Though the gang from the Archie comic books has embarked on countless storylines that go deeper than shared ice-cream sodas and a broken-down jalopy, the universe of Archie Andrews, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead has long been best known in its original, squeaky clean form.
Then came the Archie Revolution. This creative shift began in 2010, with the publication of the surprisingly thoughtful and well-received Life with Archie, which explored two timelines: one in which Archie married Betty, the other in which he married Veronica. Since then the company has almost completely revised their classic character, without sacrificing the fundamentals of the universe. They’ve taken chances with their storytelling, explored other genres, and modernized the characters.
They’ve also worked with some of the best writers in the world to craft complex, interesting stories for Archie—including Alex Segura, Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing and Editor at Dark Circle Comics and author of several Archie comics. As the new Archie strategy culminates in the debut of the CW’s Riverdale, a gritty new Archie TV series that has a Twin Peaks vibe going on, we took a few minutes to discuss the State of Archie with Segura, how he mixes his work for Archie Comics with his series of novels featuring the detective Pete Fernandez, and how Riverdale is shaping up to be the crowning achievement of 75 years of Archie Andrews adventures.
Your writing for Archie involves some fascinating mashups, like Occupy Riverdale and Archie Meets Ramones to name two examples of the fun, interesting modern direction of these storied characters. What’s your inspiration for an Archie story?
I think, first and foremost, I try to be true to the characters. I grew up reading Archie and I get a kick out of hitting the notes that made me laugh as a kid. And while the Archie comics were very sitcomlike in terms of not being serialized, there were some constants. The kids were sometimes at odds but rarely mean. It all comes from a place of friendship, familiarity, and fun, so I try to keep that front and center even when they’re dealing with unexpected things, like Gene Simmons, Joey Ramone, or something as potentially controversial as Occupy.
Did you know Archie was about to become one of the most innovative and interesting reboots in comic history when you took this job?
I can’t say I predicted that, but I did know Archie was an icon. He was immediately recognizable and the kind of property or brand that people knew, whether they were fans of the comics or not, like Batman or Spider-Man. So, from a publicity perspective, that’s a dream. It means you don’t have to over-explain what you’re pitching. So, once the content caught up with the awareness, thanks to the leadership of Archie’s Publisher/CEO Jon Goldwater, it provided us with a ton of interesting stories to pitch to the mainstream press. That created the wave of interest that’s culminating now with Riverdale on TV.
Aside from your comics work and day job, you’re the author of three mystery novels featuring your character Pete Fernandez (Silent City, Down the Darkest Street, and the forthcoming Dangerous Ends). Tell us a little about Pete. Any chance you’ll be writing an Archie/Pete Fernandez crossover someday?
I don’t think Pete is going to drive up to Riverdale anytime soon, but hey, never say never!
I’m originally from Miami, and when I first moved to New York about a decade ago, I became obsessed with a lot of modern crime writers—authors like George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Reed Coleman and Lawrence Block. Each of these writers not only had strong protagonists that were flawed, human, and (often) funny, but the sense of place was amazing. You couldn’t tell a Nick Stefanos story without D.C., or Tess Monaghan without Baltimore. It got me to thinking about writing my own crime novel, set in my hometown.
Then Pete walked in. He’s in pretty bad shape when you meet him in Silent City—his father just died, his fiancée has left him, and he’s not-so-slowly drinking himself to death. So, not your ideal hero. But that’s part of the fun, no? As the series progresses, we watch Pete stumble and pick himself up again, learning as he goes. Pete’s story runs on two tracks—there’s the overarching mystery of each book, which is essential to these kind of books, but there’s also his own personal struggles to be more than just a waste of space. He wants to reclaim the potential he knows he lost and he wants to be the kind of person his father thought he could be. He’s not always successful, but that’s what makes the stories compelling, I think. It’d be too easy to just have him settle into a routine, evergreen situation where each book is about the case in front of him. But I’d be bored and I think readers would, too. That’s why I try to make each book stand out and push him forward. The latest book, Dangerous Ends, takes a much wider view of not only Pete, but Miami as well, flashing back to the early days of Castro’s Cuba and showing how the past continues to affect the present, and put Pete’s own life at risk. It’s definitely my most complex book to date and I’m really excited for people to dive into it.
Let’s talk Riverdale. The new TV show is right in line with the reinvigorated, edgy sensibility of the new comics (zombies, anyone?). I’ve heard it described a bit like Archie meets Twin Peaks. Did you have any input on its development?
I did not! Though, I love what I’ve seen and the team of Greg Berlanti, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Jon Goldwater, and Sarah Schechter that WB and The CW (plus cast and crew) have put together. It feels noir, moody, compelling, and risky without distancing itself from the core Archie mythos. In the same way you can believe Archie and his friends are battling a zombie apocalypse in the Afterlife with the Archie series (written by Aguirre-Sacasa), you’ll buy the murder-mystery-meets-small-town idea in Riverdale immediately. It’s an impressive and addictive piece of work, and really a testament to what the company’s been moving toward over the last eight years under Jon’s watchful eye.
Would you say working as a journalist in Miami and writing gritty noir novels actually prepared you to work at Archie Comics, of all places? Will some of that noir quality show up in Riverdale?
I think different kinds of writing help you become more versatile and improve what you do across the board, in the way being a great poet might assist you in writing a short story because it teaches you how to be compact with language. Writing comics has taught me to be more visual in my prose, because in comics you’re writing a screenplay for the artist to direct and it’s all about camera angles and what to focus on, so that taught me to be more image-centric when working on the novels. Writing prose has also helped me look at a comic as a bigger whole and plot according to that, as opposed to just stringing gags together. You want it to feel cohesive and valuable, even if it’s a humor comic. Journalism, for me, played a big part in all that. It taught me to be direct, clear, and fast. Use the words you know, put the important info at the top and don’t waste time. I think that’s reflected in most of my work. Tell the story, make it engaging, fin.
What else do we need to know about Pete Fernandez, the future of Archie, and Riverdale?
Well, the third Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery, Dangerous Ends, arrives on April 11 from Polis Books, available wherever books are sold. You can also grab the first two, Silent City and Down the Darkest Street, now, in case you want to prep on Pete’s adventures. I’m also cowriting a The Archies one-shot with my pal Matthew Rosenberg and artist Joe Eisma, which reveals the origins of the band in the current Archie world. That was a lot of fun. In terms of Riverdale—I suggest people check it out! It’s a really gripping take on some of the biggest, most iconic pop culture characters ever. Don’t miss it.
The new series Riverdale kicks off on January 26 at 9 p.m. EST on The CW. And while you’re at it, Alex Segura’s Pete Fernandez novels are excellent noir thrillers that go places Archie Andrews can’t—at least not yet. But the way things are going, give Archie a few more years and he might get there.