I have no idea what Archie Comics is doing these days but I love it

by | Apr 30, 2015 | ART

Archie Comics is not a publisher known for being progressive, or cool, or inventive. Or at least it wasn’t until 2010.

Archie Comics is not a publisher known for being progressive, or cool, or inventive. Or at least it wasn’t until 2010.

I read a lot of comics, more than a healthy amount, and Archie Comics was always that one publisher I avoided like the plague. Despite owning the rights some of the most iconic characters (Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, among others) to me and a lot of other adolescent readers they were cutesy comics with entirely white casts that my mom was always trying to get me to read.

“They’re so funny Tyler,” she’d say as she picked up a copy of Archie’s Digest from the grocery store magazine rack. “Not dark and violent like those ‘superhero’ ones you like.”

Archie was a publisher from a different era, rapidly losing its fanbase in an age where Spawn was even considered too old school, and change was occurring at a break-neck pace around it.

And then Kevin Keller happened.

Kevin Keller is notable for being the first openly gay character to grace the pages of Archie Comics, a surprising and progressive step for a publisher best known for its 1950’s sensibility. Despite controversy stirred up by hate groups like One Million Moms, Keller’s first appearance in Veronica #202 sold out immediately and it wasn’t long until the character received his own ongoing title.

I talked to Dan Parent, the creator of Keller, back in November when he came to Virginia Comic Con and he had nothing but nice things to say about the character’s reception.

“If Marvel and DC do it their characters are for older people. A lot of adults collect those characters as well,” said Parent. “It’s the parents of the kids that are the tricky part… the kids are very accepting.”

However Keller was only the beginning of a radical new age of experimentation for the publisher, one that would transform the household name into something different.

In October 2013 the first issue of Afterlife With Archie premiered to rapturous praise. It presented a world in which Archie’s town of Riverdale had become overrun with zombies thanks to a miscast spell by Sabrina Spellman. The comic was violent, adult, self-aware, and unlike anything ever to bear the Archie Comic imprint. A runaway success, it wasn’t long until this title started a creative boom.

Afterlife With Archie was followed by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, another horror comic focusing on everyone’s favorite teen witch in a much darker vision of the 1950s. Within the pages of Afterlife the title continued to break form, taking a break from zombies to focus on an issue where Sabrina awoke in an unsettling school to find she was the promised bride of Cthulhu.

Just this month we saw the release of Archie vs. Predator (top image), an issue drawn in the traditional Archie house style making the blood dripping from the mutilated corpses of the Riverdale gang all the more effective. Archie vs. Predator is the kind of book that couldn’t have existed even three years ago, and yet now it does, and in fact another similar book– Archie vs. Sharknado–has been announced for a July release.

The creative boom wasn’t limited to the horror comics, with the flagship book Archie receiving a relaunch in July 2015. For the first time the book will depart from the house style so familiar to fans in favor of something different. Fiona Staples of Saga fame will illustrate, while famed comic writer Mark Waid will pen the tales of the Riverdale gang in the hopes of enticing a new generation of readers.

“The new series will focus on the strengths of the popular characters, their world and harken back to the comic’s humorous and edgier roots, said Archie Comics Publisher/CEO Jon Goldwater. “The Archie characters aren’t in need of a tune-up, ‘shocking change,’ or revision.”

Archie Comics hits its 75th anniversary this year, and for the first time in decades they’re one of the leading publishers in terms of experimentation. It takes serious guts for a comic company who made all their money exploiting a conservative niche market to try something new, and it’s working.

Personally I couldn’t be happier with the new direction and currently I’m reading more Archie books than DC or even Marvel. Publishes like Image Comics (The Walking Dead, Sex Criminals, Saga) have proven that changing up old formulas not only works from a creative standpoint, but from a financial one as well.

Seriously, check out Archie Comics, if nothing else you’ll be entertained.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at BradKutnerNPR@gmail.com

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