DC has a Rebirth planned for this summer, but the kids of Riverdale have already done it.
This week, Archie Comics releases the first collected edition of the revamped Archie, which gives fresh new perspectives on Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the whole crew. Writer Mark Waid, along with artists Fiona Staples, Annie Wu and Veronica Fish, successfully cracked the code in staying true to a decades-old mainstay while making it modern and relevant to today's audiences.
Newsarama sat down with Mark Waid to discuss his experience writing Archie, working alongside fan-favorite artists like Staples, Wu, and Fish, as well as his ideas of what’s in store for Archie and the gang going forward.
Newsarama: Mark, before digging into your work on Archie, I understand there have been a few announcements that came out recently, which may have an affect on the world of Riverdale.
First off, news recently broke about CW picking up Archie and the gang for a new series, Riverdale, and subsequently, we’ve been hearing new roles being cast on a weekly basis. With the new life your work – along with Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, and now Veronica Fish – has infused into the brand, are there any plans to have you involved in some capacity with the show?
Mark Waid: Yeah, I just got cast as Mr. Weatherbee. But seriously, I’ve had a lot of good talks with Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and we seem to be very much on the same page about who these kids are. I haven’t pressed to be involved with the show because my time is full-up, but maybe I oughta at least make a call....
Nrama: Related question: Do you see any possibility where the two might inform one another or is the general plan to keep the two stories within their respective mediums?
Waid: Honestly, given the difference in lead times--with TV, they have to know more concretely how their whole season maps, whereas we just kinda go issue to issue with a general road-map -- it’d be hard to coordinate. I had the same situation when I was writing the S.H.I.E.L.D. tie-in comic for Marvel -- because they were working so far ahead, we couldn’t really mirror what they were doing very closely.
That said, this is a slightly different situation -- I’d love to see the two dovetail!
Nrama: Additionally, Jughead has made it known he is asexual. Is this something you think is significant? Part of what you’ve been doing in Archie is to flesh out the various characters’ histories – both using what was present in some of the original stories along with your own ideas to help modernize it a bit for a more contemporary audience. Was there something in Jughead’s history that lends itself to this take?
Waid: Lots. Lots. Yes, in past stories of the past 20 years or so, he’s had the occasional love interest--but when you look back over the long history of Jughead, everything about him screams “ambivalent to the charms of the opposite sex.” (Actually, everything about him screams “ambivalent to the charms of all humans.”) Addressing it flat-out was Chip Zdarsky’s play, not mine, but we’ll absolutely embrace it -- in my head, Jug’s always been emotionally distant from everyone on a romantic level.
Nrama: Now, past reviews have claimed this was an “edgier” version of Archie and the gang, and yet, it actually seems to have a softer and more human touch if anything falling more closely in line with the teen romance genre but with more modern sensibilities.
Can you talk a bit about how you’ve accomplished this with the first volume of the series?
Waid: If we take the “you’ve” of your question as plural, meaning “the whole creative team,” I think we’ve been able to plant the flag that this is a very contemporary take on a fabled idea [Editor’s Note: Plural, indeed!]. To my mind, it is “edgier” in the sense that the characters are a little sharper with each other, capable of making mistakes or having conflicts that extend over longer periods of time than one issue. To go “edgier” by making Riverdale darker or the characters more cynical would be easy--and cheap. We’re not fans of either of those things.
Nrama: For a teen-centric title, you are a few years removed from the demographic whom you’re writing about. Certainly, there’s plenty of precedent for older writers capturing the voice of the youth, but how exactly do you go about doing it in such a way that feels believable?
Waid: “A few years” is a kind way of putting it. Honestly, and I’ve said this elsewhere, I concluded early on that the way to capture “the voice of youth” was to focus less on slang and technology, which dates, and more on the emotions and mindsets that stay constant throughout the generations. Everyone when they’re that age remembers the magic of first love or first kisses and the world-shattering drama of mistakes or setbacks. Everything’s an opera when you’re a high school student. And I don’t mean to make that sound at all condescending--it’s just true, and it’s wonderful. Look, fashions date, but emotions don’t. So that’s where we’re aiming the spotlight.
