After starting at the company in the production department in 1958 after he finished high school, Victor Gorelick worked his way up through the ranks and is currently the Editor-in-Chief and Co-President of Archie Comics. Even after all those years, he still edits the comics that come out from the company along with overseeing various special projects, like the recent “The Art of Betty and Veronica” book and the upcoming “The Art of Archie Comics: The Covers” hardcover, which comes out this fall.
In recent years, the company has found new life with the introduction of Kevin Keller, the “Jinx” graphic novels, the crossovers with “Glee” and KISS and the successful magazine “Life with Archie.” And the company has no intent to slow down,with a variety of new projects in the works, including the upcoming “Afterlife with Archie,” a new level of effort put into producing graphic novels and moving into digital and a publishing deal with Dark Horse to collect the original Archie comic books.
Archie is also making new moves into Hollywood, like the just-announced Archie movie and a Sabrina animated series. CBR News recently spoke with Gorelick about everything that’s happening at Archie, why this is the time to perhaps dial back the crossovers and events in favor of simply telling some straightforward Archie tales and why he could — but won’t — write a memoir titled “50 Shades of Orange.”
CBR News: In the past few years, Archie really seems to be trying to do new things. I’m thinking about Kevin Keller, the Jinx graphic novels, some of the crossovers and guest stars, bringing the superheroes back —
Victor Gorelick: At Archie, we always try to keep up with the times. Archie’s been around for over seventy years now, and with every generation, there are new things to put into these books, whether it’s fashions or new technology. We’ve always tried to keep up with that — I give a lot of credit to our writers and artists. But yes, recently we’ve come up with some new things, a lot of big moves, if you will, with the books. Kevin Keller — introducing a gay teenager into the Riverdale family was huge. It was very big and very well received.
I think the least noticed aspect of Kevin is that he’s an army brat, which adds something to the character and the books.
Dan Parent created the character and we were talking about how we wanted to set up his family. Even though he’s been moving around a lot because his father is an officer in the army and he’s moving to a lot of different place sit’s still pretty wholesome family unit. He’s been around a lot and experienced a lot of things and it adds a little more punch to the character. All the other characters in Archie have lived in Riverdale all their lives, their mothers and fathers have, and it’s all ho-hum for them — and here’s this kid who’s been around the world, practically. I think that adds something to the overall picture with regard to the whole Riverdale universe.
Archie puts out comics monthly, but you’ve really ramped up producing graphic novels and going digital. Jon Goldwater did an interview with ROBOT 6 in which he said that the monthly comics don’t make money.
Well, they’re on newsstands, but you just don’t see [newsstands] anymore. If you want to find Archie comics, you have to go to Barnes and Noble — they carry everything we do. You have to give credit for Jon Goldwater for all of these advances in publishing that we’ve been doing at Archie Comics. I think under the old management, they wouldn’t have gone for doing some of these things and taking that risk: Including a gay character in the group, having Archie married, doing all these graphic novels and going digital. We’ve had to embrace digital comics, and digital comics have done very well. Every month, we’re doing better and better. As far as our graphic novels go, we’re putting out half a dozen or more every month. There’s a lot of material.
Archie is putting out graphic novels, but then Dark Horse is publishing the original Archie comic books from the beginning and IDW is doing series based around individual artists.
The IDW books is a license that was put together quite a few years ago. The ones that Dark Horse are doing, those are great books. I think those are really nice books. It’s preserving the history of Archie, repurposing all our old material, and finding it — which is even more difficult. IDW have done, I think, three books on Dan DeCarlo, a couple books on Samm Schwartz, Harry Lucey —
There’s also the Bob Montana comic strip collections.
The Sunday Strips book is just beautiful. That’s a great book. They do a good job. I’m doing a book with Craig Yoe, who did the book “The Art of Betty and Veronica,” which seemed to do very well.
Are there any plans for more books focused on different artists like Bob Bolling or others?
Bob Bolling was one of the most popular artists at Archie because of his Little Archie stories, and we’ll definitely do something. We’ve done a couple trade paperbacks of his work. The books that I’m working on with Craig, like the Covers book, it’s seventy years worth of covers and we wanted to put a variety in there, a lot of different artists’ work.
Do you have any favorite artists who you think were good but never quite got their due or as much attention as you think they should have?
