03.26.14 // Strong Female Character: Valerie of Josie and the Pussycats
Written by AJ Dent, GeekGirlCon Staff Copy Writer
Looking back at my childhood, I can remember the exact moment when I learned that intelligence is often seen as dangerous — especially when it comes to women. When I was about ten years old, I was reading an Archie comic book that featured a story with Josie and the Pussycats. In order to set up the story about to unfold, the narrator introduced each character with their picture and a couple lines about their personality.
The narrator described Melodie, the band’s drummer, as a ditzy but well-meaning girl with plenty of sex appeal. She bore an excited smile and wide blue eyes. Next, Josie was presented as the level-headed lead singer of the group, looking calm and sweet as she walked down a sidewalk. Finally, they talk about Valerie, a multi-instrumentalist who is most often seen playing the guitar or the tambourine in the comics. Valerie is depicted with a smirk on her face, and though I can’t quote the story word for word (nor find it anywhere online, unfortunately), I specifically remember them saying that while Josie was “lovable”, Valerie is “likeable” — because she’s “too clever”.
The tale goes on to show Valerie solve yet another problem the three have encountered, her usual role within the group’s dynamic. The reason Valerie’s smarts aren’t valued as much as they should be is because she can constantly see through people, and isn’t scared to use sarcasm to rebuff them.
While there have been many versions of Valerie throughout the years, including one in a hilarious 2001 musical comedy, and though her last name seems to switch back and forth between “Smith” and “Brown”, her admirable characteristics always stay the same. She’s fiercely funny, confident as can be, and the most booksmart of the Pussycat trio, especially when it comes to science and auto mechanics.
In real life, Valerie is actually the very first black character to appear in Archie comics. In 1969, she seamlessly became part of their scene during a story in which Josie and Melody were on the hunt for a replacement band member. Within moments of Valerie showing up, the girls were impressed by her friendly demeanor and musicianship. Over the next year, the gang’s hijinks and hits grew so popular IRL, the idea of a cartoon television show was pitched. This resulted in Hanna-Barbera getting into a three-week standoff with producer Danny Janssen, as the TV moguls wanted to make the character of Valerie a caucasian woman. Janssen protested the switch and refused to back down, and the company finally relented, making Valerie the very first black recurring cartoon character in a television show series. This young, headstrong female from Riverdale has quite the impressive resume!
In this show, much as in the comics, Valerie is very Velma-like, solving mysteries and cracking codes far more often than her friends, thanks to her high I.Q. However, unlike her Scooby-Doo equivalent, she is not portrayed in traditionally “nerdy” fashion. She is street-smart, sassy, and stylish all at once! (I am all about geek chic, but to see an ultra-bright person without glasses in a 1970s cartoon was almost unheard of!)
I have always admired Valerie for her sharp mind, witty remarks, music skills, and playful nature. She is a fantastic friend to Josie and Melody, and a well-rounded strong female character I believe anyone can look up to. (She also recently made waves in the world of comics when she and Archie fell in love, got married, and had a daughter together.) Plus, I will forever love her for demonstrating that intelligence in a woman may be feared by the weak — and there’s no reason to let those people hold you down!
Which strong female characters do you revere? Do you have a favorite Pussycat?