You’re familiar with the story by now: Archie Comics, under the leadership of publisher/co-CEO Jon Goldwater has made a number of attention-getting moves in the past few years that no one ever expected from a company traditionally known for innocuous, old-fashioned fare. Yet even though Archie Comics killed off the eponymous redhead in “Life with Archie” and pitted him against the zombie apocalypse in “Afterlife with Archie,” throughout this evolution the flagship “Archie” series has, for the most part, remained Archie business as usual.
That’s set to change in a major way in 2015 — like, “a new #1 by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples” kind of major. Announced Sunday evening by The New York Times, the eponymous “Archie” title, after publishing 662-plus issues dating back to 1942, will relaunch next year with a new #1 by multiple Eisner Award-winners Waid and Staples. Neither are new to Archie — Waid co-writes “The Fox” with Dean Haspiel for Archie’s Dark Circle superhero line, and Staples — who’s stated she’s on board for three issues, and that it won’t interrupt her “Saga” schedule — has illustrated several variant covers for the publisher. But not only are they two of the most high-profile names in comics, they’re also bringing a visual identity far from the classic Archie house style, and a more modern storytelling sensibility — that also looks to reclaim an edgier sense of humor found in Archie’s early appearances.
CBR News has the first in-depth interview with Goldwater on the relaunch, which he calls “the most exciting moment in the history of Archie Comics.” Goldwater revealed that the opening arc of the new “Archie” series will be the “origin story” of the Riverdale gang — headlined by how the world-famous love triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica originally took shape. Goldwater also told CBR that these dramatic changes aren’t limited to the “Archie” series, but will be seen in all of the company’s single-issue core titles — with more relaunches to come, while the old-school Archie aesthetic will still have a home in the company’s digests.
CBR News: Jon, there’s a lot of places to start with this new “Archie” #1, but let’s begin with that creative team — how did Mark Waid and Fiona Staples come on board this relaunch?
Jon Goldwater: First of all, having Mark and Fiona on board, it’s having two all-time superstars. It’s like having Kobe Bryan and Michael Jordan on the same team. It’s just unbelievable, having these guys who are going to be the creative force behind what I think is the most exciting moment, truly, in the history of Archie Comics. It’s taken us 75 years to get here.
These last five or six years, we’ve undergone a lot of changes — Archie died in the “Death of Archie;” we introduced [openly gay cast member] Kevin Keller onto the scene, and he’s been so well-received and accepted. But I think right now the time is just perfect to tell the story that’s never been told: The origin story of Archie, and how the love triangle came to be. Really, when we sat down as a team and we talked about this for weeks and weeks — who are the people that we want to do this? Who are the top writers, artists? Our first choice to write it was Mark Waid, and our first choice to draw it was Fiona Staples. It was just a miracle, quite honestly, that we got them both. We asked them both, and they both said yes. They were our first choice, there was no one else we even considered at all. As luck would have it, we’re honored, pleased and thrilled that they’re the team that’s going to relaunch “Archie.”
You called it a “miracle” — I’d say Fiona Staples’ involvement is especially unexpected, given that artists rarely do multiple books and she’s already illustrating “Saga,” likely the most celebrated current series out there. That’s a big coup, and such a different visual style from classic Archie.
She had done some variant covers for us. When we had “Death of the Archie,” she did that amazing cover. Her reimagining of Josie and the Pussycats was so electric and so alive and so fresh — her work in general. I don’t even want to just hone in what she’s done for us. Her characters, they’re just present. They’re just there. Luckily for us, she’s a fan. She likes Archie. That’s so important. We have fans in her and and in Mark. And just like when we’re doing “Afterlife” with Roberto and Francesca, we have people who love the characters — it’s the same thing in Mark and Fiona. We have two people involved who love the characters, and that’s so fortunate for us. Getting her is an incredible coup, and I couldn’t be more appreciative to her for doing this work for us.
I’m curious to hear more about the content of the story — not necessarily plot details, but the feel of it. It’ll be different visually and presumably story-wise from what readers expect from the traditional Archie fare — and said to be hearkening back to the Archie roots a bit, a little less “safe.” What can you about the tone?
I think you just hit the nail on the head. This is going to hearken back to the beginnings, when it was irreverent, it was funny, it was edgy, it was something that was on the humorous cutting edge. This book is going to be funny, don’t get me wrong. This is going to be a humorous comic book. But it’s really going to hearken back, hopefully, to some really fun visual gags. If you know the early work of Archie, there were times when things weren’t necessarily even spoken, but you had that visual gag of Lodge picking up Archie and throwing him out the door. I’m not necessarily we’re doing anything like that specifically, because we haven’t even gone there yet, but it’s going to be more cutting edge and contemporary. We’re just framing right now the feel of it, and obviously Mark is going to work closely with Roberto and myself in what the exact story he is, but he gets it. He knows exactly what this should be. I think the exciting part of it is going to be that it really hearkens back to the ’40s and ’50s in terms of humor. Why was Archie successful in the first place? Because it was funny. And that’s what we’re going for.
How much do you see this as the next step — maybe the biggest step — in this philosophical shift that we’ve seen in Archie? Will this lead to other Archie titles perhaps getting reimagined in the same way?
Well, I think this is the biggest step we’ve taken yet in my almost six years of being here — a new “Archie” #1, a new origin story. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. We’re re-imagining and re-telling the beginnings. Quite frankly, I do see it for our other titles as well, down the line. Why not? We’re hitting a whole new generation now, and we want the people who love Archie to love this as well. I see it as something that will happen down the line with all our core titles, without a doubt.
