Archie Comics had developed a reputation for attention-getting moves. Up next? The death of Archie.
You read that correctly — and it’s not in the casualty-heavy, zombified “Afterlife With Archie,” either. The acclaimed magazine-format “Life With Archie” series — which has presented two alternate future versions of the Riverdale gang as adults, one where Archie married Betty and one where he married Veronica — will reach its climax with July’s issue #36, where the publisher’s title character will sacrifice his life to save a friend.
The company is keeping the exact circumstances under wraps, but not the outcome: Archie Andrews will die, in both of the book’s timelines, which merge in “Life With Archie” #36, the series finale (the magazine format issue will be split into two comic-sized releases, numbered #36 and #37). The character will live on in the publisher’s other titles — the development only affects the “Life With Archie” continuities — but Archie Comics Publisher and Co-CEO Jon Goldwater said the story aims to “really do justice” to what the beloved, indecisive redhead has meant to readers and pop culture for the past 75 years.
“Life With Archie” #36 is by regular series writer Paul Kupperberg, along with artists Pat and Tim Kennedy, Fernando Ruiz, Jim Amash, Jack Morelli and Glenn Whitmore, plus covers from Adam Hughes, Fiona Staples, Mike Allred, RamÃ³n Perez and “Afterlife With Archie” artist Francesco Francavila. The issue’s second story — released later that month in comic book format as “Life With Archie” #37 — takes place one year after Archie’s death, and checks in on how his demise has affected the citizens of Riverdale. That installment features covers from Alex Ross, Walt Simonson, Cliff Chiang, Jill Thompson and Tommy Lee Edwards.
CBR News spoke with Goldwater about preparing for “Life Without Archie,” the legacy of the “Life With Archie” series and filling the void the book will leave in the company’s publishing line.
CBR News: Jon, this week brings another big piece of news from Archie — you just can’t sit still, can you?
Jon Goldwater: It’s like what Woody Allen says in “Annie Hall” — you gotta keep that shark moving forward.
Before we get into the big story, let’s talk a bit in general about the “Life With Archie” series, and what it’s meant to the company over the past few years — if you trace it back to the “Archie Marries Betty” and “Archie Marries Veronica” stories written by Michael Uslan, it’s really the start of this bold current era for the company. What has this book meant to you?
“Life With Archie” has really been the flagship of the new era here at Archie Comics. “The Married Life” storyline just opened up a whole new world to us, and the “Life With Archie” series has been so fulfilling and so inspiring — and allowed us, really, to go into areas that I had never thought Archie would go into when I first came into the company. My thoughts always were we could expand what we’re doing — we certainly wanted to change Riverdale. But to actually put Archie himself in a different setting, and see how this has worked, and see how people have reacted to him married to Betty, and married to Veronica, and the issues we have tackled — from the Kevin Keller marriage, to Cheryl Blossom’s cancer, to the death of Miss Grundy. And we’ve also tried, of course, to do it with a little bit of a light touch, and try to keep it as much in the Archie world as possible. But of course there are times when we’ve said, “You know what? We’re going to take this thing into a place where Archie has never been before.”
And truly, the “Life With Archie” series is like a precursor to “Afterlife [with Archie].” It really showed us here that there is a tremendous amount of interest in different settings and different places that people will want to read about Archie.
Given how much the series has meant to Archie Comics, why is now the right time to end it? Was it always planned to have a finite run?
Yes. We needed to figure out a way to conclude this arc, and it’s been an extraordinarily long arc. When you go through to 36 issues — and then ultimately we’re going to have issue #37 as well, which is sort of the cherry on top of the icing — there came a point where we needed to have some sort of conclusion to this whole parallel storyline. Where’s it going to go, and how are we going to wrap this out in a way which is meaningful, and does justice to the great work Kupperberg has done — and the Kennedy brothers, and Fernando, Norm Breyfogle, Uslan and all the folks. How do we wrap this up in a way which is important, which is meaningful, and which really does justice to where we want to take not only this magazine, but the company going forward. It took us a long time to really figure out how we were going to do this. This seemed to be a natural conclusion for us. I don’t feel this is forced, I don’t feel that in any way we’re doing this to sensationalize the ending — of course, it will be a sensational story, but it’s not a sensationalized ending.
Though “Life With Archie” by its nature is about alternate future stories, it appears Archie is treating this with the level of seriousness and gravity that the death of such an important character entails. How did the company approach that? It’s a story you can really only do once, or at least once in a generation.
Yeah, we’re not going to be doing this story anytime soon again. [Laughs] We needed to figure out the big picture first — and the big picture is who is Archie, and what has he meant for 75 years? What has this company for meant for 75 years, to millions and millions of people, and of course multi-generations? And how do we treat it with the dignity, the respect, the gravity — and frankly, the overall take on how is this going to happen. It took many, many conversations — months of conversation, many layers — about how this was all going to transpire. We finally came up with something that, in our minds, really does justice to who Archie is, and what he has meant to many millions of people. Once we came up with the big picture storyline, and how we were going to handle this, it all just felt really natural.
