If you’ve read my research page, then you are aware that the focus of my PhD program is asexual characters in literature and how their presence and presentation affects literature. The problem being that asexuality was not understood to be a sexual orientation until the 1960’s. So understanding asexuality as it existed in literature prior to that is difficult. But when mentioning asexual characters, there are two standouts that immediately come to mind, one of them being Jughead Jones.
As most people are aware, Jughead sort of outed himself as asexual in 2016. I say sort of because it was mentioned in passing as if it were a fact everyone already knew. And that is really the case. Jughead has consistently been more enamored with hamburgers than women. When the reveal occurred, people described it as retconning. Retcon is the practice of changing a well established fact in the fictional world’s past by using a device in the present product. For example, using a time machine to revive a dead character and return him or her to the fictional universe. The issue with Jughead, and why he is part of the focus of my research, is that I don’t think Jughead’s asexuality is actually a retcon. Rather, his sexuality is simple character development. In that regard, we can than include Jughead in our examination of asexual characters. In fact, because Jughead’s publication straddles the 1960’s era, he is uniquely positioned to provide us with insight into the evolution of asexuality in literature.
But in order to make the cut, Jughead needs to exhibit qualities that would indicate he was asexual not just prior to 2016, but prior to the 1960’s. Let’s look at Jughead’s first appearance in Pep Comics No. 22. Look at the panel on the right. Apart from Jughead making the claim that women are poison, he wears his iconic whoopee cap and his eyes are droopy. The whoopee cap was commonly associated with mechanics in the 20’s and slowly worked it’s way into popular culture by the 30’s. But by the time Jughead was created, the hat had fallen out of vogue. This indicates that Jughead is something of an outsider already. Now examine the eyes closely. In comics, particularly comics in the early half of the 20th century, when a character had eyes that stood out from the eyes of his counterparts, that indicated a slightly skewed perception. Throughout Jughead’s publication history, his eyes are rarely fully open except when he sees a plate of hamburgers. Archie being a romance comic, this behavior is particularly odd.
Then there is the curious case of Ethel Muggs. Throughout the comics, Ethel pursues Jughead. All the while Jughead spurns her advances and only accepts her company in exchange for hamburgers. Cruelty aside, Jughead’s actions are illustrative of his lack of interest in romance. The relationship he has with Ethel is reminiscent of the closeted homosexual and his beard, a woman that dates a homosexual with or without her knowledge of his sexuality as a means of concealing said sexuality from public knowledge. Given Jughead’s behavior and history, it is not far fetched to believe that he is using Ethel in such a manner.
The Ace community, the community made up of individuals that identify as being under the umbrella term asexual and their allies, were excited when Jughead was identified as asexual. And even more so when, at the same time, the Riverdale pilot was ordered by the CW. Unfortunately, that elation soon turned into dismay when showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa made the announcement that their depiction of Jughead will not include his asexuality, and perhaps even more distressing, that Jughead will have a romantic interest in Betty Cooper. Many saw this as “asexual erasure” when a rare opportunity was presented to portray an ace character in a meaningful way was taken away. It also doesn’t help things when people that work at Archie like Dan Parent say Jughead is NOT asexual, but “lives in his own world”. Honestly, that sounds an awful lot like a phrase that is commonly heard in the LGBTQ community, “Oh he isn’t gay. He’s just confused.” Personally, I find it insulting. Scholastically, I find it fascinating and that is why Jughead makes for the perfect candidate to research.