As the past year ended, Archie Comics could safely say it was the smallest publisher to make major news in 2010.By introducing Riverdale's first openly gay character, Kevin Keller, this year's release of Veronica #202 got major headlines for the publisher as it was covered by everyone from CNN to Entertainment Weekly. Soon after, the publisher announced the character will soon get his own Kevin Keller comics, quieting critics who thought his introduction was just a one-time publicity stunt.
Kevin's addition wasn't the publisher's only recent effort to make the world of Archie more modern. In the last year or so, the universe had its first interracial relationship, poked fun at timely media hits Jersey Shore and Twilight, and even had Barack Obama and Sarah Palin visiting the gang in Riverdale.And last year, the publisher launched the Life with Archie magazine. Filled with soap opera-type hook-ups and celebrity-themed pages, Life with Archie appears to be targeting a teen-and-older crowd, with stories about much-more-adult versions of Archie and the gang. And it doesn't hurt its circulation that it's sold in mainstream stores next to other magazines.
The publisher's flurry of socially relevant updates and new formats followed the appointment in 2009 of Jon Goldwater as co-chief executive officer of the company. The new executive made it clear he intended to step up the publisher's efforts to revitalize and modernize the Archie universe, and if 2010 is any indication, he meant it.
With the new year here, Newsarama talked with Goldwater to find out what motivated all the changes of 2010, and what else readers can expect from Archie Comics in 2011.
Newsarama: Jon, to start, what are the main goals that Archie Comics has as we head into the new year?
Jon Goldwater: The first goal is to reinvigorate and bring freshness and energy and relevance and new life to the Archie franchise itself. We want to give a new energy to Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the gang by making their stories fun, by bringing relevance to them, and to just hearken back to the late ‘60s/early ‘70s kind of freshness and relevance that Archie had.
In addition, we’re always looking to launch new avenues when it comes to Archie, whether it's new formats or new outlets, with the goal of getting these great characters and comics into the hands of a wider audience.
Nrama: What are the new avenues Archie Comics is pursuing outside the traditional comic shop?
Goldwater: Well, quite frankly, we need to work on how we make the comics more available and get them where people can find the books. The newsstands are shrinking.That was the genesis behind the Life with Archie magazine, which focuses on the future of Archie. That’s why we came up with those two possible scenarios, where Archie married Betty, and Archie married Veronica, which really came out of the wedding story success and the interest we had with the wedding story. We realized there is a whole older demographic that is very fond of Archie, and really wants to have something that’s a little bit more – I’d say for a little bit older audience than just the traditional Archie book. So we came out with the Life with Archie magazine, and we’re so proud of that book, and we’re proud of all the wonderful accolades we’ve received.
So it was a new format, and a new type of story, for a little different audience. But also, by making Life with Archie a magazine, it allowed us to move into places that we’d never been before, like CVS and Walgreens and many, many traditional places where people could buy magazines.
Nrama: I actually picked up the Life with Archie magazine yesterday, and the approach is very different from what we've seen in comics before. But in particular, I found it interesting that you went with a serialized, almost soap opera approach. What were your thoughts behind the whole approach of Life with Archie?
Goldwater: Well, the magazine approach just allows us to be in more places, as opposed to the comic. A lot of traditional retailers are not comfortable selling comic books. They’re just not used to it. The magazine format is just a traditional format that retailers are very familiar with selling. So that was really the No. 1 reason, we wanted to get Archie into more places.
No. 2, our style really lends itself to a magazine look. When we put the book together in a magazine format, we were like, "Really, holy Toledo! Archie really works as a magazine.” So we were very, very excited about that.
As far as the choice to make it a serial story, we believe everyone likes a good ongoing story and everyone likes a good soap opera. And why not have a soap opera centered in Riverdale? So that was really the reason behind all that. And we were very, very happy with how all that turned out. Many, many more twists and adventures coming in the Life of Archie books.And I should say that I think that Life with Archie is really fine for anyone who’s 12 and up. But I think if you’re 25 or 35 years old or 45 years old, these are stories that you can enjoy because they really are tales of what’s going on which young people today, young married couples and all the joy and wonderful things that come with being a married couple, but also all the tough stuff, you know, money worries and friendship worries and all those things, you know. And figuring out where you place is in the world, you know. And we’re doing that through all the Archie characters, and it’s just marvelous to see. Not only to see the feedback, but honestly, to see my characters grow and take on a new life.
Nrama: But you are still also reaching the under 12 group with other publications, correct?
Goldwater: Absolutely, absolutely. We’re still doing all our regular comic books. We’re still printing all of those. We’re still printing all of our Double Digest books.
We're also available digitally for readers of all ages. And that's another way that we're reaching out to new audiences. One of the main ways we're getting these stories out there is through the Archie app, which has all the old books on iTunes and iPad and iTouch. We’re building a new app for Android, which is going to be out next year.
So yeah, we’re reaching – our demo’s everywhere now. It’s from, I like to say, from seven to 70.
Nrama: Are you going to have more magazines, do you think, in the future, since this one’s doing so well?
Goldwater: I do, I do. I think we’re looking to launch Veronica and Betty title. I’m not 100 percent sure, but for us, the magazine format is something we absolutely are going to keep moving forward with, without a doubt.
Nrama: You mentioned returning to the freshness that was present in the early Archie comics, and there's another return that happened last week. L’il Jinx came back within Life with Archie, correct?
Goldwater: Yeah, but we’re not calling her L’il Jinx any more. She’s just Jinx. It's the same character, but with a new energy, especially in this first story. She’s a young teenager, and it’s their first days in high school. And it’s terrific. Anyone who picks up the Life with Archie magazine has a Jinx story as the last story in the book. And you are going to get hooked.
Nrama: Outside the Archie characters themselves, are you still looking at other properties launching?
Goldwater: Yeah, yeah, we have a Sam Hill book coming out this spring. We also have a Cosmo the Merry Martian comic coming out as a standalone in 2011. And Kevin Keller is getting his own book in 2011. So there are a lot of things that we’re doing going forward to reach back into our library, our history.
Archie has hundreds of brands and thousands of characters, and we intend to work on reinvigorating them, wherever it makes sense. We’ll do it one step at a time. So these things we've announced are what we targeted for the time being.
Nrama: Are there any outside media adaptations of Archie that are in the works? In animation or film or TV?
Goldwater: Yes, there definitely is. We’re talking about animation right now, so that probably would be the first thing that you’ll see. And we’re going to be talking about film and television coming shortly thereafter. It’s time to get those guys on the screen.
Nrama: When people think of Archie in the cartoons, they think of the old Archie characters. Since you recently gave these characters a fresh look for new audiences, are you looking at something a little more modern for other media as well?
Goldwater: Probably – you’re probably right. But no matter what, it will always have the integrity of the Archie characters. We’ll make it modern, but we’re not going to take it to a point where you don’t recognize who Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead are any more. That will never happen. So we’ll make it modern, we’ll make it current, we’ll make it contemporary, but they’ll still always be the gang. They’ll still always have that integrity.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Jon, do you want to give everybody just an overview of what’s coming over the next couple of years?
Goldwater: I just want to thank you and I want to thank all the Archie fans and everyone who supported us in 2010. You'll see that in 2011, we'll be continuing to reinvigorate our comics, but that's just the beginning. Over the next two, three, four, five years, you’re going to start seeing a lot more Archie. Archie is going to be available everywhere, not just domestically, but globally as well.