Archie to grow up, under a new helping hand

Archie Comic Publications picks a film and TV writer for its top creative post to add maturity to the comic books.

Published: March 9, 2014 12:52 am

Archie Comic Publications picks a film and TV writer for its top creative post to add maturity to the comic books.

The playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is adding a feather to his cap: chief creative officer of Archie Comic Publications. Aguirre-Sacasa, who has also written for film and television, will be working closely with the Archie team in Mamaroneck, New York, to figure out the best way to exploit the company’s characters in comics, of course, but also in other media.

“Educating the film and television community about Archie and its properties” is a big part of the job, said Aguirre-Sacasa, who is primarily based in Los Angeles. Besides Archie and the gang, there are Josie and her bandmates, the Red Circle line of superheroes, Sabrina the teenage witch and others.

Jon Goldwater, the publisher and co-chief executive of Archie, says he is determined to give his new creative officer the freedom to develop the characters. “My marching order, so to speak, is you have a blank canvas,” he said.

The men already have worked together. In 2013, the company published a four-part comic book story, drawn by Dan Parent, which featured the characters from Glee, a television series that Aguirre-Sacasa works on, meeting the gang from Riverdale. The first issue sold about 4,500 copies.

A much bigger success is Afterlife With Archie, a continuing series, illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, in which Archie’s hometown is overrun with zombies. Its first issue sold nearly 42,000 copies. “I don’t think any of us were prepared for the weird lightning-in-a-bottle response. Teenagers and horror: what a great combination,” said Aguirre-Sacasa, the writer for both series and a coming one, set in the 1960s, starring Sabrina.

Aguirre-Sacasa has a long history with comics and Archie, some of it bumpy. His 2003 play, Weird Comic Book Fantasy, was initially named Archie’s Weird Fantasy, and featured the main character struggling with coming out. Archie Comic Publications was uncomfortable with that depiction and threatened legal action. Times had changed considerably by 2010 when Archie introduced Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s first openly gay resident, to critical acclaim.

The playwright has also worked for Marvel Entertainment, including a series starring the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, as well as an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand.

Aguirre-Sacasa says he is particularly proud of Afterlife With Archie, a boldly dark and violent tale aimed at more mature readers. The series has also hinted at an affair between Ginger Lopez and Nancy Woods and an incestuous relationship between the siblings Cheryl and Jason Blossom.

While Aguirre-Sacasa is writing several series, that will not always be the case. Part of his responsibility is to match the characters to the right writing and artistic talent. To develop The Black Hood and Hangman, he wants to find the best superhero or crime writers and artists for the job.

Sometimes, opportunities will present themselves. That was the case when, in November, Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the HBO series Girls, expressed her love of Archie during a conversation with filmmaker J J Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst in New York. Dunham said she owned the first Archie comic and remarked, “You really haven’t lived till you’ve been to an Archie convention.”

The information went from stage, to audience, to text (a friend sent the line to Goldwater’s son), to Archie’s publisher, to its new chief creative director, who is friends with Dunham. “As his first initiative, Roberto really brought together the whole Lena project,” Goldwater said.

“It has so much cultural significance but also so much personal significance, and to get to play with these beloved characters is a wild creative opportunity,” Dunham said in a statement.

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