Archie Comics has made a number of well-publicized steps forward in the past few years — the introduction of Kevin Keller, “Life with Archie,” “Afterlife with Archie” — but maybe the boldest one yet was announced late last year: The main “Archie” title, which had run since the 1940s and stretched into the high 600s, will end in 2015, and relaunch with a new #1. And not just a new #1, but a new #1 from the high-profile creative team of Mark Waid, writer of “Daredevil,” “Kingdom Come” and much of the other most acclaimed mainstream comics of the past two decades; and Fiona Staples, artist and co-creator of the acclaimed “Saga,” widely considered an era-defining masterpiece.
The relaunch represents a completely new beginning for the Archie gang, and one that aims for a much more modern tone and presentation — as evidenced by the early concept art released. Waid and Staples will be telling the origin story of how Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie came to be the pals and gals (and sometimes pop-rock band) readers have known over the years, with what the writer tells CBR is a “blank slate fresh start.” And as Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater has hinted, more new series reflecting this new approach are likely on the way, with the classic Archie style living on in the publisher’s long-running digests.
Since the initial announcement, those involved in the series have made it clear that though this is a fresh take on the characters — the word “edgier” has been used — it’s not abandoning the all-ages audience that Archie Comics has always appealed to, nor the long-held ideas of what the Riverdale High crew have represented. In his first in-depth interview on the new “Archie,” Waid spoke with CBR News about that balance, collaborating with Staples (who’s illustrating the first three issues of the series alongside her “Saga” work), the “sophisticated” tone he’s seeking and what you won’t see in the new book (e.g., Jughead on junk).
CBR News: Mark, you’ve certainly taken on a lot of well-known pop cultural properties in your comics writing career. What made the prospect of relaunching “Archie” a unique and exciting one for you? How much of a responsibility do you feel in relaunching such a famous comics franchise?
Mark Waid: The offer from the Archie folks intrigued me instantly, just because it seems to be such a daunting challenge — but at the same time, I think it plays into one of my strengths, which is the ability to approach long-standing franchises with enough respect for its history to be able to zero in on the essential qualities that have sustained it since before I was born. I could say that it’s a huge responsibility, because it is, but that makes it sound like grim drudgework, and this is wholly the opposite. This is a blast.
Even beyond your recent work on “The Fox,” you’ve got a history with Archie Comics, having worked for the company years back. Had you given any thought in the past about how you might reimagine the Archie characters given an opportunity like this? (An opportunity which, granted, probably didn’t seem possible until it was actually presented to you.) How much potential is there in freshening up the Archie core — which, other than detours like “Life with Archie” and “Afterlife with Archie,” hasn’t really changed in decades?
I had honestly never given any thought to how to reimagine the Archie characters, because I simply assumed they were going to be frozen in amber until the end of time. And they may well have if not for Jon Goldwater stepping into the CEO seat a few years ago and demonstrating a talent for taking just the right kind of chances.
The potential here is boundless and limited only by imagination — when I began, I sat down intending to start with a brief document explaining how I saw all the characters in Riverdale, but four hours and 3,000 words later, I realized I’d gotten only to Archie, Betty and Jughead, and I could have kept writing through the night. It’s just a matter of drilling down on well-constructed characters — and the more I write about them, the more I find to write.
Fiona Staples is drawing the first three issues of the series. Obviously, the visual style that she’s bringing to “Archie” is a huge departure from the company’s house style, and a major part of what’s making this series distinct from past Archie efforts. Are you working closely with her in developing the look and feel of the book?
Absolutely. She’s a huge Archie fan and is my litmus test on all my ideas. When we first spoke, I knew that if she wasn’t sold on what I was pitching, I was probably headed the wrong direction, but her enthusiasm really gave me confidence. So much hinges on Fiona, and she’s wowing us all. One of the things she said she’s most excited about is drawing comedy. Not just people delivering clever wordplay, but actual moments of physical comedy. All hail Fiona Staples!
I think one thing a lot of people are curious about is the series’ tone and intended audience — the New York Times article announcing it used the word “edgier,” which can make folks nervous. How would you describe the tone you’re aiming for here? And while I don’t think Archie is forsaking the younger audience with this, how much are you also looking to gain the interest of older readers, maybe some of that more traditional weekly comic book store crowd?
