Archie goes same-day print and digital with Red Circle comics

Archie Comics launched the latest incarnation of Red Circle Comics as a digital app that combined comics from the 1930s to the 1980s, featuring early superheroes like The Shield and the Mighty Crusaders with new, digital-first comics starring a teen superhero team, the New Crusaders, composed of the children of those original characters.

Now, six months after the launch of the app, Archie is changing its strategy a bit to bring the digital comics in line with print. Instead of releasing The New Crusaders as a six-page digital comic once a week, followed by a print comic with the same material at the end of the month, the company will publish the complete comic digitally and in print on the same day. Archie is also moving its Lost Crusaders comics, which fill in the gaps in continuity between the old comics and the new ones, from a fifth-week to a monthly schedule.

Robot 6 talked exclusively to Paul Kaminski, executive director of editorial for Archie Comics and editor of The New Crusaders, about the changes and what lay behind them.

Robot 6: The Red Circle app is unlike anything in comics, so I'm guessing there has been a learning curve. Can you talk a bit about what parts of it are working and which ones still need a bit of work?

Paul Kaminiski: Red Circle is all about creating the ultimate comic book experience — and the subscription-based initiative was able to bring that experience to readers every week for the entire run of Rise of the Heroes. While the weekly six-page installments of New Crusaders were well-received, fans of the series and people looking to jump on let us know that complete issues, in both digital release and in print, were the way to go with New Crusaders! Now that the next step for the series is on the horizon (coming this spring!) we've got a unique opportunity to take what we learned, listen to the fans, and build on the app for the next series.

The New Crusaders comics will be "day and date," which I assume means they are going from weekly to monthly releases — the same number of pages, just gathered together once a month rather than spread out week to week. Is that correct, and if so, why did you decide to make that change?

Simply put, "day and date" is the most straightforward way to tell a compelling superhero story with digital and print distribution running side by side. New Crusaders started out as digital-exclusive, and readers told us, "That's cool, but can we have print comics too?" So we said "Sure!” Now that there's a print side to the New Crusaders experience, and with so many big surprises coming up in this series, we can't have spoilers leaking out from the digital release — it wouldn't be fair to our print readers! It's just another way we try to listen to the readers and offer them as many different ways to enjoy this series as they want!

What will the price be?

Complete issues of New Crusaders reflect the print -- a steal at $2.99. Lost Crusade installments are priced at 99 cents each and classic content at $1.99

You are shifting from digital-first to simultaneous print and digital publication of these comics. Why does that seem to be the way to go?

One of the great things about the comics community is that the audience will respond to content and format quickly and passionately. Simultaneous or "day and date" digital and print release allows comic shop customers and digital customers to have a level playing field — everyone gets to enjoy New Crusaders at the same time for the same price.

What is the relationship between the print and digital versions? Do they have totally different readerships or do the audiences overlap?

The demand for the print comics started with outspoken digital readers — so in our case the overlap was completely on the terms of our readership! And hey, our goal is to make comics that appeal to everyone — that means we listen to our readers and to the market. Day-and-date releases of the full New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes issues was the next, natural step in the app's evolution.

At the same time, you are increasing the frequency of the Lost Crusade comics to a more regular monthly schedule. Why are you doing that?

Releasing complete issues of New Crusaders is all well and good — but we want to give the fans more. Red Circle comics has been around since 1939 — there's a LOT of material to cover there. With the incredible help and expertise from the good people at iVerse Media, we've put together a weekly digital release plan that helps guide people through that history, and shows them how it relates to New Crusaders. That includes a blend of regular, monthly Lost Crusade installments, and classic material that targets key areas of the Red Circle mythos. Lost Crusade is your tour guide on the Red Circle journey!

Why do you think it's important to have two different stories running in parallel, rather than incorporating the New Crusaders and Lost Crusade storylines into a single comic?

Continuity is both a blessing and a curse. We believe in embracing our history and wearing it proudly, but at the same time we want to allow New Crusaders to breathe on its own without feeling chained down by its past. Readers of Lost Crusade gain special insight into the events unfolding in the main title and also allows some of the most talented people in comics to play in the Red Circle sandbox.

You are bringing in a new creative team on Lost Crusade. Does that mean there will be a change in the direction of the story?

Everyone is on the same page -- all the creators involved in both New Crusaders and Lost Crusade have been briefed by the Red Circle brain trust as to the ultimate story goals of the Red Circle universe. To say New Crusaders is a book about teen superheroes is like saying Lost was a show about a plane crash -- there are bigger forces at work here and we need to make sure everyone is working toward the same end.

Can you tell me a bit about these creators and what other work, if any, they have done for Archie Comics?

Chuck Dixon, Mike Norton, Terry Austin, Ken Hooper, John Workman, Thomas Mason and Rick Bryant have already dove into this universe, to be followed shortly but such talents as Howard Mackie, Sergio Cariello, Jim Amash, and Scott and David Tipton, to name but a few! Even more top-tier talent announcements for Lost Crusade and New Crusaders will be coming over the next couple months! Terry, John and Jim are familiar faces to the action titles -- and some we're working with for the first time. It's been a pleasure getting to know some of the most talented people in the business on this project!

When people subscribe to Red Circle, what are they reading--the older comics or the newer ones? And what's the ratio?

You can read as much or as little as you like, that's the beauty of it. New Crusaders is a new series (it's in the title!), so it has got a ways to go before it catches up to the sheer numbers of its Golden, Silver and Bronze age counterparts—  but hey, we're gettin' there! Some readers have literally read everything we've released via the app, and some stick to mostly new content. It's a cool mix.

Which of the older comics are you finding to be the most popular?

The classic adventures of Steel Sterling and the Original Shield in both Pep and Zip Comics have been strong, but the material that directly precedes New Crusaders, the 1980s Red Circle Comics line, has really been enticing fans with more clues as the origins of the new material!

I understand the New Crusaders are wrapping up their first story arc. What is going to come next for them?

Sit tight, the second strike is coming! Our heroes have only been heroes for what, a week? And already they've been through hell and back. We're going to be exploring just how deeply that hell has burned this team (pun fully intended), and just what in the world Brain Emperor is after. Or should I say, what in the world(s)?

Are you considering adding any new titles to the app?

Any and all options are on the table. Fans tell us what they want, we make it for 'em -- it's as simple as that! I know Ian's been itching for a Jaguar or Deadly Force spin off series -- write in to redcircle@archiecomics.com and tell us what YOU want to see! We'll be happy to print your letter in an upcoming issue of New Crusaders!

And are you considering extending it to Android or other new platforms?

Besides our desktop applications, plans are in the works to bring this series to any and all platform available -- stay tuned! (And did I mention to keep an eye on the "Blue Ribbon"?)

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