoons for the Navy during the Korean War, including a regular strip which ran in military publications around the world.
Moore moved on to his dream of art school in New York City and enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. He studied under men considered masters of cartoon art, Burn Hogarth, who drew "Tarzan" and founded the school and Tom Gill known for "The Lone Ranger" comic strip.
Moore showed such promise that he was given cartoon work to do while he was still a student. During this "Golden Age" of comics, he took samples of his work to various magazine offices and met John Goldwater, president of what became Archie Comic Publications, and went to work for him.
When Bob Montana, the strip's originator, could not handle the extra work involved in producing a jokebook , Moore began to help write, draw, ink and letter the Archie comics. Moore even researched clothing ideas, drawing dresses off the Sears rack for Betty and Vogue creations for Veronica. The Archie series reigned supreme, outselling Superman and Wonder Woman in the 1950s. Moore also drew "Mutt and Jeff" and "Snuffy Smith" strips at this time.
But the Moores couldn't get the desert out of their blood, so in 1960 they returned to El Paso with their daughter Holly. Tom Moore continued working with Archie comics until 1961 when his employers wanted him to move back to New York. Dale Walker quotes Moore as saying, "We just didn't want to go back."
For several years, Moore worked for Mutual Savings as its public relations director, becoming branch manager of the company. He and his wife also added a son to their family in 1966. Moore returned to cartooning full-time in 1970, developing cartoons for El Paso Natural Gas Company and Insights Museum publications and renewing his association with Archie comics. Moore worked on the Archie strip until 1988 when he retired from the strip, but not from cartooning.
Image caption: Tom Moore is the man behind the Archie comic strips. Photo courtesy of Tom Moore.
The Archie characters have been going to Riverdale High School for 56 years, and some situations have had to change. Riverdale is now a city with a downtown skyline, and Archie drives a modern convertible instead of a Model A jalopy. Computers have replaced typewriters, and the misogynist Jughead even fell in love in the 1980s. The characters keep up to date in their messages to young readers about AIDS, saying no to drugs, and appeals about missing and runaway youths.
At its height of popularity, "Archie" appeared in 400 newspapers. When Moore retired from the strip, it was still selling 18 million comic books per year. The strip is published in 17 different languages, a tribute to both its timeliness and timelessness, reflecting a period in American history when things seemed simpler.
At El Paso Community College Moore's Archie characters continue to be greeted with enthusiasm even among the Generation X students in his classes. Moore likes using the computer. He says, "After using pen and paper for 50 years, using computer graphics is refreshing. You can change things with the touch of a button. "
Wearing cartoon t-shirts, Moore is a familiar face at EPCC. Like his characters who transcend generations, Tom Moore also appeals to current students. Martin Cortez, an advertising and graphic design major, says of Moore: "He's very patient. He goes step by step until we really understand. Even when class is over, he'll stay if we have questions on the programs we're running. He really spends a lot of time with us."
Between teaching and freelancing, Moore is busy. But he loves his work. He says, "Cartooning is a real blessing - getting paid for something you would do for free!"