Afterlife with Archie has proven to be one of the biggest successes in recent years for the 1/3 eponymous publisher, with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla’s take on a zombie-infested Riverdale proving to be a surprisingly reflective take on the characters – putting them in a different genre of story in a mature, smart, and darkly comic manner. Following the critical and commercial success of the book it’s no surprise, then, to hear that the company are going to continue pushing the boundaries for a new take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ sees Aguirre-Sacasa once more penning a spooky take on the sorceress, but this time in a very different genre of horror – dropping the zombies for a more psychological horror as he’s joined by Robert Hack for a re-imagining of her origin story. Gone is the Lovecraftian-styled horror and in its place stands a story more influenced by Rosemary’s Baby and The Amityville Horror.
As styled by Hack, this is a really invigorating take on Sabrina as a character – thematically resonant, artistically off-kilter, and with a real sense of menace within each page. I’ve been new to Archie as a publisher, but what’s quickly emerged over the last year for me is how carefully they’re able to reinvent themselves and their characters – it wouldn’t have seemed likely that the characters could stand within a mature-only storyline, and yet here we are! So to find out more about what we can expect from this creepy new take on Sabrina, I spoke to both Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack about the book! Read on!
Steve: When did the idea of doing these horror-themed takes on Archie come to life… to excuse the pun?
Roberto-Aguirre-Sacasa: “Afterlife” came first, inspired by the variant cover Francesco did for an issue of “Life with Archie.” Jon Goldwater, his son Jesse, and I were having breakfast, talking about the cover, and then we were all like, “This has to be a series!” A lightning-in-a-bottle a kind of thing.
Steve: At what point following Afterlife with Archie did the concept of a Sabrina series come about? Was that always something you had in mind once AwA started?
Roberto: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” came up after the first or second issue of “Afterlife,” we were chatting about a potential spin-off or companion book, and Sabrina made such an impact in Issue One of “Afterlife,” but I knew she wasn’t going to be the lead, so that seemed like a no-brainer. She’s also such a comic book character, it felt crazy that she was only occasionally guest-starring in other people’s books.
Steve: Do the two books interlink in any ways, or are these separate worlds, separate takes on the character?
Roberto: At this point, they’re separate universes, separate takes on the same character. But, ever since the three witches in “Macbeth,” witches have come in three, so who’s to say there might not be a third incarnation of Sabrina, waiting in the wings—and that we might not see them all together? The “Afterlife” Sabrina, who is Cthulhu’s Bride now, remember; the “Chilling Adventures” Sabrina, who is a student of the occult; and the mainstream, bubblegum pop Sabrina…that would be a FASCINATING crossover, don’t you think?
Steve: What tonally is your goal for Sabrina? Stories about witches have been done so often – in comics alone, you have occult stuff going on in several books, like Coffin Hill and Wytches – was it important to find a new approach for this series?
Roberto: Witch stories are some of the oldest stories, so there is a concern, “Have we seen all this before?” And witches are absolutely having a moment, with those comic book series you mentioned—not to mention the last season of “American Horror Story: Coven,” but to me, it’s all about the characters and the journey they’re on. If that’s compelling and fresh and emotional, then I’m onboard.
As for tone, it’s a bit more of a slow-burn that “Afterlife.” I keep referencing certain movies like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane,” but more recently, Ti West did a great horror movie called “House of the Devil,” that really captures the creepiness and dread—as well as the sly humor—of what we’re going for with “Sabrina.”
Steve: Has the series required you both to do a lot of research on the occult? Has there been anything cropping up in the research which you’ve become particularly interested in bringing to the book?
Roberto: Yes, there’s been a lot of research. A few years ago, I wrote a play about the Abigail Williams character from “The Crucible,” and the Salem Witch Trials, so I did a ton of research for that, which has fed, directly, into “Sabrina.” And I’ve been watching tons of witch movies, reading tons of witch stories, and really just letting my imagination ramble a bit, through this dark history of American occultism, in all its manifestations…
Robert Hack: I already have a library and head full of otherwise useless arcane information, it’s nice to have a respectable outlet for it. I’ve been making notes of interesting visuals from old books and films.
Steve: The tone may be suggested in the script, but it’s in the art that it really hits readers. What was it about Robert’s art that made him the best fit for the project?
Roberto: Francesco (Francavilla) introduced me to Robert’s art, which I immediately loved. We became Facebook friends, and I started to see more and more of his work. Covers, pin-ups, he did a great variant for “Life with Archie” that was in the style of an old movie poster—“Riverdale Confidential.” (He also did this insanely intricate drawing based on the “Quartermass” movies, which I became obsessed with.)
When I started thinking that “Sabrina” was going to be a retro-book, set in the 1960’s, Robert was the first artist I thought of for it.
Steve: Robert, how did you come aboard, yourself? You’d already contributed a variant cover to AwA, right?