What type of shift does that represents in terms of targeted audience? By putting creators like Mark Waid and Fiona Staples on “Archie,” that represents a huge crossover appeal to more traditional comic book shop readers. As has “Afterlife with Archie,” but while that’s been this unique series that’s radically different, the traditional Archie Comics had remained. Is that something you’re moving away from now?
In our digest books, that’s going to remain. We’re going to be doing new stories in the digest books that everyone is familiar with, in terms of what it’s been — with the look of Archie, the type of stories that especially appeal to really young readers. Those stories are going to remain, those aren’t going to change. We’re expanding our presence in so many traditional check-out counters, and just mass-market expansion for Archie. The digests are going to remain the same.
But the comic books, that’s where you’re going to see the change. The traditional 32-page books. You’re going to see a change in storytelling, you’re going to see a change in art style, you’re going to see a change in tone. And frankly, I still think these are going to appeal to the young reader, but I think these are also going to appeal to people who just love comic books in general, and specifically the person who goes and shops at the comic book store. So do I think it has mass-market appeal? Absolutely I do, without a doubt. But I also think it’s going to appeal to the people who buy “Afterlife,” and love “Afterlife,” and don’t necessarily love, specifically, what we do now in our traditional books. I think this is the proverbial “something for everybody.”
Would you say that the success of “Afterlife” helped embolden Archie to make this decision, to take a different perspective on all the core titles?
Yeah! Absolutely it did. What Roberto and Francesco have done, it’s awoken a sleeping audience. You must read it all the time, Albert — people write constantly, “I never really was a fan of Archie, but boy I love that ‘Afterlife.'” It’s really brought us into a whole different place. It really got me thinking out of the box. Not that I don’t think out of the book always — Archie died, that’s pretty out of the box.
When you have a success like “Afterlife,” and you have these incredible talents like Roberto and Francesco involved, it just makes you hungrier for more, and realize there is a lot more opportunity out there to be creative, and really expand what Archie is, and what our brand really is all about.
In terms of concrete goals, what’s the hope for adding creators of the stature of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples to the main “Archie” series? Does this come with considerable increased sales expectations?
There’s no denying that our sales expectations for this book are high — we have an amazing creative team reimagining these iconic characters and telling Archie’s origin for the first time ever. But at the end of the day, like “Afterlife” and our other major initiatives, the goal is to tell the best story possible.
With a change to the core titles coming, not to get ahead of things, but in bringing in creators outside of the traditional crop of Archie talent — will there still a place going forward for the creators that have been at Archie for years now, like Dan Parent, for example?
Well, people like Dan Parent, and Fernando Ruiz, and Jeff Shultz — all the folks that have been part of the history of Archie for the last couple of decades, and have been here well before I even got here, those guys are here to stay. There’s always going to be work for them, there’s always going to be things for them to do — like I said, we’re continuing to do what we do in our digests with new stories, traditional Archie stories. There’s always going to be a place for them here at Archie. Dan is going to be relaunching “Kevin Keller,” as well. Those folks are here to stay. I was just with them last night. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. There’s no doubt they have a big place here at Archie Comics.
A new #1 naturally coincides with this relaunch — was it tough at all to say goodbye to that big number on the “Archie” series? Marvel and DC have gotten rid of their big numbers over the years, leaving “Archie” one of the only books with a number that high on the cover.
You know what, it was cool having that high number, I’m not going to deny it. Every once in a while, I go, “What number are we up to?” That number really represented so many cool things to us. But on the other hand, I think we’ve come to a place where we are right now in Archie and what we’ve tried to accomplish over the last five and a half years that, OK, we’ve accomplished so much to get to #666 — which is where we will be probably cutting off. I’m not exactly sure of the number yet, #666, #667, somewhere in that neighborhood it’s going to cut off, and then we’ll take a beat, and release the new #1. It’s just an amazing opportunity, and perfect moment in time, and to have Fiona and Mark be available to do this — it was like a perfect storm that all of this came together.
So are Waid and Staples on for this first arc? The origin story, and then another creative team coming on board? Or is that still to be decided?
I want them on for as long as they want to be on. That’s really how I would put it. They’re certainly going to be on for more than just the first issue. They have pretty much carte blanche to stay as long as they want to, or their schedule allows. But it’s going to be multiple issues out of the box. They’re not here just for a one-off.
Is part of the philosophy going forward also perhaps a little bit more of ongoing storylines, maybe multi-part arcs? That’s something readers don’t see too often from Archie other than in “Afterlife” and “Life with Archie.”
I really leave that up to Mark, but that’s certainly on the table, without a doubt. I think that could be fun and interesting. However he imagines it, I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely brilliant. That’s certainly a possibility. If he sees some sort of thread that he wants to run through these things, I think that would be spectacular.
Archie has made all these bold moves over the past few years, but throughout those the core titles had still been similar to how they always were. So was it a difficult decision to go ahead with this plan and remove that security blanket, and go for a bolder direction through the entire line?
You know what, it really wasn’t, because I feel so strongly that this is the right time to do it. I could feel the feedback that we get here every day at the company, and what people are enjoying, and what’s important. And again, just to emphasize — the traditional Archie that we’ve been doing for the last number of decades, that still lives on in all our digests. That will never change. That will always be there, and always be available in a very massive, and mass-market way.
But as far as changing the general flavor of Archie — no, man. The time is right. This is it, right now, I can feel it instinctively. I felt very confident in this move.
So it’s not like some past Archie changes — like the “realistic” art style from before your time at the company, that was gone in a few months? This is a long-term commitment?
There’s no doubt about it. There’s no turning back. This is it. We’re changing. We’re going all in on this, and I feel absolutely great about it. But we’re going all in on it, without a doubt.
The new “Archie” #1, by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, is expected to be released in mid-to-late 2015.