After a sales hit like Afterlife with Archie, the story of the zombie apocalypse hitting Riverdale, it's no surprise to see the company returning to horror. This time around, Archie is turning toward their already-made-for-horror property, Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
The new ongoing series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which launches in October, will be written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also wrote Afterlife with Archie and became Archie's chief creative officer earlier this year.
Although Sabrina showed up as a character in Afterlife, the new Sabrina series will kick-off with a brand new story in different continuity, and according to Aguirre-Sacasa, the mood is darker in Sabrina — in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.
The Sabrina character was introduced back in 1962, but she's one of Archie's longest running and more recognizable properties outside of the usual Riverdale gang. She starred in the recent Emmy-winning cartoon series Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch, which aired on The Hub earlier this year, and was the subject of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch TV series that ran seven years on ABC and The WB networks.
Newsarama talked to Aguirre-Sacasa about the new series, what the teenage witch is up to, and how this horror comic compares to the hit Afterlife series.?
Newsarama: Roberto, we've seen Sabrina show up in live action TV, animated cartoons and kid-friendly Archie comics. But who is the Sabrina we meet in this series? Is she the same Sabrina readers might know?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: As in her original conception, Sabrina’s a teenager, so on a basic level, she’s still dealing with all the typical teenage, coming-of-age stuff. But, also as originally devised, she’s half-mortal, half-witch, with one foot in the high school world, one foot in the shadow-world of witches and the occult. And these two halves are very much at war within Sabrina — it’s a primal, dark, bloody struggle. Not quite as harmonious as it was on the TV show, let’s say.
She’s a bit more of an anti-heroine than we’ve seen her in other, earlier incarnations, I think. She’s more in touch with her darker impulses; she allows them to manifest, she enjoys them, even cultivates them.
But listen, if you go back to those very early stories, Sabrina’s got some serious edge. She’s got ambition, she’s naughty, she’s…evil’s too strong a word, but she’s mischievous. So we’ll see more of that.
Also, we’re going to flashback to your youth, so we’re going to see her as a little girl, a toddler. So it’s still Sabrina the teenage witch, but a bit darker. (Our in-house name for this book was, originally, “Dark Sabrina,” after “Dark Phoenix.”)
Nrama: Are Sabrina's traditional supporting cast members part of the story? Are they a little different too?
Aguirre-Sacasa: They’re all in there, for sure, and yes, they’re all tweaked, a bit. Their cores are their cores, but the sensibility is different. Always, right? Hilda and Zelda, for instance, are inspired by the sisters in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Harvey’s a bit more of a golden boy than he was in the original series. Sabrina’s coven is all women and much more cutthroat than how we’ve seen them. Cousin Ambrose is a big part of our series, too, but he’s much younger — Sabrina’s age. And extremely dangerous and devious. Weirdly, Salem is the closest to other incarnations: Witty and dry and protective of Sabrina. But also ruthless and power-hungry.
Nrama: OK, we've got the cast all set up. But what's the premise of the story?
Aguirre-Sacasa: It’s the eve of Sabrina’s 16th birthday, when she’s meant to be “baptized” and become a full-on member of her coven, but then, something disastrous happens — really, the worst possible thing happens — and Sabrina has to go an harrowing quest to save the life of one of her closest friends, a journey and a (literal) trial by fire that makes her question everything she believes about the mortal world as well as the witch world — and herself and her family history.
Nrama: It sounds like there's a threat involved. What's Sabrina up against in this series? Who's her enemy?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Her enemies, which are legion. We have villains coming at Sabrina from every side — at high school, from within the coven, enemies who have been plotting their revenge against the Spellman family for centuries, enemies who used to be friends, demons, ghosts, they’re all in there, and they’re all coming after Sabrina, though why now, at this very minute, remains a question.
Nrama: And this is set in the 1960's, right? Why choose that place and time in history?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Yeah, it’s a period piece, set in the 1960’s — partly because we wanted to pay homage to those great, old occult movies and TV shows, like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Also, we thought it would be fun to set a series at around the same time Sabrina made her debut. Thirdly, we wanted to set the book apart from Afterlife with Archie, and it seemed like putting them in different time periods would do that, immediately.
Also, things were just scarier back then, weren’t they? And thematically and visually, it felt like the way to go.
Nrama: So I assume that setting is reflected in the artwork? Robert, what's your approach on Sabrina?
Robert Hack: My art has a somewhat old-school style. It lends itself to a period setting — not so modern it pulls you out of the story, but new enough to be different, I think.
We're doing some interesting things with the look of the pages and color — bringing an aesthetic that's really different than anything else out there right now.
Nrama: Will we see other Archie characters show up, and can you describe their role in this alternate universe? Didn't I hear that they're a rival coven?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I did tease that, so yes, we will see other Archie characters in this book — specifically Betty and Veronica show up in the first issue, as…members of a rival coven, yes.
Eventually, hopefully, we’ll tell a story that pits the Greendale witches against the Riverdale witches, but at the moment, they just have a…friendly animosity, let’s say.
Nrama: To what other horror comics, movies, or other horror stories would you compare this series? And did you have any other influences as you crafted the story?
Aguirre-Sacasa: All those great movies about witches and the devil I’ve mentioned before, and some lesser well-known ones like Burn Witch Burn, Watcher in the Woods, Burnt Offerings, The Wicker Man, as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s witchy short stories, his stories about the devil in New England, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, old pulp horror stories…
Hack: Tons of influences — old EC, Warren, Charlton, and Archie horror comic anthologies. I love that stuff. Those comics by Alex Toth, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, Doug Wildey, have always been favorites and big influences on me. So that stuff and movies like Suspiria, Haxan, Les Diaboliques all inform the tone a bit.
Nrama: How much of real life witchcraft "lore" shows up in Sabrina?
Hack: I'm bringing some of that to art, where applicable. I've already given the heads-up to Wiccan friends that I'll be pestering them for info at times.
Aguirre-Sacasa: There will be different types of magic in the series. Elemental, practical, big spells, domestic magic, alchemy — but, of course, we’re going to try and keep it as real and grounded as possible, if only because it makes the magic that much scarier.
Nrama: This foray into horror comes after the huge success of Afterlife with Archie. How much has the success of Afterlife with Archie influenced the Sabrina book?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I think the success of Afterlife allowed us to do a Sabrina book, and has put some pressure on us to make the book great (which I believe it is), but other than that, it feels like the two titles are on separate, but concurrent tracks.
Nrama: What would you say are the main differences between Sabrina and Afterlife with Archie?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Tone, I would say. Sabrina is more of a slow-burn, I think. It’s a bit more psychological. They’re both pulpy, in their way, but I really do think of Afterlife as being The Evil Dead and Sabrina being more akin to The Others.
Nrama: Interesting — like two sub-genres within horror, but it sounds like Sabrina would be scarier. Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Sabrina?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Like Afterlife, this is a real labor of love for me and Robert, so we hope people check the book out and enjoy it. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s got teen-angst, it’s got deep horror. Also, that we’re both hoping Sabrina is around long enough for our heroine to graduate from being a teen witch to being, basically, Jessica Lange from American Horror Story: Coven.