Archie

Gay Marriage Legal in Riverdale

Kevin Keller #1 by Dan Parent

Archie Comics is a lot like Disney.* Both are all-American, wholesome, and harken back to a simpler time. They both use a consistent and comforting house style instead of encouraging individual expression. Both have historically been pretty conservative and safe in what they depicted in their entertainment.

But over the last few years, Archie Comics has broken away from that last aspect, becoming surprisingly progressive while still maintaining the same Americana aesthetics. They broke away from the tried and true love triangle plot formula with Archie, Betty and Veronica (Archie Marries… by Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg), they published a mixed race relationship between Archie and Valerie (The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats by Dan Parent and Bill Galvan), and they’ve introduced Riverdale’s first homosexual character (Kevin Keller by Dan Parent).

The first got a lot of headlines. The Archie Marries… story was essentially a “what if-?” story set in two possible futures while the love triangle held fast in the rest of Archie’s comics. It was a great idea but for those that didn’t want to see a 20-something Archie pick between Betty and Veronica, they still had plenty of comics that kept right on telling the same kind of Archie stories they’ve always told. The Archie Marries… story was such a huge sales boost that the stories have been continued in a new Life with Archie magazine. The mixed race relationship also got some headlines, and probably got some racists upset, but for much of the world it may not seem like that big of a deal. Plus it was just one story, and then Archie went back to being indecisive about Betty and Veronica.

But Kevin Keller has been a big deal in that Kevin Keller has been an addition to the regular cast of characters. And the move directly ties into modern events that involve a minority currently fighting for equal rights and recognition. And it did so brilliantly. In fact, Archie Comics may have handled the introduction of a gay character into a fictional world the best way possible – as though his being gay isn’t a big deal. And even more so, they used it for the gag of the story without being demeaning or insulting. The joke was that Veronica just didn’t get why Kevin didn’t like her, hilarity ensues as she makes a fool of herself. No After School Special, no Very Special Episode. Kevin Keller is just the newest addition to the Archie gang, and oh by the way, he has crushes on guys not girls.

That probably would’ve been enough, but in the subsequent 4-issue story, they acknowledged the gays in the military controversy by establishing Kevin as an Army brat that’s proud of his father’s service.

It was a daring step to make a permanent addition to the cast knowing how some people respond to homosexuals in the real world and in fiction. It’s still entirely common to hear or read comments from people unambiguously stating that gays don’t belong in entertainment because it’ll teach kids to be gay or some such nonsense. Considering that Archie Comics is one of the few comics publishers that actually still target children, that’s a bit of a gamble for them, and is the kind of thing that seems boycott-ready for certain groups. Fortunately, the sales response to Kevin has been so big, that Archie Comics is spinning the character off from his first appearances in Veronica to star in his own Kevin Keller comic book series starting February 2012.

Life With Archie #16

Now comes word from Archie Comics that in January, Kevin Keller will appear in the future stories of the Life With Archie magazine that continues the Archie Marries… tales. Not only does this further cement him as one of the regular cast members of Archie Comics, but they’ve also announced Kevin will get married in Life With Archie issue #16.

The debate over same sex marriage in the United States has gotten particularly heated over the last 5-10 years. Here in California, there was the notorious Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage after the California Supreme Court struck down an earlier proposition defining marriage as between opposite genders. Proposition 8 passed but has been frozen after a tidal wave of protests and lawsuits. Similar changes to state laws have been presented to other states across the country, some succeeding, some not. While public opinion seems to be gradually evolving toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, the fight is far from over and will no doubt heat up once again as the November 2012 elections approach. It’s a daring stance for a publisher that has historically told stories that reflected traditional values. So far it’s paid off for them, winning them new readers, media attention, and critical recognition. And if this story is handled with the same savvy as those first Kevin stories, they could end up providing some of the best examples of acceptance and equality.

*All credit to the Disney comparison goes to Graeme McMillan.

Interview: Stan Goldberg

Archie Marries... (click to buy from publisher Abrams ComicArts)

Speaking with comics artist Stan Goldberg was an honor, and I’m very grateful for his generosity with his time. I definitely did not expect this to go 45 minutes but he had a lot to share, and it’s worth it to hear him talk about all of this. His love for his work comes across quickly. He really loves what he does. It’s clear that this is a man still enjoying and exploring his craft and the process of storytelling despite already being a master at it.

I was also struck with how unfortunate it is for someone who has lived and breathed the Archie characters for the last 40 years, who has been the artist on their most commercially successful and buzz worthy books (for good reason), now finds himself with some uncertainty. Fortunately he’s still immensely talented. His abilities not only haven’t diminished, but may be stronger than ever. And he remained classy throughout, with not a bad word to say about his former employers. Already plans are in the works for the next phase of his career, and that to me is exciting. With over 60 years in the biz, he still has a lot of creativity to give.

