In this second and final part of our interview with the Archie Comics editor-in-chief, we discuss the dramatic character change that was the recent “New Look” series, Jughead’s mother’s nose, and fighting robots.
One of the bigger changes Archie has undergone over the past 50 years, was the launch of the “New Look” series.
What we did was, we had these longer stories written, which were a little deeper, and we were trying to direct these stories to our readers who were about to go away from Archie Comics—girls in particular. When girls are done with Archie books, they’ll go on to chapter books. Boys will continue reading comics until they’re 70 years old. But girls go on to read other things, and we wanted to come up with a look and the types of stories that a little older reader might be interested in—not to say that the younger readers wouldn’t be, too, but we’re trying to keep our audience a little bit longer. Also, we would take those stories after they were published—we were publishing them in four consecutive issues as a digest book—and combine those chapters into a graphic novel at some point.
I imagine there was a lot of discussion around the office about that, being that it was such a dramatic change.
We got a lot of press about that, too. It was big news. CBS news came up to interview the publisher. There was a lot of controversy around it. Some people liked it, some people didn’t like it. Some people got the wrong impression—they thought we were going to be changing the look of the Archie characters forever, getting rid of the look that Dan DeCarlo drew them. They thought that was going to go away and that they’d have these realistic Archie characters that some thought were pretty ugly, you know?
Are you still producing those books?
We’re still producing them, yeah. I have a few more stories in the works, but it’s going to run its course, and then we’re going to end it.
Did it not get the sort of reaction you were hoping for, initially?
It did and it didn’t. a lot of people were happy to see us trying. Archie hasn’t experience too many different things, over the years—nothing too dramatic, at least. our readers and fan applauded the fact that we did something in a different direction. We used different artists—more adventure-type artists for those pages. It didn’t do badly, but it didn’t create tremendous sales, like we thought it might. But they held their own, and we could probably keep putting them out, but I think we want to go on to other things. We did those books, we’ll collect them all into graphic novels, they’ll be available—and they sell.
It sounds like you’re very protective, in terms of what the characters should and shouldn’t do. Ultimately how do you decide upon the story lines? Are they written by committee?
Well, I work pretty closely with the writers who work for me. A lot of them will send me a springboard or a synopsis. It’s a couple of lines about what the story is going to be about. I tell them to do this one and not do that one. And we’ll take it from there. You’ll notice that many of our stories are seasonal. Right now we’re working on Christmas and winter stories [laughs]. We work pretty far ahead on them. We can try different things. Most of the time a lot of the ideas that come in from stories come from our readers. We pass the information onto the writers. I have one writer in particular who lives in California—every time he wants to write a story that’s a little out there, he’ll make sure to send a bunch of stories from the paper to back it up.
What’s one of the more bizarre storylines he’s pitched to you?
Well he’s got something recently—this was popular years ago and I guess it’s sort of coming back again—it has to do with building robots in teams.
The fighting robots?
Not necessarily fighting with each other, but competing with each other at a basketball game or a hockey game. Then he wrote a lot of stories about dogs, because all of the sudden everyone is interested in dogs. Using dogs for different things—I don’t mean for food. There’s an organization out there in California that takes dogs out to senior citizen homes, wearing little blue coats. It’s supposed to be really good therapy for senior citizens.
Everyone’s obviously drawing on the same mythology and using the same characters, but do you think the readers notice a difference in stories, from writer to writer? Do the writers have a distinct voice?
Sometimes. Somebody will say, “I really like the Jughead book,” and I only have one writer on that Jughead book. I have multiple writers on some of the other books. I can have four different stories by four different writers in one book. We’re moving toward longer stories now, though, that’s one thing I’m changing. I’m having the writers give me at least an 11 or 12 page story for the 32 page book, and then we’ll back it up with a couple of little ones.
Is there a reason behind that shift?
I think you can do a little more with that. With the shorter stories, you’re in, you’re out. It’s a quicker read. This way with a 12 page story, you can put a little more meat in it, so to speak.
In terms of the changes that you’ve made over the years to characters, are there any you specifically regret in retrospect?
Yeah, many years ago we had Jughead really become a ladies man and really become interested in girls, and all that did was turn him into another Archie [laughs]. That didn’t work at all. We also tried making Jughead’s mother’s nose shorter, and all that did was make her look like everybody else. Her nose is back to where it was it was. She got a reverse nose job.
So those small aesthetic choices make a big difference in the end.
Yeah. They’re cartoon characters, so if Jughead is a little funny in the end, that’s funny. If his family all looks like him, that’s fine.