This week’s highly publicized “Death of Archie” story was more than just the end of a fictional life. The story, published in “Life With Archie” #36, also represents the culmination of the title that in many ways has typified the publisher’s commitment to shaking up its line and characters.
From the start, “Life With Archie” was at the center of a media spotlight — coming as it did on the heels of Michael Uslan’s “Archie Marries…” set of stories. And since then, the magazine-formatted comic has been a roller coaster of deaths, marriages and other major life moments for the characters. And along for the ride nearly ever step of the way have been longtime Archie Comics artists Fernando Ruiz and Tim and Pat Kennedy. The creators have spent the past several years dividing the work of “Life With Archie” between storylines where the redhead was married to either Betty or Veronica, and they also divided the work of “The Death of Archie.” The Kennedys took the task of drawing the actual end for the character in this week’s comic-sized issue #36, and Ruiz will tell the tale of the fallout in issue #37 on July 23 (which will also see a final magazine-sized issue containing both parts as written by Paul Kupperberg).
As readers catch up on the world of “Life With Archie” with this week’s ballyhooed installment and await the end of the book’s world later this month, CBR News spoke with both Ruiz and Pat Kennedy about what it took to make “The Death of Archie” a culmination of the title to date, why unexpected moments have become something they expect from their bosses and what the loss of Archie Andrews means for Riverdale and for comics. Plus, we also have an exclusive first look at issue #37!
CBR News: Gents, since its announcement, the “Death of Archie” story has gotten a lot of press and a lot of responses from the readership. But what were your initial responses when Paul, Jon and the rest of the Archie team explained to you how they were planning on wrapping the series?
Fernando Ruiz: I didn’t find out about the “Death of Archie” until very late in the game. By the time I was told, all the decisions had been made and set in motion. Unfortunately, one of those decisions involved ending “Life With Archie,” my regular drawing assignment for the last couple of years. Naturally, my initial response was “What’s gonna happen to me?”
Pat Kennedy: We just had one quick “Uh oh, Archie’s dead?” moment at first.
Throughout the majority of the “Life With Archie” run, you’ve been keeping the two universes of the series apart. Here, issues #36 and 37 tell one big story in two parts. How did you end up breaking the task between the teams? Was there one particular part of the story you wanted to tackle as opposed to another?
Kennedy: Any decision made concerning falls with the editors — which we’re totally fine with. We’re happy to handle the doing and creative. We leave the other stuff to the big guys!
Ruiz: The plan, as it was explained to me ,was that Pat and Tim were going to draw all of “Life With Archie” #36, the issue where Archie would die, and I would draw all of #37, the last issue. I’m not sure why it was split up this way. As it happened, I was only available to draw the first seventeen pages of Issue 37. I would’ve liked to have drawn the big moment where Archie actually dies, but I didn’t.
The entire run of “Life With Archie” has been full of life-altering moments — weddings, births, deaths — and I’m sure depicting the drama of the series has been different than the typical teen Archie story. Were there any moments throughout the run that you had to draw that you felt prepped you to do a story like “The Death of Archie”?
Kennedy: The Kevin wedding in “Life With Archie” #16 had the same “event” feel, but nothing really comes close to this. There were a lot of epic moments in the series, though — Cheryl’s cancer, Jughead’s baby. But yeah, nothing on this scale. This is epic.
Ruiz: The entire series always kept me guessing. It’s been an unpredictable ride from the beginning. Archie dying was just one more shocker in a whole roller coaster series of shocking moments!
Looking at the story itself, what were the main considerations you took with your pages considering the probability that folks who haven’t read the preceding issues would be coming on for this story?
Ruiz: That’s a consideration I have to leave up to the writer and editors. Artistically, I try to handle this story as I have all the chapters that have come before so they all fit in seamlessly.Â
Kennedy: We just try our best to stick to the script. Paul handled it beautifully. You really didn’t have to be a serious collector to pick up on the backstory. Just a simple, powerful story.
The story has been grabbing headlines for the significant role Kevin Keller plays in the death. In what way is the story a reflection of how often “Life With Archie” has engaged with discourse in America these days as well as Kevin’s growing role in the Archie Universe?
Kennedy: It’s not the ’50s anymore, and Archie has to reflect that. Stories aren’t going to resonate with new readers if they’re not relative to their experience. Nostalgia can only take you so far.
For Pat, the moment of the shooting is something we’ve seen teased in the press and obviously has its own particular set of challenges as an action scene and as an emotional beat. What did you focus on first and foremost while drawing those images?
Kennedy: The moment of the shooting was originally a four-panel page in silhouette. But, correctly, [Editor-in-Chief] Victor Gorelick and [CEO] Jon Goldwater wanted the moment to be bigger and more important, so we converted to full splash. It was an interesting and challenging experience.
When Paul K talked about the story around its announcement, he mentioned that the ending of issue #36 worked to craft an iconic image for the series. Without spoiling the book, what can you say about how you approached giving this first half of the story a sendoff worthy of such an event?
Kennedy: The whole series was a reinvention of sorts. That’s what America is about, right? It was a way of showing the public that these characters have moved with the times. We’re not doing Archie with the sweater vest and checkered pants anymore. It’s really a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” kind of interpretation.
Fernando, the second half of the story jumps forward a bit in time — probably showing the Riverdale cast at the oldest we’ve ever seen them in any Archie comic. What did you do in order to show how this death and the time since has impacted the characters while keeping them true to their younger selves?
Ruiz: Issue #37 does jump ahead in time, but not by much. It’s only a year after the events in “Life With Archie” #36, so we really don’t see the characters aged all that significantly. We don’t see Jughead with a white beard and cane, for example. The issue does look back at Archie’s entire life and the important role he’s had growing up in Riverdale, so I do get to draw Archie and his cast in earlier stages of their lives! That was a lot of fun and let me play a little with Little Archie, one of my favorites when I was a kid!
It seems one of the biggest themes of this series from the beginning has been the idea of Riverdale as a community and what keeps it strong. In what ways was that idea brought out in the final chapter of “Life With Archie”?
Ruiz: “Life With Archie” #37 really looks at Archie’s impact on Riverdale and just how important he’s been to the entire community. Much of the this aftermath to the big events of the preceding issue are told in flashbacks so you can see how Archie throughout his whole life has been an important part of the town and the people living there.
Kennedy: I think they’re always trying to portray Riverdale as a close-knit, but very accepting community. Small town values, too. A sense that everyone belongs and has a purpose, which is very vibrant. A very appealing message especially as society moves forward.
Overall, what do you feel you all tried to say about Archie as a character with this story? While I’m sure there are more Archie comics to come from all of you in the future, how will this one continue to stand apart for both you and the character?
Kennedy: I think it shows how flexible these characters can be. You can do teen Archie, Pureheart, Afterlife, Little Archie — and not run out of stories to tell. These characters are so well defined, you can go anywhere with them and the stories will hold up. The death book will stand apart just for the boldness of the idea and the size of the event.
Ruiz: “Life With Archie” is one more example of the versatility of the Archie character. Archie has been the funny teenager, a little kid, a super hero, a spy, and even a cave man. Now, he has succeeded as a serious dramatic character, capable of anchoring relevant, topical storylines.
“Life With Archie” #36 is on sale now. #37 follows on July 23 from Archie Comics.