Here’s the audio of our interview:

MP3 Download

Here’s a breakdown of what he talked about:

  • His 40-year career with Archie Comics, characters he clearly loves and respects, and his recent departure from the company.
  • Creating the color designs for Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (the Thing is colored like “a wrinkled orange”), the Hulk (his pants were meant to be magenta, not purple), and the rest of the Marvel Comics universe, including the villains like Dr. Doom.
  • Being asked by Marvel to draw the Fantastic Four 50 years after coloring the first issue in 1961.
  • His work being reprinted in prestige hard cover books: Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg [Amazon link] and Archie Marries… [Amazon link]
  • Being mentored by Stan Lee the art director in the ’50s
  • Using the Marvel Method for Millie the Model
  • Creating Kathy the Teenage Tornado (reprint this, Marvel!)
  • On the comics industry during the Senate hearings of the 1950s and the industry’s response: “It almost destroyed the whole industry.” He says the Comics Code Authority, the industry’s content watchdog, went overboard: “They made some corrections, but I guess they had to show what they were then getting paid for.” Marvel even lost their distributor for a time, which resulted in Stan having to go freelance.
  • His work on Millie the Model influencing women in fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan, McCall’s and others.
  • Collaborating with Michael Uslan on last year’s “Archie Marries…” story starting in Archie #600, which sold 50% better than Marvel & DC comic books at the time. His pure penciled artwork for the covers of those six issues was reprinted in IDW’s recent Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg
  • The story of the surprise debut of Archie Meets Punisher and the plans for a sequel that never came to be.
  • And perhaps most exciting of all… teasing a future project he’s creating with a writer.

Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg (click to buy from publisher IDW)

(Also a cameo by my cat Cleo climbing up the back of my chair if you listen carefully. I should also apologize for the volume disparity between his voice and mine. Fortunately once we get started, it’s mostly him. Ah the joys of technology. I’ll try to work that out for the next interview.)

FF #1 variant cover by Goldberg (50th Anniversary of Fantastic Four #1, Marvel Comics)

Parents: Get your Kid-Friendly Comics on iPhone and iPad

So maybe you get it by now. Librarians, teachers, and other smart people that you trust tell you that comics are a great way to develop and strengthen your child’s reading skills. They also capture their imagination and work visual recognition skills and they do tons of other good things for the brain, in addition to being fun and entertaining. But maybe you’ve also heard that there are some comics that aren’t really appropriate for everyone. So what’s safe? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, now there’s a simple way to get great comics for your kids and teens.

Digital comics provider comiXology officially launched their newest app, Comics4Kids, yesterday. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Almost 175 comic books from 15 comic book publishers like Archie Comics, Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Red 5 Comics, NBM Publishing, and more. I’m sure more will be added every week just like comiXology’s other apps. And hopefully Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom! Studios, along with other publishers, will join in since they all have comic books that would fit right in.

One of my initial thoughts was similar to JK Parkin: will kids want to read something that’s so blatantly targeted to them? Most kids want to get the real thing, not the kiddie version, and one red flag is something with “kids” in the title. But seeing this targeted to parents as something they can feel comfortable handing to their children, the branding makes more sense. Time will tell, I guess. I certainly appreciate the effort, and I’m sure parents will too.

For more information, read click through for their press release: (more…)

Happy Valentine’s Day

I’m busy pitching woo with the one I love, so to tide you over here are a bunch of comics or semi-comics pictures celebrating love and the Holiday That Hallmark Built. Enjoy!

Lois Lane debuts with Superman in Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, June 1938. Clark Kent pines for Lois but she only has eyes for the Man of Steel. And the superhero genre's psychological issues with identity and romance are off and running.

Archie Comics #3, Summer 1942, art by Harry Sahle features one of comics' classic love triangles. Will Archie choose Betty or Veronica?

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Archie leads the digital comics revolution

Archie goes digital

Who would have thought? A publisher often viewed as very traditional and conservative like Archie Comics is leading the way toward digital comics.

The New York-based publisher announced yesterday morning that starting April 1, all of their comic books will be available on their Archie Comics app the exact same day and date that those same issues are on sale at comic book stores and newsstands. Print comics will remain at $2.99 an issue. Digital versions will be priced at $1.99 each. The app, developed by iVerse Media, has been downloaded from iTunes nearly 1.8 million times for use on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. That number is expected to grow significantly when Verizon carries the iPhone next month. A version for Android phones and tablets is planned this March.

