How Archie Comics' New Chief Creative Officer Is Reimagining Riverdale

TV and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa already signed on Lena Dunham to write an Archie comic. Now he shares his plans for the classic teen characters to take over TV and film in new, unexpected ways (think zombies!).

To many people, Archie Comics represents the last remaining comic books you can find in the supermarket, digest-sized collections of the wholesome adventures of teenage ginger Archie Andrews and the two very different young ladies he's constantly volleying between.

In the past several years, Archie Comics has taken some bold steps to earn Riverdale High a good deal of modern mainstream attention. In 2009, the publisher announced that Archie would decide between Betty and Veronica once and for all, publishing a series in which a future Archie marries raven-haired rich girl Veronica Lodge—and then publishing an alternate series in which he ends up with girl next door Betty Cooper. In 2010, Riverdale High welcomed cool, confident Army brat Kevin Keller, who happens to be openly gay. And just today, Archie Comics made news by announcing that their hero will die in July, as part of a continuation of the future timeline series Life With Archie.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Last October, Archie scored a surprise hit with new series Afterlife With Archie, a zombie horror series available only through comic book shops. With art by Francesco Francavilla, the series is written by playwright, screenwriter, and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, known for his work with Marvel and as a writer for Glee and Big Love. In March, Archie Comics named Aguirre-Sacasa its new chief creative officer, hoping to benefit from, among other things, his deep connections in Hollywood.

After signing on Girls creator Lena Dunham to write four issues of an Archie comic due in 2015, Aguirre-Sacasa is focused on rebooting Archie's superhero imprint Red Circle Comics, and bringing Archie characters to other media, something that the company hasn’t seen much success with since the Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV series more than a decade ago (2001's Josie and the Pussycats film didn't do so hot). Fast Company talked to Aguirre-Sacasa about his lifelong Archie fandom, the depth of Archie's exploitable character library, and what an Archie TV series would look like today.

Archie has made a lot of progress over the past several years refreshing its image on the publishing side, but there's still a ways to go in terms of really putting the brand into the mainstream consciousness the way Marvel or DC are. What are your plans on this front?

The part of my job that I'm really excited about, and I think is as important as all of the stuff I do on the publishing side of things, is making some inroads in Hollywood. Marvel and DC, especially Marvel, in the last 10 years have really exploited their library for movies and now television, and DC is starting to do a good job at that, with Smallville, The Arrow, and now The Flash. There's a Sabrina movie already in the works with Sony Pictures, there's a script, and sooner rather than later there will be a director announced.

We've also started to work on an Archie musical, and over the last couple of weeks we've been having some exciting conversations with some big producers who are as obsessed with Archie as I am, so that is also a priority. But the day to day, I would say one of my big jobs is educating everyone in Hollywood about the Archie characters, the brand, letting people know that these characters exist, that it's not just the teen characters they've read in the double digests, that there are superheroes, there are horror characters, there are crime characters, a really deep bench and amazing library.

What would an Archie television show look like in 2015 or 2016?

I think that there's a version of the show that is called Riverdale, and is about the town. When they did Superman in high school, they called the show Smallville and made it about the town, and its weirdness. And they were able to introduce other elements from the DC mythology into that show. I think that was a really smart idea. Fox is also doing a show called Gotham, which is the early history of Gotham City, where Batman is not a character but all the other characters are.

So it would be the story of this small town that you think you know, and I think we could really build a show around the three most prominent families in Riverdale—Archie and his parents, Betty and her parents, and Veronica and her father. Then you could introduce other characters from the Archie library. For example, if Riverdale needed a detective we would use Sam Hill, who is the P.I. in Archie Comics history. If we wanted to introduce Josie and the Pussycats and spin them out, they'd be introduced in an episode of Riverdale. It could be something like American Beauty, something like "secrets of a small town," be a little darker. At its core there is such a soap opera element to Archie, that it might be a better to explore it serialized on a television screen than as a movie.

The other thing that we're talking about is an Afterlife with Archie movie, which would be a low-budget horror movie, kind of like The Evil Dead basically, but with Archie characters. It's exciting for us because there's no better combination than teenagers and horror.

Archie Girls

The announcement that Lena Dunham would write an Archie mini-series got a lot of press. Are you looking into any other celebrity partnerships or crossovers, and what are your criteria for that kind of thing?

Lena has an absolute genuine obsession with and passion for these characters, as I always have. So it was a completely logical fit. On first blush maybe it seemed unlikely, but when you really think about it, there is a connection between Veronica and Betty and the girls on Girls. There was no pigeonholing, or trying to come up with a crazy idea and make it work. It was someone who loves these characters and was really excited to do it. I'm definitely having other conversations with celebrities, all from very different walks of life, some are screenwriters, a young adult novelist, but what they all have is a deep abiding love for the characters. I don't think anyone is interested in pairing a celebrity with Archie if there isn't a passion for them. What works is when someone is obsessed with the characters and has a unique point of view to bring to them. But we'll definitely try to do more like that, because it brings excitement to the company. Lena's story is going to be published in the main Archie line, four issues as part of the ongoing title. Afterlife is in its own dark little corner, which I love, but hers will be front and center.

What are a few things at the core of Archie that you think makes the brand relevant and timeless, and how do you feel that can be better exploited?

I have a fleece that I wear that has an Archie patch on it, and everywhere I go people will stop me and say "Archie, I love Archie!" I think the teen years are such a universal experience—people are either going through it, looking forward to going through it, not looking forward to going through it, went through hell in high school, loved their high school experience—and somehow Archie and his adventures capture all that. I went to an all-boys prep school and had a pretty good high school experience, I would say, but there's always something about those stories where I always wished I went to Riverdale High. And I wish I was part of that kind of gang of friends. I don't know why. But there was something really comforting about it. I also always thought there was something subversive about the brand. I always felt like there was stuff happening right to the right or the left of the panels, and I was always interested in what those stories were.

Sabrina also, I think, is a sleeping giant in the Archie universe. I've been reading a lot of the really early stories from the '60s, and it has a mythology that is as deep, in my opinion, as, say, Harry Potter. The history of witches in Sabrina that is really unexplored and untapped is something that can and will be explored in the comic books and in the Sabrina movie, and could be in a stage show. It's such a primal story. A girl who comes from a dynasty of witches and falls in love with a mortal boy named Harvey and they know they can never be together. You name it, it's there.

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