When Riverdale appeared on television screens last fall, fans of the original Archie Comics were curious about how the show was going to handle the most intriguing character in the Archieverse – Jughead P. Jones. Jughead has always been somewhat of an enigma. Why the button-clad crown? Why so many hamburgers? Why the half-lidded eyes? When Jughead was revealed as the de facto narrator-blogger-moral compass of the CW’s Riverdale, the role made sense to fans of the original comics. But one thing fans weren’t so sure about was how the show was going to portray the burger-loving boy’s sexuality.
Jughead’s sexual orientation has always been the subject of intense speculation. In the long history of the character, Juggie has never had a serious love interest the way others have. In addition, his traits of being touch averse, a loner, and uninterested in romantic relationships have remained fairly consistent in the comics. Prior to the CW’s Riverdale, there were two popular versions of the Jughead Jones character: as “Archie’s Pal Jughead” in John L. Goldwater’s original Archie Comics (1941-2012) and as Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead in the 2015 “New Riverdale” reboot.
In Goldwater’s version, Jughead’s disinterest in women was often played for laughs. Characters would say things like “Classic Jughead!” in response to his repeated rejection of women and relationships. Some even argued Jughead was repulsed by women, a claim supported by several overtly misogynistic panels.
But assuming Jughead is not a “woman hater,” as he sometimes claims, Goldwater’s version consistently portrays him as a character who has both a lack of sexual attraction towards women and a marked disinterest in romantic relationships. This characterization caused a large subsection of fans to conclude that Jughead identifies as asexual and aromantic.
The “asexual” part of Jughead’s identity was later confirmed in Zdarsky’s 2015 version of the comic. During a conversation in Jughead #4, Kevin Keller confirms Jughead as canonically asexual.
In an interview with Comicbook.com, Zdarsky remarked on this revelation:
“It’s good to have someone not as mired in the hormonal teen romances, and it adds to that “outside-looking-in” quality I talked about before. I’m writing him as asexual, but this is comics, yeah? The next writer could make him discover girls or boys or both and that’s totally fine. There have been iterations of Jughead over the decades where he HAS been interested in girls, so there’s room to play around if someone was inclined. For me though, I like an asexual Jughead.”
The canonization of Jughead’s asexuality provided many asexual and LGBT fans with the representation they had been waiting for since Jughead first appeared in 1941. So, when the CW network announced they would be adapting the Riverdale universe for television, many hoped Zdarsky’s version of Jughead would remain.
The CW is known for cornering the market on teen melodrama, in which adolescent relationships and hookups make up the fabric of the shows. The M.O. of series’ like Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and One Tree Hill are the (heterosexual) relationships between characters. However, with the debut of Riverdale and its positioning of Jughead as the “outsider-looking-in,” it seemed that the series might be setting up to build upon Goldwater and Zdarsky’s versions of Jughead as “aroace” (aromantic, asexual). Actor Cole Sprouse was certainly open to exploring this version of the character and even “argued creatively” for an asexual Jughead.
However, with the introduction of the Betty and Jughead (“Bughead”) relationship in Riverdale‘s sixth episode, many fans of aroace Jughead felt left in the dark – like their identity had been erased. After all, here was the perfect opportunity to build on Zdarsky’s version of “New Riverdale” and represent a canonical asexual character on television. However, perhaps to no one’s surprise, Riverdale reverted back to the tried and true heterosexual “Romeo and Juliet” love story. (Literally. Jughead climbs a ladder up to Betty’s window and says, “Hey Juliet.”)
In an interview with Emerald City Video, Cole Sprouse responded to the potential “incendiary” fan response to the Bughead storyline and, by extension, Jughead’s aroace identity.
“There are two forms of representation that Jughead has received over time. In Zdarsky’s Jughead, he’s asexual. That’s the only Jughead where he is asexual. He’s aromantic in the [Archie Comics] Digest, which is a different thing, but deserves attention as well. […] As much as there is a large community of people that really want to see Jughead as asexual – and I am a huge proponent for that kind of representation – there’s also quite a large community of avid Archie fans that want Betty and Jughead to be together too. So I think these are things we need to juggle when considering what Jughead is in Riverdale. This is a new universe. This is a new take on Jughead and he is this tortured, damaged kid – this Holden Caulfield. And that narrative is also beautiful. And while I think that [asexual] representation is needed, this Jughead is not that Jughead. This is not Zdarsky’s Jughead. This Jughead is not the aromantic Jughead. This Jughead is a person who’s looking for a kind of deeper companionship with a person like Betty.”
Sprouse’s careful pointing out that Riverdale‘s Jughead only reflects one version of the character speaks to the idea that, ultimately, it is not up to creators to define what characters mean to us. In fact, the reason why we have so much great fanfiction, fan art, and fan videos is because fans do not get to choose how characters are represented in mainstream film, television, or comics. Networks and studios and publishers have been very slow to introduce characters, plot lines, and series’ that provide a more inclusive portrait of the human experience – one that more accurately reflects the world in which we live. This is why fandom is so important: it provides much needed representation of minorities, whether it be in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, or ability.
Fan backlash to the erasure of Jughead’s asexuality and aromanticism is justified. We need better representation of the asexual community on television. But let’s also remember that the CW’s version is just one version of Jughead’s story – Riverdale is but a blip on the radar of the long history of the Archie Comics Universe. In fact, the ability to create new, alternate, or rebooted versions of a particular universe is what enabled Zdarsky to write Jughead as openly asexual in the first place.
Jughead is whatever you want him to be. Riverdale, like the rest of the world, is seen through your eyes and your interpretation. This is why we see so many ships and ships wars in fandom. Because, ultimately, every fan sees what they want to see, irrespective of “canon.” More importantly, fans see themselves in their favourite characters – their traits, their interests, their identities. And while Riverdale has been a missed opportunity to represent asexuality and aromanticism on television, fans shouldn’t let that detract from the fact that Jughead is our aroace king. The same way that Sherlock and John Watson are a couple and Dean Winchester is bisexual, Jughead is aroace and no one can tell me differently. So let your ace flag fly, because Jughead represents me. Always.
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