Everything’s coming up Archie.
In the wake of the launch of Riverdale on the CW, Archie Comics has signed an exclusive deal with Warner Bros. Television to develop more of the publisher’s properties for television and original content.
As Archie CEO Jon Goldwater tells The Hollywood Reporter, the deal extends beyond the traditional Riverdale crew of Archie, Betty and Veronica as seen in the current CW series. It could include lesser-known properties, including “America’s Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions” Katy Keene, as well as the superheroes of the company’s Dark Circle imprint.
“Archie is unique in that we have a huge library of characters that are not only recognizable, but they’re successful and entertaining,” Goldwater says.
Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told reporters last month he was interested in creating a whole Archie world. The series, with its dark tone and sexy new murder mystery plot, has been a critical hit. The deal is similar to Warner Bros. TV’s pact with DC Comics, which has seen it put a whole stable of series on the air, including CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, as well as Fox’s Gotham and NBC’s Powerless.
Riverdale’s success and the TV pact marks the latest stage in Goldwater’s push to modernize Archie as a company, which started with the 2010 introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the publisher’s long history, and continued with the launch of a series that featured an adult Archie struggling with life post-marriage.
Coinciding with news of the Warner Bros. deal, Archie revealed that Mark Waid, the writer of flagship comic book series Archie, will be expanding his relationship with the company later this year by signing up to co-write a number of series, as well as mentoring upcoming writers, with the overall aim of growing the current stable of talent at the company.
“This opportunity is exciting to me for a number of reasons,” Waid says about the new deal, which will be effective in May when he takes over writing the Jughead series with new co-writer Ian Flynn. “First, the chance to expand my role as a writer at Archie is terrific as we all share the same storytelling goals. Second, it allows me to exercise my editorial muscles, which — surprise — is why I got into comics in the first place. But most of all, the opportunity to help build a more diverse staff of writers, younger, eager to learn, and eager to teach me.”
In a conversation with THR, Goldwater talks the new Warner Bros. TV deal, where Archie is as a company today — and where it’s going next.
The success of Riverdale, and this new deal with Warners, feels like the culmination of Archie’s renaissance as a company over the last few years. That’s something that you’ve focused on since becoming CEO in 2009 — a modernization of everyone in Riverdale. Is there a sense of vindication in seeing the characters accepted once again by a mainstream audience?
Yes, there’s a huge sense of vindication. This deal with Warners is in many ways a culmination of the work, along with the amazing staff and freelancers who work at Archie, to bring these characters forward into the present day. To show that Archie is an iconic brand that is flexible, relevant and energized. It’s still Archie, and people want more of him and his friends. In the same way Batman can be dark, bright and funny or off-kilter, Archie can, too. He’s part of a pantheon of select characters and brands that are part of America. They’re part of the consciousness, so there’s a built-in knowledge there.
The transformation of the company has been a slow and steady one, but from today’s perspective, it looks as if there’s always been a long game at play. Was there an endgame for you even before the introduction of Kevin Keller or launch of Life With Archie: The Married Life that looked pretty much like where you’ve ended up?
When I first got to the company, there was a long period of “ramping up,” for lack of a better term. We had to get up to speed. We had to make noise and not in a gimmicky way. We had to show people that Riverdale existed in today’s world. It wasn’t a retro, Pleasantville-type town. It was welcoming, it was diverse and it was now. We accomplished a lot of that with the introduction of characters like Kevin Keller, Archie/Valerie getting married, the New Kids and by just making an effort to diversify the cast. Once we did that, we knew we could widen the scope a bit, and show people that Archie could be Archie in a variety of settings. We could have an older Archie dealing with job woes and marital problems, we could bring Archie into alternate realities and face off against things like Predator or Sharknado. We could be fun again.
Was there a moment along the way when you heard a pitch, or saw a piece of art, and thought, “This is it, this is what we’re heading toward?”
The moment where I could finally sit down and say “OK, now we’re ready to roll” was [2015’s] Archie #1, by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. This was ground zero for the company. This was a rebirth. This was an Archie for today’s reader. Obviously, we still cherish and respect the classic Archie stories — we still produce them because that audience is hugely important to us. But the Death of Archie was more than a publishing stunt. It was a metaphor for the company. That Archie had to die, saving Kevin Keller, the face of the new Archie brand, to ensure the company would continue. Look at the cover of Archie #1 by Fiona. That’s a direct connection between the comics and Riverdale. It was a long road to get to Riverdale, and it was a tough road.
The basic concept of Archie (and his pals and gals) is one that feels like a no-brainer for adaptation into other genres: it’s a good guy in high school and his friends. You can go anywhere with that. But the comics had settled into one aesthetic, even while playing with things like Time Police or whatever. Was there ever a time when you worried that the characters were being pushed too far for the audience to follow?
As long as the story is good, obviously, and as long as the characters are true to themselves — you can do anything with them. The Archie in Afterlife and in the new Archie series is the same Archie you see in other comics. Sure, the content can change, but at its heart, that’s Archie. Same goes for Riverdale on TV. And that’s what unites fans. There was a time when Archie Comics only produced a certain kind of book. So, once you grew out of those books, you had nowhere to go. So you’d move on to different stuff from different publishers. That’s not the case anymore.
Outside of the core Archie characters — or satellite properties like Sabrina or Josie and the Pussycats — the company has a number of other properties in its portfolio: Li’l Jinx, Katy Keene, the Dark Circle characters. Are there plans to bring any of these into production as part of the new deal?
It’s part of the plan. Archie is unique in that we have a huge library of characters that are not only recognizable, but they’re successful and entertaining. Everyone knows Josie and Sabrina. Beyond that, we have an entire pantheon of heroes and villains that are perfect for TV or movies. Not to mention Katy Keene, Black Hood, Sam Hill, just to name a few. The possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait to start talking about what we have coming up.
Where next for Archie, as a whole?
We’re now a multiplatform company. We’re not just publishing. We have television and we’re talking about animation and licensing and everything, really. We have to now bring the aesthetic and fearlessness that made the comics successful into everything we do, while still keeping the publishing fresh and surprising. We can’t get complacent and we can’t assume people will be with us. We have to continue to strive for quality in the stories we share with our fans and we have to look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd. But our strategy won’t change: to get these characters out there in the best way possible, and to provide our fans with the best stories they could ever imagine.