In March 2020, New York State established an early Covid-19 lockdown zone in Westchester County, near the offices of Archie Comics. The world was about to change, recalled Archie editor-in-chief Mike Pellerito. “We had to act quickly and figure out a way to stay in business,” he said. Pellerito credited Archie CEO Jon Goldwater with doing what was best for the company’s staff. Virtually overnight, Pellerito said, Archie shut down its offices, moved to a smaller space, and “completely rethought the business.”
Archie Comics, which marked its 80th anniversary in 2021, has about 20 full-time staff in its Pelham, N.Y., offices, along with scores of freelancers around the world, Pellerito said. Workflows had to be redesigned: writers and artists (some of whom still submitted assignments on paper via the mail) were switched to digital submissions only, and, Pellerito said, “we were on Zoom every day, working from home became normal, and we found a way to make this new situation work.”
Pellerito said that despite the pandemic, shutdowns, and supply chain problems, Archie Comics had one of its best years in 2021. He cited several reasons: a venerable roster of such beloved characters as Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead; an energized global Archie fan base; new, diverse characters; a strategic embrace of Kickstarter to crowdfund special book projects; and a continued focus on trade book publishing (including partnerships with Little Bee, Scholastic, and Webtoon).
“Archie can seem like a time capsule, but we keep evolving, and Archie can still resonate with a kid today,” Pellerito said. In addition to its periodical comics, Archie publishes about 80 book titles per year, in addition to scores of Archie Digests (the small fan-favorite paperbacks collecting past comics) and special book collections.
Under Pellerito and Jamie Rotante, Archie’s senior director of editorial (and an Archie writer as well), the house launched a series of titles in 2021 featuring its classic characters over the years, including Archie’s Pals n’ Gals (the 1950s to the 1990s) and Betty and Veronica Decades: The 1960s; the house also marked Archie’s 80th anniversary with more classic material, including The Best of Archie Comics: 80 Years, 80 Stories and Archie: 80 Years of Christmas, while also showcasing the contemporary Archie universe in Riverdale: The Ties That Bind, an original graphic novel based on the ongoing Riverdale TV series. “We couldn’t keep the books on the shelves,” Rotante said.
Archie also turned to Kickstarter to mark the 10th anniversary of Kevin Keller, Archie’s groundbreaking LGBTQ fan-favorite character, raising nearly $73,000 to fund the publication of the Kevin Keller Celebration Omnibus, a 720-page, $50 hardcover commemorative volume that collects every Kevin Keller story published. Taking note of the growing popularity of mobile manga-style webcomics apps, Rotante said the house partnered with Webtoon in 2021 to launch a new webcomic series based on Big Ethel, a lessor-known Archie character who left Riverdale after high school but returns as a journalist to write a story about the small town. The Big Ethel webcomic “got a great response,” Rotante said, so now the popular digital series will be released as a print volume, Archie: Big Ethel Energy, in fall 2022.
“Representation is important: race, body type, disabilities, we want all kinds of characters in our books,” Pellerito said, emphasizing Archie’s commitment to adding new diverse characters and reviving overlooked characters. The house brought in queer and disabled comics writer Tee Franklin (author of the acclaimed Bingo Love queer seniors romance graphic novel) to create biracial queer teen Eliza Han, and reveal that Harper Lodge, Veronica’s disabled cousin, is also bisexual. The house also added Stacy Banks, a Black teen software genius, to its lineup of new Archie characters.
There’s a lot more Archie coming in 2022 in books and other media. There’s Bite-Sized Archie—an Archie print title featuring collected original short comics that first appeared online, out this month—and a book marking the 60th anniversary of Sabrina, the teen witch (Sabrina: 60 Magical Stories) coming in fall 2022. There’s also an even bigger book (“years in the making,” Pellerito said) set for fall: The Archie Encyclopedia, a 300-page tome with profiles of every character in the Archie comics library, which can function as an alluring collectors’ item as well as a comprehensive reference work. On the media side, the CW Network has renewed the Archie TV series Riverdale for a seventh season, and Archie in Bollywood (renamed The Archies), a newly developed live-action musical adaptation of the Archie series set in India, is currently in production at Netflix.
“Archie is huge in India,” Pellerito said, noting that Archie has done stories aimed at fans there for years. “We’ve done conventions in India, and there’s a cross-pollination with the fans. Now that there’s a Netflix production we can do a graphic novel project with the Archie in India stories. It’s amazing to see the vast appeal that Archie has around the globe.”