Given the many tragedies that have been explored in “Life With Archie” story — as you mentioned, Miss Grundy’s death, Cheryl Blossom’s cancer — was it always the plan for the story to head to a tragic conclusion?
I don’t know if the plan was always for it to head to a tragic conclusion. I think the plan was to conclude it in a way which would be the epitome of what this whole line of stories have represented. Life has ups and downs; that is what life is all about. And life is filled with many colors, and sometimes you have great moments, and sometimes you have tragic moments. That is really what “Life With Archie” was all about. it embraced all the wonderful things, but to truly appreciate the wonderful things, you really need to go through some bad things sometimes, and some tough things. That really is the underlying theme of what this is all about. We wanted it to reflect what people go through on a day-to-day basis.
At the end of the day, Archie really is a special and unique person. He really represents what I feel is the best in all of us, and that is how we treated it — and that’s how we treated issue #36. And rightly so.
Beyond its contents, of the things that made the series different was its magazine format. Does Archie have plans to continue to release titles in that format in the near future?
We like being on the magazine stands. It’s more real estate for us, in addition to the digests, the comic books and the graphic novels we have out there. I love walking into a store and looking at the magazine stand and seeing “Life With Archie” in there. That format will continue for this company, without a doubt.
Another noteworthy aspect of this is the list of artists that are doing variant covers, which include some of the biggest names in comics. Some have done stuff with Archie before, but what was the process like in getting that roster of talent together to participate?
I have to give [Archie Comics President] Mike Pellerito all the credit on that. He just took the ball and ran with it. I said to him, “Mike, this is your canvas, you fill it in with the artists that you’ve always dreamed about working with. It’s a unique moment — not just in the history of Archie, but it’s really a unique moment in the history of the comic book world. Comics started with DC, Marvel and Archie. When we are actually doing something that’s never been done before in this company, and something that is as big as Archie dying, that really intrigued a lot of these guys who had never done work with Archie before. The results are thrilling and spectacular. We’re so proud to have all these wonderful folks join in and be part of this very important issue for Archie Comics.
There are two other things I wanted to mention: We’ve had parallel storylines — Archie married to Betty in one story, and Archie married to Veronica in one story. In issue #36, that melts away. It’s just one big story — there are no two separate parallel stories. Issue #36 is just one big story of the death of Archie, and there are some really interesting ways in which we handle melding both those storylines into one story.
Also, Archie dies heroically. He dies saving a life. He dies in a way which you would expect Archie to die — very heroic fashion. It’s not something that you see coming throughout the entire issue. It’s very sudden, it’s very impactful, and frankly, it’s shocking. But ultimately, it’s satisfying; if anyone’s death can be satisfying. Then we have issue #37, which we kind of are calling — not literally — “Life Without Archie,” which is Riverdale, one year later. What’s happened in the year after Archie has passed away? How have people dealt with it? What has happened to their lives? What has happened to the town? Issue #37 takes place on the one-year anniversary of Archie’s death, and it’s a real celebration of Archie’s life, and it’s what he’s meant — not just to Riverdale, but to all of us.
“Death of” stories are obviously a big part of mainstream American comics, but without the opportunities provided by these different kinds of recent stories, it must have seemed like something that was never possible at Archie — because it really wouldn’t have made any sense, just a few years ago.
Right, exactly. We’ve spoken about “Afterlife,” and [Archie Comics chief creative officer and “Afterlife With Archie” writer] Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], and Lena Dunham, and all these cool things that we have coming out — “Life with Archie” was the flagship that allowed that to happen. That was the tipping point as to all these other things that have come from that. That is why I’m so proud of this book, and why I’m so proud of this single issue, because it just epitomizes everything we’ve worked on for the last five years.
Archie has surprised people fairly consistently over the past few years, and this is one of of the biggest surprises yet — but the message appears to be it’s not a matter of topping each announcement, but that it comes from a more organic place.
Exactly right. This is a natural evolution of where not just “Life With Archie” has grown to and where that storyline is going, but really a natural evolution of what’s happened here at the company over the last number of years. It’s very organic, it comes from a real deep, creative place. And that’s the most exciting part. This comes from hours and hours and hours of conversation and thought, and all of sitting around in a room and discussing how this is all going to happen, and if it’s even possible, and where this all goes. Those are the most fun parts of this job — these deep, creative discussions we have, which, when I first came in here, we did not have. It’s grown, and it’s evolved, and the team we have in here now — with [Publicity and Marketing Senior Vice President and Red Circle editor] Alex [Segura], and Roberto, and [Archie Comics Editor-In-Chief] Victor [Gorelick], and Mike, and all the folks we have here — it’s a thrill, and it really has come from a real organic spot.
“Life With Archie” has had a distinct presence within Archie’s publishing line in being a very different type of Archie story. With that story ending, can readers look to something else taking that place? Or would you say “Afterlife” has kind of filled that niche?
“Afterlife” is its own thing, but there will be something else down the pike, without a doubt. We’re going to keep turning out new stuff; fun stuff, stuff that we think and hope people will want to read and be interested in. There’s going to be something that will jump right into that void, without a doubt.
“Life With Archie” #36 and #37 are scheduled for release in July.