Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Talks ‘Afterlife With Archie’: ‘Reggie Mantle Triggers The Zombie Apocalypse’ [Interview]
Even with as strange as Archie Comics have gotten over the past few years, I don’t think any of us ever expected to see an all-new ongoing series where Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang had to contend with the apocalyptic rise of the undead. I know I didn’t, and I’m pretty comfortable in saying that I think about Archie comics way more than the average person.
And yet, here we are: In October, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla are launching Afterlife With Archie, and I could not be more excited to see how young Mr. Andrews deals with trying to juggle two girlfriends and a ravenous horde of Zombies. I spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa to find out just what the tone would be, and why the whole thing is all Reggie’s fault.
ComicsAlliance: How do you go from “Afterlife With Archie” being a cover gag to going for a full series with it?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: You know, it’s really as simple as I was having breakfast with Jon Goldwater and a couple of other people, his son Jesse was there as well, and saying “by the way, I loved that zombie cover that Francesco Francavilla did for Life With Archie.” He said “Wasn’t that amazing?” and I told him I was so disappointed when I picked up the issue, got home and opened it and it wasn’t about zombies. It was just the usual comic book.
Then we kind of all had a moment, and I actually don’t even know who said it first, but we were all like “that would be a great comic book.” We said it at the same time, and it was as easy as that.
CA: That’s all it took?
RAS: That’s all it took. Afterwards, I think there were a couple of follow-up emails about what it would be, would it be ongoing or limited, what would the tone be, all that stuff, but it was pretty easy and pretty cut-and-dried.
CA: As far as the tone, the solicitations talk about how it’s not for the faint of heart, but at the same time, it’s an Archie story with zombies where you have Jughead going around trying to eat people, which is inherently hilarious.
RAS: It’s definitely got black humor to it, for sure. It is not hardcore, like… I don’t know if you’ve read the Garth Ennis series, Crossed? It’s definitely not that. It is challenging, because you want it to be fun and accessible, but I would say it’s not for the typical Archie little kid reader. That’s for sure.
CA: Do you think this is the first time that an Archie book has been compared to a Garth Ennis book?
CA: Is it difficult to translate the Archie characters to horror? As much as they’re archetypes, they’re sort of comedic archetypes.
RAS: The Archie archetypes are very, very, very strong. They’re very perfect in many ways. My experience with Archie is that the more you throw on them, the more they stand up to it. The fact that they’re so well-defined, and that their characters are so clear, it really informs them no matter what the situation is around them.
CA: Do the defining traits of those characters come through?
RAS: Absolutely. One of the things I said to Jon Goldwater was that the trick of this comic book is to maintain the Archie archetypes and tropes, things like the love triangle, things like the rivalry between Archie and Reggie, even in the context of a zombie apocalypse. That’s what’s been the most fun, to be totally honest with you.
CA: I picture Archie’s klutziness, instead of having a pratfall during a football game or whatever, being this really tense moment of whether he’s going to trip on his own shoelaces and attract the undead.
RAS: Things like that will definitely happen.
CA: So do those defining traits take on a darker tone? Is Reggie now scheming for survival?
RAS: Yes. So far, the series’ big secret that we’ve told everyone is that Reggie’s the one who ran down Hot Dog, which is what triggered the zombie apocalypse. He’s got a vested interest in all of this staying quiet, in true Reggie Mantle fashion.
CA: So if I’m putting this together right, Reggie runs over Hot Dog.
CA: Jughead goes to Sabrina.
CA: Sabrina tries to bring Hot Dog back from the dead.
RAS: That is correct.
CA: Jughead becomes a zombie.
RAS: Basically, she performs a ceremony on Hot Dog, very reminiscent of the ceremony that is performed in Pet Semetary, and that kind of backfires. Hot Dog comes back very different from when he left the world, let’s say. That sets all that stuff in motion, exactly.
CA: Have you ever read any of those super-serious mid-70s Life With Archie stories? There’s one where Veronica is held at knifepoint.
