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Obituaries

Dan DeCarlo, 82; Cartoonist Drew Archie, Josie and the Pussycat Comics

December 25, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dan DeCarlo, former Archie Comics cartoonist for 43 years who specialized in teenagers, drawing Archie, Veronica and Betty and creating Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, has died. He was 82.

DeCarlo died Dec. 18 in his native New Rochelle, N.Y., of pneumonia.

Red-haired, bow-tied teenager Archie was created by Bob Montana for Pep Comics in 1941. But it was DeCarlo, who began freelancing for Archie Comics in 1957 and became its chief artist at Montana's death in 1975, who gave the Riverdale gang its contemporary look.

DeCarlo, who often discussed the Archie crew as if the youths were part of his own family, gave Betty her trademark ponytail, Veronica her sports car, and kept all the characters in modern clothing as teenage tastes changed from mini-skirts to cargo pants. DeCarlo also added the third Archie girl, Cheryl Blossom, to the cast of characters.

"I love girls," he told the Washington Post last year. "I used to go to the high school to look and see what the girls were wearing, and draw that."

He patterned Josie after his own wife, French-born Josette Dumont, whom he met in Belgium during World War II. She became the real-life model for his DeCarlo girls, perky female characters with wide-set eyes, snub noses and voluptuous but properly clad figures.

A cat costume that Josie DeCarlo wore to a costume party on a Caribbean cruise became the garb of Josie's all-girl band, and a bouffant hairstyle she adopted in the late 1950s became the norm for Josie and her pals Pepper and Melody.

DeCarlo tried to sell "Here's Josie" as a comic strip in the late 1950s, but with no success. He later presented it to Archie Comics, which produced it as a comic book from 1963 to 1982. The company also spun off a cartoon "Josie and the Pussycats" with its theme song, "Josie and the Pussycats/Long tails and ears for hats."

A big-screen movie adaptation was released last Easter weekend, with DeCarlo listed as a creator in the credits. But by then his little ink-sketch Josie had become the center of acrimonious litigation, and DeCarlo was so embittered that he refused to see the movie.

In 2000, he sued Archie Comics for greater credit and cash for creating Josie only to have the company say that he was paid to create the character and that Archie Comics owned all rights. The company fired DeCarlo in May of that year.

A federal court ruled that DeCarlo had waited too many years to sue over the issue, and in the end he was permitted to sell his past work but forbidden to draw the Archie gang and other characters anew. He was allowed to draw Josie, and remained in popular demand at comic book conventions.

DeCarlo most recently drew characters from "The Simpsons" for a comic book and was planning two new series, "Lower East Side" and "Jessica and the Bunnygirls."

DeCarlo grew up drawing, producing characters on friends' jackets and cars. He hoped to become an illustrator like his idol, Norman Rockwell, and studied at the Art Students League for three years.

But when the U.S. entered World War II, DeCarlo was drafted into the Army Air Forces. He was a graphic artist for the Army information office in Europe and became popular with friends by drawing pinup girls for the noses of bombers.

When DeCarlo met the real Josie in Belgium, he was unable to speak French, so he communicated with her through cartoons. It was then, inspired by her appearance, that he began drawing what would become the "DeCarlo girl" of his comics. After the war, the couple and their twin sons, Dan Jr. and Jim (now both deceased), moved to New York. Answering a help-wanted ad, DeCarlo got a job with Stan Lee at Timely Comics (later Marvel) drawing popular comics such as "Millie the Model" and "My Friend Irma," romance stories and westerns.

With Lee, he created a comic strip called "Willie Lumpkin." He also contributed several one-panel cartoons to men's humor magazines.

DeCarlo began freelancing for Archie Comics a few years later. Despite the vitriolic dispute over ownership of the Josie characters, DeCarlo did receive credit as co-creator with George Gladir of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," which was also converted from comic books into a television hit.

DeCarlo is survived by his wife and two granddaughters.

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