CEO Q&A: Archie Comics' Jon Goldwater on rebranding the series for the modern world

Archie Comics' CEO speaks to Diana Bradley about how the iconic comic book is keeping up in today's superhero-crazed world.

In July, you revamped Archie’s look, bringing him into the 21st century by equipping him with a smartphone and skinny jeans. Why rebrand now?
Next year we celebrate our 75th anniversary and there is no better way to celebrate than with a new Archie #1.

We have given him a modern image young people can relate to, a look based in something real. We are making Archie less cartoony and comic-booky, and more character driven. When we put it out, the hashtag #HotArchie was trending on Twitter.

Your dad came up with the idea of Archie. What do you think he would say about the character’s transformation?
He would love it. He would be shocked there is still so much interest in the character 75 years from when he first started it. The character moves with the times, and the stories come out in so many different incarnations. He would love that Archie has been part of a zombie apocalypse – something even I could not have imagined five years ago.

Tell us more about Archie being involved in that zombie apocalypse.
We started publishing a series called Afterlife with Archie in 2013, depicting a zombie apocalypse. The first major crossover we did since I become CEO in 2009 was Archie Meets Kiss, which was a big success and showed us that people enjoy seeing Archie in different settings and interacting with different characters – people really embrace it.

Since then, we have done crossovers where Archie meets Predator or the Glee characters, and recently released Archie vs. Sharknado. Soon, we’ll release Archie Meets Ramones. We get pitched a lot of different potential crossovers. But, at the end of the day, we always have to sit down and figure out what is going to tell the best story. I shoot it around with my creative team to figure out who feels passionate about it.

How do you engage readers and attract new ones?
We tell great stories. We put out a lot of products between our comic books, digests, graphic novels, and what we do digitally. But we treat every story with the same care, even though some of them have received more notoriety than others. That is how you attract readers and keep the ones you have. That is how you keep the ball rolling. In terms of PR, we have three communications staffers and do not use external firms.

The good thing about being around for 75 years is you have a dedicated fan base, so people search for your books. Archie has a legacy that is generational. 

Also, if we recognize someone has an audience and they are fans, we try to network with them. There are a lot of celebrities out there who are Archie fans, such as actresses Lena Dunham and Rashida Jones and WWE’s Chris Jericho. It’s good to amplify some of the things they say on social media.

We release a podcast every week called Welcome to Riverdale that talks about the next book coming out. And we also post videos on YouTube each week, talking about the latest Archie news.

Superheroes dominate today’s comic book industry. Are the crossovers helping you contend with that?
The crossovers help us stay relevant. But the most important thing is that we continue to tell great and fun stories and give people an option away from the superhero characters.

After a while – and this is no slap at super-hero characters as I enjoy them myself – people who watch serious movies also enjoy a comedy. Archie, with its great stories and artists, is a terrific alternative to superhero comic books.

How are digital comic book sales compared with hard copy sales?
Traditional, hard copy comic books still make up our bread and butter. But digital is growing slowly and steadily. I have high hopes for the future of digital. We are a private company, so I am unable to give any figures.

An Archie Broadway musical is in the works, with writer-director Adam McKay and Funny or Die. What can we expect from that?
All I can say is that it is going to be funny and enjoyable. It is too early to say anything else. We don’t even know the launch date yet.

What is your take on the current state of the comic book industry?
The comic book industry is more exciting than it has been in many years. It is not a niche market. It is the barometer of what is happening in pop culture. The comic book business leads the way in what is going on in contemporary society. The music business used to do that, but not anymore.

What are your plans for New York Comic Con in October?
We will be there with a booth. We are doing a panel on the business of Archie, where we will talk about what is coming up and the current state of our books and releases.

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