With the recent news of Archie Comics’ deal for an “Archie” feature film at Warner Bros., CEO Jon Goldwater’s long term plans for the publisher are coming together.
Written for the screen by “glee” writer and noted comics scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who’s also prepping his latest Archie comic with the zombie-fueled “Afterlife With Archie” with artist Francesco Francavilla) and “Pitch Perfect” director Jason Moore attached, the “Archie” movie is angling to bring the titular redhead, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang to the screen in the mold of teen movie legend John Hughes.
The deal is in many ways the culmination of Goldwater’s plans for Archie since he stepped in as CEO in 2009. From an aggressive expansion in digital to headline grabbing stories involving Kevin Keller to merchandising deals in cosmetics, the modern Archie Comics has aimed on transforming their grocery store checkout business into a modern media company. And as Goldwater told CBR, all of that has been building towards Hollywood. Below, the CEO describes how Aguirre-Sacasa made the final piece of the movie puzzle, what role Archie as a company will play in Warners film translation and what other projects — including previously unannounced Archie animation — are in the works.
CBR News: Jon, I think it’s safe to say that people have been following Archie more closely since you’ve been at the helm. Mostly, we’ve seen your impact on the publishing side of the business, but how much has the movie/media side of Archie been part of your playbook from the start?
Jon Goldwater: Ultimately, that was where the company was going to go. Marvel laid out the model — let’s just call it like it is. They’ve done an absolutely brilliant job in taking what was their comic book IP and translating it into brilliant films. The model was there, and I had that vision for Archie, big time. When I first came in, yes I wanted to jump into the deep end of the pool and make movies and get all that moving forward, but frankly, I needed to get the publishing up and running and together. I had to move things forward. But it was always on my mind to get an Archie movie made, without a doubt. That was absolutely a goal of mine when I came in here.
You tapped Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for the “glee” crossover, then for the incoming “Afterlife With Archie” series and now he’ll be writing the film. Did his involvement put this plan as a whole on the fast track for you?
Roberto was the final piece of the puzzle. There were a couple of other things that were already moving forward. There are a lot of people in LA and Hollywood that were interested in making an “Archie” movie, but I was reluctant because you can get caught up in the studio game where you don’t know who the writer is going to be or who the director is going to be, but you don’t know, necessarily, where the creative vision is going to go. But once we started developing that relationship between Archie and Roberto, in my mind there was nobody else who could write the movie for Archie. So from my perspective, it was an absolute no brainer. When we met with the folks in Hollywood, we said, “Yes, we’re very interested in doing the Archie movie, and Roberto has to be the writer.”
You made the Marvel comparison, and I think that’s been one of the key components of their success: the company taking a strong creative hand in how the movies turned out. Has that been your overall goal? For the Archie company to be the final steward of how any of this turns out on the screen?
Absolutely. And one of the reasons why we’ve taken our time to assemble this creative team — which is not just Roberto but it’s Jason Moore and [producers] Dan Lin and Roy Lee and Warner Bros. and [executive producer] Krishnan Menon and all the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with. That makes me feel very comfortable that where we’re going with the “Archie” movie is going to translate the comic book page to the screen. We’re all like-minded in our vision. We believe so much in the IP and in the integrity of our characters. The creative team we have on this is stellar, and I want to take a very active role in the creative direction of the movie without a doubt.
Jason Moore of course just directed “Pitch Perfect,” which I think caught a lot of people off guard by how big a success it was. But between that movie and Roberto’s history with “glee,” it feels like there’s a shared sensibility that can port very well to the Archie world. Is that a good picture of where this movie will be, tonally?
I think you just hit the nail on the head. Our vision creatively is a very John Hughes-ian Archie film. It’s in the spirit of “Ferris Bueller” and “Sixteen Candles,” and I know Roberto and Jason share that exact same vision. To hear them discuss their vision for the movie is so inspiring to me. It’s unbelievable. And you’re right that this is a little “Pitch Perfect” and kind of “glee,” but it’s also a lot of John Hughes. Hollywood lore is rife with the fact that John Hughes was a huge Archie fan. A lot of what he did was inspired by Archie history and Archie IP. So we’re going to embrace his genius and hopefully make our own movie that’s unique, interesting and fun with its own flavor. But it’ll be very “Ferris Bueller.” That’s the vision we have for the movie.
I’m sure Jason and Roberto are working on what will go into the script now, but what is the next step for this? Is casting what has to follow now that the team’s in place?
I think really right now the most important thing is Roberto putting the pen to paper and having the most genius script we can have. After that, it is the casting process. But for now, Roberto is doing his thing, and as soon as that’s done, then the next step is assembling a cast. But the script comes first and foremost.
You guys must be in touch with Roberto almost hourly at this point with all the work he’s doing for you.
Oh, my God! It’s like he’s part of the family here! [Laughs] The “glee” series is done now, but “Afterlife” is ongoing. So we’ve got that series and the movie now, and I expect Roberto to be a part of Archie not just for these projects but for many projects to come. The guy is just brilliant, and he understands Archie as well as I do or Victor [Gorelick] does or anybody here. For me, having him involved in not just the movie and not just “Afterlife” but whatever he’d like to get involved with is something we’d want to make happen.
The movie is obviously a big domino to push over, but you’ve also been working on a new “Sabrina” animated series. Should we assume that there will be more to the media side of Archie in the months and years ahead?
Well, yes. “Sabrina” debuts this fall in animation on The Hub. I think it’s coming in late September. And there will be Archie animation coming, as well as the “Archie” movie. We haven’t announced the Archie animation yet, so maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but it is coming, so what the heck. I just said it! [Laughter]
Overall, I know your first years at Archie were very focused on growth for publishing in both digital comics and in graphic novels. What do you view as the main challenges for Archie’s future? What are you looking to accomplish next?
We’re launching our first Archie mobile game with a company called Gogii. That launches worldwide on July 18, the first day of Comic-Con. We want to get involved in as many platforms to expose our brand as we possibly can. Of course we have traditional entertainment venues like film, television, licensing and all those things, but we also want to get involved heavily in digital. I’ve talked a lot about our digital hub and my goals for a global digital super store, but a mobile gaming platform is also really important and really vibrant. So look for that on July 18. We’ve been building the game with Gogii for over a year now. It’s spectacular and tremendous fun, and it’s a free download. I encourage as many people to download the game as possible.