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Lena Dunham to Pen Archie Comics Arc

New chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa talks about his horrific new "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" series, how far media adaptations can stretch the Archie characters and the "Girls" creator signing up as writer.

Archie Girls Promo - P 2014
Dan Parent/Archie Comics

Archie Andrews has a new pal in Riverdale, but this one is going to shake things up far more than any fight between Betty, Veronica and Cheryl Blossom over Archie’s heart. As revealed by The New York Times, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been named the new chief creative officer at Archie Comics.

The new title is the continuation of a long-running relationship between the playwright, television and comic writer -- with stints on Fox’s Glee and Marvel’s Spider-Man under his belt -- and the residents of Riverdale. In addition to his current, critically acclaimed Afterlife With Archie series, Aguirre-Sacasa’s first play, Weird Comic Book Fantasy, started life as a story about America’s favorite teen coming out as gay.

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Asked what draws him to the Archie characters, Aguirre-Sacasa recently told THR, “I just love the characters. I started reading Archie comics when I was a kid, and I’ve just kind of…never stopped. I mean, there was definitely something appealing about how idyllic Riverdale was, and how ‘wholesome’ all the kids were/are -- much more so than me and my friends -- but I always had a sense: There’s depth and darkness there, too. And an edge, especially in the older stories. I guess I always wondered what was happening between the panels.”

And beyond the panels, as well; one of Aguirre-Sacasa’s main duties in his new position will be exploring the potential to take Archie’s Pals and Gals outside of comics and into different media -- and in ways that might surprise an audience expecting the wholesome teens to offer an updated take on “Sugar, Sugar.”

“Do I think Afterlife With Archie could be turned into a balls-out horror movie? Absolutely. It’s fun, it’s got teenagers, it’s got gore, it’s got demon-possessed zombies,” he said. “Could it be a serialized television show, like a more youthful Walking Dead? I see that, too. Life-action or animated. Conversely, could there be a more ‘traditional’ Archie television show, like My So-Called Life or The Wonder Years? Without a doubt. A show called 'Riverdale'? For sure. And these are options we're discussing all the time, internally and with outside producers. The appetite’s there, we just have to find the right people, assemble the right team.”

Don’t expect something akin to the cross-media, cross-project sole continuity of Marvel Studios, however; according to Aguirre-Sacasa, there’s enough variety available that multiple incarnations of the Archie creations could simultaneously co-exist. “I think an Afterlife movie doesn’t preclude a Riverdale TV show, nor should it. To me, it’s the difference between the Christopher Nolan Batman movies and the TV show Fox is making, Gotham. Same characters, different formats, different takes.”

Playing with the classic Archie DNA to come up with new flavors for different audiences is nothing new -- the teen characters have been transformed into supernatural investigators, superheroes and even adult soap operatic versions of themselves throughout the years. But is there a concern about playing with the formula too much, and producing something unrecognizable to the core fans?

“That’s a conversation we’re always having at Archie -- how far can we push the characters before we break the mold?” Aguirre-Sacasa admitted. “Listen, there are limits, I’ve been on both sides of the discussion, but by and large, what I’ve found -- and what I think a lot of the creators who have worked on these characters have found -- is: Archie and his gang are based on very defined, very strong archetypes. And as long as we don’t stray too far from their core -- no matter what he’s doing, Archie’s always basically a decent kid, trying his best -- we can put a lot on them. And showcase them in different settings, in different contexts. Our fans love seeing them in new ways. It keeps things fresh, keeps them relevant.”

The current Afterlife with Archie series proves that theory. With its suspenseful tone and tone-perfect artwork from Francesco Francavilla, it’s surprised many since its launch last year -- and Aguirre-Sacasa plans to ramp up the horror with a new Sabrina the Teenage Witch series.

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“The new Sabrina series is most definitely not a comedy,” he warns. “It really riffs on the fact that Sabrina’s father was a warlock, that she’s the youngest member of a dynasty of witches. That she’s got one foot in the mortal world, of high school and cheerleading, and the other in this…crazy coven. We’re going to explore Greendale’s dark, bloody history. We’re going to give Sabrina an arch-nemesis -- a couple of them, actually. If Afterlife is our homage to The Evil Dead, then Sabrina is our homage to Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Carrie and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane.”

Although Sabrina and Afterlife are Aguirre-Sacasa’s primary contributions to Archie as a writer, he’s equally excited about the opportunities for exciting new projects available as CCO (One of which has already been announced -- Lena Dunham will be writing a four-issue storyline for the publisher next year, having been recruited by Aguirre-Sacasa after mentioning her love of the characters during an interview).

“I think it would be amazing to find those three young actors to play Archie, Betty and Veronica -- to find the actors to play their parents -- and to tell the story of those three very different families, and the town they lived in, in an American Beauty kind of way,” he said, explaining one of the many possibilities his new position makes possible. “How great would it be to see them grow up, over four years? Five years? It would be a great American Epic.”