One of my favorite artists was Samm Schwartz. He was really synonymous with Jughead. Jughead is actually one of my favorite characters. I thought Samm’s storytelling was great — he was a real cartoonist. That’s not taking away anything from Harry Lucey, who was a great artist, or Dan DeCarlo, but when I read Samm Schwartz’s stories, he always got a laugh out of me. Sometimes it was nothing to do with the story, it was just the way he drew something. He would draw things in the background all the time. I remember a story he drew where Jughead is going to an army navy surplus store and he had people in the background driving out in tanks, carrying bazookas. [Laughs] Crazy things like that. Sometimes what was happening in the background was funnier than what was going on in the story. He was one of my favorite artists. He had a really good sense of humor.
You mentioned Dan Parent earlier, He seems to have taken on the mantle as the most prominent Archie artist today.
Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz are two of our newer artists. They’ve been working here for about twenty years. [Laughs]
[Dan] is very popular with our readers. He’s always been very contemporary. He writes and draws most of the stories. He really comes through. He worked on the “Glee” crossover, the KISS crossover. He gets all these tough assignments. Fernando has been working on the “Life with Archie” book — or half of it, anyway. He does a fantastic job. We have the Kennedy brothers — they all of a sudden walked in the door and everybody loves them on “Life with Archie.” We’ve always been fortunate to have some really good artists and some dependable artists which is sometimes a hard thing to find.
You recently announced a new series starting in the fall, “Afterlife with Archie” —
Well, we’re certainly going down another road! [Laughs] It’s been very well received, from what everybody’s seen so far. I can’t give away the story of the book, but I’ll tell you, the story, from what I’ve read so far, it makes the hair on your head stand up.
The writer of that book, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasca, is also writing the just-announced Archie movie.
That’s true. We signed with Warner Brothers to do an Archie movie, and it’s probably going to come out in 2015. Roberto’s writing it and Jason Moore’s directing it. I’ve been waiting for this for 54 years. I can’t tell you how many times I was told there was going to be an Archie movie.
There has also been some movement with Sabrina the Teenage Witch on the Hollywood front as well.
The Sabrina animated show is going to happen. The artwork looks really beautiful. And there’s going to be a live action Sabrina movie, which is going to be great too, I’m sure. Everybody likes a witch.
Do you handle these things, or is it stuff other people handle and you get excited about it?
Jon Goldwater handles most of that stuff directly. He’s very hands on and gets involved. He really works — unlike some other bosses I’ve had, which I won’t mention.
Do you have any plans for Sabrina in the comics right now?
Right now, the only thing we’re doing is the graphic novels. There are no plans just yet to do a regular series, although somewhere along the line we might do a miniseries.
She was in the KISS crossover.
Yes — she did and she might be appearing in other places, too. And she’s going to be in the “Afterlife” story. How could you have the afterlife if you don’t include a witch?
Is there anything happening with “Josie and the Pussycats” or “The Archies?”
Jon Goldwater was in the music business before he came to Archie, so he knows a lot of people in the music business and goes out to California often. He’s always meeting with people. That’s how we wound up getting this movie. That’s how we wound up getting the Sabrina animation and Sabrina movie. He handles most of that, and we pat him on the back. We get involved at the beginning, where lots of it is just about people learning who the characters are and what they’re about. I remember when Melissa Joan Hart ,before they had the Sabrina show on TV, she and her mother were up here. I sat with them and went through comic books and they got a sense of what the character is about. That’s how we get involved at this point. I’m hoping to get a part in the movie and start my acting career.
You can be Stan Lee of Archie movies.
You’re the fourth person that’s said that today. [Laughs] I’d rather be more like Alfred Hitchcock, where I’m sitting at the back of the bus or something. Maybe I can get a part on “The Big Bang Theory.” That would be better. They’ve talked about “Life with Archie.” That was a nice plug.
You’ve been at Archie for a while.
This is a huge question, but what do you think has been the bigbest change in the company and in comics in that time? What stands out to you?
