It’s been almost 14 years since the last time the cast of Archie Comics’ Riverdale gang have been animated, but after a long period of behind the scenes work from CEO Jon Goldwater and the folks at French animation studio MoonScoop, that’s about to change.
Last month, the two companies announced that the freckle-faced redhead and his friends are set to return to cartoons with “It’s Archie” — a new animated series developed by MoonScoop and focusing on the middle school years of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest. The news comes just ahead of the U.S. cable debut of “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch” — another Archie/MoonScoop production debuting this October on Hasbro’s cable network, The Hub.
CBR News spoke with Goldwater about the development of “It’s Archie,” and the CEO shared an exclusive first look at the series’ character designs, backgrounds and storyboards while explaining that the path to bring Riverdale back to TV is one that vitally important for the company moving forward. With “It’s Archie,” the publisher hopes to expand not only its visibility with younger fans but also expand its reach for licensing and media deals all while adding new comics to its publishing line.
CBR News: Jon, the last time we talked, we were mainly discussing Archie’s movie plans, though it seems as though your animation plans follow a similar path where Archie is taking production control, first with “Sabrina,” and now with “It’s Archie.” How did you approach the task of reintroducing these characters to TV?
Jon Goldwater: When I first came into Archie, for myself, I needed to wrap my head around the publishing. What’s happening on that side of the business? What’s our fan base like? I needed to learn exactly where we stood in terms of the overall feeling about Archie not just in the publishing world but also out there with the public through 70 years of goodwill. And I said to myself, “I’ve got to take it really slow and really understand things before I jump into the deep end of the pool with deals for film, television or any of those licensing opportunities with the characters.”
And frankly, I knew how important it was to get Archie out there, not just in the movies but really in animation. In many ways, the history of Archie started back in 1968 when we released the Archie animated show and the song “Sugar, Sugar” came out. That was really a phenomenon, and animation was so important to spreading the word of what Archie was all about and the fun of the characters. So I knew that this was going to be an important part of the game plan going forward.
My overall goals were to revitalize the publishing, see where we were in the digital landscape and take advantage of those opportunities and then, importantly, find a partner that we could team with and march forward on the animation side. That’s been the process, and it’s taken me a number of years. It’s been about four years now! But now I feel very comfortable with where we sit on the publishing side. I feel very comfortable with where we sit on the digital publishing side. And now I feel extremely comfortable in our partnership with MoonScoop and with our plans to move forward with a brand new Archie animation show. I think it’s going to explode. I think it’s going to be huge, and it’s going to turn a whole new generation of young kids onto Archie. And that’s going to help us in so many areas. It’ll help on the publishing side, on the digital side and with our general awareness for the overall licensing program.
This animation to me is probably — well, we’ve done a lot of important things in the past few years, so I don’t want to say it’s the singular most important thing we’ve done. I don’t know if there’s any one thing you can label like that, but this is extremely important to our company, and we’re going to work very hard to make sure that this show is everything we all want it and expect it to be.
It’s been a number of years since there’s been any Archie new cartoons, though you started your animation moves with Sabrina this time around. With the Melissa Joan Hart show and the follow up Sabrina cartoon from a few years back, do you feel as though that character may have a bit stronger pop culture cachet than Archie right now?
Absolutely. Sabrina was the easier sell. There’s no doubt about that. Because of the success of the Melissa Joan Hart show and its own animated brand, Sabrina was very much the easier sell. And that wasn’t just because of what happened here, but internationally, Sabrina had made some in roads in countries and territories that Archie was never able to grab hold of.
Once we got the Sabrina deal wrapped up, it was very strange. There was then this incredible interest in Archie! I think that probably coincided with our publishing plan really getting traction and people becoming aware again of the fact that, “Wow! There’s Sabrina, and that’s in the same universe as Archie. They’re all the same company.” I think it was a perfect storm at that point between the revitalization of the publishing, what we’d done digitally and the Sabrina animation. People started coming after us aggressively for an Archie cartoon series. It kind of happened naturally, and it was really a wonderful thing.
