By Harper W. Harris
Archie fans certainly had a good time at SDCC this year: not only did the publisher talk about a new series in the Archie Horror line and tease us with the future of the Dark Circle line and the New Riverdale series of titles, but announced that the Riverdale TV series has been picked up by the CW. I had the chance to speak with Alex Segura, SVP of publicity and marketing and editor of the Dark Circle line, as well as Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, CCO and writer of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to talk about the slew of exciting news that came from Archie Comics over the course of the weekend.
Harper W. Harris: I wanted to talk with Alex first a bit about Dark Circle Comics. First of all, in general, how do you plan to tell new and exciting superhero stories under the Dark Circle imprint–how do you want them to stand out among all the other superhero books?
Alex Segura: I think the key for us is just to be different and good. I really strongly believe that quality rises to the top. You can put as much dressing on something as you want, but if the story or art isn’t good it doesn’t matter. I talked about this on the Dark Circle panel, but finding voices that maybe are familiar to the tropes of comics, but aren’t beholden to them. They can bring in a different perspective–people like Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, and Duane Swierczynski. They know comics but they know other media like TV, novels, and movies. So they come at it from a different perspective. We’re building Dark Circle more as a network. Each book is its own little show, and maybe down the line they’ll interact with each other, but fans don’t have that same kind of company pressure where you have checklists of 20 books you have to get to understand one event. We don’t do events, we do stories.
HH: What can you tell us about the pretty newly announced series, The Web?
AS: The Web is Jane Raymond, she’s a 14 year old Korean American girl who is super into cosplay, and she’s a teenager. She’s one of these characters that once I read that first script, she feels like a teenager. She’s dealt with tragedy, her mother’s just passed away, and she’s stumbling upon being a superhero, which is insane. It really shows you what happens when a teenager gains enhanced abilities and has to face real problems like street gangs, violence, and teenage life. I mean, I can’t imagine being a teenager now–I remember how stressful it was being a teenager maybe 20 years ago. It’s really Dave White, who is the writer, who’s done a great job of trying to be true to the character and also a nod to the history but not weighing it down with continuity.
HH: The other thing that’s really cool about the Dark Circle line is how incredibly diverse it is. You’ve got action spy thriller to more wacky adventure to super dark crime, and horror–what do you think are the advantages of having such a diverse line while still being within the superhero genre overall?
AS: First of all, thank you for saying that. That’s really a testament to this gentleman [points to Aguirre-Sacasa] with the Archie Horror stuff. That really kicked the door down with Afterlife and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. All I have is my taste and my gut, and talking to Jon [Goldwater] and Roberto and Mike [Pellerito], and Jesse Goldwater. If it’s good, does it take up a new space in the line, and we really want to present fans with a variety and a seal of quality. To me, if you see the Dark Circle logo, it’s a company logo: it tells you that this is good. Whereas I think in other places, it just means you have a lot, or it means something else. I want people not to necessarily feel compelled to buy it because they’re completing a collection, but feel compelled to buy it because they want to read it.
HH: So shifting gears here a bit, I definitely have to talk about the Riverdale TV series that was announced as coming to CW yesterday. Roberto, what can you tell us about the tone or look of the show? I know earlier you’ve talked about it having a surreal tone–has that changed now that it’s on the CW?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I think when we ended up pitching it, the very high concept pitch was that it was a teen version of Twin Peaks. And by that, it was sort of like how in Twin Peaks the whole story is kicked off by the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. So imagine you’re telling that story, but instead of following the grown-ups of Twin Peaks, you’re following all of Laura Palmer’s classmates. That kind of story is kind of used to uncover all the secrets–that makes it sound like a really, really dark show, and though there are undercurrents of that and weirdness, it’s still Archie, there’s still a love triangle. Josie and the Pussycats are in it, there’s a lot of music in it. So it’s kind of a mix of light and dark, serious and funnier stuff–kind of like life. Coming of age is on some level is kind of a loss of innocence, so that’s a big theme. It’s kind of a hodge-podge of all that stuff.
HH: What other kind of TV shows and movies did you take inspiration from when writing the pilot?
RA: We talked a lot about it feeling like a John Hughes movie. Also movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back; those are movies that are all touchstones in terms of tone. The core will always be the love triangle and the characters, so as long as their essences remain. We’ve also talked about Dawson’s Creek as being an inspiration, which Greg Berlanti, who’s the producer on this, worked on. We talked about Everwood, which is about a family in a small town. So all those different kind of influences just kind of all have been absorbed and trickled down into the show.
HH: I believe it was on the Reddit AMA that you mentioned that you hoped to do a Halloween special every year that is a little bit like Afterlife with Archie–is that still something you’re trying to do?
RA: Yes, absolutely! That’d be great. Every Halloween there’d be a Halloween episode. Kind of like on Roseanne how they did a Halloween episode every year, or Treehouse of Horror.
HH: So let’s talk about Afterlife with Archie a bit. Did you guys always plan on expanding that book to encompass more than just zombies? What other kind of monsters or horror ideas do you see coming up in the future for the book?
