On June 18th, the anticipated issue of Archie Comics featuring a new character that is a wheelchair user had hit comic book stores. Harper, the cousin to the diva socialite Veronica Lodge, made her debut, and boy, are those within the disability and comic book communities buzzing about it. Harper, from various news articles published about her arrival, is described as a “spunky fashionista” with an incredible “dynamic personality.”
The idea behind Harper’s creation in the series stemmed from a conversation between Archie Comics writer and artist Dan Parent, and Archie fan Jewel Kats, a children’s book author who has a disability. (I spotlighted Kats’ book, Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair, in an article on my blog.) It is truly amazing that a conversation sparked an incredible idea, which birthed an empowering character.
My “Geekdom” About Harper’s Debut:
I first learned of Harper’s debut on social media, when I saw sketches of Harper on Archie Comics’ Tumblr page. When I saw the sketches, I was taken aback – I could not believe that there was finally a character with a physical disability in the fictitious town of Riverdale. I have written about my “geekdom” on Tumblr and Facebook, and others responded with the same enthusiasm I had.
I have been reading Archie Comics since I was a child, and though I loved the fact that the comic book series did display diversity within its characters, the fact that there was not a character that I could relate to fully was missing. To see Archie Comics, a brand that has been around since the 1940s, create a character for disabled female comic book readers (young and old) blew my mind. I felt that finally, someone understood that disabled girls and women needed a comic book character that represented them, and normalized their way of life. I could not wait to get my hands on this issue, and read about this amazing new character to the Archie Comics clan.
Archie Comics’ Focus on Disability Did Not Begin With Harper:
Though Harper is the first character with a physical disability in the series, she is not the first disabled character, nor the first time that Archie Comics addressed disability in its books. In Archie: Clash of the New Kids, Carla Teal made her debut as a visually impaired student at Riverdale High. Carla was one of 50 students who transferred to Riverdale during the closure of Pine Point High School. Carla, who is African American, was depicted as witty and amiable; someone who did not let her impairment slow her down, nor wanted to be viewed as helpless by her peers.
Carla, using light-hearted humor, showed the flirtatious redhead Archie how to “lead” her to class, and told why she likes to keep classmates “guessing” about her knowing things without being able to see. Carla’s presence was significant – you do not typically see female characters of color with disabilities in comic books, and most importantly, depicted in ways that are not offensive or stereotypical. Carla was independent, yet willing to share her experiences with those that saw her wholeness; not just her disability.
Why Harper’s Presence Is So Important in Comic Books:
For Issue #656, Harper’s presence is important because she, too, is a female character of color with a disability. As a disabled woman of color, I am always seeking empowering portrayals of the disabled and of color experiences. Racial, gender, and disabled representations in literature, especially comic books, are lacking, despite the fact that readers are composed of various racial, ethnic, gender, and disabled backgrounds. There is a big issue in the comic book industry regarding diversity, and many avid readers and creators/illustrators are demanding that more characters are created to accurately picture the world we live in. Archie Comics, being a trailblazer in the comic book industry, heard the outcry, and has taken action to create the diverse characters readers want:
Harper is the latest in a long line of characters we’ve introduced to make Riverdale feel like a city in today’s world, said Jon Goldwater, Co-CEO and publisher of Archie Comics.
In regards to Harper’s debut as the first character with a physical disability, Goldwater remarked that:
Harper is, first and foremost, a funny, fashionable and witty teenager. The fact that she’s disabled is only one part of her story, and we’re excited to welcome her to Riverdale and Archie Comics.
Archie Comics’ proactiveness to creating Harper, and Carla, shows why this brand is so respected within and outside the comic book industry.
My Thoughts About Issue #656:
I read Issue 656 over the debut weekend, and I was impressed at how Harper’s personality and vivaciousness jumped from the page. She reminded me so much of myself; she is an entrepreneur, lovable, funny, and unique. She is a woman on the go, and four wheels and two elbow crutches will not slow her down. I love the fact that she has various interests, just like I do. She explained her disability to Archie that allowed him to grasp how she viewed herself, and she stood up to her cousin Veronica who tries to protect her from being hurt by Reggie, the Riverdale prankster that has taken an interest in her.
The latter stood out to me because Harper showed that disabled women, in particular, are not delicate flowers that needed sheltering – we deserve to experience love and romance as anyone else, and that includes heartache, if it happens. Her outspokenness about who she is, and how she wants others to treat and view her was a powerful testimony to read because it validated our humanness and desire to not be treated differently. People with disabilities are more than what makes them perfectly imperfect, and Harper’s storyline definitely made that fact known.
I Want More Harper!:
This issue of Archie Comics was a quick, short read. It left me wanting to read more about Harper, and see how she becomes more integrated in the series. Archie Comics created a lovable, strong female character with a disability, and those in the industry should take copious notes of how you can successfully diversify your characters. I cannot wait to read more issues featuring Harper, and seeing what antics she, and the rest of the Riverdale High gang, get into.
Have any of you read the recent issue of Archie Comics with Harper’s debut? What are your thoughts about her arrival to Riverdale? If you are a disabled female comic book reader, what feelings/emotions did Harper’s story evoke in you? What can be done to prompt the comic book industry that readers of all abilities will read about disabled characters?
(Featured headlining images: Courtesy of Archie Comics on Tumblr.)