NYCC: "Afterlife" Brings New Life to Archie

The biggest change to come to Archie Comics in the past four years has been change itself. For decades, Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the gang remained essentially the same, and then the 73-year-old publisher turned them into twenty-somethings in 2010's "Life With Archie" (the series that ended with the death of Archie), and zombies in 2013's "Afterlife With Archie." On the eve of New York Comic Con, the publisher announced its latest twist: "Archie Meets Predator." Plus, the publisher is headed to the newsstand with a magazine version of "Afterlife With Archie" while veteran artist Bob Bolling is working on a new Little Archie story.

The Archie folks like to fill the table at their convention panels, and the "Afterlife With Archie" panel was no exception. Alex Segura, who is both the senior vice president for publicity and marketing and the editor of the Dark Circle superhero line, moderated the panel, which included Archie publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater, chief creative officer and "Afterlife With Archie" writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writer Michael Uslan, writer and artist Dan Parent, president Mike Pellerito, and a newcomer, "Sabrina" artist Robert Hack.

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Even with that lineup, two key figures were not there: Longtime Archie editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, who was recovering from an illness, and "Afterlife With Archie" artist Francesco Francavilla, who was in a car accident on his way to the airport and couldn't get to the show.

The panel kicked off with a discussion of "Sabrina," a darker series in the same vein as "Afterlife With Archie." The first issue debuted this week, and Aguirre-Sacasa said the second issue will lead into Sabrina's sixteenth birthday party. "The worst possible thing that can happen, which is that a mortal discovers that she is a witch, will happen, which will thrust her into a very, very epic storyline which carries through Issue #6," he said. That story arc, titled "The Crucible," is Sabrina's origin story, and it will be immediately followed by another six-issue arc, "Witch War," about a battle between Sabrina's coven and the Riverdale coven, which includes Betty and Veronica. "Miss Grundy is the leader of the Riverdale coven," Aguirre-Sacasa revealed, drawing laughs from the audience.

Goldwater credited Pellerito with setting the stage for the whole "Afterlife With Archie" concept by getting the company started doing variant covers. Francavilla did a zombie variant for "Life With Archie," and one day, over breakfast with Goldwater and Goldwater's son Jessie, Aguirre-Sacasa remarked, "I opened the book and I was bummed that it wasn't a horror story. It was a regular Archie story." An hour later, Goldwater had given the go-ahead to "Afterlife With Archie," written by Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Francavilla. "His story is genius," Goldwater said of Aguirre-Sacasa. "He maintains the integrity of the characters while somehow putting them in a zombie apocalypse. It's pretty unbelievable stuff, and it has been a game changer for the company."

"Afterlife With Archie" is continuing as well, with a Thanksgiving story in Issue #7. Issue #8, the Christmas issue, finds the gang trapped by a snowstorm in their hotel. "It's kind of an homage to 'The Shining,'" Aguirre-Sacasa said. "It's a classic Christmas ghost story, and it's part of a bigger arc called 'Betty RIP.' This is, I think the first time Betty has been spotlighted on an 'Afterlife' cover."

In addition to the ongoing series, Archie has relaunched "Afterlife" as a monthly magazine. "Right now, 'Afterlife' is direct market only, so only comic book stores have it," said Pellerito. The magazine will bring it to the newsstand audience. Each issue will showcase an issue of the comic and tease an issue of Sabrina, and then there will be some extras: "Archie actually has a huge history with horror, going back to the '60s," said Pellerito. "We have been showing you some of those stories in 'Afterlife,' and then a little bit more in the 'Afterlife' magazine. It also has some neat little things that you don't get anywhere else in the comics or the graphic novels, little snippets behind the scenes, Roberto and Francesco, and eventually Hack's stuff will get in there too. It's sort of the ultimate clubhouse book for Archie horror." The first issue will go on sale on October 29.

Just before New York Comic Con opened, Archie Comics announced their newest crossover: "Archie Meets Predator." The idea came out of their first creative summit, when the staff was brainstorming about a new mashup. "I said, 'What about Archie meets Predator,' and everyone was like, 'I don't know -- we kind of know the Dark Horse guys," Aguirre-Sacasa said. "We called Dark Horse, and from the second the idea was pitched to them, they said, 'We are going to make this happen no matter what.'" Writer Alex de Campi and artist Fernando Ruiz are the creative team for the story, which starts out with the gang on vacation in Costa Rica; something from the jungle follows them back to Riverdale. "Sabrina is going to be involved, [but] not in the way that you imagine," said Aguirre-Sacasa.

