It Was All About That Hat: Mark Waid On Recreating Riverdale In ‘Archie’ [Interview]
To say that last year's reboot was a success for Archie comics might be underselling things a little. Not only was it a surprising move that grabbed headlines right from the first announcement --- and ended Archie's reign as the longest-running American monthly comic that hadn't been rebooted, at 666 issues (an honor that has now passed to another Archie title, Sonic the Hedgehog) --- but the stories themselves were a breath of fresh air that showed exactly how to twist these familiar characters to get a whole new wave of drama out of them.
With that first arc set to be released in paperback soon, ComicsAlliance talked to writer Mark Waid about the difficulties of rebooting characters whose major appeal was their timelessness, why Jughead had the biggest changes (and the most murderous impulses), and whether or not we'll ever see Jingles the Christmas Elf again. Spoiler warning, but it's not lookin' good for ol' Jingles.
ComicsAlliance: You've been involved in a few reboots over the years. What sets Archie apart from those? How do you decide what stays and what doesn't?
Mark Waid: What sets Archie apart from the many, many times I’ve reworked and rebooted long-standing characters is that this time it was really scary. So many people love the timelessness of Archie that this could have backfired horrifically --- and, in fact, the challenge was to somehow modernize the cast while at the same time maintaining a sense of timelessness, and what a tightrope walk that was.
Ultimately, I decided that the focus should be less on shoehorning in references to Snapchat and The Weeknd, and more on drilling down on what is constant and timeless about being a teenager --- the way every victory feels like the first time in history anyone’s ever done that particular thing, and how every loss feels like a catastrophe that will haunt you for a lifetime, how you’re simultaneously trying to find your own identity and yet not get labeled a weirdo, how that first kiss and that first crush feel, how everything feels like it’s going to last forever.
CA: That's an idea that I think really plays well with the Archie characters, because they actually do last forever. Is that why you decided to open with an ending, breaking Archie and Betty up before the story even started?
MW: It was a clear shot across the bow --- the characters are the same ones you’ve always known, and yet their world isn’t the same and anything can happen. The idea of lasting consequences isn’t your usual Archie trope.
CA: One of the things that I've often said about the Archie characters is that they've been streamlined down to almost being archetypes over the years. Did that make a reboot easier to pull off?
MW: Yeah, because that gave us a clear foundation to build from. The downside to the streamlining was that, over the years, all the edges got sanded off. What [Archie CEO] Jon [Goldwater] and [president Mike] Pellerito and the whole Archie crew allowed us to do was restore that edge so that the kids could be in genuine conflict with one another over things that mattered --- hence, drama.
CA: The idea of conflict between these characters seems like it's tough to pull off when you're dealing with a cast like this. Obviously, that's not a concern with Reggie, since he's always been a pretty die-hard jerk, but how do you approach it when it's someone like Veronica? Is it tough to show us what Archie sees in her and what Jughead sees in her at the same time?
MW: No, because Jughead cannot abide her. Nonetheless, he makes some peace with her specifically because he knows it’ll hurt his best friend if he doesn’t. The thornier relationship is between Betty and Veronica. You know, come to think of it, Betty and Jug are pals, but I don’t know that any of the other character combos work in this world without Archie in the middle as cement.
CA: Historically, Veronica was a later addition to the cast, but was there anything beyond that which made you want to introduce her as an outsider to Riverdale?
MW: Yes. It came back to one of our earliest internal conversations --- how white the core cast was. If there was ever a time to drastically revamp the cast so that, say, Betty was Asian or Jughead was Black or what have you, this was it, and we discussed that opportunity --- but, at least to me, it felt like pandering, like change just for change’s sake. And yet, no one could possibly argue that Riverdale High needed to look even more diverse than it has in the last few years.
That’s why I pushed the introductions of Veronica and Reggie back so far --- it gave me a chance to step some of the other kids like Raj and Shiela up, and there’s a lot more of that going forward now that I think I’ve found my footing.
CA: Were there any other characters outside of the core cast that you were looking forward to giving a more prominent role? I've always been a pretty big fan of Cricket O'Dell, the girl who can literally smell money.
MW: Yes, Chris, we know. And I do like Cricket. And I love Cheryl. Juggling a huge cast is a bear. Give me time.
CA: Okay, well, not to keep harping on Cricket O'Dell, but is there a place in the rebooted Riverdale for the weirder pieces of Archie's history? Do Jingles and the Sugarplum Fairy still show up at Christmas?
MW: No, you freak. Okay, yeah, maybe --- but that sounds a whole lot more like a Chip Zdarsky Jughead idea.
CA: Speaking of, the biggest change for the characters came with Jughead, who gets an origin story involving his family's fall from wealth into bankruptcy. How did you approach that, and why?
MW: It was all about the hat. I love Jughead. I love his one-step-removed perspective on everything in Riverdale. And I love the fact that he wears that stupid hat. The only way a high school kid can get away with wearing that hat each and every day is if he just doesn’t care what other people think of him, not one bit --- a rare emotional maturity for a teenager.
So I asked myself why Jughead would be that bulletproof emotionally, and the answer I hit upon --- which also plays on the real secret of the Archie comic as I see it, which is that it’s at heart a story about class warfare --- was that Jughead had to learn the lesson young that it doesn’t matter what people think about you as long as you’re cool with yourself.
Showing that, as a boy, he was rich and thus surrounded by friends, and then was poor and most everyone turned away from him, cemented to Jug that if you’re going to survive in this world, you have to develop a thick skin when it comes to the slings and arrows of other kids.
CA: Does that give Jughead's enmity towards Veronica a sharper, more personal edge?
MW: Oh, yes. I mean, in my mind, Jughead and Veronica have always been oil and water, and the only reason Veronica’s body hasn’t been found floating in the reservoir with Jughead’s fingerprints on her throat is because Jughead can’t really work up enough energy to care that much about anything other than food.
CA: You've worked with Annie Wu and Veronica Fish on the title, but Fiona Staples set the visual tone in the first three issues. Did you have any input on the specifics of the redesign, or was that all her?
MW: That was all her. I would never try to tell Clapton how to play the guitar, I would never try to show Peyton Manning how to throw a pass, and I would never presume to give Fiona Staples notes. C’mon.
CA: With the first arc wrapped, what can we look forward to in the next few issues?
MW: What happens when you make enemies with a billionaire, especially one who’s decided to run for Mayor of Riverdale? Some surprising heroism from Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad. Jingles. The adventures of your two favorite heroes, Dilton and Moose. And I’m lying about one of those. Guess which.