Archie Comics Publications, the home of the iconic American red-headed teenager and his Riverdale High School buddies, is reshaping its longstanding brand and revitalizing its publishing program. Based in Mamaroneck, N.Y., the 70-year-old company has long been a small but successful publisher of family friendly comics, but in recent years Archie Comics has implemented a combination of new publishing formats and provocative new content aimed at keeping the classic Archie brand youthful and relevant to a new generation of Archie fans.
As co-CEO Jon Goldwater explained to PW, Archie Comics is developing a hardcover graphic novel program along with digital comics initiatives, and responding to market demands and competition from such powerhouses as Marvel and DC Comics. The company is also creating new relationships in the library market; it attended the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in January, as well as the Public Library Association’s biennial conference in March. “With the explosion and popularity of graphic novels in libraries,” Goldwater says, “it makes so much sense for us to be [in] the market and its incredible book-buying power.”
While Goldwater and Alex Segura, Archie executive publicity director, were quite open about the company’s business initiatives, they were cautious when asked about recent dealings with Archie co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit, who has been issued a restraining order barring her from the Archie offices. The infighting reportedly stems from disagreements over the control and direction of the company; lawsuits have been filed by both disputing parties. “It’s an internal matter,” Goldwater says.
Archie Comics publishes monthly and bimonthly periodicals (about 12 a month, with some fluctuations) with various stories featuring Archie and long-established characters like Betty, Veronica, and Jughead. Newer additions to its line of comics are those featuring Sega’s flagship character, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Capcom’s iconic robot Mega Man. The Married Life graphic novel series, separate story lines that imagine very different outcomes if Archie were to marry Betty or Veronica, has been a huge media and book sales event. And one of the most popular new series features Riverdale’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller. In fact, Life with Archie #16, which features Keller’s marriage to his boyfriend, recently sold out, and it’s second in top in-app purchases on the official Archie app, developed for iOS by iVerse Media. While the company won’t comment on its digital download numbers, on the print side, it’s “significantly more than 100,000 copies,” Goldwater says, referring to the Kevin Keller periodical.
Goldwater says Life with Archie #16 won’t be reprinted, but it will be repurposed as part of Archie’s growing list of hardcover graphic novels. Archie Comics will release 36 hardcover graphic novels by the end of 2012, which along with book collections are distributed by Random House. Notable graphic novels include Archie Meets Kiss (collecting the miniseries featuring the seminal band) and The Art of Betty and Veronica, which chronicles the evolutions of both characters. Those releases will include bonus art, commentary, and stories.
In the digital market, the company is relaunching its superhero imprint, Red Circle Comics, in the form of an app available via Apple’s Newsstand app for iPhone and iPad. Red Circle saw activity in the 1960s and ’80s, only to dissolve, with a short lifespan later through a licensing agreement with DC. Archie Comics once again owns the rights and plans to reintroduce the imprint with a series called the New Crusaders.
Archie Comics made inroads in the digital landscape when, in early 2011, it became the first comics publisher to offer its digital editions on the same day as its printed editions (known as “day and date” in the comics world). In addition to the iVerse app, it has distribution deals with digital comics vendors Comixology and Graphicly, with which it partners to offer Archie comics on Facebook; and its Facebook page has more than 120,000 “likes.”
Says Goldwater, “Our goal is to have this global Archie superstore, with 70-plus years of content that is available in multiple languages to people all across the world.”
Life with Archie brought the Occupy Wall Street movement to Riverdale and also presented character Cheryl Blossom’s battle against breast cancer. The company will release hardcover editions of Red Circle digital comics, as well as hardcovers for Archie’s newest bimonthly periodical, Kevin Keller. “He is here to stay,” Goldwater says. “Kevin is vibrant and an important part of what we do here.”