“Zam Wham Wow!”
With that comic book introduction, Nancy Silberkleit, co-CEO of Archie Comics, said history is being made this month with an exbibit that helps solve a mystery and bring a little more of the city to its counterpart “Riverdale.”
Silberkleit addressed Haverhill Rotary Club members last week, giving a preview of the 14-piece display at the Haverhill Public Library. The exhibit, in a sense, corrects a misperception dating back to Bob Montana, the artist who created the freckled-faced character based on his high school years in Haverhill.
“Haverhill made an impact on him and he carried that to his pencils, to his pens, to his paper, to the comic book that became the globally known brand Archie Comics,” she said.
Silberkleit said she became interested in the statue in front of the high school, while working with educators in Israel on an English proficiency project. She said she decided to pose with the statue in front of Haverhill High to make a point about contemplation.
“So, I went there one time and took my picture there and I had to go back to my iPad to look for that picture. This was just about six or seven months ago. I look at my picture and I go ‘ahh, that’s not ‘The Thinker.’ That’s not a Rodin sculpture! What is it?’ I zoom in, because there is a plaque there. That sculpture is called ‘Il Pensieroso’ by Michelangelo,” she explains.
It is clear Montana based Archie’s high school on what was then Haverhill’s, but inexplicably used Rodin’s 1888 figure. “Bob Montana always had it there. I had some artwork that Bob Montana did. So, it’s his pencil by him and it’s his architecture of what’s City Hall now. It’s the same architecture you see in Riverdale High.”
Silberkleit wondered why Montana would use the wrong statue in his comics. Investigating, she learned from an art historian, the artist was clearly familiar with Michelangelo’s work.
“In Bob Montana’s studio in New Hampshire, right behind him on the door was the word ‘Think’ and Michelangelo’s sculpture. So, Bob Montana did draw it,” she said.
The Archie executive theorized comic book executives chose to use Rodin because it was more familiar than Michelangelo’s work.
The bronze copy of Michelangelo’s work was a gift to the high school from Emma Gale Harris in memory of Joseph Augustus Shores. According to the Jan. 10, 1910 “Bulletin of the Haverhill Public Library,” the statue was first stored at the library’s old Summer Street building until the new high school—now City Hall—was finished in 1910.
There are three particular Archie covers with “The Thinker” at the exhibit, but Silberkleit said, the centerpiece of the display brings Montana’s original vision to life.
“You are going to see for the first time in history that your sculpture in front of Haverhill High is now on an Archie Comics sketch penciling. It hasn’t been published yet. Right now, I’ve just had the cover done. Still working on the story, but it shows what is there at Haverhill High in Haverhill, Massachusetts,” she told Rotarians.
The unfinished Archie cover will be used in a series featuring a new character, Scarlet Saltee. who represents the Autistic population in a storyline called “The Thoughtful One.” The title is the translated title of Michelangelo’s work.