RAS: Yeah, almost like the soap opera Archie. I know those mostly from covers and panels that I’ve read on the Internet, but I am familiar with them, definitely.
CA: Books like that, and even Archie’s Weird Mysteries have these competing ideas of Riverdale, where the mainline comics have it as this idyllic town with this great cross-section of America where everyone’s friendly and happy and Reggie’s a troublemaker but he has a good heart inside, and then you have this weird offshoot of Riverdale as this horrifying place where people are melted by Satanic forces. Is there a blend there that you’re shooting for?
RAS: The fun thing about doing a series that is sort of an Elseworlds that runs concurrent with the main line is that you can kind of tweak the history and the relationships a little bit without breaking the brand, as they say. We’re doing that, not just in terms of the horror stuff, but in that we’re going a little bit darker in the relationships as well. It’s still Archie, and it’s still not going to violate certain tenets of that, but so far we’re getting away with some pretty fun, spicy stuff.
Let me see, what can I tell you about… I think that there’s something Flowers In the Attic about Cheryl and Jason Blossom, and I’ll leave it at that.
CA: So Cheryl Blossom is in it, Sabrina’s in it. Are there any other non-core Archie characters that you’re working with?
RAS: So far they’re the only ones, although I am sure there’ll be a zombified Josie and the Pussycats soon.
CA: Oh come on, they’d be survivors.
RAS: That’s true. They’re in their private jet, right? Immune to the zombie infection.
CA: I was really hoping for January McAndrews from Jughead’s Time Police to travel back in time and try to prevent the Great Disaster.
RAS: That may very well happen. You haven’t been the first one to say that, by the way.
CA: I’m surprised that I’m not the first one to bring up January McAndrews! How far does the zombie stuff spread? Is it a full-on apocalypse, or just Riverdale?
RAS: It’s going to be worldwide, but it is starting in Riverdale. That’s the point or origin, but it will be worldwide, and the kids will be venturing outside of Riverdale.
The first arc is called “Escape From Riverdale,” so the first arc is set there, but then the gang — or whatever is remaining of the gang by the end of this — will be leaving to go somewhere. And that somewhere may be New York City.
CA: You talked about planning it out early on, and it ended up being an ongoing series. How much of it do you have planned out?
RAS: I think we’ve got basically the first 18 issues, roughly sketched out.
CA: Is there an ending in mind?
RAS: Not so far.
CA: So you have no definite plans that would keep any of these characters alive?
RAS: That is correct. The thing we’ve talked about is that this is a horror book, and we will keep the focus primarily on zombies, but we will tell other kinds of horror stories in it as well.
CA: Let’s talk about Francesco Francavilla for a minute.
RAS: He’s the reason this is all happening.
CA: And he’s doing art for the series?
RAS: It’s going to be pretty great. It’s going to be a very special book. We talked about him very early on, and I think Jon Goldwater or someone at Archie just picked up the phone and called him. He’s such an Archie fanatic and such a horror fanatic that it was a relatively easy sale. It’s a coup for the book, that’s for sure.
CA: I mainly know you as a comics writer, but you wrote a play based on Archie a long while back.
RAS: When I was still a student in university, yes. It’s the kind of play that grad students write, and it was about the Archie comic book characters and a mash-up between them and the Leopold and Loeb murders, which you may be familiar with. Leopold and Loeb were very famous teenagers in the 1920s in Chicago who decided to thrill-kill somebody just for the intellectual experience of it. The Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope is based on them. It was a very sensational trial, and they were described as these two all-American teenagers who had become murderers, and I thought it would be fun to combine the Archie characters and their comic book morality with Leopold and Loeb, who were totally amoral and see what happened.
CA: So this desire to do something weird and dark with the Archie characters has been with you for a while.
RAS: I’ve been obsessed with the Archie characters for a long, long time, that’s for sure. This book is kind of a dream come true for me, so I hope fans check it out and that people enjoy the ride.