When Archie Comics announced earlier this year that Chip Zdarsky would be writing a new "Jughead" series, CEO Jon Goldwater told CBR, "Chip is Jughead." And indeed the two do seem to have an affinity -- at New York Comic Con's Archie Comics panel, Zdarsky shared his youthful admiration of Archie's best friend. "When I was a kid I tried to emulate Jughead. I would order really tiny sliders and pile them on a plate and eat them as if I was Jughead -- my parents were worried."
And then there was his art school project. "We had a class where you had to take a famous two-dimensional piece of art, like, say, Mona Lisa, and make it into 3D. Everyone did Guernica and Water Lilies and stuff, and I came into class with the Jughead beanie crown and the top of his sweatshirt, and a panel built around my head with a speech balloon, and I brought in the panel it was based on. I took this two-dimensional piece of art and I made it like this because I looked so much like Jughead at that point. And I got a C-."
It's not too surprising, then, that when he was asked a question that went to the very core of Jughead's being, Zdarsky set aside the jokes and gave a heartfelt answer.
The questioner, a member of the audience, noted the introduction of Archie's openly gay character, Kevin Keller, and asked if Jughead would represent another sexual minority, people who are asexual.
"My view of Jughead is, over the 75 years [of his existence] there have been sporadic moments where he has dabbled in the ladies, but historically he has been portrayed as asexual," Zdarsky replied. "They just didn't have a label for it, so they just called him a woman-hater. But he's not a misogynist -- he just watches his cohorts lose their minds with hormones. People have asked me if there is going to be a romance if I'm writing Jughead, because I'm very romantic, and the answer is no, because there is enough of that in Archie. I think something like asexuality is underrepresented, and since we have a character who was asexual before people had the word for it, I'm continuing to write him that way.
"There are people out there, and they come up to me in conventions, because I work on another book that involves sexuality ["Sex Criminals"], and that's one of the questions we get all the time. [There are] a lot of asexual readers, and they want representation." As the audience applauded, he continued, "We want to put out a book in which people that aren't necessarily represented enough in media can see themselves reflected in it in a positive way, so if you have an opportunity presented on a silver platter like Jughead, really, I feel like your responsibility is to go with that and serve that underrepresented reader."
Artist Erica Henderson was already working on "Squirrel Girl" when Archie Comics president Mike Pellerito asked if she wanted to be the artist for "Jughead." At first she was concerned that working on two comics would be too much, but then, she said, "I asked who is writing it, and he said it was Chip, and I was like, 'OK. All right, I guess I'm doing Jughead.' That was easy!"
Alex Segura, Archie's senior vice president of publicity and marketing and the moderator of the panel, commented that Henderson's art reminded him of the classic "Jughead" artist Samm Schwartz. "You can see a little of the influence there, but it's infused with your energy and your style."
"I feel like I know it so well, that when I'm thinking about the way Jughead moves, I think about crazy Samm Schwartz panels," Henderson said. "I think I got a lot of influence in general from Dan DeCarlo. There was just a lot of Archie already in my blood and my bones."
While "Jughead" was clearly the main event, the panel kicked off with co-president and editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick showing off the special 75th anniversary collection that debuted at the show, which collects 75 comics with introductions by Archie himself. "I'm proud to say most of these great stories here went through on my watch," said Gorelick, who has been with Archie Comics for 58 years. "The worst stories we sent over to Marvel and DC."
The panel also included updates on a number of future projects, including the relaunch of "Betty and Veronica" next year by Adam Hughes. "The guy knows stories and characters and how to handle the teenage versions of the girls, as well as their interactions -- not that they would be playing off Archie, but how they play off each other and what they do to the rest of Riverdale," Pellerito said.
"This is the modern take on Betty and Veronica," Goldwater said, as Hughes' variant cover for "Betty and Veronica" #275 flashed on the screen.
Writer and artist Dan Parent talked about the future of his creation, Kevin Keller. "We are working on a story where Kevin is older, 'Life with Kevin,'" he said. "It's the dynamic duo of Kevin and Veronica. They make a really great team together. So it's kind of like what happens when Kevin tries to get his life started, and then Veronica is there to bring him down. Not intentionally, but it just happens."
Asked later in the panel if a trans character would be a possibility, Parent replied, "Never say never. The new Kevin book is going to be pulling a lot of stuff."
In response to an audience question, Goldwater said that there is talk of following up the Archie relaunches with a reboot of "Josie and the Pussycats." "We're thinking about it," he said. "We're seriously thinking about it."
Following on the success of "Afterlife with Archie," chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said plans are in the works to expand to a third title. "What has been really great is, different creators have started coming to us, saying, 'I want to do an Archie horror book,' so there has been talk of expanding that."
"I keep pitching 'Afterlife with Sonic,'" Zdarsky said. "They just don't return my calls."
And in a response to a question about whether the eternal story of Archie, Betty, and Veronica was dated, Pellerito had some good news for hardcore Archie fans: "We got another 75-year lease on the love triangle."