Believe it or not, Archie Comics has a fairly well-established history with zombies. Whether it’s a variant cover or teaming up with the band KISS to magically reverse an infestation (seriously!), Archie has brushed up against the horror monster staple a few times in the past.
Now, however, with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Archie takes their characters into a new world with an ongoing zombie series called Afterlife with Archie, a play on their long-standing Life with Archie title. The writer promises the “series is going to get pretty dark,” citing influences like Evil Dead, The Stand, and The Walking Dead, while still maintaining a signature Archie flavor.
For more on just how that can even be possible, as well as a look into Aguirre-Sacasa’s first Archie story, Archie Meets glee, we talked with the writer.Newsarama: Roberto, you've spent time with Marvel in the past, and of course your first love is theater; so what makes Archie Comics a fun place for you to write?
Aguirre-Sacasa: The characters. The world. I’ve been a rabid Archie fan all my life. The characters are fun to write because they, themselves, are innately fun and positive. I mean, I like dark stuff, too, obviously—witness Afterlife with Archie—but sometimes it’s nice to go to the beach and play in the sun…
Nrama: Before we get to zombies, your first Archie book launches this week, with Archie Meets glee. People might not be expecting a science-fiction bent from that story; what can you tell us about the sci-fi set up to this crossover? Why go with that setup rather than simply playing off the deep music background of many Archie characters?
Aguirre-Sacasa:It seemed that the obvious way to go would be: The Archie’s versus the glee kids, facing-off in either a Battle-of-the-Bands or a Regionals competition. But to me, the best Archie stories are the weirdest ones—the ones that are the most “comic book-y.” (Archie Meets KISS is a great recent example.) So I wanted to tell a very comic book-y story, playing with a lot of comic book-y conventions. Parallel Earths, evil doppelgangers, galaxy-threatening crises, you name it. One of my favorite graphic novels of all time is Grant Morrison’s Earth-2. Strangely, that was a major inspiration for Archie meets glee.Nrama: That said, will the musical background of Archie come into play?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Absolutely. Within this larger sci-fi story, we have a Battle-of-the-Bands story and—on the glee-side of things—a New Directions versus Warblers story. And Josie and the Pussycats are featured prominently. Can we just say, Blaine Anderson sings with the Pussycats?
Nrama: You came into glee recently, so will you be using some of the newer cast members, or focusing more on the core early-seasons cast for this series? Also, it seems some cast members naturally match-up to Archie characters, but which surprised you as you were writing?
Aguirre-Sacasa: It’s the core original glee cast, including Blaine. Of course there’s a lot of Rachel and Finn and Kurt because they’re the Veronica, Archie, and Kevin Keller of McKinley High, but I was surprised by how much Noah Puckerman and Quinn Fabray there is in the series, to (I think) terrific effect. Puck and Betty go on a classic date, and Quinn faces-off against Cheryl Blossom in, I hope, a surprising, satisfying way.Nrama: So, after Glee, you're taking the Archie kids in a decidedly different direction. What was the natural progression for you from singing to a zombie infestation?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Listen, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows—this is absolutely how my brain works. Musicals and horror movies are my two favorite genres because they’re about extremes. (I picked this up from my glee boss, Ryan Murphy.) Extreme emotions, extreme circumstances. Everything’s life-or-death, everything’s slightly (or not-so-slightly) heightened.
Nrama: Poor Jughead was listed in the first announcement as patient zero (aside from his beloved hotdog, of course). So, what do you have against Jughead? How fast is this infestation going to spread across Riverdale, and how dark is this going to get?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I love Jughead. Of course, Jughead loves to eat. As do zombies. So when it came time to pick the first character who would become infected, Jughead made the most sense, uh, organically. One of my favorite novels is also “Pet Semetery,” so I loved being able to pay homage to that with the death—and resurrection—of Hotdog. (I’m a dog person, by the way, so this cuts close to the bone.) And things are going to get pretty dark, we don’t want to mislead anyone on that front, which is why we announced the title for our second arc: “Betty RIP.” I mean, it doesn’t much darker than “Betty RIP.”Nrama: Zombies have been everywhere for the last few years. What makes this the right time to bring zombies into this world, especially so soon after their visit alongside KISS?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Zombies are eternal. They’re like dinosaurs. People love them, people have always loved them, people will (hopefully) always love them. And you’re right, Archie Comics has flirted with the undead over the years. Weird Mysteries. Most recently, Archie meets Kiss, and—of course one of the lightning bolt inspirations for this series—Francesco Francavilla’s brilliant variant cover to Life with Archie magazine Issue 23—but this just feels like, “Right time, right place, right zombie apocalypse.” Also—look—it’s a big deal for Archie to be launching a new ongoing title, so it has to be something big, and bold, and unlike anything else they’re putting out into the world.
Nrama: It seems – antithetical – to Archie Comics to see any of the characters we know and love die a gruesome zombie death; is it going to be more spells like in the aforementioned KISS, or is this going to get a little Walking Dead-ish?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Spells are definitely involved, but less in an Archie Meets KISS way and much more in an Evil Dead or Drag Me to Hell kind of way. The Walking Dead is something we’ve talked about, but I go back to the Stephen King novel The Stand, in terms of the characters, and the character moments, and zombie movies like 28 Days Later. EC horror comics are also an inspiration/touchstone.
Nrama: What keeps you coming back to comics as a medium; what makes it attractive as a writer?Aguirre-Sacasa: Comics are in my blood. It’s my strange addiction, and I love it. And it’s been awhile since I’ve taken on a monthly book—not since Sensational Spider-man, I think—so that’s thrilling. To get to tell an epic, sprawling story, which this will be. And live with it for awhile—hopefully a long while.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to tell us about Afterlife?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Just that it’s risky, for sure—we all know that—but everyone at Archie, from Jon Goldwater on down, is 100% committed to putting out a special, high-class, horror project. That is moody, and weird, and eerie, and scary. It will be fun, no doubt about that—the way early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson movies are fun—for instance, the love-triangle will be very much in evidence, even across the grave—but things are about to be get serious in Riverdale, y’all.
Archie meets glee launched this week in Archie #641; Afterlife with Archie hits shelves as a new ongoing series in late 2013