Bob Montana, creator of the Archie comic strip — one of the most popular comics ever to run in newspapers far and wide — was a fascinating person. He gave back to the community in which he lived (Meredith) and he was far ahead of his time in progressive projects such as organic gardening.
“I never knew he lived here!” is the comment Carol Anderson heard often as she interviewed people and gathered material on her soon-to-be-published book about Bob Montana.
She said everyone has seen the Archie comics but many do not realize the creator and artist who drew the comic strip lived for years in Meredith.
Anderson, the author of The History of Gunstock, is putting the finishing touches on her book about Bob Montana. Thus, she has lived and breathed the life of Montana for many months and, when she speaks of him, she lights up.
“He contributed a lot to the world,” she says. “I wanted the book to celebrate Montana the man, not just his work as an artist. He volunteered his time and talents to many causes, both local and national.”
Anderson became aware of Bob Montana while researching the Gunstock book. Like many people, she knew he was a Lakes Region resident but she did not know a lot else about him. When she found a comic he did on Gunstock, she realized the talent, the humor, and the way Montana could seamlessly work local scenes and people into the Archie comic strip.
“That is how a book usually starts,” she says. “I see something and it sparks an idea. I might see an article or a photograph on something I didn’t know about before. Then, as is always the way, I see it everywhere! It just grows from there.”
She began to dream about doing a book on Montana and her publishers at the History Press liked the idea. But first, she approached Montana’s daughter, Lynn, who still lives in the area.
“Lynn loved the idea of a book on her father and so did her siblings [Bob and Peg Montana had four children]. They were thrilled that someone wanted to write about their Dad’s life,” Anderson recalls.
In researching the artist, Anderson soon realized there is not much out there on Montana. The basic facts she found were that he was born in 1920 and his father was, at the time, known as the world’s greatest banjo player. Montana’s father was a performer on the vaudeville circuit and his family accompanied him on the road. The family summered at a farm they owned in Meredith and later opened Montana’s Restaurant in the town. The Great Depression made it difficult to keep the restaurant going and vaudeville had fallen out of popularity.
The Montana family moved to Boston and Bob’s parents opened a restaurant there, which became a going concern. “His father died of heart problems when Bob was only a teenager and it was difficult. But Bob was talented and he went on to attend art school and then went to New York City to work for a comic strip company.”
An original sketch of the Archie gang by
cartoonist Bob Montana. Photo © Montana family.
Because the details of how the comic strip came about are in the book, Anderson says that she would rather hold off on that pertinent information. “You can read about it in the book, which is titled The New England Life of Cartoonist Bob Montana: Beyond the Archie Comic Strip.