Archie Comics has flipped the script once again, and last week announced another bold and surprising reinvention of its classic characters: Archie 1941, co-written by longtime collaborators Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, who worked together on DC's The Flash, JLA: Year One and much more; and illustrated by Peter Krause, himself a frequent Waid collaborator on series like BOOM! Studios' Irredeemable.
Archie 1941 takes Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and the rest of the gang back to the year where Archie Andrews first debuted: 1941 (as you've surely guessed by now). Of course, 1941 also marks the real-life start of the United States' involvement in World War II, and this five-issue series -- which will take the place of the flagship Archie series, also written by Waid, during its run -- is set to explore the consequences of the conflict on Riverdale, in what aims to be a more serious yet still authentically "Archie" story.
CBR talked with Waid, Augustyn and Krause about Archie 1941, how the series developed, what World War II says about Riverdale and vice versa, and how these classic (and often comedic) comic book characters react to the tragedy of "the war to end all wars."
CBR: First, I'm curious: Even for present-day Archie Comics, where it's standard to expect the unexpected, this project feels a bit out of left field. What inspired Archie 1941? How did the project come together?
Mark Waid: It was generated in-house. Mike Pellerito called me and asked me if it was something I'd be interested in taking a crack at.
Peter Krause: Mike Pellerito contacted me earlier this year about doing the series after I’d drawn some covers and finished some continuity pages for another proposed series. When he told me Mark and Brian were writing it, I was sold.
There are certainly a lot of World War II narratives in pop culture -- what can the Archie characters say about WWII that's unique? And what does implementing real-life events into storylines reveal about the Archie characters?
Brian Augustyn: Beyond the drama inherent in such a significant historical era, we have a great opportunity to look at the series characters and setting through the lens of that era. How are they essentially the same, how are they different? And also, it gives us a chance to tell the story of the home front. How does the shadow of world war affect the citizens of Riverdale?
Is Archie 1941 inspired at least partially by the fact that Archie Andrews first debuted in 1941?
Waid: I'm sure that's where the original idea came from, but once we all realized there was a potential story -- a good one -- behind the gag, we were off to the races.
Mark and Brian, you have a long history of working together, but it's been a while since readers have seen your names credited together. What's it been like working together again?
Waid: Terrific. Without missing a beat. I'm always better when I run my ideas by Brian and we can talk out plots -- he's not only a friend, he's a great writer who keeps me honest!
Augustyn: In most ways it’s as if we never stopped, so natural and complimentary are our instincts. We’ve done much of our best work over time as a team, and it’s great to “get the band back together,” as Mark says. Mark is one of the best writers in comics, and this is a fantastic project to take on together!
Mark and Peter -- you've collaborated extensively. How have you enjoyed the unique experience of Archie 1941?
Waid: We couldn't have asked for a better artist for this story. Pete's perfect -- his humanity and his attention to detail are key elements.
Krause: Mark is one of the people I owe for continuing my comics career. This will be the fourth series we’ve collaborated on, and it’s always a joy and a challenge. The joy is finding the incredible humanity that Mark puts into each of the characters. Brian has amped that up even more so with his contributions -- these writers have even made me feel for Reggie!
The challenge is trying to reflect that humanity in the drawing. Hopefully that’s a challenge I’ve met.
Peter, what's it been like illustrating this series? It feels like there are at least two unique challenges -- making the Archie characters distinct but recognizable, and also nailing the real-world period element of the story.
Krause: Doing the research for the real-world elements has been enjoyable. That era has been extensively recorded. Some library systems have online access to high school yearbooks of the time -- invaluable if you’re looking for hairstyles and clothing. Other resources I’ve used have been reprints of Sears catalogs and photos from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that document small-town life.
As to the characters, some will be easily recognizable -- Archie will always have red hair. But there are some changes. For example, I didn’t find ponytails to be in vogue, so Betty will not have one. I went with a newsboy cap for Jughead -- I think it fits the character and the times. And for Fred Andrews (Archie’s dad), I riffed a bit off of the Riverdale TV show and made him slimmer than he’s been portrayed in the comics. Drawing my own versions of all of the Archie gang has been a personal highlight.
Mark, you've been writing the contemporary adventures of Archie and the gang for a few years now. How are they different in Archie 1941? In what ways do they remain constant?
Waid: At core, they're the same kids. Archie's the big-hearted clumsy nitwit, Jughead's the best buddy, Veronica's the eternal debutante, Betty's the tomboy, and Reggie is Reggie is Reggie. What makes them all different here is the circumstance. World War II is coming at America and it's coming fast.
Also, the current Archie run has dealt with some serious material, but also retains the inherent Archie Comics playfulness -- as you've said, Mark, there's always going to be a "moment where Archie ends up with a paint bucket over his head." Obviously Archie 1941 deals with somber material, but do you feel it's of a similar tone as the rest of your run?
Waid: Not totally, no. It's definitely more serious. That said, there still have to be laughs, and even in the thick of the drama, Brian and I have found them.
Augustyn: As a co-conspirator, I can take a shot at this: The tone of Archie 1941 is more serious than the regular series, but not without humor, or great human moments. We’re trying to keep a balance even in the face of the obvious tragedy of the war to end all wars.
Archie 1941 #1 is schedule for release on Sept. 12 from Archie Comics.