Truly, Archie Andrews is a man for all seasons… and the upcoming anthology from Archie Comics, Archie’s Holiday Magic Special, arriving at your local comic shop on December 8th, 2021, proves that the holiday season is no exception!
The Beat caught up with three of the writers on the anthology— Michael Northrop, Micol Ostow, and J. Torres—along with Archie Comics Editor in Chief Jamie L. Rotante over email to ask about personal holiday traditions, to find out how everyone became involved in the anthology, and to investigate what’s around the corner for the holiday you never see coming: Valentine’s Day!
AVERY KAPLAN: Let’s start off with a softball: Betty (Barchie) or Veronica (Verarchie)?
MICHAEL NORTHROP: First of all, Bughead 4ever. It’s the perfect mix of stability and chaos, like the melted cheese on top of a burger. But if these are my options, I say Verarchie—because I know it won’t last.
J. TORRES: Growing up, I thought I was all about Betty… but then I ended up marrying Veronica.
MICOL OSTOW: I have to agree with Michael – I’m Team Bughead first and foremost, which is a byproduct of having written all those Riverdale novels. But as a high-maintenance brunette, I guess that among these choices I’m a reluctant Verarchie.
JAMIE L. ROTANTE: Oh gosh, I never know how to answer this. Of the choices, I’d say Barchie – but I’m all for Betty and Veronica’s friendship first and foremost!
KAPLAN: How did you get in the seasonal state of mind for this anthology? Did anything serve as a specific particular inspiration?
NORTHROP: My story has a pretty clear inspiration on basic cable—let’s just say it’s a hallmark of the season—and those things have a very specific aesthetic. I just thought of some broken-down dude in a Filson jacket shopping for a Christmas-tree-for-one in the hometown he just moved back to. Then I imagined it was Archie.
TORRES: My story was inspired by a real life event a few years back when my eldest came home from school upset because a classmate had told him that Santa Claus wasn’t real. There’s a Reggie in every class, I tell ya!
OSTOW: I wanted to write a Jughead story and I wanted to write a Hanukkah story and when you put those two together, a latke-eating story seemed the logical outcome! TBH I’m now inspired to incorporate a latke-eating contest into my own family’s holiday traditions. Thanks for the tip, Jug!
ROTANTE: It’s funny, because I started assembling the team and we all started discussing this right in the thick of summer, so it was definitely interesting to get into the festive spirit while sweltering in the summer heat! But everyone understood the assignment and came back with the absolute picture-perfect stories for a holiday special!
KAPLAN: Do you have a favorite personal holiday tradition? Does it involve comics?
NORTHROP: I have a Hostess cherry pie for dessert on Christmas. People are appalled if there’s homemade stuff around, but I loved them as a kid, and ‘tis the season for that kind of nostalgia. Plus, Hostess Fruit Pies have a long and honestly glorious history of comic book ads.
TORRES: We have a cartoon and comic book themed Christmas tree and every year I like to add a new ornament or two (or five) to it, but I’m kind of particular about what they look like. It can’t just be an ornament of a Ninja Turtle or Homer Simpson, it has to be one of the Turtles in a Santa hat or Homer carrying a Christmas present, you know what I mean? Not just a Christmas ornament, but a Christmas-y one. I’ll also often seek out a licensed character that I worked on in the last year or so. I hope the Archie merch people are reading this….
OSTOW: My mother converted to Judaism and I was raised Jewish, and when I was much younger we would celebrate Christmas with her family in addition to Hanukkah with my father’s side. But as everyone’s individual families grew and also spread geographically, that became more difficult to sustain. Since my daughters have been born, we’ve been working to make holidays more inclusive to incorporate all the aspects of our families’ cultures. My older daughter was born ON Christmas Day, so our most lasting tradition is a big birthday brunch in her honor. Alas, no comics specifically, but books always factor heavily into our gift giving, and that often includes the latest from the team at Archie, especially as they branch into different formats and age ranges!
ROTANTE: Christmas is usually pretty quiet for my family, we don’t travel much or do anything too over-the-top, but my favorite tradition is opening one gift each on Christmas Eve–an idea I actually stole from the movie Scrooged!
KAPLAN: How did you come to be involved in this anthology?
NORTHROP: I’ve been trying to get more involved in writing monthlies, and I’ve always loved Archie. Plus, I’ve known Micol for years and get such a kick out of the stuff she writes for them. I’m not too proud to say that I pitched enough ideas to fill an advent calendar.
OSTOW: Jamie and the team at Archie know that I’d literally write anything they asked me to, so when I heard about the holiday anthology I was stupid-excited to have a chance to bring some Hanukkah joy to the town with pep! And like Michael says, we’ve been friends and colleagues for ages, and I adore his work (my kids are huge fans of his graphic novels for DC) so knowing he was also going to be contributing was a huge incentive. Writing is usually such a solitary endeavor, it was fun to have “co-workers!”
