Welcome to Everything's Archie, the new, monthly column that will spotlight what's going on at Archie Comics, talking to the creative forces behind the publisher.
Everything's Archie is a conversation with creators, executives and editors that make Riverdale what it is today -- both nostalgic and evolving, welcoming and daring. It will also feature exclusive previews, reveals and more.
This week, we're talking with Archie President Mike Pellerito, about everything from the recent reboot, to the upcoming TV series, to the delays in their horror line and more.
On top of that, he's got the scoop on the next two artists who will be following Fiona Staples on the series, a boatload of exclusive images and more.
First of all, you've had a massive sales success with Archie #1. Congratulations on that. Can we assume you're now chaining Mark Waid in a small room with a typewriter and never letting him leave?
Thanks so much for the privilege to be part of what you folks do. This is a fun positive site, thrilled to be on board to chat Archie with you each month!
We are really grateful to have Mark and Fiona on the book. She’s on Archie for the first three issues, with an open invite to return whenever her schedule allows. Mark’s a busy guy, as you probably know, but he’s been able to work with his other commitments to carve out the time needed on a major project like this – which is great.
Archie is maybe the most deceptively simple property in comics. It’s really, really, hard to tell a funny Archie story. Someone like Mark makes it look simple; he’s really a master and its great to have him on board.
Mark has always been one of my favorite writers. So, to answer your question, if we can chain him down to write Archie forever, I’m all in!
Obviously it's not really realistic to keep Fiona forever considering her commitment to Saga. What's the plan moving forward for artists on Archie? Will it continue to rotate or will we be getting a regular series artist?
We knew going in that Fiona was going to have to go back to Saga. Fiona has done a ridiculously amazing job on Archie. She reimagined an icon, the entire cast and Riverdale itself. Her work has been nothing short of amazing. I love Saga – she really created something magical. The challenge with Archie is that she came into the project with 75 years of history yet somehow she made it her own. That’s truly monumental. Along with the beautiful colors by Andre Szymanowicz (with an assist from Jen Vaughn!) and lettering by Jack Morelli you get a visually stunning presentation. I mean, their work spawned a #HotArchie hashtag! Talk about mission accomplished.
So, yeah – the task of following Fiona on this book is not an enviable one. But, we have a slate of artists that’ll continue what she started and build on the amazing work Fiona’s put into the book’s first three issues. I think fans will be pleasantly surprised with what we’ve got cooking.
First up, Annie Wu – of Hawkeye and Black Canary fame – is stepping in to handle art on #4. Annie has the perfect handle on these characters and we’re lucky to have her come in for a special, one-issue story. Annie is busy with Black Canary, so we only have her for this one cameo, but it’s a memorable one. Fans will particularly like her take on Veronica. Annie’s a unique and versatile talent and really the perfect person to step in and showcase these characters in a new way, while still holding true to the foundation Fiona put in place. We’re lucky to have her.
After Annie, we’ll have the amazing Veronica Fish wow us for a few issues. Some of you may recognize Veronica’s art from the great promo image we released with the news that the Riverdale TV show was coming via The CW. Well, Veronica (great name, too!) really captured the youthful, energetic vibe we were looking for, so it made perfect sense to have her step in and finish out the first six-issue arc. Veronica’s a real hidden gem. Mark my words – she’ll be a star before she’s done working on these two issues.
That gets us through the first six issues, and we’ve mapped out the first 12. We’ll be rotating people in and out to keep the book on schedule and keep it surprising, but I can also say you’ll see some of these people – and new faces – pop up in the second half of year one.
Maintaining a consistent house style has been a hallmark of Archie more than probably any other publisher in recent years. Is that something that you think you will abandon in order to give artists a little more creative latitude here or is finding artists who can succeed within those parameters an important part of Archie's identity?
I wouldn’t say we’re abandoning anything. But we will be daring and different. Fiona, not surprisingly, set a very high bar. She not only nailed the style, but also got to the core of each character. Archie, Jughead, Betty, Kevin, Reggie, Midge, Veronica, and so on. Just perfect. Fiona was, hands down, the perfect artist to launch this series, and it shows.
That said, it’s not a house style. Fiona definitely set the energy and vibe for the book that we hope future artists will match as they bring their own different and vibrant styles to the new (hot!) Archie and his friends.
Even though the new Archie is very much rooted in the modern day, we join the story in media res, and so the world feels very kind of timeless, as though we're not "starting" anything in Archie #1. Was that a conscious decision, to give a sense that the reader is kind of the new kid at school?
