Waid Explains What Makes His “Archie” Tick, Chooses Between Betty & Veronica

by  in Comic News Comment
Waid Explains What Makes His “Archie” Tick, Chooses Between Betty & Veronica

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for “Archie” #6, on sale Feb. 17.

Eisner Award-winner Mark Waid has written some of the best comic book stories in the industry over the past 30 years. “Kingdom Come,” “Superman: Birthright” and “52” were game-changers, and his runs on “The Flash” and the recently concluded “Daredevil” are already considered classics. But the always candid writer readily admits that success for his latest hit, the critically-acclaimed and newly reimagined “Archie,” belongs to his artistic collaborators: Fiona Staples, Annie Wu and Veronica Fish.

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Waid and the trio of artists have delivered brilliant storytelling while also putting a fresh face on Archie Andrews, the freckled icon from Riverdale. With “Archie” #6 capping the rebooted comic’s first arc this week, and the first trade paperback collecting it on sale March 9, CBR News connected with Waid to learn what makes his take on Archie tick and which side he chooses when it comes to the long-held debate of Betty or Veronica. He also explains how Jughead is like Robin and Cyclops and how a Reggie Mantle-Hiram Lodge alliance is Archie Comics’ equivalent to a Luthor-Brainiac team-up. The writer also teased that readers can expect to see other classic Riverdale characters like Dilton Doiley and Moose Mason in “Archie” sooner rather than later — but they may have to wait a while for Josie and the Pussycats.

CBR News: For this new series, you were tasked with reimagining Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica for a new generation of readers. And within the series, particularly during the lipstick incident, you explored the changes happening for the characters in Riverdale in real time. When you started preparing for this relaunch, what elements of these characters did you know had to stay and what were some things that had to go? And more importantly, and this is where we might get a bit zen-y, why is it so hard to watch people change, even fictional ones that we have known and loved for more than 70 years?

Mark Waid: I think it’s because we’ve known them all our lives, right? Like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and James Bond movies, Archie’s always been a constant in our pop culture, a ‘comfort food’ that we can fall back on regardless of where we are and what’s vexing us.

When I dove in, what had to stay, in my mind, was the core five and their interpersonal relationships. Betty had to be the girl next door, Veronica had to be the somewhat snobby hothead, Reggie had to be the jerk, Jughead had to be the disaffected wise man, and Archie had to be a well-meaning clumsy everykid. We talked at great length about whether or not to take this opportunity to make that core five a little more racially diverse, but ultimately it felt like that would be pandering — and that the better solution for a more diverse Riverdale would be to push the intro of Veronica and Reggie back a while in order to make room for Raj and Toni and Sheila and a more varied cast.

What had to go, I thought, and this is in no way to denigrate the work of the comics giants on whose shoulders I’m lucky to stand, was the impression that, to Archie, girls were prizes to be won, not human beings with real feelings and emotions. And I could never have pulled that shift off without my artists and collaborators — Fiona, Annie and Veronica — making them feel real.

As a fellow red-haired, freckled, middle-aged man, I feel I have some personal knowledge related to this next question. Archie Andrews is not your typical leading man. Why does he work so well as a character and why is that every man wants to be him and every woman wants to be with him?

Heck if I know. [Laughs] I’m not convinced that every man wants to be him, but I can make a case that his life is pretty enviable; every girl in town is a supermodel and his problems are pretty manageable. Why the girls want to be with Archie, again, goes back to the artists drawing him as a heartthrob. Plus, he plays the guitar. Plus, he doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body. Plus, his name is on the cover.

Were you a reader of Archie Comics growing up in Hueytown? And because everyone has an answer, here’s the big question of the day: Betty or Veronica? And has your pick changed since you started writing “Archie” or do you at least have a new found appreciation for one or the other?

I was, though I never became a hardcore fan until I worked at the Archie offices for a while in 1990 as an editorial assistant and took the opportunity to read every Archie comic published up to that point. What a revelation.

And I’m Team Betty. I’m learning to love Veronica, but she still scares me.

PREVIEW: Betty Does a Number on Archie in Waid & Fish’s “Archie” #6

While Jughead is being more heavily explored in his own solo series, written by Chip Zdarsky, Forsythe Pendleton Jones III also plays a major role in “Archie.” To me, Jughead has undergone the biggest change from his original incarnation. Is that because the hipster/slacker model is perhaps more relevant and accessible today than it was in the ’50s and ’60s?

Nah. It’s because that’s how I see Jughead. The old soul, the slightly removed perspective who always has the overarching point of view. I tend to identify with the group members who are slightly out of step with the others. Robin was always my favorite Titan. Mike Nesmith was always my favorite Monkee. Cyclops was always my favorite X-Man. So you can see the pattern.

I love this line from “Archie” #5 where Archie says, “Reggie is the closest thing Riverdale has to a super villain.” While true, he is one of those iconic characters that readers love to hate is he really so big and bad or does he simply represent the worst (or not even the of worst because there can obviously be far worse) of what a high school bully can be?

Ha! Actually, we asked ourselves this with “Archie” #7. On the one hand, I don’t want to deep-dive so far into Reggie’s psyche and backstory that he becomes super-sympathetic; on the other hand, we want him to be more than just a cartoon villain. Read “Archie” #7!

In this opening arc, we spent most of our time with the heavy hitters: Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie. Can you give us a tease of when we might see some of the other players like Moose, Dilton or maybe even Josie and the Pussycats?

I’m dying to do a Moose and Dilton story and have had one half-outlined since I started this gig. Soon. Josie and the Pussycats would be awesome, too, but I don’t have as solid a take on them. Part of me would rather see them get developed by someone who loves them as much as I love Archie and his gang. Still, if Veronica Fish and I have an idea…

RELATED: “Archie” Names Veronica Fish New Regular Series Artist

We are speaking weeks away from the release of the collected first volume of “Archie.” You mentioned that we will learn more about Reggie’s backstory in “Archie” #7, but can you give us a tease of where the story goes from here? The first arc closes with what appears to be a forthcoming unholy union of Reggie and Mr. Lodge…

That’s just it. Man, talk about the Archie equivalent of a Luthor/Brainiac team-up. Archie will absolutely not know what’s hit him. And in the back half of our first year, the hits just keep coming. Never make enemies with a billionaire.

While I have loved your writing for years and honestly would have picked up this series if George W. Bush was the artist — actually that would be pretty awesome — but seriously, and I know you mentioned them already, but how much has Fiona Staples, Annie Wu and Veronica Fish meant to the series as it relates to its early success?

Again, oh my God, what a murderers’ row of artists. Give them all of the credit. All of it. If my scripts hadn’t been drawn by and improved by artists of that caliber, we might have had to write this whole thing off as an errant experiment. Especially with “Archie,” which requires visual comedy as well as wordplay, every story’s only as good as its artist. Veronica, in particular, is a marvel — and will attack every scene fearlessly no matter what I ask her to draw!

Finally, Archie and CW has started revealing details about its upcoming live-action adaption, “Riverdale.” Are you involved at all in the TV series and even if you are not, are you interested to see where it goes and how much it follows what you have created for “Archie?”

I’m not involved, but I’m really curious to see where it goes. I’ve talked with [Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer] Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about it a few times and love his take. I think we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by “Riverdale.”

“Archie: Volume 1,” written by Mark Waid and drawn by Fiona Staples, Annie Wu and Veronica Fish, arrives March 9 from Archie Comics.