TORRES: When Jamie Rotante calls, you pick up the phone. Or, return her e-mail right away.
KAPLAN: Micol, you’ve written several Riverdale prose novels! How does writing the Archie gang in a prose novel compare with writing Archie comics?
OSTOW: Writing comics is an exercise in verbal economy, obviously, and primarily a visual medium. The good news is I’ve also written picture books and chapter books and in my previous life as an editor I’d read a lot of screenplays, so compared to a lot of writers who specialize in one age range or genre I move around a lot (for better or for worse). There was a learning curve and I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered it fully, but everyone has been very patient and a big part of it is also being an avid reader across many mediums, too! My editor told me when we first started working on the Riverdale comics that it was more important to know the characters and the rest could be learned and I tried to take that to heart. Hopefully it worked?
KAPLAN: You’ve also written the graphic novel Riverdale: The Ties That Bind. However, this is your first story set outside the Riverdale universe! What’s it like working with a different incarnation of the Archie gang?
OSTOW: Again, it was really a question of doing my homework. I’d read so much Archie as a kid and again, when I started writing for Riverdale, so I was far from flying blind. The main issue for me was confirming the small ways in which the characters differed from their representations on/in the Riverdale canon, and bringing in the rest of the gang who for whatever reason hadn’t showed up on the show yet. It was liberating, actually, because it was much more inclusive. But of course it also has such a history and a fan base — that was a little nerve-wracking (still is)!
KAPLAN: Michael, this is your first Archie Comics story! Can you tell us about your personal history with Archie and the gang?
NORTHROP: It goes back a long way! I am dyslexic and struggled as a reader growing up. It was frustrating and isolating. Comic books were the first thing I read for fun, and the first thing I could read (almost) as fast as my friends. And the first comics I read were Archie Comics. I don’t think I’d be a writer if it wasn’t for Archie.
KAPLAN: A question for both Michael and J.: how does writing a team of superheroes compare with writing a group of average kids from a little town like Riverdale?
NORTHROP: It’s actually very similar. In both cases, I’m focusing on the dynamics between them, whether that’s team chemistry, friendship, or a love triangle. I’m asking myself, what does each individual add to the mix? What are the stakes for them? Where’s the drama? Did Sinestro create that yellow school bus?
TORRES: Well, for me, less punching for one, even if you’re writing the Super Teens. There’s also more comedy, which I personally think is lacking from too many superhero titles out there. You can have fun with quieter, everyday type stories. And not that there can’t be relatable characters and themes in superhero comics, but Archie stories are naturally more universal and “real,” in a slice-of-life kind of way, even the goofier over-the-top stuff.
KAPLAN: J., in addition to writing many other comics, you’ve also written for animation and television. How do writing for these different fields compare with writing for comics? What is the ideal medium for a holiday special?
TORRES: Definitely something with music! I love a good holiday movie musical or stage show. Someone should do an animated Archie holiday special and get the cast of Riverdale to sing and do the voice work. Call me, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, I have plenty of gems like this!
KAPLAN: Jamie, The Beat spoke with you about the release of the Chilling Adventures in Sorcery one-shot anthology in October, and now we’re very pleased to speak with you again about the winter-holiday themed anthology, Archie’s Holiday Magic Special. What is it that makes Archie and the rest of the gang so elastic? Why do they fit horror as well as saccharine holiday cheer?
ROTANTE: I think that’s due to two main things: 1.) Their personalities and characteristics are so well-defined that you can drop them in any setting and they’ll shine, be it something horrifying or saccharine-sweet. 2.) The Archie characters represent all of us. We can see ourselves in at least one, if not more, of the characters—both our flaws and the best in ourselves—and it really helps to root for them in any type of story! Plus, we’re lucky to work with such amazing writers that really nail those character types!
KAPLAN: Were there any particular challenges around putting together a winter holiday anthology (as opposed to the Halloween themed anthology)?
ROTANTE: This one was a bit tricky, even though Archie is well known for doing tons of Christmas stories over the past 80 years of publishing! There was the question of how do you make a holiday story that doesn’t just feel like one of the many we’ve done before, and how do you make it appeal to modern Archie readers? It turned out to be a lot easier once the teams were assembled—Micol, Michael, and J’s writing handled it perfectly (including adding more holidays than just Christmas!) and that was only further accentuated by the beautiful art from Gretel, Arielle, and Dan. While the story may seem familiar (it draws inspiration from classics like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life), their handling of the characters and the scenarios they find themselves in is so uniquely Archie, especially the modern Archie storytelling that fans of the Mark Waid reboot love.
KAPLAN: Any more hints on February’s potential romance anthology?
ROTANTE: Let’s just say you may see some unexpected pairings! And while it may be a romance anthology, it’s absolutely also stories about self-discovery and coming-of-age. We think readers will be able to relate to many of the situations presented!
Archie’s Holiday Magic Special is available for preorder now, and will be arriving at your local comic shop on December 8th, 2021.