Let’s talk about that MoonScoop partnership. When you met with Mike Young and the team over there, what were the creative goals for both Sabrina and Archie? What was it that they wanted to achieve, and what was it that you wanted to see in animated series?
Most importantly, I wanted to know where they wanted to take the show and who the show was geared towards. I always knew in terms of the art style and the look of the shows, that was something we’d be able to work on together. What I wanted to know was A) what their vision for the characters was and B) how they saw the plan rolling out in terms of networks, how it would roll out domestically as well as internationally and how we could both best monetize this opportunity. This is a very rare opportunity to have these iconic characters and get to reintroduce them to a new generation. What is the plan to really be able to make this the biggest possible success we can make this?
And when I sat down with Mike and the team at MoonScoop, and they told me their vision for the characters — how they saw Sabrina as being an empowered young woman who is very much her own person and the vision for the whole series going forward — I just loved it. I said, “This is exactly the vision for what the marketplace will be all about for Sabrina.” It was very much about a strong young lady who was not just certain in her abilities as a person from the witch world but someone as a personality who was very confident in who they were. I just loved that character. And once they sold me on that, their plans to roll that idea out were also very exciting to me. Then they started developing the art for Sabrina, and when I saw it I said, “We’re going to do this deal.”
Basically, it was the same thing for Archie. We had discussions on their creative goals for Archie and how they saw the show rolling out domestically and internationally. We also discussed the look of it and where Archie was going to be placed in terms of his high school years. I really loved their vision of doing a little bit of a younger version of Archie. This is not the typical teenager Archie. It’s a middle school version. It’s not “Little Archie,” but you’re not driving around in cars either. I love that take. It just creates so many opportunities for us.
These days, publishers like DC and Marvel are part of these massive corporations, so when DC does a show, everyone knows it’s going to Cartoon Network. When Marvel does a show, everyone knows it’s going to Disney XD. Conversely, Archie had to create the Sabrina show first, and then place it on The Hub. Are there other challenges unique to your place in the entertainment marketplace?
These brands are so precious to us, and I understand how much people and our readers and fans care about the brands, so we want to have as much control as we can possibly have. We’re very lucky because we’re not part of a bigger corporate structure. There’s no board that we need to sit in front of and get approvals. There’s no layers of approval. The person who makes the decision on these things is me, and I guard these brands with all my might. I do everything I can to make sure that we’re going to put forth a vision that everyone who’s associated with Archie — including the fans — is proud of. It’s something that’s always at the forefront of every decision I make at Archie Comics.
You mentioned there’s a lot to come in terms of licensing for these brands once the animated series are ready to roll on TV. Can we assume the same for the publishing side? Is there a chance for a “Sabrina” comic in line with the animated series, or an “It’s Archie” comic telling more stories of those middle school years?
The answer is “yes” to both, without a doubt. We’re planning on “It’s Archie” being on the air in the fall of 2014. So basically, a year after “Sabrina” launches, we’ll have Archie on the air, and we’ll have comics to support them, 100%. We’re already working on something internally with Sabrina. As far as Archie, we’re just getting started with the animation. So our publishing energies will be on the Sabrina side for now because it’s right here, but we’re going to support it digitally, with a comic, with trades and on down the line. We believe in this 100%.
What can you say about how to move forward now? It took “Sabrina” a year or more from announcement to landing on The Hub. As you mentioned Archie interest spiking after that, do you anticipate more news or more moves from you guys on this front to come faster?
I would like to! There are so many properties I’m really excited about. I’d love to see something for Katy Keene. Cosmo The Merry Martian is something I think has a beautiful opportunity for either an animated series or an animated movie. Jinx, I think, holds opportunities for a wonderful television show.
And let’s not forget about these great Red Circle characters we’re bringing back with “The Fox” with [Mark] Waid and [Dean] Haspiel as the creative team. That whole universe we look at doing something very vibrant with on the licensing side down the road in film, animation and everything else.
I think we’re just at the beginning of opening the flood gates. There’s nothing lined up just yet, but we are looking at things now that the “It’s Archie” announcement has come out. There are a bunch of other things to look at, and we’ll have a vibrant presence in other media in the next three, four or five years.