Talking with Mark, and he deserves all the credit here, he came up with the perfect angle on how to introduce the new Riverdale. Riverdale, like Gotham or Metropolis, is a character as much as a backdrop to the Archie gang. And Archie, even from the earliest Archie stories is the everyman. Archie is this magnetic force that gathers the gang, which is made up of vastly different people. Jughead, Veronica and Betty, for instance, have very little in common - without Archie. He’s the lynchpin. It applies to the readers, too. He brings them into his world.
Obviously you guys have a lot of balls in the air. How close is the collaboration between the publishing side, and the folks working on the Riverdale show? It seems like it would be a missed opportunity for them to not take advantage of what you're establishing here.
The link and driving force is, of course, our Publisher/CEO Jon Goldwater. Jon has been the spark and motivator that basically revived the brand and made us the innovative, forward-looking publisher we are today. We’ve gone from being perceived as a nostalgia/retro brand to being one of the most vibrant companies in comics. That’s all Jon. Jon keeps the ship running and keeps the company nimble and always looking for ways to expand and innovate.
The new Jughead series was solicited before most people had seen Archie #1 or knew how well it was going to perform yet. Did you see that as a gamble?
Everything new and different we’ve tried has been a gamble. You’re absolutely right. That said, we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t believe in the talent, the story and the characters. People want new takes on these icons, and the people we’ve assembled to tell them are really strong and special voices. Mark and Fiona, and Chip and Erica are all really good at what they do. So, soliciting Jughead #1 so early was a gamble – but also a vote of confidence. We knew people would respond to this take and we were very comfortable going out there early to show people what was coming, and to build on the great buzz and momentum Archie #1 generated.
Was there any consideration when you went scouting for talent that Chip Zdarsky had this weirdly-intimate relationship with his local Applebees? That seems like something Jughead could relate to. How closely will Jughead tie in with Archie? Will it be fairly independent stories set in the same world or will we see some directly shared story beats?
In all honesty, the “Applebee’s thing,” more than any other “project” of Chip’s solidified him as the perfect voice for Jughead. Seriously! That is funny every time you read it. The guy IS Jughead.
At our panel this past San Diego, Chip described Jughead as the smartest person in the room, and how he could identify with the character. I think people underestimate Jughead and maybe even Chip. Jughead is one of the greatest characters in comics and Chip really portrays him in a new light, but also perfectly in tune with the best classic stories. There will be some overlap between the books, but Jughead is its own book with its own voice and style. It won’t be the kind of thing where you have to read one to understand the other. The Jughead book will be a product of the insane mind of Chip as told to Erica Henderson, and that’s its own, special frequency of awesome.
In terms of being on the same page, Mark, Chip and Betty and Veronica writer/artist Adam Hughes are all talking to each other and passing scripts back and forth. Just yesterday, I discussed a nice story element in Betty and Veronica that we are going to set up in advance via Mark and Chip’s work in Archie and Jughead. Those little nods will show fans that it’s all happening in the same world, so if you do pick up all the books you get that added easter egg, but it doesn’t take away from the experience if you only have one favorite book you read.
For that matter, with all the different continuities you have operating now, any plans for a giant crossover like the competition does? I'd be down to see Afterlife With Archie vs. Sharknado Meets KISS.
Speaking of Afterlife, obviously you've been hit with delays in the horror line. Is there a plan in place to deal with that, or is it more of an Image approach where the most important thing is giving the creatives the time they need?
The response to the crossovers has been a huge, pleasant surprise. To be frank, we thought we’d reached a saturation point after Sharknado. But then we announced Archie Meets Ramones and that hit a nerve with people. It’s really about continuing to do new things and connecting Archie with new audiences and ideas. To paraphrase Jon – as long as the story is good and the idea is exciting, we’ll consider it. We’ll never do something just to do it or because we feel we have to. With something like Archie Meets Ramones we have a great story from our own Alex Segura and co-writer Matt Rosenberg paired with one of my favorite traditional Archie artists, Gisele. Alex, Matt and Gisele have all been in bands or directly involved in music, so the creative side is locked in and we’re extremely excited. And that’s only the beginning. Expect to hear about a few more cool crossovers in the coming months.
As far as Afterlife and Sabrina – look, I wish these books came out each week. That’s the honest truth. But we have to treat them as the special projects they are. When these books are ready, they’re ready and we’ll go. Roberto and Francesco Francavilla are a magic team that helped usher in a new era for the company. Roberto and Robert Hack are also creating something really compelling with Sabrina. I hate to wait as much as the fans do, but as long as the issues are as jaw-droppingly beautiful and well-crafted, it’s worth it.
It certainly seems like the overall success of the horror line, especially Afterlife, is the culmination in some ways of a philosophy that seemed to start a few years ago of moving Archie away from being perceived as never-changing. Do you think that's fair?