We’ve no intention of going “dark” or serving an adults-only audience. That’s cheap, that’s easy, and anyone can do it. Literally, any chimpanzee with a keyboard can write, “Issue One, Page One, Panel One: Establishing shot, the fetid boys’ room of Riverdale High. Jughead pukes into a toilet, a heroin needle still dangling from his vein.” Not interested. Don’t worry. The tone will be a little more sophisticated, yes. The kids will be dealing more closely and more realistically with the kinds of problems real 2015 high school kids deal with. Tonally, if you enjoyed my work on ‘Impulse,’ you’ll like this.
Now that we’ve established that there won’t be heroin in “Archie” — Jon Goldwater has described the story you and Fiona are telling as an “origin story” for the Archie gang. How many of the familiar characters are you looking to use in this initial arc?
The core five — Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Reggie — will certainly be there (though some of them less directly at first, he said cryptically, as we reintroduce some of them to some of the others). And rest assured, we have big plans for Kevin and Moose and Dilton and Val and Alvin and Simon and Theodore and Flopsy and Mopsy and Cottontail and Doc and Dopey and Bashful and I swear to you, we will get to everyone, but we only have 20 pages, so be patient. We won’t let you down!
Another thing people are curious about — not that Archie has had much continuity in the conventional sense over the years, but are you effectively viewing this series as a total fresh start for the characters?
Yep. Blank slate fresh start. Those were the marching orders, and that’s why Veronica isn’t — whoops, I almost said too much.
Intriguing! You’ve said that the plan is for you to be on the book for the long haul — just speculating here, but going forward, is the plan for more multiple-issue stories than traditionally seen from “Archie”? Maybe more story threads continuing on from arc to arc?
Yep. More ongoing threads, more soap opera. I’m not far enough in yet to know just how often we’ll do traditional cliffhangers, but I’m pretty practiced in writing individual issues of ongoing series that feel like a solid read while ongoing threads lead in and off.
It’s been said that this new series also harkens back to the humor and outlook of the earliest Archie comics — which is something I think most readers don’t have much familiarity with. For you, how much do those early comics serve as inspiration for what you’re doing here?
Gargantuanly. Enormously. Those earliest Archie comics are enjoyable because you can’t have comedy without friction, and 75 years of publishing hadn’t yet sanded the edges off the characters.
One response I’ve seen floated out there to this news is a bit of skepticism in Archie looking for a more modern, youthful take, and hiring a veteran comics writer to do so. How do you respond to observers who may question your ability to earnestly write a teenage cast?
That’s a fair question. I asked it myself. I’m not taking that part at all lightly. And my girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter is insanely helpful in keeping me honest. But while I’m in no way comparing my skills to the talents of these giants, I would offer that J.K. Rowling had already hit 30 when she wrote her first Harry Potter novel. Madeleine L’Engle was 42 when she wrote “A Wrinkle In Time.” I’m younger than C.S. Lewis was when he was writing his Chronicles of Narnia, but not younger than S.E. Hinton when she penned “The Outsiders.” And with all the respect in the world for a staggeringly gifted author, I’ll never be as old as Bob Haney was.
I honestly could go on forever, but let’s wrap with this: Much has been made of the bold moves that Archie Comics has made as a whole in recent years. From your perspective as a comics historian, how unique is this pivot Archie has made, and its willingness to depart from what readers traditionally expect from the publisher?
It really is a unique pivot (well-said, Albert!), if for no other reason than it’s being done not out of jaded cynicism or to inflate sales but truly, honestly, out of a love for pop-culture icons that no one wants to see go the way of, say, Davy Crockett or Woody Woodpecker. (Kids, ask your parents.)
As to how far a departure this is from what readers traditionally expect, that depends on how you define that. I think they expect to see characters they can recognize that they want to spend time with as they spin through screwball adventures peppered with moments of drama and teenage heartache. That’s still the foundation of Archie comics. That will never go away.
Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ “Archie” #1 will debut from Archie Comics later this year.