Archie Comics has been in the news a lot during the last year, tackling everything from gay marriage to political guest stars in a distinctly Archie way.
But next month, the publisher will take a break from the heavy topics to welcome some costumed characters with a lot of rock 'n' roll cred: the band members of KISS.
The four-issue story kicks off in November, bringing the KISS personas of Demon, Starchild, Spaceman and Catman to Riverdale to interact with the Archie kids, including Betty, Veronica, Jughead and of course, Archie.
Written by Alex Segura with art by Dan Parent, Archie Meets KISS promises to have fun with characters from both beloved groups while incorporating everything from zombies to rock music. And for Archie Comics, the concept brings with it a slew of potential readers in the band's loyal followers, known as the "KISS Army."
The story of Archie Meets KISS begins as the Riverdale gang cast a spell, under the guidance of Sabrina, to protect the town before Halloween. But when the spell goes awry and a cabal of dangerous monsters from another dimension appear, who's going to stop them? KISS, of course.
The Archie Meets KISS comic coincides with another KISS comic from IDW, making this a rare situation where two major comic publishers are sharing a popular trademark license simultaneously. And this isn't the first time the on-stage personas from KISS are showing up in a comic, but it is a first for Archie and the gang.
Newsarama talked with Segura to find out more about the response from the KISS Army, how the characters are shaping up, and what readers can expect from Archie Meets KISS.
Newsarama: Now that you're into writing these characters, what stands out to you about the characters that you might not have noticed before?
Alex Segura: I've had a lot of fun writing Sabrina, which I didn't expect. She started out as the lynchpin between KISS and the Archie characters and then really took center stage. She narrates the bulk of the series and really steps in at key moments.
The KISS characters themselves have been great, too, because I don't think readers are used to their type being in an Archie comic. That's what makes the whole thing so off-the-wall and cool. Gene/The Demon breathes fire and calls Archie names! It's so crazy it works.
Nrama: How does the story highlight their different personalities?
Segura: I try to play to the characters' strengths — Jughead's hesitant and hungry, Veronica is defiant and spoiled, Betty is helpful and kind — and use those strengths to tell a good story. You also want the KISS characters to be unique and stand out from each other. The Demon's the grizzled leader, Starchild is more vocal and theatrical, Catman's more animalistic and Spaceman is kind of out there. It's a balancing act. I think having Sabrina and Dilton in the mix really helps, too, because they add dimensions to the Archie gang that this kind of story needs — magic, computers and general brainy-ness. Plus, there's one surprise guest star in the third issue that'll have people smiling. I know I got a kick out of writing the cameo, and Dan Parent seemed excited when I mentioned it to him a few days ago!
Nrama: Why do you think KISS characters and Archie go together? What have you tapped into that makes them mesh?
Segura: Archie is for everyone — Jon Goldwater, our Co-CEO has made that clear. The readership for Archie, as he says, is age 7 to 70. KISS fans are part of that. The KISS icons are also a big part of the American experience — in music, pop culture and beyond. So, while people may balk at the initial idea — "What, Archie and KISS?" — it's not that crazy, and it ends up being a lot of fun. These are two pieces of pop culture that everyone — not just comic readers — know exist. So, having them together makes for a fun idea and hopefully a fun comic. With Dan drawing it, I guarantee it'll be fun to look at.Like I said before, Sabrina really serves as the link between the two groups. She's coordinating a protection spell to keep monsters out of Riverdale. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and the spell is reversed, which brings four monsters to town. Luckily, the spell also alerts KISS to the problem. So, the group arrives and they set out to take the monsters down. But what both the Archies and KISS realize is they need to work together to solve the problem, and quickly, before these monsters turn every kid in town into mindless zombies.
Nrama: Have you listened to KISS tunes as you're writing? Or gotten more into their songs lately because of this experience?
Segura: I have, actually. I've done a lot of research on the band's history, both in real life and in comics. I've got a KISS playlist going on my iPod and I check in with that. Both Dan and I are big KISS fans and I'm a huge music geek, so this was a fun wrinkle to the whole project. I've also tried to be mindful of the KISS fan and layered in a few easter eggs I think they'll dig, while trying to just buckle down and tell a fun Archie adventure story. As a kid myself, I loved those classic tales that put the gang in peril, just to see how Archie, Jughead and company could get out of it.
