Riverdale’s Strangest Christmas Tradition: Meet Jingles The Elf And The Sugarplum Fairy
The Christmas season is well and truly upon us, and that means that it's time once again for all of the usual traditions: Decorating the tree, hanging up the stockings, leaving your shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill up with candy, and, if you happen to be a teenager in the idyllic town of Riverdale, preparing for a casual visit from Jingles the Elf and the Sugarplum Fairy.
That's what I'm doing, anyway, and while I'm definitely a little more into the weirder side of Archie Comics than the average person, they're definitely a couple of characters that you should know about. If nothing else, it's always worth talking about how the fact that Archie and his friends regularly hang out with elves from Santa's workshop and no one seems to think this is even the slightest bit unusual is maybe the least weird thing about them.
So here's the basic idea: Despite what you may have heard in songs, Santa Claus can't keep an eye on all the children of the world all the time, so in addition to their usual duties of toy-making and reindeer-feeding, the elves are also dispatched to keep an eye on kids and report back to the man in charge. Riverdale's elf --- or at least, the elf responsible for the only twelve teens who actually matter in Riverdale --- is Jingles, created by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick and Vincent DeCarlo back in 1961.
The thing, is, unlike the shifty-eyed little surveillance state narc that is Elf on the Shelf, Jingles is pretty up front with what he's doing, to the point where everyone accepts his visits as just another thing that happens at Christmastime. I mean, yes, there's a little getting used to it when a tiny man shows up in your bedroom and starts talking about how he got assigned to Nice List Duty after screwing up an order of dolls, but they get over that pretty quick. Just check out the difference between his first appearance, seen above, and his second appearance in 1963:
Archie is barely even surprised enough to wake up. Also, he changed the orientation of his bed and got a new mirror but kept the same picture of Veronica. But we're getting off track.
The point is, by the second time that he makes an appearance in the comics, everyone is just like, "Oh right, Jingles, the magic elf who works with Santa and is invisible to adults, this is perfectly normal." And that is the best. The fact that the literal magic of Christmas is an accepted part of the Archie Universe --- and keep in mind that this is the core Archie continuity we're talking about, not one of the weird offshoots --- is pretty great.
Especially when you get to the part where Jingles just straight up hates Reggie Mantle.
Really though, who can blame him?
It's worth noting that Jingles is pretty frequently referred to as a "delinquent" --- and in one pretty amazing intro as "Santa's non-conformist elf" by Jughead --- who isn't actually very good at the whole toy-making thing, which is probably why Santa doesn't let him do his job alone. As a backup, we have Sugarplum, a fairy who also reports back to Santa, although she's usually more concerned with whether everyone is at the proper levels of Christmas Cheer than which side of the list they ended up on:
Other than that, she pretty much does the exact same thing in the stories, except she usually appears in Betty and Veronica instead of Archie.
Now here's where it gets weird.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that before too long, Jingles and Sugarplum started appearing in stories together, if only because Santa was tired of Jingles blowing off work and needed someone to make sure the actual job got done. And, given that these are, after all, Archie Comics, and that the entire franchise is built on the foundation of comics' most famous love triangle, it probably won't come as a surprise that those two characters are eventually going to hook up, either. Exactly how that happens, though, I don't think any of us could've predicted.
It starts off with the usual setup, of course: Since they've been assigned to work together, Jingles and Sugarplum start off at each other's throats, arguing about the best way to get the job done. Eventually, though, they decide to make a go of hiding in plain sight in order to see how Archie and the gang act when they're not aware that there's a tiny representative of the North Pole riding around on their shoulders. So at that point, they...
Well, I should probably just go ahead and let Santa explain this one himself:
Yes. They turn themselves into human teenagers named Jimmy and Summer --- which, all things considered, is a pretty weird name for a Christmas sprite --- and then fall in love with each other. But! Since they've turned into human teenagers in Riverdale, they're also instantly drawn into the orbit of the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle in a way that's a whole lot weirder than it first appears once you remember that they are Christmas elves.
And if that wasn't enough, it then turns out that there's an entire Archie-style storyline going on up at the North Pole that we never see!
This is something that's hinted at pretty early on --- that second story gives Jingles his own Reggie-esque rival, Jangles --- but by the time we ge to the '90s, it turns out that there's an entire complicated network of relationships going on up at Santa's Toy Shop.
It turns out that there's not just Jingles and Sugarplum, but there's also Troll, a strapping, handsome elf who built his muscles by loading up Santa's sleigh, and also Garland, the conniving brunette Veronica to Sugarplum's sweet, cheer-obsessed Betty. The only difference between the usual hijinx that we get with Archie and the stuff that we get from Sugarplum and Jingles is that Archie doesn't usually travel thousands of miles and employ actual magic in the lovers' quarrels.
But again, that's just how it works in Riverdale every December, and everyone's pretty much okay with that.
So that's the basics of Jingles, Sugarplum, and Archie's take on Santa's little helpers. If, however, you're still curious, then you're in luck: It turns out that Archie's next Pep Digital collection, out on December 11, is a collection of Jingles and Sugarplum stories called The Magic of Christmas that's slated to have 150-odd pages of elves and fairies in holly jolly action. That should explain everything.
Well, everything except this.
If you can figure out that one, then you're probably a step ahead of the rest of us.