Archie Comics is old and new at the same time, still churning out comics featuring the Riverdale gang we all grew up with but mixing it up in interesting ways — with graphic novel compilations, the addition of the gay character Kevin Keller, and the dual-storyline Life With Archie magazine that ages the cast up into their 20s.
The end of the year seemed like a good opportunity to check in with Co-CEO Jon Goldwater about 2012 and the company’s initiatives for 2013. While Archie kept a pretty high profile in 2012, with a new Kevin Keller comic, the Archie Meets KISS miniseries, and the return of the Red Circle superheroes (in print as well as digital form), there was also quite a bit going on behind the scenes, both positive — Goldwater says they really figured out how to market their products in the current climate — and negative — a legal feud between Goldwater and Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit that bubbled out into the public eye last year but was settled in June.
Goldwater covers a lot of bases in the interview; one interesting nugget is that the monthly comics most people would think are the flagship Archie product are not a significant source of revenue for the company, although they are important both as a marketing tool and as the place where new stories run first. It’s also interesting to see how Goldwater regards the company’s deal with MAC Cosmetics as the first step toward global marketing of Archie products.
Robot 6: What’s new at Archie?
Jon Goldwatwer: We got a lot of great stuff coming up in 2013. 2012 was fantastic. I feel like every year we take these tremendous steps forward, from putting out Life With Archie and figuring out how to make that work — we have gained traction on that — to things like Archie Meets KISS, things like Kevin Keller, groundbreaking day-and-date digital. We look at 2013 being one of these big groundbreaking years
The first thing we have coming out is a partnership with MAC Cosmetics called Archie’s Girls. It launches February 2013, and it’s going to be a global launch. It’s going to be in every MAC store, not just in freestanding stores but in department stores as well. Wherever you want to go, you are going to have Archie right there. It’s truly our most important licensing deal in the last 30 years.
Why is that?
The way it is going to rebrand Archie on a global level. It’s going to bring us back into the consciousness of so many people who aren’t necessarily comic book fans or graphic novel fans. MAC is known as the arbiters of modern, of cool, of hip — for us to be able to partner with them is an honor. We are thrilled they saw us in the same light as Elton John, Lady Gaga, these pop culture phenomena they partner with. They did Wonder Woman [cosmetics]. It will be in places that may not be familiar with Archie over the globe — Europe, the Far East. In places where they are aware of Archie, it’s a fresh coat of paint — we’re here, we’re vibrant, we’re important. Where Archie has no awareness, it’s “Who are they, what are Archie, Betty and Veronica all about?” We are not well known in the U.K. and other places in Europe, so this is an opportunity for us to create that awareness, that buzz.
Coinciding with that, we are launching Archie apps through iVerse in specific languages all over the world: China, Japan, India in Hindi, in Spanish and French down the line, very territory-specific. So for us it’s a one-two punch: We will have this fresh awareness of this MAC partnership with a launch of our territory-specific Archie app in the languages of those territories. I’m hoping and planning on this being the beginning of my dream for Archie, which is a global digital superstore that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, in every language, where people can buy Archie product all over the world. 2013 is going to be the first step toward achieving that goal. We have the opportunity; it’s time to take advantage of that opportunity.
And then a lot of fun stuff, we’re doing the Archie/Glee crossover, which we are very excited about, that launches in March. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote it; he is a great writer of many things — comic books, theater, film — and the issues are just fantastic.
The Sonic/Megaman crossover, which is groundbreaking — earth-shattering — two iconic, legendary video-game characters that we are going to cross over in comic books, launching in April. This is the first time these characters are ever meeting. We are very excited about that.
Coming up, we have the New Crusaders gaining traction, and the second arc launches in May.
One other thing: There’s going to be a Kevin Keller novel, written by Paul Kupperberg and released in April of next year by Penguin, through the Penguin Young Reader program. We are partnering with Penguin on this thing; they are going to release it but hopefully we will help them drive the publicity. I know when Gay Pride Month hits in June there are going to be all sorts of events around it.
Everything else we are just motoring on. Motoring on with wonderful graphic novels, the Life With Archie story keeps going; entertainment and licensing in 2013 for Archie are really going to be in the forefront of what we are doing.
Looking back over the past year, what is Archie’s biggest accomplishment, in your opinion?
This is going to sound vague to you, but we really figured out how to market and distribute our books in the current publishing climate. That is not and was not easy to do. Publishing was falling apart; print was very, very dodgy. I came in here and to say the systems were broken was an understatement. People love the characters, but how are we going to not just freshen them up and make the stories fun and interesting, but how are we going to get the books into the stores in a way that they are going to succeed? And in 2012 that was accomplished. We really buckled down and figured out where we distribute, who we distribute to, what was working and how we do it going forward.
We work closely with distributors to figure out what’s working and what’s not working. We sat down and went through it on a territory by territory basis: This is working here, we’re overprinting this, we’re underprinting that. It is really so intensive and thorough. It took months and months of work. And on top of that, we found out there are certain things that people really love, like The Best of Archie — that was a tremendous success for us. We have sold hundreds of thousands of books. That is certainly one of the highlights of the year, our partnership with Random House and how that’s developing. I really believe now the ship is pointed in the direction we can really figure out.
And what is the biggest curve ball you were thrown?
We had a lot of things internally that needed to be sorted out. That was challenging. To say it wasn’t would be disingenuous. There were a lot of things here that need to be figured out and I believe we figured them out. It wasn’t easy, and it was something I never want myself or anyone involved to go through again, or this company to go through again, but we got through it and we came out for the better. I’m looking forward to good things going forward.
You have changed your lineup a bit. How are the monthly comics doing, and where do they fit in the Archie Comics strategy?
They are important in the fact that we are able to create new stories, and it’s really for us something that is more a promotional tool than something that is generating any revenue of significance. It is not generating any revenue that is meaningful, but it is a fabulous promotional vehicle for us. That is how we use the traditional comic books going forward. If we could figure out how to monetize them, that would be fabulous. I’m still trying to figure out how to make that happen.
Digital, for us, that’s the diamond mine that needs to be mined. I have a feeling that the future there is unlimited for us. Every time there is a new tablet, I am just thrilled; for us the challenge is getting the content up as quickly as the demand is there. We have an incredible library to make that happen. It is still going to take us a few more years to get everything up there. We want to make sure when we put content up digitally, it is as wonderful an experience for the person who downloads it as possible. I think we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg on the digital. That is a priority going forward.
You put Jughead on ice for a bit. Any word on what’s going on with that comic?
We are sorting that out right now. We have a lot of exciting possibilities — look for an announcement in January or February.
What’s your most popular product?
From the book side, it’s Best of Archie. Best of Archie is huge. From the newsstand, the double digests are still our biggest, and digitally people are loving Life With Archie. It’s amazing how big Life With Archie is digitally.
Sonic is very important to us. Our partnership with Sega is something that has been fabulous for almost 20 years now. The people who are there now are just wonderful, supportive, fabulous people. Sonic has got its own audience, its own niche. It’s really vibrant, interactive, they love it, they are very involved; [executive director of editorial] Paul Kaminski does a fabulous job keeping it interesting and fun and working with Sega to make sure they are happy as well.