It’s safe to say that there are few who might adores the three-quarter-century-old Archie Comics mythos quite as much as Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It's just as safe to say that nobody loves messing with it more, either.
After all, it was Aguirre-Sacasa who took the long-established and increasingly iconic characters the furthest out of their established boxes when he unleashed a zombie apocalypse on the streets of Riverdale in the ongoing horror-tinged series “Afterlife with Archie.” It was a litmus test to see just how far the Archie faithful would follow their favorites – and how many new readers would fall in love with a fresh, contemporary take – and it revitalized the entire scope of the Archie Comics brand.
Now, even as he oversees the ongoing Archie Comics output as the company's Chief Creative Officer, Aguirre-Sacasa is pushing the beloved franchise’s boundaries yet again. This time, it's on television as the creator and executive producer of “Riverdale,” an hour-long series on comics-friendly CW that fuses Archie’s familiar style of high school American with a darker, sexier moodier, more mysterious and decidedly deadly undercurrent evoking “Twin Peaks,” the classic series that probed the underbelly of secretive small towns.
Fans have been both intrigued and shocked at some of the torrid and turbulent twists on classic Archie ingredients that the show’s been promising, and Aguirre-Sacasa joined CBR for an in-depth exploration of bringing Archie, Jughead and the gang outside their usual box.
CBR: I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to see through “Riverdale” how malleable the Archie characters and the format actually are, but when you did something radical – like Miss Grundy, for example – how much debate goes into making a move like that?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Yeah, I talk to [Archie Comics publisher] Jon Goldwater probably five times a day – literally five or six times a day. For big things like that, there’s always a conversation. There’s usually more than one conversation. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it. Nothing is decided on the spur of the moment.
John is very open to that, and he knows that the property has to evolve or be made, or it might become irrelevant. Sales were, I think, reflecting that a little bit. They’d seen that story told a bunch and they were interested in seeing other stories, but a lot of discussion goes in.
Sexuality is kind of the third rail for Archie in a weird way, but the show, even if it’s not showing tons of sex, is very sexualized. There’s a ripeness to the proceedings that is unsettling. You kind of have to roll with it a little bit, but it’s made for more developed, weirder, more interesting characters.
Because Archie always was and is ultimately about boys and girls.
Yes, exactly. Exactly, yeah.
With “Riverdale” in particular, tell me what you see is the core essence of traditional Archie and the characters that is there, and then tell me where it’s fun to push and tweak them a little bit to make them contemporary.
Depends on the characters. One thing, or one misconception that is out there is that this is “Dark Archie,” and this is dark, gritty Archie, and Rated R Archie. And in fact the show is a mix of light and dark. The show honors what is Archie, and then subverts it. For me, the sweet spot is the tension between “Twin Peaks,” and the tension between the Archie, the 1950s sock hop Archie. The sweet spot is right in between that where stories work on both levels.
They work as good Archie stories, but they work as good noir, or mystery, or moody stories as well. Though the characters may be in dark, adult, morally-compromised, scary situations, the characters are still true to their essences. Same in “Afterlife.” Those characters are basically the characters they are in the Double Digest, just put in a crazy messed up situation. But there’s trial and error, but I think that’s where the show lives in the tension and the juxtaposition of those things.
What kind of symbiosis is planned with the show and the comics line?
We’re publishing a “Riverdale” comic book that exists in the universe of the show, but the rebooted Archie titles – “Archie” with Mark Waid writing, “Betty and Veronica” with Adam Hughes – all of that is slowly kind of moving to align with the TV show.
It’s not a one-to-one correlation – never told Mark it had to be, but Mark read the pilot script before he started writing the book, and he’s been abreast of what’s been going on. So they’re more aligned than they used to be, but it’s still, there’s the comic book that is set in the TV universe, and then the rebooted characters, which are a little more grown up, a little more emotional, but are still basically comedic, romantic stories.
In comics, “Archie” has always worked well as a comic book universe where characters become popular and get their own spotlight titles introduced. Give me your ambitious vision for what could come of “Riverdale's” success on television. Do you want to just keep seeing it populate?
Yeah, I think “Riverdale” will always be the mothership, but Josie and the Pussycats are characters that are on the show, but they could certainly support their own show, I think. I think you could very much do “Empire” in high school with Josie and the Pussycats.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch is in a weird way perhaps the most well-known “Archie” character because she was a TV star for several years. So I think there’s a way in which Sabrina could be introduced in “Riverdale,” or Sabrina could be her own stand-alone series. Katy Keene could pop up in “Riverdale,” or it could be a fashion show. I think the sky is the limit, really.
Once “Riverdale” runs its course, I think that you could do Betty and Veronica and Kevin move to New York and they’re roommates. It could be like “Sex and the City” with Betty, and Veronica, and Kevin. The sky is the limit, but right now the focus is on making “Riverdale” the best show it can be, and be the be-all end-all.
Part of the fun of this has to be the research – which you’ve been doing all this time anyway! Tell me some of the obscure Archie Comics references that you were delighted to be able to include.
I think one big element of the show that is a tiny element in the comic book – but is a big element and becomes bigger as the show goes on – is the Southside Serpents, who actually weren’t even introduced in the “Archie” comic book. They were introduced in the “Little Archie” [feature].
I think they’re in two comic books, but they captured my imagination and they became very emblematic of the wrong side of the tracks. That’s, for instance, a really big Easter egg for people who really know their “Archie” lore.
Please tell me you’re going to do a “Little Archie” homage too. Is there a way?
Flashbacks of them as kids? Yeah. We flash back to little Betty in Episode Six, and we have Little Archie, but ultimately it didn’t work for story reasons. But my goal is for sure to see them as Little Archie, Little Betty, Little Veronica.
Does Hot Dog have a place in the TV universe?
know what, I’ll tell you: Hot Dog will be in “Riverdale.” Probably not in the way you expect, but he will be in “Riverdale.”