Is it work? Is it home? It’s a little bit of both.
Jon Goldwater has come full circle, and now that circle is rolling forward. The 51-year-old is fulfilling an American dream, running the family business. Goldwater is co-CEO at Archie Comics, a company his father, John Goldwater—notice that “h,” please!—helped found way back in 1939. The company went public for a while, but the family bought it back, and now it’s Jon—no “h,” okay?—sitting in his dad’s old chair.
Goldwater celebrates his 2-year anniversary in his current co-CEO position at Archie this April, and took the time to answer some questions about where Archie has been, and more importantly, where it’s going.
Jim McLauchlin, for Newsarama: Jon, as we sit here in 2011, what’s your assessment of Archie Comics and how “modern” it is?Jon Goldwater: Well, as we celebrate our 70th anniversary this year, I look at Archie as having the same impact and breadth across this industry as Marvel and DC do. And I mean that both historically, and in the moment. We—Archie, Marvel and DC—are really the three publishing founders of this industry. And today, I think we’re equally relevant in terms of the material we publish. I think Archie is as fresh and vibrant as anything being published in comics today. I think it’s very reflective of kids in high school and their lives, and the things that are happening with their families and friends—it certainly has been in the last 20-odd months I’ve been here. I think we’ve shaken things up in the “parallel universes” with Archie marrying Betty and Veronica, we’ve been a leader with introducing a character like Kevin Keller, and now we’re leading with new tech in the digital world. That’s still a wild west that’s sorting itself out, of course, but we’re already there, and will be there in a greater sense, worldwide.
Nrama: Still, there seems to be a great perception that Archie is “your father’s Oldsmobile.” What would you say to anyone who thinks you’re still stuck in the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s?
Goldwater: Well, as an entertainment company, Archie is still a very publishing-centric company. We don’t have that contemporary movie, that contemporary TV show or animation that Marvel and DC have been so adept at pulling off over the last few years. And that’s done so much to drive the industry in the last few years that, yeah, you can’t help but look as them and what they’re doing as the most contemporary. But ours are absolutely coming. I think maybe the answer is that we’ve just blown the dust off the old car and started to tune it up. But when we get going, we’ll absolutely be playing in the same sandbox as Marvel, DC, and everyone else.
Nrama: Perhaps paradoxically as you dust off the old car, Archie still is Americana. It’s mom and apple pie. Do you see that as a detriment, or an asset?Goldwater: Completely as an asset. One hundred percent. We reflect what’s best about this country. Last year, the U.S. Post Office issued an Archie stamp, and if that’s not the ultimate validation that you’re part of the fabric of this country, then I don’t know what is.
It’s certainly a part of our brand that when a parent buys an Archie comic, they know they’re getting certain things—They’re getting something fun. They’re getting something good. They’re getting something they can share with their kids, or enjoy themselves. We have a huge amount of adult readers. I always say our age demo is from 7 to 70, and when I see the faces at conventions and other events, I know I’m right.
Nrama: Does it make it scarier, more difficult to do a Kevin Keller when you’re Archie? If a gay character shows up in Batman, it’s no big deal. But with Archie, it has the potential to be a bad headline in a hundred newspapers the next day.
Goldwater: No. We have no fear. We don’t have any apprehension. We move forward with total conviction and confidence. Look, kids in high school, young adults in college, people in any walk of life anywhere…you know people who are gay. It’s a simple fact of life. It’s part of that fabric of America we just talked about. We have a Kevin Keller mini-series, a new series coming out in June, and we have no fears about it. It’s simply reflective of society today. We always say that Riverdale should reflect what kids and teens encounter in their everyday lives.
Nrama: We’ve hit on “the competition,” Marvel, DC, and so on. Where do you have advantages over them? Is it simply in being smaller and more nimble?
Goldwater: That’s one area. You hit that one on the head. We are quicker. Our board of directors is a board of one, generally speaking. [laughs] So yeah, we can move fast. There’s no great corporate food chain to have to move up, so new storylines, new initiatives, new technologies, anything, we can move very quickly.
And there are some areas of the landscape that we just own. In girls, we have a huge female audience. Kids, we’re the number one kids’ comic publisher in the world, hands down. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to knock us off that perch. They certainly won’t if I have anything to say about it.
Nrama: This was your dad’s company. Your father helped found it. What’s it feel like to be sitting in his chair now?
Goldwater: It’s a shock. It’s an honor. But it’s also the lifelong dream come true. The first day was indescribable. Maybe if you kind of take that fantasy of hitting the game-winning grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the Yankees, and take that feeling, you kind of come close to how it felt the first day. And even in the two years since, it’s been a great ride. Anything can become a grind, become a job, just running the company and turning the wrenches. But I’m honored and privileged to be here. It’s great.
Nrama: Your father was once quoted as saying, "Archie is basically a square, but in my opinion the squares are the backbone of America." Do you agree with this statement? And if so, to what extent?
Goldwater: Well, I don’t know when exactly he might have made that statement. But my gut instinct is that what he meant was that people who are like the people in Riverdale are the backbone of this country. And if that’s what he was getting at, then yes, I’d agree with him wholeheartedly.
[laughs] I don’t know if people are really “square” or not any more. People are just people. But I think Riverdale reflects what’s going on in America. And people like that will always be the backbone of this country.
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