If asked in 2009, most comic fans would have been able to easily explain what Archie Comics were all about: the sweet tales of perpetually flummoxed teenager Archie Andrews and his inability to figure it out with either girl next store Betty or daddy’s little rich girl Veronica.
Now after a whirlwind year, the Archie brand doesn’t seem so set in amber or as easy to draw conclusions on. After the breakout “What If?” wedding issues featuring parallel stories of an adult Archie’s proposals to both Betty and Veronica as well as a number of high profile storylines hitting the pop culture consciousness (most notably the introduction of openly gay Riverdale teen Kevin Keller), the company is ending 2010 with an eye on even more waves to come for the gang.
In next week’s sixth issue of “Life With Archie” -Â the magazine-format comic which tells the twin ongoing stories of what happens next after the red-headed star marries each of his high school sweethearts -Â the book is receiving two shake-ups in the form of the death of Riverdale high teacher Geraldine Grundy in the “Archie Marries Betty” storyline and an unlikely romance blooming between Betty and Reggie in the “Archie Marries Veronica” serial. CBR News spoke with Archie Co-CEO Jon Goldwater about a year of change at the publisher, what Archie sees as its wide audience and how the upcoming changes in “Life With Archie” may make some things different as it reinforces the most crucial aspect of the character’s legacy. Plus, the publisher provided us with a preview of “Life With Archie” #6 which you can read here.
CBR News: Jon, let’s start by talking about how Archie is wrapping up 2010 and moving into the new year. I’m not sure how long it’s been that you’ve been in the co-CEO spot, but it definitely feels from the outside that 2010 was a big year of change at Archie. Do you have a similar plan for change in 2011?
Jon Goldwater: Absolutely. I’ve been here going on 19 months, and I feel that from the beginning of 2010 to where we are right now, it’s a completely different company in terms of what we’ve done to revamp our publishing division. We’ve brought fresh ideas to the forefront with things like “Twilight” and “Riverdale Shore.” We’ve released the “Life With Archie” magazine. We’ve introduced Kevin Keller into the world. So yes, these are very, very conscious efforts on our part to make Archie smart, fun, hip and relevant material to increase our demographic from seven to 70. One thing the wedding story showed us is that there are Archie fans who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who want to continue to read Archie stories, and that’s why we introduced the “Life With Archie” magazine – because those older readers deserve a way into these characters as well.
Part of all the moves in the magazine stories specifically has been this idea that to a large extent the Archie cast doesn’t change. We always expect them to be the kids we read when we were young, for the love triangle to be in place and all the rest. Do you think a bit of the book’s strength comes from the idea that for the first time in a while, nothing is “safe” for that world?
Goldwater: Kind of yes and no. One thing is that just like we as people evolve and wake up to find that each day is a different day, the same thing happens to Archie and the gang. The one thing that will never change is the integrity of the characters. The core of Archie, the core of Betty and Veronica and on to Jughead, Reggie and the rest – those will always remain consistent and constant. In our traditional Archie books -Â our 32-page comics and our Double Digests and such – you’re going to get the typical Archie story of them in high school with their various hijinx and social interactions and tons of fun. The “Life With Archie” magazine is geared more towards the parallel universes of “What if?” What if Archie had married Betty? What if he had married Veronica? And what would those futures be like? And those deal with a bit more day-to-day realistic subject matter but still realistic within the confines or Riverdale and within the integrity of who each character is. So we have a lot going on. [Laughs] And don’t forget, we just did the Tiny Titans/Little Archie crossover with DC!
There’s been some big news of late as it hit he wire that teacher Mrs. Grundy is going to be passing away within the “Life With Archie” title. It sounds like this is one of the few times an Archie book has ever dealt with death. Was that an idea brought to the table by Michael Uslan as he crafted this world, or did you guys as a company decided to bring a bit more of that reality into the book?
Goldwater: It was kind of both. Michael had laid this whole plotline out. It was all part of the plot as a natural progression for the story, but at the same time, we wanted to deal with issues that people face on a daily basis in the book. We don’t want to deal with things in a depressing and heavy-handed way, but at the same time, when someone passes away it’s extremely upsetting. So again, this was a way of discussing this within the confines of how the Riverdale characters would deal with death. That hadn’t been dealt with before, and Michael very brilliantly laid it out for us.
Actually, if you look at the issue, the eulogies that are given are exact eulogies that Michael had given at funerals for some of his teachers. So even though Paul Kupperberg wrote the story, these are real Michael Uslan eulogies that he gave at funerals, which is absolutely riveting and fascinating.
The other big turn in this upcoming issue is that in the world where Archie has married Veronic, they’re tweaking the love triangle element of the story has Betty grows a bit closer romantically with Reggie. This is something else that doesn’t seem earth-shattering in and of itself, but it’s definitely a change that’s felt for the characters and how they’ve been for years. How much discussion goes into what ways these stories tweak the expectations of fans?
Goldwater: It’s a good question, and really a lot of discussion goes into it. We really talk a lot about how we’re going to position the characters with each other. The Betty/Reggie relationship or kiss has been thought a lot about, but it’s really a natural progression in that storyline. It’s a twist on the triangle to a certain extent, but here Archie is already taken by Veronica. So that triangle had been broken anyway. Still, to see Reggie with Betty is unexpected, but we know that it comes across naturally in the story.
Issue #6 is out next week, and we role right on into 2011. One thing people don’t always seem to realize about how Archie operates is how far in advance you work on the books. Considering that, what’s on tap in terms of new books and turns in next year?
Goldwater: You just hit the nail on the head. We do plan things out five or six months in advance, and this story in the magazine has been planned for at least that long. In 2011 with “Life With Archie,” there are going to be plenty of twists and turns coming up for the gang and how things are going to work out. It’s going to be full of interesting stuff, and just when you least expect it, the unexpected will happen. As far as other books, we’re launching the “Kevin Keller” mini series in June of next year. We’ve got Sam Hill coming next year, who is one of our classic characters. And we’ve got Li’l Jinx returning in the “Life With Archie” magazine all grown up as “Jinx.” So if you pick up the “Life With Archie” issue we just talked about, there’s a Jinx story in the back, and that’s going to continue for four issues. The story by J. Torres has the most wonderful writing you’d ever want to read. It’s terrific storytelling. Cosmo the Merry Martian is also coming next year, so there’s tons of stuff we’re doing.
“Life With Archie” Magazine #6 goes on sale next week, December 29 from Archie Comics.