Next up was "Farewell Betty and Veronica," which Segura called "a game changing situation for Riverdale, with Betty and Veronica leaving town and what that means to Archie and the gang."

"It's called 'Farewell Betty and Veronica,' but they don't get shot," Uslan assured the audience. "They don't turn into zombies, and no monsters will eat them." Instead, they go overseas together, and after a quarrel -- Betty complains that Veronica is going out too much and having too much fun, and Veronica accuses Betty of the opposite -- they decide to switch identities. "They do finally realize, after 70 some-odd years, that they have basically the same body and the same face," Uslan said. For the rest of the trip, Betty becomes Veronica and Veronica becomes Betty, and, Uslan said, "they are going to really learn what it means to be in the other one's skin." That gave artist Dan Parent a bit of a challenge. "Even though I'm drawing Veronica with blonde hair, hopefully when you read the story and see the artwork, you will still see that even though it's blonde hair and the pigtails, you still have Veronica's sneer underneath it all," Parent said. "I'm trying to keep the little touches going where you still know it is Betty or it is Veronica under that disguise. It's really fun seeing Betty lash out -- she is really enjoying the wild side."

Uslan said the genesis of the story lies in a simple question that anyone can answer almost immediately: "You ask anybody, are you a Veronica or a Betty? Is your mother a Veronica or a Betty? What is your girlfriend, what is your wife, Veronica or Betty? 100% of all people instantaneously know they are a Veronica or a Betty... but what does that mean? That's what we're going to explore here." He's throwing an extra twist into the story by having two exchange students appear in Riverdale as well.

Parent had a brief update on Kevin Keller, whose series ended with two issues featuring his superhero alter ego, The Equalizer. "We have a few things in mind for next year," Parent said. "It will be the same Kevin but with a few new twists. The response to Kevin has been great -- it's amazing how Kevin is now just one of the gang. I went to India a few weeks ago, and I was told over there the views on gay rights are different there than here, and to be a little careful, and I sold more Kevin Keller books there than I have ever sold."

The discussion then turned to the flagship Archie series and the digests. "One of the best things about working for Archie is I can just walk into my boss's office and say, 'Do need a script?' and he says, 'What about turning the Archie characters into zoo animals?'" said Segura, showing the covers for "Archie" #659. In this issue, Sabrina's cat Salem casts a spell that goes wrong, turning the Archie characters into animals who then turn everyone they touch into animals as well. "Riverdale literally goes 'National Geographic,'" said Segura.

"The core Archie stuff is alive and well and strong, despite killing him once," said Pellerito. "I think we are probably having more fun with editorial stuff than in the 15 years I have been there. We are looking back at a lot of the classic material, figuring out what works best, what is the funniest stuff we could possibly do, and then seeing if we can make it even better. The idea of turning them into animals came from an old piece of clip art from some story, Archie as a monkey with a bow tie, and we just said, 'There has got to be a story about that!'"

Then Pellerito had a bit of news about Bob Bolling: "He is down in Florida and lately has had the itch to draw 'Little Archie' again, so it is really cool to throw him a script and see what he turns back."

Meanwhile, Archie sets a new record for himself in Archie #660, where he makes dates with four girls on the same night. "We checked our archives, and we didn't find any [where he] dates four in one night, so we decided to top it," said Pellerito.

Just before the show, Archie shared news and new images from their Dark Circle superhero line with CBR, and Segura talked about the three series in the panel as well. The line will launch early next year with three titles: "Black Hood," by Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos, "The Shield," written by best-selling novelists Adam Wendig and Adam Christopher with art by David Williams, and "The Fox" by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel. "All these characters are supremely recognizable, they are kind of iconic," said Segura. "But the big thing I got from sitting down with Roberto, Jon, and Mike is they haven't had their one essential story, 'Batman: Year One,' 'The Dark Knight Returns,' and what we really wanted to do with these characters is bring writers who have maybe done some comics work but will bring an outsider's perspective to these great icons."

During the question and answer session, a fan asked about Josie and the Pussycats, who will be turning 50 next year. "There are big publishing plans for Josie," Aguirre-Sacasa said. Not only will she have her own series, but Josie and the Pussycats will be the leads in the third arc of "Afterlife With Archie."

Another fan asked if the alternate universes would ever cross over in a sort of "Crisis of Infinite Archies."

"We are not allowed to answer any questions about multiple universes," Pellerito said, but Aguirre-Sacasa got the last word: "Stay tuned for Archie #666!"

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