New Archie CEO leads Riverdale into the 21st century

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.

 

Until now.

 

“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 capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 356

Comment by Philip Portelli on February 25, 2011 at 7:50pm

Wait, DC only leased the Archie heroes for a couple of years? To produce two mediocre short-lived series and an unreadable mini??? I think I'm rather annoyed by that! What was the point? The hype about integrating them into the DCU? Batman meets the Black Hood? The ads? Were they serious about them at all??

*pant* *pant* OK, I'm done. I'm fine now.

The news that Archie is bringing back their heroes is great! I enjoyed their all-too-brief revival in the 80s and hope they bring the Fly back, too. The way Archie is handling their books, they can cross the heroes and the teens no problem!

Comment by Captain Comics on February 25, 2011 at 7:55pm
They already have -- the regular books established a couple of years ago that Red Circle is an alternative universe, and there was a crossover with the Archie universe. That's been corroborated by Dilton's multiverse stuff in Life with Archie.
Comment by Figserello on February 26, 2011 at 12:20am

Wait, DC only leased the Archie heroes for a couple of years? To produce two mediocre short-lived series and an unreadable mini??? I think I'm rather annoyed by that! What was the point? The hype about integrating them into the DCU? Batman meets the Black Hood? The ads? Were they serious about them at all??

*pant* *pant* OK, I'm done. I'm fine now.

I have to echo this.  What was that about?  Wasn't it JWS' baby largely?

 

My first reaction to reading the interview above was that maybe Archie had cannily got DC to spend a small fortune reintroducing these characters, building a bit of hype, familiarising the Big Two superhero fans with them and generally smoothing the way for their eventual return as full-blown Archie properties? 

 

But maybe that would be too cynical of me?

Comment by Philip Portelli on February 26, 2011 at 8:22am

That's possible but DC made them so unrecognizable from their original versions that it worked against their success. And now the buzz is mostly negative.

The exception, as far as appearance goes, is the Shield and that was the same during the Impact days.

Maybe Pureheart, Captain Hero and Super-Teen can join the Mighty Crusaders!

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on February 26, 2011 at 1:04pm

I would guess DC had a renewable licensing contract, and when it came time to renew, they decided not to, based on the bad sales for their bad concepts. Otherwise, taking them for a couple years makes no sense. Why bother trying to create successful series you were just going to give up?

Now the question is: Can Archie make its own characters interesting? They may be able to do it simply by being Archie's super-heroes and filling that niche, but I think they need to do something unique or distinctive to last besides just being more super-heroes nobody remembers. So far, they haven't impressed me that they can do it, but I remain hopeful.

Granted, if I like what they do they're doomed to failure because I'm so untrendy, but everything else has gone that way, too. DC getting the MLJ characters and turning them into still more DC super-heroes was incredibly unimaginative. Who really cared? I feel the same way about the THUNDER Agents. They're not distinctive enough to stand out among the hundreds of other DC super-hero titles.

I like that Archie is showing some respect for its past and putting out material. I'm really curious about that Sam Hill collection, which sounds really interesting. And I'd be buying the Cosmo one if I didn't already have all the issues (which weren't all that easy to track down). Li'l Jinx never did much for me, and I was never a big fan of Katy Keene, but it would be great to get Josie, especially the early issues, back into print.

I do like that they're reviving the Man from RIVERDALE and the SuperTeens. I've ordered the MFR TPB, and I hope they keep doing stories with those guys.

I'd still prefer they did TPBs rather than HCs, but hopefully those will follow sometime in the future. I can't blame them for putting out the HCs to see who'll bite. I'm hoping that will happen with the other Archie collections being done by other publishers, too, but I'll have to see.

I'm not sure the

Comment by Lee Houston, Junior on February 27, 2011 at 3:58pm

The only thing that concerns me about everything is why did Archie decide to drop the Comics Code too? It made about as much sense as lighting a candle in the middle of a sunny afternoon.

It's not that I expect the company to do something wild and crazy. Yet as far as I know, the average comic book industry outsider, especially the parents; still have the stereotypical/preconceived notion that comic books are "just for kids", and that the Archie line represents the epitome of wholesomeness and good clean fun. In part represented and symbolized by the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval. Even Goldwater says about as much in the cited quotes.

 

With that said, I have been a fan of the line for longer than I care to admit and wish them all the best.

And if they happen to need a new writer...

 

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on February 27, 2011 at 6:59pm

Why did Archie decide to drop the Comics Code, too? I figure it's because there's new leadership, and, after DC dropped it, they no longer saw the need.

 

Yes, the Archie line represents the epitome of wholesomeness and good clean fun, and I'm happy that they intend to continue to do so, with or without the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval.

 

But, really -- does any would-be comics buying parent today even know what the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval is? Especially any parent who didn't grow up reading comics, the way we did? Is it promoted, marketed, advertised or even referenced in any way that somebody could and would look for it and know what it means? I don't think so. I think it is so totally a part of the past that it really had outlived its usefulness.

Comment by Captain Comics on February 27, 2011 at 7:01pm

Lee, some of the Goldwater comments quoted above were in response to my question "why did you drop the Comics Code?" So, while I didn't get a specific response, the upshot is that the presence or absence of the Code Seal doesn't matter -- Archie Comics will remain G rated.

 

The rest we can figure out for ourselves.

 

For one thing, the enforcer of the Code -- the only ones who really noticed whether there was a Seal on the cover -- was the magazine distributors who used to distribute all comics before the advent of the comic shop. In those days, cooperation from the distributors was the difference between making it to market around the country, or sitting on New York docks in crates (See: Blazing Combat magazine). But ever since the arrival of the direct-market (in the late 1970s), the power of distributors has waned with their share of comics distribution. Right now these "return" distributors account for less than 10% of comics sales, so their power is non-existent.

 

Further, the Comics Magazine Association of America (the Code's governing body) was supported by dues from member publishers, which for the last 10 years has been only Bongo, DC (partially) and Archie. Bongo quietly withdrew last year, so when DC announced it was no longer going to be a CMAA member, that left just Archie to support the CMAA solo, and to be the only publisher with the Seal on the cover. What good is an organization with only one member, or a Seal that only one publisher agrees to? Archie Comics seems to have figured this out in advance, because they were ready to throw in the towel at a moment's notice: Their announcement about dropping the Seal came right on the heels of DC's decision to withdraw last month.

 

(CONTINUED)

Comment by Captain Comics on February 27, 2011 at 7:04pm

Anyway, that's a long-winded way to answer your question. In summary, Archie likely dropped the Seal because it was untenable for them to support the CMAA solo, and because as the only member the Seal was rendered meaningless. And since they will remain within the parameters they have maintained for 70 years, they will still be "the epitome of wholesomeness and good clean fun."

 

There's a potential upside, too. If the distributors no longer have the Seal to guide them as to what they will or won't distribute, perhaps we'll see more than Archies and DC Kids at the venues they service. Or not. Who knows? But there's no downside to the Seal's demise that I can see.

 

Hope that helps!

Comment by Captain Comics on February 27, 2011 at 7:06pm
Oops! Looks like ClarkKent_DC and I crossed posts. But we essentially said the same thing. He's just more succinct than I am!

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