Nrama: Have you heard from the KISS Army?
Segura: I heard from the KISS Army a few moments after we announced we were doing the book! I was at the Archie booth in San Diego and a fan, wearing a KISS shirt, came up to me and told me a really heartfelt story about how important KISS has been to him and his wife. He proposed to her by playing "Beth," no less. It really showed me how dedicated these fans are, and I don't want to let them — or Archie's fans — down with this story. So Dan and I are really bringing our A-game to these issues.
Nrama: I've seen them at concerts and they're really, really enthusiastic about this band. Why do you think this group has gotten such avid fans?
Segura: KISS is pure rock and roll — theatrics, melody, a driving beat. They're fun, energetic and larger than life. It's hard not to like them. They're also really smart about how they get the message out. You're not just a "fan" of KISS, you're part of a group — you're one of the band. That welcoming atmosphere and Army sentiment resonates with people.
Nrama: Can you share one of the more interesting moments you've written?
Segura: Well, the cameo I mentioned earlier. It just kind of struck me as I was writing the script, which is fun because my plot/pitch for the series was pretty detailed. But you have to leave yourself a little wiggle room for inspiration to strike.Any interaction between the KISS guys and the Archies has been cool to write, but the battle scene closing out the second issue in particular stands out. I just saw the pencils for it a few days ago and Dan really nailed it. It evokes comics I read as a kid, particularly those cool Danger Room sequences from the early Claremont X-Men issues. I just got a kick out of a big, throw-down battle involving all these cool characters.
I've also tried to end each issue on a strong cliffhanger, so the reader has a reason to grab the next issue beyond the general conceit of the series. So, hopefully the last pages surprise readers enough to want to buy the next issue right there!
Nrama: Has this challenged you as a writer?
Segura: You know, I was talking about this with our president, Mike Pellerito just a few days ago and, while, yes, it's always a challenge to create a fun story, sometimes your limitations become your strengths. I started out with a blank page and a question: How do you bring KISS to Riverdale and make it cool and interesting? Once that question was answered — Sabrina tries to cast a spell and it goes wrong — the rest really fell into place.
The vibe I'm going for is a mash-up of classic Marvel and DC crossovers, '80s monster movies and those Archie action stories from the '70s and '80s. But all that's icing on the cake. The main focus for me, and for Dan, was to tell a fun Archie story that involves four cool characters they've never met before. I want it to surprise people who aren't expecting it to be entertaining and I want to make the hardcore KISS and Archie fans excited to buy it. Not easy, but I think once you figure out the logistics of how these characters meet, they almost come to life and move around on their own. It's kind of crazy.
Nrama: What's been the most fun about the project?
Segura: I'm in a unique position because I'm not only writing the book, but I'm also in the building and seeing all the behind-the-scenes discussions about the series, like, how it'll be collected or what we're going to show when.
It's been great to get feedback from fans about how excited they are for the book, and especially gratifying to get notes from my bosses here at Archie and from the KISS side about how happy they are with how the stories are progressing.But if I have to boil it down to one, most fun thing, it has to be whenever Dan comes by and shows me art. That's when it clicks in my brain and I realize "this is happening." Just yesterday, our art director was putting up posters outside Jon's office — each one featuring one of Francesco Francavilla's amazing variants for the series. That was another "wow, this is real" moment.
Nrama: How is it working with Dan Parent?Segura: Dan's one of the nicest guys in comics. A total pro. I can't say enough good things about him. He's fast, professional, receptive to feedback and insanely creative. He's so comfortable drawing the Archie characters that it really validates this kind of story, which finds them slightly outside of their element. I've been an Archie reader for longer than I'd care to say, and I remember when Dan's name first started popping up in the credits. Now, here I am about 15-20 years later, and we're working together. It's surreal and amazing. I've said this before, but I could have written the alphabet and Dan would make it look great. He's a very generous collaborator and I really hope this isn't the last time we work together.
Nrama: As we head toward publication of the first issue in November, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the KISS and Archie team-up?
Segura: This book has it all! Monsters, rock music, magic, alternate dimensions, burgers, comedy, zombies and KISS! It's your favorite characters together for the first time — a big budget adventure that's off beat, fun, gorgeously drawn and packed with action. You will not be bored, trust me. Oh, and zombies. Lots of them.