Archie Comics CEO on Taking Risks With Classic Characters and the Future of Riverdale
Things aren't the same as they used to be in Riverdale.
Archie Comics has changed significantly over the last few years, both in terms of the company and its output. From 2014's "Death of Archie" comic book storyline through the TV debut — and success — of The CW's Riverdale, the very idea of the Archie characters have gone from pop culture curiosity to something that feels contemporary and exciting for a whole new audience.
This Week In Heat Vision breakdown
CEO and publisher Jon Goldwater describes the change as "an evolution." The son of original Archie founder John L. Goldwater, the younger Goldwater took over the company in 2009 and immediately set about repositioning it as something that felt fresh to an audience that might never have read any of its decades' worth of comic book material. "It took longer than I thought, but with a lot of work, we made Archie relevant. We made it a vibrant, living thing as opposed to a retro concept," he said.
As the company readies a number of new comic book launches — including The Mighty Crusaders and B&V Vixens, Heat Vision spoke with Goldwater about where Archie Comics is right now, and what lies ahead.
Both Riverdale and, to an extent, the recent "Over the Edge" storyline in the main Archie comic book series, have recast the characters in a more dramatic tone than was traditionally the case — and this follows on from the horror series Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Archie has diversified tonally to such a point that Dan Parent's new Your Pal Archie comic feels like a break from the norm, despite it being, in many ways, an evolution of "classic" Archie. In the past, you've talked about a desire to show that Archie and the gang could tell any kind of story — how close to that aim are you now?
We’re there. It’s now. Archie can do anything. It’s not just one kind of comic, show or concept. You can do a horror Archie story, you can do a superhero Archie story, you can do a drama or comedy. We can also redefine what we’re best known for, like we have revamped classic Archie with Dan Parent and Ty Templeton’s superb Your Pal Archie. Nothing is static. Archie is as versatile — no, more versatile — than Superman or Batman. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: As long as the story feels true to the spirit of the characters, it can be anything. Archie fights zombies, has powers, tours the world — there’s no limit to what you can do with these amazing characters. We’ve finally gotten to the point where the world is seeing that, too.
Let's dig in to some of the recent publishing announcements. Jughead the Hunger is, on the face of it, a horror title akin to Afterlife or Sabrina, but it feels closer to, if there is such a thing, "Whedonesque" horror. It's a book that feels like an expansion within an expansion, when it comes to genre. Where did the book come from — and also, how important has horror become as a space for Archie?
Goldwater: Horror is very important to us, and I think we’re one of the few — if not, the only — publisher that’s doing it well. The Hunger is a little different for us, yes, in that it’s not as psychological a horror book in the way Afterlife and Sabrina are. It’s more visceral and in-your-face. But that’s part of horror, too. We want to show that there are many subgenres to horror, and maybe directions we can take the characters in. Jughead as a werewolf? It sounds insane, but it really works in the book.
The response to the original Jughead: The Hunger one-shot was so strong, we felt that we really had to try it out as an ongoing. I know Frank Tieri had a lot of stories in mind, so when he wrote the one-shot, it was very much with the idea that it would be a pilot with a long runway. For the new series, we’ve paired Frank with the Kennedy Bros., who did a stellar job on the "Death of Archie" [storyline]. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by their take on this book, which is a huge departure from their more classic Archie work, but in a great way. Their storytelling is top-notch and they’re just great, versatile artists that bring a lot to the book. It’s a fun take on the properties and I’m excited to see what the team does with it.
The Archies is a property that's a close to a lot of people's hearts, but Alex Segura and Matt Rosenberg have done something fun with it — the Ramones one-shot was a lot of fun, and managed to find a space that straddled a "classic" Archie and the contemporary comic book series, while also seeming very much of its own thing. Where does the new series fit into the larger scheme of Archie? It feels like a perfect place to utilize the company's love of celebrity cameos and parodies, but speaking to a different audience.
When we were putting together the one-shots, Alex came to me and asked about The Archies, and he made a great point: The Archies are our Avengers, or Justice League. It features all our most beloved characters in one place. Plus music. What more could you want? We’d seen some success with Alex’s Archie Meets Kiss, and of course Ramones, with Matt Rosenberg and Gisele. So we gave it a shot.
Having Joe Eisma, who was coming off a nice run on the main Archie book, made it clear this was happening in the "new" Archie timeline, and it all gelled together to make for a fun and energetic story. Which is exactly what I wanted — I wanted these characters to be having fun, enjoying their friendships and enjoying making music together. Sure, there’s drama — music is tough! — but it’s about the fun parts of it, and it’s a really accessible book. You can grab any issue of the series and know where you stand, which is a rarity in modern comics. The Archies dances between the classic humor books and the more modern takes really effortlessly, making for a fun, modern read.
