History and character
Ethel Muggs (originally Ethel Dinklehof) was portrayed in the early era as a tall, ugly, somewhat boy-crazy individual that had a huge infatuation with Jughead Jones. This was explained in her first appearance in Archie's Pal, Jughead #84 as the result of Dilton's "Electronic Mate Selector" selecting Jughead as "the perfect mate for you". She usually resorted to devious means to get Jughead in her clutches, and would typically end up running after him. Ethel has also pursued Jughead by appealing to his appetite; the Betty and Veronica comic title often featured real recipes that Ethel used to make her way to Jughead's heart through his stomach. Earlier issues featuring Big Ethel show her bearing a strong resemblance to Jughead, also, with her prominent nose, dark hair, and angular build. In the late 1980s, Ethel was occasionally drawn with braces on her buck teeth.
Although Ethel is usually portrayed as gangly and plain, with no figure, one story involving a makeover by Betty and Veronica in an attempt to attract Jughead's attention revealed her to be quite curvy and pretty (albeit still with buck teeth). Despite her new look, Jughead was as uninterested as ever.
In the later era, she has been portrayed as an average, somewhat likeable individual, whose infatuation for Jughead has lessened quite a bit. She now has other interests that keep her mind from Jughead, including Archie Andrews and Dilton Doiley, to keep her company. This actually tends to make Jughead a bit jealous. She and Dilton share mutual sympathy due to their few successes with romantic relationships, which is one of the reason that they occasionally date. She has even been on one memorable date with Archie in one story. That date showed another side of Ethel, where she was funny, smart and attractive. The same story also introduces Hank, a friend of Ethel's who works at a local club Archie and Ethel visit on their date.
It is later revealed that Hank was originally a pen pal of Ethel's, and she sent him a picture of Veronica instead of herself because of her low self-esteem. When Hank met Veronica standing in as Ethel, he dumped her because of her vanity. He soon ran into the real Ethel, and told her she was the most exciting girl he has ever met, and that Veronica could not hold a candle to her. When she questions his sincerity, he replies that he does mean it, and she is even more beautiful than Veronica.
Although Ethel drives Jughead away when her affections are too obvious, he can often stand being around her when she keeps her calm. In a storyline that ran in Jughead in the early 1990s, Ethel told Jughead she is tired of chasing him, and begins a romantic relationship with Jeffrey, a blind boy. During this time, Jughead also had a semi-romantic relationship with Anita, a paraplegic African-American teen. Both Jughead and Ethel displayed jealousy at the others' relationship, and the storyline was eventually dropped.
Various stories depict Ethel as a fan of science fiction, art, and trains. She also has a talent for making doll-house furniture, and often works as a babysitter. She is also a fine cook, which is one of the reasons Jughead occasionally submits to being around her. She is fond of dogs, and sometimes uses her attractive female poodle, Clementine, as bait to lure Jughead and Hot Dog.
Archie's R/C Racers
In the Archie's R/C Racers series (which takes place outside the regular Archie continuity), Ethel was a member of Archie's team who was traveling across the United States racing radio-controlled cars. She was given her own subplot in the series when she chose to leave Archie's team and join Babette and her henchmen, one of whom had a crush on Ethel and whose feelings were returned. They promised to help Ethel's aspiring country music career. Gradually, she became a starlet, known as "Ethel Sue".
Ethel eventually learned the truth about the trio when Babette convinced her to pose for some publicity photos. Standing in front of a large metal target, Ethel suddenly became strapped to the target and Babette prepared to shoot her with a ray gun, which Ethel believed was a camera. Babette explained that the ray gun was a device that can give the recipient mental powers and she planned on using it on herself after testing it on Ethel. Before she could be zapped, Archie's team saved her. Babette instead zapped a tour guide, who became a villain in the series. Ethel left Babette and returned to Archie's team.
To Riverdale and Back Again
In the made for TV movie To Riverdale and Back Again (Archie's 15-year high school reunion), one of the running gags was that Jughead was continually running away whenever he heard that Ethel was looking for him. When he finally decided to accept his fate and go to her house, he was amazed to discover that Ethel was a late bloomer and was in fact a gorgeous fashion model, who still had a crush on him. At the end of the movie, Jughead chose to stay in Riverdale with his son and pursue a relationship with Ethel. Ethel is played by Cindy Ambuehl.
An early prototype for the Big Ethel character appeared in Archie Comics #30 (1948). In the story "Patch as Catch Can", Riverdale had a "patch hop"; the girl who could sew her patch on a boy's clothes is his date for the dance. Archie was trying to avoid Betty. While running from her, he found a boy on a tandem, and jumps aboard. He soon realized the boy was actually a very unattractive girl, whom Archie referred to as a "Zombie". He jumped off the bike, and continued to dodge Betty throughout the story. In the end, he ended up strung from rope tied to a flagpole, and the "Zombie" returned and sewed a patch on Archie's underwear. The story ended with Archie lying on the railroad tracks, saying "It's no use, Jug. This is a much easier way out."
The "Zombie" character was named Ophelia Gleutenschnable. She turned her romantic desires toward Jughead and relentlessly pursued him. She also danced with Reggie Mantle, crushing his feet with her own. In contrast to later stories, Jughead willingly went on dates with Ophelia. In one gag, Archie asks Jughead why he asked Ophelia to the dance, and Jughead replies that she was different: "She's the only one who'll go with me!" Eventually, Ophelia evolved into Big Ethel.
A separate character named "Big Ethel" appeared in Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #95 (November 1963). This version of Ethel is an obese, disheveled red-haired girl that chased Jughead. Betty and Veronica gave her a makeover (secured by a waist-slimming girdle) that turned her into a voluptuous beauty; however, her makeover was undone after a sneeze caused the girdle to break and her hair and clothing to become a mess. In later reprint stores, the character is renamed "Esmeralda".
Ethel has never had her own series, but has been a supporting character mainly in the various Jughead series, as well as some of the Betty series, as she has a close friendship with Betty Cooper. She also has solo stories in the various Archie anthology titles. In 1982, she co-starred in the Spire Christian Comics title Archie and Big Ethel.
Appearances in other media
Ethel also appeared on the Archie cartoons, most notably in "How to Catch a Man" segments on Archie's Funhouse. She also appeared on the New Archies cartoon and tie-in comic book series, as well as Archie's Weird Mysteries. An adult version of Ethel appeared in the made for TV movie To Riverdale and Back Again, played by Cindy Ambuehl.