The past few years at Archie Comics have been about embracing the future with new types of storytelling and visual style.
By not being limited to their classic and cartoony look — though it’s still a big part of Archie Comics in various titles — the longtime comics publisher is able to embrace new ways of presenting the Archie universe to the world, from groundbreaking characters (Kevin Keller), to horror (“Afterlife with Archie”) to the hip (Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s “Archie”) to television (the CW’s “Riverdale”).
Now, Archie Comics is applying that same approach to the past.
“Archie 1941” debuts Wednesday in print and digitally. The five-issue miniseries will look at the lives of Archie and his pals as they graduate from high school and enter into a real world that is on the brink of World War II.
No stranger to writing daring and different Archie adventures is veteran comics scribe Mark Waid, who will co-write “Archie 1941” with Brian Augustyn. Peter Krause will illustrate.
“[We wanted] to combine the familiarity of Archie and his gang with the genuine feel of the era rather than a cartoon feel,” Waid told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
Though teen goofball Archie Andrews and his pals first appeared in Pep Comics in December 1941, the same month as the attacks on Pearl Harbor that led the United States to enter into the Second World War, those tales never embraced what was actually happening during that era. They were considered to be a friendly escape to many who read them in a time marked by war and fear.
“The era was so obviously oppressive to the national spirit. I think much of popular entertainment created during World War II was lighter and uplifting as a tonic to that tension,” Augustyn said. “Archie was created in that vein, I’m sure. ‘Archie 1941’ absolutely presented us the opportunity to bring the real world to Riverdale. The larger goal was to see how real history affected not just the teens, but also the adults and the town of Riverdale. Drama happened, obviously, on both the battlefront and the home front.”
Part of embracing the era entailed giving the lead character a gloomier than normal outlook on his environment. Archie’s head is in the clouds as always, but it’s out of worry, not goofy high jinks.
“We tend to forget that even the very concept of the ‘teenager’ as we think of it today — hanging out, playing games, knockin’ around — wasn’t a thing until after the war,” Waid said. “Until the war, teenagers were just short adults — expected to be responsible and productive and not given much leeway to relax or enjoy their youth. Our Archie Andrews reflects this.”
Augustyn says “Archie 1941” will see Archie face the future and adulthood without really knowing what that means.
“I know from my parents that going to college was not a given in the era. But what else would [Archie] do?” Augustyn said. “The possibility of war probably put a clock on Archie’s thinking, as war could make many unwanted decisions for him. Being thrust into the future after high school still creates that same ennui for all of us even now as well, I think.”
A wartime setting and a fear of the unknown are some of the most serious topics Archie Comics has addressed during their revival; there’s perhaps as little light as there has ever been in a Riverdale tale as some key characters will serve on the front lines. But that doesn’t mean the essence of Archie storytelling — redheaded clumsiness, Jughead’s hunger, the girl next door/wealthy “it” girl dynamic of Betty and Veronica — won’t be present. Waid says those things are still essential.
“If you lose those key elements, it’s not an Archie story anymore,” Waid said. “The rule I used in the main series still holds here: It’s not an Archie story unless he figuratively or literally gets his head stuck in a bucket at some point.”
You also can’t have an Archie story without romance, but the well-known love triangle of Archie, Betty and Veronica is put on hold in this miniseries with both writers saying Archie will make the choice early on in the book.
“Brian’s idea — very smart — was to sideline the triangle and instead play Veronica very much like Gloria Grahame’s Violet in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ — the girl who was playful but who every boy knew they could never ‘get serious’ with,” Waid said.
Krause says pushing the battle for Archie’s heart to the side will allow the new miniseries to focus on one of the franchise’s most important duos: Archie and Jughead.
“At the risk of being flippant, I’ve always seen the real couple at the core of these stories to be Archie and Jughead,” Krause said. “The story divides them in a way, and Mark and Brian wonderfully explore that separation.”