In comics, the biggest change is the fact that you need to find more outlets. There aren’t outlets for comics like there were years ago. When I started working, they used to pay us based on our circulation and our circulation was almost two million copies a month. But how many newsstands do you see? Like I said before, you can find most of our books at Barnes and Noble, so you better hope they don’t go out of business. We used to be in Borders Books, and when they went out of business that was a big hit for a lot of comics companies. Comic books are going digital — everybody’s going digital with the books. People just don’t read like they used to. People have Kindles and iPads. I have an iPad, but I won’t read a book on it. I don’t like to read on a computer if it’s something really long. Finding new outlets for comics, that’s a challenge for all publishers, for all magazines. There’s not as much advertising; the advertisers are saving money on print advertising because comics don’t have that circulation. Marvel is now all direct and aren’t on the newsstand at all. Probably DC is going to do that, eventually.
You probably have a lot of good stories, some of which you probably can’t repeat.
Yeah, if I write my memoirs, [Laughs] I can do a book called 50 Shades of Orange — but I probably wouldn’t have a job after it. Over the years, I met a lot of artists, worked with a lot of great artists, many of whom are gone now. I worked with Harry Lucey, Dan DeCarlo, Samm Schwartz, Bob White — a lot of these artists, you don’t even know them until the last fifteen, twenty years, but they were all really excellent artists and writers. George Gladir probably did the gags for seventy-five percent of the covers in the years he was working for the company. A lot of the artists who worked for Archie over the years were relatively unknown.
Is that one of the reasons why you do the reprints focusing on individual artists, to give them that credit and attention?
We’ve been doing this for a long time now, giving credit to artists, but there was a time when some signed and some wouldn’t — I don’t know why. Some of these artists, like Bill Vigoda, are still unknown. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and all I could find was Abe Vigoda, his brother.
You started out in the production department when you started in 1958, which isn’t the same today as it was then.
That’s changed a lot. When I first came here, the pages were huge 12″ x 18″ pages and everything, all the original art, went to the comic code authority. I can tell you stories about that. [Laughs] Although we never really had a problem.
I’ve heard stories about production departments having to redraw panels because of cleavage or elements considered too risque.
It happened at the other companies as well. We’d take things to the Comics Code Authority, and they used to have an art table set up with supplies so the artists could come down and make the corrections right there. At Archie, one of my first jobs — and I tell this story a lot — was cleaning up the art on Katy Keene.
This is when cutting and pasting involved actual cutting and pasting.
We used to buy rubber cement by the gallon. If you needed to reduce something, you had to send it out to a photostat house. All of the text pages were typeset, but we had to send it out to the linotype. The color separations were done by hand. They made zinc plates that weighed about a ton at the engraver and they were sent to the printer. The printer had to take the zinc plates and create what they called mattes, like a rubber plate or something like that, so that they could fit on the printing press cylinders. You only had three values to work with colorwise — you had 25%, 50% and 100%.
In other words, it was a whole other world from today.
I think we still have a gallon of rubber cement somewhere, but I think the people in the art department just take it out to sniff it once in a while. [Laughs]
Besides “Afterlife with Archie,” what’s coming up in the comics? Are there any other new projects on the horizon?
One of the things that I think we need to do, after doing all these crossovers and all of these special events, is to get back to some regular Archie stories. Instead of a miniseries, have short stories for a change. You have to get back to basics a little bit.
We get a lot of attention for one book, but it’s not an ongoing thing. What keeps Archie going is the Archie characters. You’re always running a risk when you deal with celebrities. You never know. We work so far ahead with these books that we could have a celebrity in a book for December, and by the time December comes, you don’t know what kind of situation the person will be in. The bottom line is, with the comic books, we have to produce a good clean image for young readers.
I guess that’s the big challenge. How do you keep the books interesting and relevant, which I don’t say dismissively, but when Archie started there was Andy Hardy and Henry Aldrich and movies and radio shows that were similar. Now they’re gone, and Archie is still around.
First of all, the parents of our readers probably grew up reading Archie comics. They’re very comfortable with it. They’re not afraid to have their kids read an Archie comic book. They’re not worried. In fact, even we haven’t gotten really any flack on Kevin Keller.
I’m glad to hear that, but I’m sure that possibility was in your mind.
We weren’t worried about it, but we certainly expected something. We did get a little bit of backlash from a few people, but people are overwhelmingly for it. You heard about the “Life with Archie” issue where Kevin got married in that issue and that group complained. Toys R Us ignored them, we ignored them, and the book sold out. It wasn’t Archie Comics that was criticized; it was that organization that was criticized more than anything.