Friday, June 6, 2014

Meeting Harper

Cover of Archie comics issue introducing Harper ... Young woman in a wheelchair with Archie sitting on her lap
Credit: Archie Comics
Jessica Goldstein, Think Progress - June 5, 2014

I am not a comics person. I think I read an "Archie” comic once when I was 8. Still, I’m vaguely aware that the "Archie" world is a deliberately wholesome, positive, nostalgic portrayal of high school. Given that, the addition of a character with a disability to the "Archie" lineup means something more than just representation.

If Riverdale High School is an ideal world, and Archie's gang is an ideal group of high school friends, and that ideal group now comfortably includes a person in a wheelchair, then that really does reinforce the normalcy of disability. It also looks like the new character, Harper, will include some important details that are often missing from more obviously deep disability portrayals … such as the fact that many wheelchair users do sometimes walk a little bit.

The Think Progress interview with Archie writer and artist Dan Parent is an interesting read. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that they chose to model their character on a particular person, though Jewel Kats seems like a pretty amazing role model. Maybe it’s better for non-disabled artists to ground their interpretations in people and situations they happen to know personally than to speculate on what other experiences might be like just to get a more challenging portrayal. I would love to see a disabled character in a comic like Archie born with a disability, or one who has more obvious struggles with independence and social stigma. Harper is an easy character to digest; she seems to be pretty, charismatic, talented, and rich. In another setting this might be considered a cop-out, but in the “Archie-verse”, Harper seems like a real milestone.

I doubt I’ll start buying Archie books, but I will keep an eye out as time goes by to see how Harper fits in … at with the Archie gang, with readers, and with the disability community.