Archie's Alex Segura unveils Robert Hack's Dark Circle variants

Archie Comics had a lot of surprises for readers in 2014, and if early plans are any indication, 2015 has even more in store. One of the publisher's major announcements last year was the relaunch of its Dark Circle imprint, spearheaded by editor Alex Segura. With a debut that includes revamped versions of The Shield and The Black Hood, along with a second volume of The Fox, each book has its own style and flavor.

Helping to bring that flavor to the forefront is none other than Chilling Adventures of Sabrina artist Robert Hack, who will contribute three special vintage movie poster variants to the line -- and ROBOT 6 has the exclusive first look!

We also spoke with Segura, who revealed how the variants were developed, the mission to make each of the titles unique, resolutions for 2015 and more.

ROBOT 6: Alex, Robert Hack really made an impression with his work on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1. What made him the right artist to tackle variant covers for the Dark Circle launch?

Alex Segura: Well, by the time these come out – in April – Dark Circle will be in full swing. I wanted something timed to the debut of The Shield that reminds readers that all these books are part of the same line, without resorting to a crossover or trying to channel what Francesco Francavilla did so marvelously with the Dark Circle poster we gave out at NYCC. Robert’s such an artist’s artist – he really pulls from so many great influences and has a love for his work. And he’s really a fan of these characters, especially their history. So when I pitched him on doing a single variant, he came back with three! And it just worked. It’s a nice, subtle reminder that each book is happening as part of a bigger launch with a nod to the history of these characters without bogging new fans down too much. I love them. I want prints I can hang in my office.

The design of the covers evoke old movie posters, and each feels like a different genre of film. How did the concept of the covers get developed?

That’s all Robert. We went back and forth a bit on maybe doing an interlocking image, but the stories are so far apart, in terms of the Black Hood coming to be, the Fox being hunted and the Shield starting up that it just seemed to work better this way. But that’s all him. He has a knack for taking tiny strands and running them through the filter of other media, like movie posters or pulp book covers. All three covers came in at once and it just blew us away.

Part of your description of the line back in July was that each book would be unique. How are these covers representative of the actual series' identity?

That’s a good question, and I think that concept still holds true – these books are very different. But at the same time, they’re all part of the same world, so this was a way of having a little fun, reminding people of the great history without hammering them over the head with it and making a non-event event timed to the launch of the third and final “first wave” of Dark Circle books.

You've spoken with CBR before about the line, but now that you're a little deeper into it, how has Dark Circle begun to defy expectations and shift from the initial plan?

Well, they’ve gone from the conceptual to real rather quickly, which has been a great process to be a part of – along with the crack editorial team of editor Paul Kaminski and assistant editor Vincent Lovallo. The Archie execs, including Jon Goldwater, Mike Pellerito and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, have really pushed us to take risks and be evocative with these books, so we’ve tried to push these concepts forward. We’re thinking less of building a superhero universe and more of creating a slate of programming. The brand will be a byproduct of the quality of these books. If the books are good, unique and compelling, then people will see the Dark Circle logo as a sign of quality. I didn’t expect to be as stoked about getting art in my inbox as I have been – but it’s been amazing seeing stuff come in from guys as talented as Michael Gaydos, Dean Haspiel and David Williams. It’s been amazing. And I couldn’t ask for a nicer, more talented group of writers than Duane Swierczynski, Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, Dean and Mark Waid. All huge talents who are also pros, nice people and outside-the-box thinkers.

Superheroes are certainly a big part of the entertainment marketplace. What do you think makes Dark Circle stand out among the pack? How do you plan for it to succeed in ways that previous endeavors may not have?

I don’t think of these as superhero books, to be honest. I think of them as character-driven genre books that feature them doing amazing things. Which isn’t to say I’m in denial; I’ve worked in the business long enough to know they’re superhero books. But I also think that by approaching the product a little differently, worrying less about universe-building or how these characters will play off each other before we even figure out if they can stand on their own – I think that helps. We’re trying to build each of these books slowly, and have the story and art drive the book, as opposed to editorial mandate. My philosophy is to let these really talented creators tell the stories they want to tell within the pretty relaxed constraints of Dark Circle. Are there times where I’ll ask for a tweak or edit? Sure. But at the end of the day, we brought these guys in because we liked their work, not because we wanted to micromanage. So, the difference between what we’re hoping to do and what the other superhero publishers are doing is that we’re probably leaning more toward being creator-driven as opposed to editorial driven. We want unique, different takes on these characters for a new reader. We don’t want to upset past fans of these books, but we also realize that we need to widen the base a bit – hell, a lot – to make them count in terms of sales. We need to tell good stories, bottom line. And they can’t come with too many conditions, like “For more, read this other comic!” No, they have to be strong comics that also feel like an investment. We want people to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, the same way I think fans do when they get Afterlife or Sabrina. Putting out a quality product that appeals to a wide audience and delivers – consistently – in terms of art and story. That’s what will make the line last.

The launch books seem to have been chosen to make a particular statement, and certainly the covers reflect that. Dark Circle -- and by extension, Archie -- have begun building a very deep bench of talent. How can readers expect to see that talent expand as the launch approaches? Will there be other variant covers from Archie talent on the way?

Well, Francesco is the cover artist for The Black Hood. That just seemed like a no-brainer to me. It’s too perfect. Also, he did the FCBD cover for Dark Circle #1. But after the Hack variants, I think you’ll see the line expand in terms of what kind of talent works for us, as opposed to us going to the Archie bench.

Considering the New Year is here, what are your New Year's resolutions for Dark Circle as the launch comes closer?

I – and the rest of the Dark Circle team – resolve to make the best comics we can, without bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles. If you’re looking for creator-driven comics that explore genre and aren’t bogged down by continuity or crossovers, then Dark Circle’s for you.

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