With the second printing of “Afterlife with Archie” #1 on sale today, CBR TV presents a conversation with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Franacvilla, who joined CBR’s Steve Sunu in the world famous CBR Tiki Lounge high above New York Comic Con 2013. They talk about how Archie Comics’ first horror comic came together, balancing horror with the beloved Archie characters, using a different art style than Archie readers might expect and frequent easter eggs for readers well versed in Archie history. The pair also discuss their other projects including Aguirre-Sacasa’s work on the recent “Carrie” remake and Francavilla on his “Guardians of the Galaxy” stint and the future of his “Black Beetle” series at Dark Horse.
On how the atypical “Afterlife with Archie” became an actual Archie comic: “Francesco had done some covers for Archie including a variant cover for ‘Life with Archie’ — he did a zombie cover,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “I saw it in the store and I was like, ‘Oh my god, Archie’s doing a zombie comic, I have to get this’ — which I normally get anyway, and when I got home I saw it was just a variant for an issue that was part of the run of the comic book. But I thought there might be like a fantasy story or something with zombies.
“Not long after that I was having breakfast with John Goldwater, head of Archie, and his sone Jesse, and we were doing some stuff and then afterward I was like, ‘By the way, Francesco’s variant cover was incredible, I need a poster of that.’ And John Goldwater was like, ‘We’ll get you a poster.’ And then there was this weird moment where we all kind of were like, ‘That needs to be a comic book.’ Like two hours later John Goldwater sent me an e-mail that was like, ‘We’re doing this!’ We knew we needed to do it with Francesco since it kind of was his mad genius that inspired all this and then it was kind of like all steam ahead.
On how Francavilla approached making the project a real horror book: “The idea was this contagion,” Francavilla said. “You know we had this countdown at the beginning of the book, the ’10 hours to the contagion,’ so the fact that Hot Dog is infecting Jughead — if you notice up close there are splatters of blood on each page, like almost a virus that is spreading on Riverdale. In that vein also, my zombies are more like infected, rather than being just a dead guy. I’m playing on the fact that there shapes will be weird, they’ll start to move in — even the reveal of Jughead, he is like all contorted. So I’m trying to give a different approach to the zombie rather than just dead people coming out of the ground.”
On how Aguirre-Sacasa combined his love of horror with his affection for the Archie characters and needing to do bad things to them: “I’m an Archie fanatic. I’m a comic book fanatic. We’ve talked about our love of all the old horror comics — ‘Eerie,’ ‘Creepy,’ ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ we’re both fanatics,” said Aguirre-Sacasa. “And I love horror movies. When I saw Francesco’s cover it was sort of like, ‘Wow. This is such a great concept,’ and you know there’s such a tradition of teen horror movies and Archie’s the ultimate teenager, his friends are the ultimate teenagers. They’re archetypes, and in those horror movies there are always these archetypes. It was like, ‘Wait, this might all fit together.’
“For me, zombie stories are all about how does it get started. A lot of zombie stories oftentimes begin months after the world has ended and it’s a bunch of zombies all over the place. Here it felt like we needed to do something like ‘Evil Dead’ or something like the Peter Jackson movie ‘Dead [Alive]’ where you saw the crisis start. … You can kind of tell a real archetypal Archie story with, like, a horror slant. And that’s kind of how it started.”
On creating a more realistic style for Archie characters to fit the more serious story: “The way to sell this concept was to make it realistic,” said Francavilla. “I can do cartoony if I want to, but I did the realistic approach to Archie when I did the ‘Archie Meets KISS’ covers to Archie when I did that variant cover last year. I decided just to stick with that style, which also is the one that I’m most known for. I think that’s what is really helping selling the concept. Cartoony horror may not be as impactful as a realistic one. Jughead was a character, with his pointy nose, ‘Okay, this is gonna be hard to make realistic,’ but the good thing that [Roberto] made him a zombie right away so now I can play with it very easily.”