Robert: Yeah, I’d done a variant cover for Afterlife #1 and a few other covers at Archie last year. I was starting to get informal questions from friends at Archie about my schedule and if I would ever want to work on a monthly book. It was when I congratulated Roberto on his appointment as CCO that he told me about the new Sabrina book and I jumped at it.
Steve: What’s been your approach to the series, as artist? Are there any influences on your storytelling from film, literature, anywhere else? The preview I’ve seen suggests a sort of realistic horror aesthetic, like something similar to Rosemary’s Baby?
Robert: There’s quite a bit of that. Rosemary’s Baby and The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane were the first things Roberto used to describe the tone and I picked up on that right away. There’s a definite 60’s-70’s horror film vibe running through here. It was a great time for boundary pushing in film and that actually feels a bit what it’s like within Archie’s new approach.
Steve: On that, actually – there’s also a sense that the series is going to be an exploration of womanhood, like in the Polanski film; as the preview makes it very clear that Sabrina’s father is the one with power here, and has been wielding it since before she was born. Is it fair to suggest that this is a theme in the series?
Robert: Yeah, that’s fair. I think you have to, or you’re leaving a massive chunk of the human experience on the cutting room floor.
Steve: In AwA, Sabrina damns herself by taking on forces she can’t control – a classic Lovecraftian horror. In contrast, what kinds of horror are the influences on this series?
Roberto: Witch-horror, psychological horror, themes of revenge, themes of blood, themes of family… “The Amityville Horror,” that kind of thing. And the betrayal between Guy and Rosemary—the scariest thing in “Rosemary’s Baby”—that’s a huge influence on “Sabrina,” what happens between Sabrina’s mother and father, there will be hell to pay…
Steve: What do you both think moves your take on Sabrina away from other versions of her we’ve seen before? What defines her as a character?
Roberto: Well, this is fully a horror story, for starters. And it’s really epic. It starts when Sabrina’s a baby and just keeps going, so the canvas is bigger. Sabrina is the most powerful character in the Archie universe—as powerful as Dr. Strange, let’s say, or the Scarlet Witch—so let’s really explore that power—and how difficult it would be for someone to control it while they’re coming-of-age, hormones raging…
Robert: Yeah, the tone of this version is so vastly different. The characters are completely recognizable, but it’s a dramatic shift from the comics, or the sitcom. There is real, palpable terror here.
Steve: Robert, how did you go about designing her look? She’s got to pull away from the iconic ‘Archie’ look, but also remain distinctive. Was it difficult to find a new approach to her, or did you find it actually rather easy to find a new direction for the character’s look?
Robert: I started with something very traditional, very classic Sabrina. My first sketches had the big, iconic Sabrina hairdo, and we pulled back from that. It would have worked if the series was set in the early 60’s, but seemed out of date by the late 60’s we’re in. Or as Roberto put it- “It’s a little too John Waters.”. Despite my love of John Waters, I gotta admit that Roberto was right; it’s all about the tone of the series, and it just wouldn’t have worked. Once we slightly deflated the hair, it really came together.
Steve: You’re colouring the series as well, so you have a complete hold over how it looks and the mood it sets. What are your immediate goals as colourist, to set the tone and mood of this book?
Robert: We’re taking an interesting approach to the colors here. Roberto and everyone at Archie were keen to bring some of what I’d done elsewhere to the interiors. A unique, limited palate thing that feels a bit vintage and yet new. – and within that, keeping it suspenseful and terrifying.
Steve: How’ve you found working together so far? I know that on AwA, Francesco Francavilla’s interest in Lovecraft found a way into the series – have you both found any shared interests which might filter into Sabrina down the line?
Roberto: RAS: It’s still early days, but the way “Afterlife” is Francesco’s book, I want “Sabrina” to be Robert’s book. He knows—or should know—(and will know, after this interview)—that if there’s a story he wants to tell, or something we wants to draw, it’s a total free-flowing collaboration. He sends me images, I send him references, it’s been great and exciting, finding the exact right tone…
Robert: It’s been great, and the ideas I’ve brought have been met with genuine enthusiasm. And have been dovetailing with Roberto’s vision. And editors and everyone at Archie have been great about that to, totally behind us creatively and eager for us to push the limits of horror. Which is pretty much the weirdest, best thing ever.
Steve: The immediate storyline for Sabrina seems focused on her ancestry and history – but what else awaits her in the series? What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Roberto: The first arc is Sabrina’s dark origin story, from when she was a little girl to her sixteenth birthday, when she finds herself at a crossroads. After that, there will be high school stories, stand-alone stories, we’re going to explore all of her supporting cast in a deep way—Salem’s going to get his own issue, detailing how and why he was turned into the cat—the aunties are going to get the spotlight, we’re going see them as young women…
We’ll see rival covens, we’re going to tell a big possession story, it’s going to be a bit more free-ranging than “Afterlife,” I think, the tapestry’s going to be a bit more unexpected and weird…
Thanks to Roberto and Robert for their time! Thanks also to Archie for helping to set up the interview. ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ #1 is out next month…