I think it’s actually the opposite, with all due respect. What Roberto did was write the Archie characters perfectly true to form, except they’re in a zombie book. When you read the story, they feel right. Obviously, there are some differences. They feel a bit more mature. But at the end of the day, it’s the same kids, the same gang. That’s why it resonates. Roberto understands Archie and his friends perfectly.
The visual changes have brought a lot of eyes and attention and feedback, which is great. People are talking about Archie, which was priority #1 for Jon Goldwater when he took over the company. Francesco brilliantly did that from page 1, panel 1 with Afterlife. They look different, but the style matches the story and it’s very much ARCHIE. Not an easy feat, one that a master like FF made look much easier than it is.
All those new visual interpretations of the Archie characters paved the way for Archie #1. But being true to the characters is the backbone of our success.
Another interesting element of the new Archie is Dark Circle. I know you've talked about this in different forums, but what was it that inspired you to radically overhaul those characters?
That's a line that has taken a while to fully roll out. By the time The Shield is in stores, the first arc of some titles will be over or almost over. Are there any plans to further expand the line, or will you guys take a little more time to evaluate where the current books are at first?
It’s been a great experience for us so far. We’ve really grown the brand and Alex Segura coming on and bringing his crime noir sensibilities started to click for the line. We’ve been pretty aggressive in terms of content, but very careful in the roll out. Each project, character, team and so on has to be right. We are trying to tell stories featuring superheroes but also trying to play in different areas of that sandbox. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to talent to get their thoughts on the characters and we do our best to listen to retailers to get feedback from the store and consumer level. We are very systemically finding the right ways to grow Dark Circle into a powerhouse.
The Dark Circle line has had great reviews but it hasn't generated the same level of conversation in the industry that the horror line has. What do you think is the biggest message that you're trying to get out to readers in terms of why they should be reading these books?
Different. These books are unique and welcome new readers. That’s what we’re trying to do with this line and across the board. People were drawn to Afterlife, at first, by morbid curiosity. Like, Archie was really trying this? But they stayed and the audience grew because the book is a masterpiece. Alex, to his credit, continues to emphasize that these books can’t feel like the 15thAvengers title, or another Justice League book. Those guys do those books better than anyone else. We want to do our own thing for people that want something a little different and more interesting and engaging.
Archie has always been pretty good at tapping non-direct market retailers with the magazine and digest format books. Do you expect that with the horror line and the Dark Circle line, you'll be able to make a significant run at the bookstore market as well when these things start to be collected in significant numbers?
We’ve had a lot of luck, due to a lot of hard work to tap those new markets. But we can only sell as well as the quality of the material lets us. We do a great job getting the word out there and we see the biggest growth coming out of the comic shops even on the book side. The people who know the stories are driving the sales. Once we put the news out there, it becomes a word of mouth thing. People pass the books around and let people know that Archie and Archie Horror and Dark Circle put out good books that you’ll want to read. And as the word spread and demand grows, we’ve seen the numbers spike. It’s organic but also something we have to manage in the way we get news or information out there. It all really feeds off of each other.
For that matter, will we start to see the Archie by Mark Waid trades approached and marketed differently than previous Archie collections?
I think so. It’s a different product. We want to make these new titles – like anything we create – as available as possible, be it print or digital. That’s the ongoing challenge with anything: reaching the right audience and making sure the fans know where to find your product. In the case of Archie, be it single issues in a comic shop or a collection in a bookstore, it’s about placement and letting the reader know this is a unique and special interpretation. Really excited to see so many people give it a chance.
That's it for this month, dear readers. Check back in September for more Everything's Archie. In the meantime, here's an exclusive look at the solicitation for Archie #4, featuring art by Annie Wu:
The biggest comic series of the year continues! What was the "lipstick incident" that pushed Archie and Betty apart? And can the smartest boy in Riverdale fix it? The spotlight is on Dilton and Moose as, together, they show what friendship is really all about! We’re pleased to welcome ANNIE WU (BLACK CANARY, HAWKEYE) to Riverdale, as she takes over art duties in this brand new issue!
Script: Mark Waid
Art: Annie Wu
Cover: Annie Wu
On Sale Date: 11/25
32-page, full color comic
Check out the cover image below, along with exclusive preview pages from Better & Veronica Friends Comics Double Digest #246, Betty & Veronica #277, Jughead and Archie Comics Double Digest and The Shield #1. Above, you can see Veronica Fish's gorgeous Riverdale gang cover image -- which, along with the cover to Archie #4, gives fans some of their first looks at the reinvented Veronica.