"It's honestly a combination dream come true and labor of love," says Archie Comics CEO and publisher Jon Goldwater, speaking with PW over Google Meet while fighting off a nasty flu-like illness in his home in Los Angeles. (It isn't COVID.) "This is something that we've been working on for the last five or six years, and to see it come out and have people embrace it? It also really harkens back to the roots of Archie—it's all about the youth and it's about fun and family and friendship and community. And on top of it, to have it be a Bollywood musical...."
Goldwater is glowing about The Archies, the Hindi-language musical comedy film released worldwide in December on Netflix. The update on the Archie Comics classic characters has a simple premise: what if Riverdale were in India? But the strategy behind the film, as Goldwater explained it, isn't simple so much as it is elegant: to localize an internationally recognized intellectual property to bring in more fans. "Maybe one day we do it in Spanish for the Latin American market, and it in Portuguese for Brazil," he adds.
The market, it turns out, was there. Archie Comics have been distributed in India, by Variety Book Depot, for more than 50 years, and during that time, Goldwater says, they've sold "somewhere between 50 and 100 million comics." And the publisher recently put out a graphic novel compilation of stories about the Archie characters set in India, also called The Archies, in the subcontinent, where, Goldwater says, it has "really taken off."
In addition to his role at the top of Archie Comics, Goldwater—the son of John L. Goldwater, who cofounded the company, with Maurice Coyne and Louis Silberkleit, in 1939, and cocreated its initial cast of characters, with artist Bob Montana and writer Vic Bloom, in 1941—is executive producer on the many adaptations of Archie Comics now available for the small (and computer) screen. Those include the CW's Riverdale and Katy Keene and Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and, of course, The Archies. Since taking the reins in 2009, Goldwater has been the architect of a rebranding effort which, he says, has brought Archie Comics and its iconic characters to more readers—and viewers—than ever before.
Among the changes Goldwater has overseen include the introduction of the first gay Archie Comics character, Kevin Keller, in 2010; the move to release print and digital editions of its comics simultaneously, in 2011; the debut of the Archie Horror imprint, in 2015; and the growing of its books program. The company has also inked partnerships with such major global publishers as Scholastic and Webtoon.
The TV and streaming adaptations, Goldwater says, as well as their tie-in comics featuring updated versions of the characters with more contemporary-feeling art and storylines, have helped Archie reach a younger demographic "that we were having a harder time reaching, candidly." That reach now extends, he says, to continental Europe and other locales where Archie Comics struggled to find a foothold in the past.
The publisher has also reached into its back pocket and rebooted titles of yore, including Black Hood and Bob Phantom, giving Archie a chance to expand back into the ever-popular superhero space. It's also published such seemingly unlikely crossovers as Archie Meets Ramones—the Ramones, that is—and Archie vs. Predator.
"It shows the flexibility of the IP, right?" Goldwater asks. "We could be with the Ramones. We could be with Predator. Riverdale could be in India. We could be anywhere."
This year, Goldwater teases, Archie Comics will release a comic series featuring Archie Andrews as a superhero—"not tongue in cheek," he adds. The publisher will also revisit its Afterlife with Archie series from a new perspective in 2024. Goldwater notes that the publisher thinks of its floppy comic books and the direct market—the dominant distribution channel for comic book stores in the United States, which has taken its share of hits in recent years—as "our laboratory," where "we want to try new things" and "get feedback on IP on our characters." (Diamond Comic Distributors distributes Archie Comics to the direct market.)
Archie also still greatly benefits from its placement at big box stores, newsstands, and supermarkets. Its growing graphic novel business, meanwhile, has distribution through Penguin Random House, which Goldwater says is is "doing an amazing job for us."
Goldwater is proud, he says, that despite the challenges to all publishers over the past few years, "we've laid nobody off because of the pandemic." Although challenges remain. "Gas prices affect our shipping costs, there's paper prices," he explains. "There's so many things that are so beyond our control. I can only price the book so high."
Still, Goldwater says, "Luckily, people still like Archie, and they're still buying Archie. Thank goodness. I'm knocking on wood right here as we speak." And as far as he's concerned, Archie Comics "are just at the starting gate. We're at the beginning."