This is definitely a big deal. Archie Comics is one of North America’s oldest publishers, right alongside DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Like the two superhero publishers, Archie has iconic characters with a huge recognition factor both nationally and internationally. That a major publisher like Archie has made the jump to simultaneous releases is a huge vote of support for digital comics. Most have felt that for digital comics to truly work, this would need to happen. Marvel, DC and other publishers have toyed with one-off day-and-date releases, usually pricing them equal to or more than their print versions.

There is a lot of concern amongst comic shop retailers that digital comics will steal away their business. So there has been a lot of careful walking on eggshells on the issue because publishers don’t want to damage their relationship with retailers. Archie having the courage to do this probably has a lot to do with them not having as big of a reliance on the comic book store market as other comics publishers. Archie has had a strong presence in grocery stores and other newsstand outlets for some time, and their comic shop sales have been historically weaker due to that market’s preference for superheroes. Archie primarily publishes comedy and teen romance comics, although they have some adventure comics, such as the licensed Sonic the Hedgehog comic.

Reflecting their forward-thinking approach, one of the first comic books to be released simultaneously will be the first issue of Kevin Keller, a mini-series starring the first gay character in Riverdale. Also confirmed for simultaneous print and digital releases: Archie, Archie & Friends, Betty, Veronica, Betty and Veronica, and Jughead. There will also be a digital exclusive release, Reggie and Me.

Archie’s press release states “all Archie titles” but some news reports have stated that may not translate to their entire publishing line. It’s unclear at this time whether Archie’s licensed comics, namely Sonic the Hedgehog and the upcoming Mega Man, will take part. There is also the Life with Archie magazine, which continues two what-if story lines of Archie living a married life with Betty and Veronica.

Also no word yet on whether the same release schedule will apply to ArchieDigital.com, a subscription-based digital comics platform for desktop reading instead of mobile devices.

Speaking to the retailer fears of losing business, there’s also this article from Comics Alliance’s David Brothers on exactly who is the audience for digital comics and what they’re buying. There’s still a lot of unknown but initial information seems to suggest that they are not the same people going to their local comic book store every Wednesday. Whether this data and Archie’s bold move will encourage other publishers to adjust their release schedules will remain to be soon, but general consensus is saying it’s a matter of when, not if.

For more: The Archie news was picked up by the New York Times, USA TodayMTV and the Associated Press, which has been picked up by ABC News and other news organizations. Interviews and coverage naturally occurred at all of the comics news sites like Comic Book ResourcesComics AllianceiFanboy and IGN.

Archie and Hero Initiative help comics creators

Click to visit Hero Initiative's Archie 600

It wasn’t too long ago that the men and women who gave their blood, sweat and tears to make comic books for you and me weren’t compensated all that well for their time and effort. Aside from a rather stingy page rate, the vast majority of creators had no health insurance, no 401k plan, little to no rights to the work they created, basically no benefits at all. Today it’s a lot better, mostly for those that are lucky enough to work for major publishers. But the truth remains – the artist’s life and the freelancer’s life are risky ones in any industry.

The Hero Initiative, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, works to help creators who have fallen on hard times and need some help, whether that be with making rent or covering medical costs. One of their creative fundraising efforts is to work with a publisher to reprint a recently popular comic book with a variant blank cover, and then have comic book artists create one-of-a-kind covers to be auctioned off. An art book of all of the cover sketches is later published. 100% of sales goes to the Hero Initiative to help them maintain safety nets for creators in need.

The awesome image above by Cliff Chiang depicting Archie and the gang as a high school garage band is one of the sketch covers for Archie #600 from Archie Comics. The original version of the issue was published over a year ago as the start of the much-discussed story line by Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg where Archie finally decides between Betty and Veronica.

To take a look at all 50 covers (they’re all great!), visit HeroInitiative.org. To buy the original artwork and help a good cause, check out the Hero Initiative’s eBay auctions that launched yesterday. Archie Covers: Fifty Times an American Icon collecting and reprinting all 50 covers will be published later in the year.

Betty or Veronica?

Questions don’t get much more epic than this. This is the biggie, people.

Look, if Archie can’t decide after 60 years…

Actually, this one is pretty easy to me. Betty Cooper. I mean, her mom is named Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper! How could you pass up that opportunity? Every time we visited their parents, I would see how many song references and references to biting the head of a chicken I could work into casual conversation.

Plus, who needs Veronica’s drama? Too spoiled.

Ask me anything about the world of comic books & graphic novels, performing & acting, improv comedy, Dig Comics, and anything else that seems relevant.