I wanted to interject real bands into the book because I felt that would make each story or storyline an event unto itself, and allow for some fun cross-promotional opportunities. Our past partnerships with Kiss and The Ramones showcased what we could do with creative people that love the work, and it’s a way to get Archie Comics into the hands of new fans and readers. Alex and Matt have put together a really impressive list of bands already, so I’m excited to start seeing them show up in the book a few issues into the series.
While the mainline Archie books have been making their mark, the company's superhero properties have been quietly in the background with the Dark Circle Books for a few years now. You're putting new focus on Archie's superhero properties with the new Mighty Crusaders book. What do you think Archie can bring to the mainstream superhero genre?
One of the things I’m most proud of, is that, as a company, we’re not afraid to take risks. We’re not scared of trying something that pushes against where the industry is going. The Black Hood, the first Dark Circle title we launched under the imprint, is a perfect example of that. Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos made a crime classic — no hyperbole. It was like watching a great HBO or Showtime drama. It just happened to feature a vigilante hero. That’s how I want to approach each Dark Circle book — how is this different? What does it add to Archie as a whole and is it a unique and compelling story? With The Mighty Crusaders, I want a book that establishes the team and explores the world of these heroes. Unlike many of our competitors, Archie has a diverse and beloved library of superheroes.
The next new book is B&V Vixens, which feels like something altogether new from Archie. It feels like it's a new way of the company engaging with the subcultures of fandom that have grown up around the characters, and also bringing in new voices to the company — another diversification of what Archie can be, in a way.
I’ll be frank here, because it needs to be said: Betty and Veronica are icons. They are beloved. They are hugely important to what we do at Archie and they deserve to be treated on the same level as Archie. Like Archie and Jughead, B&V are flexible if they're treated honestly, which this book does. It’s fun, edgy, different and something so unexpected I think fans will love it. It’s an exciting new chapter for the characters and I’m thrilled [writer] Jamie [Rotante] and [artist] Eva [Cabrera] are the ones telling it. They are names to watch.
You're also reviving Cosmo, which is a genuine blast from the past. The original version of this — Cosmo the Merry Martian, about a Martian astronaut on his way to Earth — only lasted, what, six issues in the late 1950s?
Archie Action has always been a part of the overall publishing strategy, whether it's licensed or our own IP. [Note: Previously, Archie Action was the home for the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series for 24 years; that license has recently moved to IDW Publishing.] With Cosmo, we see a lot of opportunity to tell a fun adventure tale, featuring one of our classic concepts. Cosmo as a character and universe really lends itself to the serialized stories and world-building Ian Flynn is great at, and we're excited to hand him the keys and let him cut loose when this debuts early next year. It fills an important space for our line.
All of this comic book activity feels like it's happening in tandem with Riverdale, and also laying the groundwork for more TV and movie activity around the company's properties. Has the response to Archie as a company, and its portfolio, shifted over the last year or so, as the new comics and Riverdale have gotten people's attention? Do you see other media companies/potential partners act differently towards Archie as a company?
I feel like Riverdale really kicked a door down, and presented to the world an idea that was already common knowledge in comics — that Archie Comics has a wide, diverse and multifaceted library of characters. From Katy Keene to Cosmo to Dark Circle to Josie and the Pussycats — we cover a lot of ground and we have decades and decades of great storytelling to support that. Now that the show is on the air, is a hit and is gaining so much momentum as we head into the second season, I feel like people outside of our industry are starting to take notice — and they’re interested. It should be a very fun few years.
What's next? Where do you want to see Archie going next, both in terms of new genres to publish in, but also new possibilities and projects outside comics? Where is the target for the next year?
I think we’re in a transitional phase, in terms of publishing. We’ve cycled through some titles — books like Josie and the Pussycats and Jughead have gone away for the time being to be replaced by other books, like The Archies or Jughead: The Hunger. We’re trying new things with our IP in order to keep fans engaged but also keep our top-of-list titles in the mix. So while we continue to keep our publishing lineup diverse and attention-worthy, I think you’ll also see us re-entrench a bit in terms of our core properties, like Sabrina, Betty and Veronica and those kind of titles.
Archie succeeds when the core titles are out there and doing well, and the creative shifts or risks become additive. You’re going to see us really plant our feet down firmly and push forward with our core books while continuing to make waves and challenge reader and fan expectations.
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