MARK WAID is no stranger to the land of Betty, Veronica and Jughead.
Today, Waid is well-known for writing the acclaimed superhero tales Terminal Velocity (The Flash) and Superman: Birthright and Kingdom Come for DC Comics, a surprisingly fun and not-too-dark run on Marvel’s Daredevil and Boom! Studios’ Irredeemable. But in the early ’90s, Waid was a freelance editor for Archie Comics, and during that time, he built up an encyclopedic knowledge of the Riverdale gang while diving through a large library of Archie comic books.
Even past ties to one of the most popular redheads in comics, however, didn’t fully prepare Waid for the phone call he received asking him to return to Riverdale as a writer — on a project that would be like no other revamp Archie Comics had seen.
“I was stunned when the powers that be [at Archie Comics] phoned me late last year to ask if I’d be willing to consider taking on Archie with this scope,” Waid told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “I was gratified by their confidence, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried at first that getting my mind wrapped around a 21st-century Riverdale might prove too slippery for me.”
The first issue of Waid’s Archie, which hits newsstands brick and digital today, is the latest example of how Archie Comics continues to find ways to stay relevant in this millennium. Much like Afterlife With Archie and the adventures of Kevin Keller, Waid’s Archie series shows the willingness of Archie Comics to dare to take characters places they’ve never been before.
What could help set this series apart is the presence of 2015 Eisner finalist Fiona Staples (Saga). Not only did Staples come aboard as series artist, but she also doesn’t draw in the traditional Archie style; she reinvented the look of each character using a more realistic approach (akin to how artist Francesco Francavilla changed the look of the Afterlife With Archie series).
That artistic choice is what convinced Waid that he had to be a part of this project.
“That’s what sold me, frankly,” Waid said of Staples’s sense of Riverdale reinvention. “I think [Fiona’s] art is underrated, and of far more importance to the way we’ll be received [than] my scripts might be, and in Fiona I trust. Our publisher knew he had to send a strong, loud, powerful shot across the bow to show people we were serious about this, and Fiona was the perfect choice for that.”
Step one for Waid, before plotting dialogue to panels, was to get inside the head of each of Riverdale’s finest. Before turning in a script, Waid started writing essays and jotting down his feelings and questions about each character: What made them unique? How would they interact with each other? What did each character want, individually and collectively? Waid said the questions were a lot harder to answer than he initially thought.
“I knew the secret was that, despite their age, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these characters, nothing dated really, not if you dig deeply enough,” said Waid, who is a 2015 Eisner Award finalist for his work on Daredevil: Road Warrior. (The awards will be presented this weekend at Comic-Con.)
Waid didn’t change his writing approach just because he wasn’t dealing with superheroes. He insisted that Archie and his pals are super in their own way.
“They’re icons just the same as, say, Superman or Spider-Man are,” said Waid, who is a guest at this year’s Comic-Con. “And that means they come with their own passionate fanbases and their own clear-cut personalities. But stories are stories. Pit good characters against an appropriate adversary, whether that’s Lex Luthor or Principal Weatherbee, and you’ve got an engine for comedy or for drama.”
Waid’s first Archie issue already has it’s own hashtag: the #LipstickIncident. That refers to Archie’s breakup with Riverdale’s most popular blonde, Betty Cooper.
“The Riverdale students are buzzing about the #LipstickIncident, the mysterious chain of events that split up the power couple of Archie and Betty over the summer,” Waid said. “Will [Archie and Betty] reconcile? Do they want to reconcile? How will Veronica’s arrival screw that up? And who else is in love with who? The answer to that might surprise everyone.”
The raven-haired Veronica Lodge doesn’t make her debut in Archie’s first issue, but Waid said the well-known love triangle among Archie, Betty and Veronica will be “the engine that drives the entire first story arc.”
Waid’s “lipstick incident” hints point to a story element that he knew should be there, given the characters’ ages: social networks. Waid, a frequent tweeter, said that Archie’s social-media aspect was a must, but he notes that stories won’t hinge on their presence.
“It’s got to be a huge part of the way we tell stories and the way the kids interact — that’s just life,” Waid said. “But social-media platforms tend to age quickly, so it’s not just a matter of throwing around the word ‘Instagram’ over and over again — it’s about finding a way in comics to show just what these kids are communicating to one another.”
Whether the stories are discussing romantic appetites or Jughead’s gustatory appetites, Waid said that the Archie universe has survived for nearly 75 years through careful creative stewardship.
“No offense to Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker and Davy Crockett,” said Waid, referring to those classic cartoon characters of yore, “but the pop-culture survivors are the ones who shift just enough with the times to stay relevant, without losing the essence of who they are and what they were created for.”
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