RA: You know, I think originally we did think it was just going to be a zombie book, but then as it went on it very quickly started encroaching on other horror genres, and now the sky’s the limit. The one thing we probably won’t do in Afterlife, because we have Sabrina, is witches. Even though Sabrina and her aunts have small parts in Afterlife, that’s the one thing we probably won’t dive into. Otherwise everything else is kind of on the table horror-wise. There’s still a lot characters in the Archie library that we haven’t yet met in Afterlife that we will be meeting.
HH: The storytelling in that book is really phenomenal. What’s the process like scripting and working with Francesco Francavilla?
RA: We talk about every issue in advance and kind of check in to make sure that this is an area that Francesco’s interested in drawing. Then I do full scripts–and they are full scripts. I usually give probably more art direction than Francesco wants, although obviously he’s a genius and if he changes around the layout of a page, then I’ll adjust based on that. It’s pretty traditional in terms of having a full script and Francesco doing his thing, and if something changes, it’s always better.
HH: Let’s talk about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for a minute. How did you decide to make that a separate world from Afterlife, and what kind of research went into making that new world that takes place much farther in the past?
RA: You know, I’m not sure exactly what led into that. I know we wanted to do a book that wasn’t super tied to Afterlife, because it felt like if we were doing that story, let’s just put it in Afterlife. And I had wanted to do a period book for a while. So many of the movies and books that are an inspiration for Sabrina like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist or The Omen, they all are all obviously retro now. It felt like this would be a slower burn and be a bit more psychological, so I thought maybe if set it in the ‘60s, maybe people won’t think it’s in the same universe of Afterlife. It’s a little weird that there’s a Sabrina in Afterlife and a different Sabrina who’s in Chilling Adventures.
HH: We’re used to that, we’re in comics, right?
RA: Exactly. Robert Hack, who draws, colors, and inks the book, he loves all the retro stuff. He has a huge library of visual references, much more so than I. I’ll say stuff like, they go to the movies and there are movie posters for movies that would be playing then, and he always fills in that stuff himself. He’s got a really good sense of that.
HH: There was another book announced in the Archie Horror line at the panel yesterday, right?
RA: Who is Vampironica, yes.
HH: What can you tell us about that?
RA: Not much. I can tell you that maybe two years ago maybe Dan Parent did two issues of Betty and Veronica that introduced this concept of Betty the vampire slayer and Vampironica. I was talking to Francesco, and he’s like, “I love vampires, I love pretty girls, I love Veronica.” We just started talking about it, and he got an idea about it. That’s all I can say about it. More news to come!
HH: So one of the grand traditions of Archie Comics are the wacky crossovers you’ve done in the past–Archie Meets Punisher, Archie Meets Kiss, Archie vs. Predator, and the recently announced Archie vs. Sharknado. Being that you two guys are running these two separate lines of horror and crime or more mature themes, are there any plans to cross those two universes, or cross books within those universes?
AS: You know, we haven’t had the formal discussion, but like Jon Goldwater always says, everything’s on the table if it’s a good idea. We’re getting Dark Circle off the ground, Archie Horror is rolling…so maybe someday.
RA: A lot of people have pitched a lot of crazy crossover ideas, but no one yet has pitched a Dark Circle/Archie Horror crossover.
AS: And we’re doing our first horror book at Dark Circle with The Hangman, so there’s definitely room to play there.
RA: And, not to tease anything, but don’t we have a big crossover…
AS: Yeah, we’re announcing a big crossover tonight–we’re announcing Archie Meets Ramones. I’ll be cowriting that with Matt Rosenberg, with art by Giselle [Lagace], who’s done stuff like Occupy Riverdale and her own cool comics. She’s a huge Ramones fan.
HH: So is that kind of a follow up to Archie Meets KISS?
AS: You know, Jesse Goldwater said, you’re kind of captaining the Archie music sub-universe, so there will be little nods that the fans that have read both will get. But it’ll be a fun standalone Rock’n’Roll High School kind of thing.
HH: Awesome! Last thing: what do you guys love about working for Archie? There’s so much to love–it’s a comic publisher that’s grown massively in the last couple of years.
RA: I love that risk-taking and being creative is rewarded. I don’t just wear this [points to his Jughead sweater] at Comic Con, I wear this everyday. I love people’s passion for the characters. That’s my favorite thing: when I say, oh, I do this for Archie, their eyes immediately light up because they have so many associations with these characters. To be at a place where I can work with them and take risks with them is just great.
AS: For me, I’ve worked on a bunch of major brands, and Archie is right up there with the likes of them, because everyone knows Archie. You know, you tell someone you work at Archie and their eyes light up because everyone has an Archie story. And my first comic was an Betty and Veronica Double Digest with a great Dan DeCarlo cover of them dancing. I remember the first time I read a Cheryl Blossom story. I love the characters, I think Jon is a great boss in terms of taking risks, being creative, and not being afraid. We’ll always try the new thing if it makes sense, and we’ll just keep rolling, I think it’s great.