By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Feb. 22, 2011 -- “DC and Marvel better look out, because here we come.”
So sayeth Jon Goldwater, CEO of Archie Comics, about the venerable publisher’s plans. While DC, Marvel and Archie comics all date back to the late 1930s, Archie has always been the quiet one, staying out of the news while dutifully turning out G-rated laughs for the tween set.
“I’ve been here about 18-19 months,” Goldwater said in an interview. “We kicked up a little dust, to be honest with you.”
And the results have been seen in the headlines, where it’s obvious that Archie Comics is leaping from wherever it was culturally into the 21st century.
“I wanted to make Archie and the gang a reflection of what’s going on with kids today in high school,” Goldwater said. “I wanted to be realistic within the confines of … what would be in Riverdale. I just wanted to give a representation of what kids deal with in high school, what they deal with in their home lives, what they deal with with their friends, and their relationships, and all the things that are going on in their lives. Which are pretty complicated, for goodness sake. We really wanted to sort of show that.”
And what they’ve done since Goldwater arrived is one breakthrough after another:
* Archie was the first publisher to launch its own standalone app. Goldwater says this was a result of his background in the music industry, which waged a losing battle against the Internet: “The one thing I knew is that we had to embrace new technology.”
* Veronica #202 introduced Kevin Keller, the first openly gay Riverdale teen, “something that we’re extraordinarily proud of,” Goldwater said. It will lead to another first: Archie Comics will publish its first miniseries soon, starring Keller.
* Archie #600-605 explored two possible futures for Archie, one married to Veronica, and one married to Betty. Both stories continue in the new Life with Archie magazine.
* Archie #608-609 featured the first interracial romance in Riverdale, when Archie of The Archies and Valerie of Josie and the Pussycats shared an interlude. “You know what happens when bands are on tour together on the road,” Goldwater laughed. “Things happen.”
* In January, the company announced it was dropping the Comics Code after more than 50 years of submitting its books for Comics Magazine Association of America inspection. Archie was the last publisher still using the Code, so its withdrawal effectively ended the CMAA, after decades of being its staunchest member.
Does that mean Archie is no longer safe? Not at all – Archie will remain G-rated. But how far will they push the envelope?
“You push it as far as you want to push it within the integrity of the characters,” Goldwater said. “These characters, even though they’re high school students … have a 70-year history. So when a mother or a father or a kid or whoever picks up an Archie comic, there’s a certainty in that comic. They know what they’re getting. But what we want to do is, we want to sorta push it as far as we can within that certainty.”
The hits will keep on coming. Archie had leased its superheroes to DC Comics, but that deal has ended, so “Red Circle” characters like The Shield are returning. Archie is also working with the legendary Stan Lee, co-creator of most of Marvel’s superheroes, on a secret project. Archie Babies, the company’s first original graphic novel, will be just the first of many. Abrams, Dark Horse and IDW continue archiving Archie’s 70 years in high-quality hardcovers. Goldwater drops tantalizing names like Cosmo the Merry Martian, Jinx, Katy Keene, Mega Man, Sam Hill and Superteens. A second magazine, Veronica & Betty, will follow the girls around the world as exchange students, as well as their replacements in Riverdale. And Goldwater promises big news throughout 2011 on film, television and animation projects.
“Our stated theme and goal here is playing in the exact same sandbox that Marvel and DC currently occupy,” Goldwater said. “They have all the revenue streams going, not just in publishing, but they have tons of licensing revenues, they have films, they have animation. They have all those things that we are now in the process of teeing up for Archie Comics.”
Which means serious competition for “the Big Two” – and a lot of fun for us.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.