Nrama: You’ve been vocal about how your comic projects aren’t truly your own, as they are more works of collaboration with your artists. Looking at their depictions of the characters, especially through facial features and the eyes, it really seems as though they all have a similar ability to communicate the emotional beats of the story and convey the overall tone of any given moment.
What would you say Fiona, Annie, and Veronica have brought or are currently bringing to the series that connects the work of these three artists together in volume 1?
Waid: Vivacity. Bounce. Heart. All of them make Riverdale come alive and give the kids true personality. Veronica in particular seems to have a very similar sense of humor to mine, so the physical comedy really comes through, and that’s important to me. Twenty-two pages of clever wordplay is fine, but if it’s not accompanied by funny visuals, you might as well be writing a stage play. Comics is comics.
Nrama: Digging into the story itself, we last left off with you having set up the backstory about the conflict between both Reggie and Mr. Lodge with Archie Andrews. Likewise, we continued to see the development of the competition for Archie’s attention between Betty, Veronica, and also Jughead. It seems there are a lot of opportunities for people to become attainable objects here and villainous characters to become two-dimensional in nature. How do you manage to avoid these pitfalls?
Waid: I put myself in everyone’s individual shoes every time I sit down to plot. Even when I’m writing Mr. Lodge, I remind myself that, in his mind, he’s the hero of his own story. And it’s important for me to know, and show, why the characters are attractive (or repellent) to one another on some deeper level. It was super-critical to me, for instance, to give Betty that moment where she realizes that Veronica actually does care for Archie in her way. That makes Veronica real to Betty, not just a cardboard opponent.
Nrama: What conflicts that we’ve seen – or perhaps some just around the corner – have been the most enjoyable for you to write and for Veronica to draw?
Waid: Lodge versus anyone. Hiram Lodge is such a great character to write for, especially because--as we’ll see soon--the kids are all terrified of him, but he can’t seem despite his wealth to evoke that same sense of reverence in the adults of Riverdale, which frustrates him greatly.
Nrama: Let’s shoot straight here: You are writing about characters whom fans love to hate, especially Reggie and Mr. Lodge. Which would you say takes the cake for you and why?
Waid: Reggie. At least Lodge has a soul.
Nrama: Then, of course, there is the inevitable question: Betty or Veronica?
Waid: Betty. Veronica terrifies me. Betty can fix my Volvo.
Nrama: On the other hand, a more pressing and perhaps interesting question given your tenure on the series is whether you’d pick Archie or Jughead? For a series that has the beloved redhead on the masthead, you certainly seem to have positioned his best buddy in a very central role here.
Waid: I like Archie the best, but I relate far more to Jughead, the perpetual outsider. That brainy, born-25-years-old type has always been my favorite of any group. Robin was my favorite Teen Titan, Mike Nesmith was my favorite Monkee, Brainiac 5 was my favorite Legionnaire, Cyclops was my favorite X-Man.
Nrama: Looking ahead, we know that Archie and Jughead like to jam together, and there have been some sneak previews of future covers alerting us to not only the Archies, but also the appearance of Josey and the Pussycats, along with others. Additionally, we’ve seen Kevin Keller and other characters begin to appear as well. Can you give us some hints about what we can expect in the second arc?
Waid: Now that he knows exactly who destroyed his mansion, Mr. Lodge has now declared open warfare on Archie--and if you’re a kid Archie’s age, you absolutely do not want a billionaire as an arch-enemy. That’s what drives #7 and #8, and the fallout of their war informs #9 and puts the biggest strain yet on the Archie-Veronica smoochfest.
Nrama: To wrap things up here, Mark, you continually close out each issue of Archie with a look back at stories from Riverdale’s past and connect it back to some element from the story you just finished. What is the significance of this for you, and how do you feel this backmatter enhances the reader’s overall experience?
Waid: A lot of it is about honoring the characters’ legacy, but really, I just write these pieces because they’re a chance to be funny. Plus, they keep me honest--they’re a constant exercise in remembering to laugh with the way the comics used to be, not laugh at them.