The Blossom Twins And Pete Woods Wreak Havoc On Riverdale In ‘Archie’ #18 [Interview]
In this week's Archie #18, the rebooted Archie universe is getting a few pretty notable additions. First, Cheryl and Jason Blossom --- having already appeared in the last arc as Veronica attended a boarding school --- are making their way to Riverdale with designs on, well, pretty much destroying everything in their path, as is their wont. Second, long-time writer Mark Waid is being joined for the new arc by the new regular artist on the series, Pete Woods, who presumably does not want to destroy everything in his path. Although really, one never knows.
To find out, I spoke to Waid and Woods about taking on the iconic Archie characters, the influence of Riverdale, and if --- when! --- we will finally see Jingles the Christmas Elf show up.
ComicsAlliance: How do you approach the aesthetic of Archie? Do you look back at the classic designs and try to re-imagine them in your style, or do you try to imagine what those characters would look like if you were building them from the ground up today?
Pete Woods: More of the former. I looked back at the Archie style I remember as a kid and thought “How do I capture this feel in my own way?” It took a few passes. My first sketches of the characters looked like they were in their 20s!
CA: Was there a single element --- the number of points on Jughead's crown, or Betty holding her ponytail in place with a rubber band instead of a scrunchie --- that made it fall into place, or did it just come through over time?
PW: Not so much a single element but rather a slightly different approach. I had to soften them up a bit. Harder edges became rounded, the eyes became a bit bigger, and I scaled back the rendering. It was a challenge at first because in order to capture expression on a Superhero book I can add wrinkles as the brows knit together or smile and grimace lines. With Archie I can’t really do that. I’ve got to make the expression come through the eyes and the body language much more.
CA: Like a lot of readers, I'm most familiar with your work from superhero comics. What's it like to shift from, say, Superman to Archie?
PW: There’s a lot less punching and explosions. Seriously though, when you’re working on a book like Archie there’s a lot more focus on basic storytelling, expression, subtle gesture, and humor. I’m exercising very different muscles than I’ve used some of the darker superhero stuff. it’s making me a better artist.
CA: Who do you look at for influence? Obviously Fiona Staples did the designs for the new versions and set the tone, but do you go back to DeCarlo and Scarpelli before you sit down to draw?
PW: Honestly when I’m working I try to avoid looking at anyone else. I’m the sort of artist that can unconsciously begin to try to imitate what I see. I don’t know why that is, but it took me a long time to realize what I was doing and set out to avoid it. When I’m not at the table there’s a ton of artists who inspire me. Right now some of my favorites are Minjue Chen, Hong SoonSang, Miki Montllo, Stacey Lee Phillips, and Stuart Immonen to name just a few.
CA: What kind of visual signifiers do you think those characters need? What makes it Archie to you?
PW: Well, aside from the obvious things like Archie’s hair and Jughead’s hat, there’s the gestural and character elements that make these characters live and breathe. Jughead has a sort of sleepy, aloofness to him. He’s always looking at the big picture. Betty is fresh, open, and straightforward. She doesn’t hide anything. Veronica has a sort of unintentional haughtiness. She can have trouble understanding and connecting to people even when her intentions are good. Archie is sort of frenetic. When he does things he gives it his all and sometimes that backfires. You have to feel those things when you’re drawing them.
CA: Mark, as a creator who's been on Archie since the big reboot, I have to ask about Riverdale. You obviously put the spotlight back onto Archie as a musician, and went for a more realistic take on relationships with a healthy amount of drama, so is there anything you've seen on the show that you've been drawn to? Or anything that's slipped back into the comics?
Mark Waid: As far as what's slipped in, it's been Cheryl Blossom. No edict was handed down from the TV side, but she seemed like a necessary addition to the Veronica-in-boarding-school storyline ,and now I've fallen for her. Likewise, I'm really drawn to Archie's relationship to his father --- who, admittedly, isn't much of a character in our series yet, and now I'm eager to fix that.
CA: Of all the dynamics that have shifted from the classic setup to your tenure on Archie, which ones are you personally drawn to? What was the most fun to go in and change?
MW: The one I was most personally drawn to was rethinking the eternal love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica. With mighty, mighty respect for what has gone before, I don't think in the 21st century that women should be viewed as objects to be won, and giving B&V their own agendas that have nothing to do with Archie has been a delight. And, lately, the dynamic between Dilton and Betty (!) has been a dream to write. As anyone who writes comics for any length of time will tell you, the most fun often comes in taking characters you've never seen interact before and jam 'em in a room.
CA: The Archie characters have always drawn a lot of their strengths from archetypes and a few central characteristics. As you've gone through the series for a year and a half, do you find yourself returning to those touchstones, or is it freeing for you to be able to get away from them? I know you've gotten a lot out of Archie's klutziness, but a romantic connection between Dilton and Betty is certainly something we haven't seen much of before.
MW: I always keep their core, established characteristics in mind. I don't think that obviates an unlikely romance or a broken friendship, not so long as I keep the archetypes in mind. It's like I always say about characters and series that've been around seemingly forever: Hey, Mr. Writer, you don't know what the "X" factor is that makes it work and makes it last, none of us do or we'd be rich, and if you decide that you're the one precious orchid who does and you wreak havoc, you're just being an arrogant jerk, go create your own sandbox. I would get that on a t-shirt but it would have to be Kingpin-sized.
CA: I think the last time we talked about Archie, you mentioned that one of the weirder ideas was more suited for a book like Jughead. I won't ask again when you're going to bring back Jingles the Christmas Elf --- although, c'mon, you know you want to throw him in there one of these days --- but how do you strike that balance between realism and traditional Archie slapstick? Have you ever had to pull back and go "no, that's too much"?
MW: That's a great question. I talk it over with my writer friends a lot, and I find I have a very, very difficult time explaining where that line is. I can be working on page five and come up with (and reject) some sight gag because it feels too absurd --- say, Archie having gotten his car stuck in a treetop. Then on the next page, I'll have Archie stuck in a barrel of molasses even though I know full well that molasses probably hasn't been sold in barrels since Teddy Roosevelt was a kid. It's just gut, and every time I try to articulate it, I'm at a loss. That said, Jingles may be a bridge too far. Sorry.
NEW STORY ARC! The Blossom Twins have found out their father has been lying to them about why they moved to Riverdale. It's up to Detective Jughead to learn the dark truth behind the Blossom Family! Join us as we welcome new Archie series artist Pete Woods (Deadpool, Robin).
Script: Mark Waid
Art: Pete Woods, Andre Szymanowicz, Jack Morelli
Cover: Pete Woods
Variant Covers: Elsa Charretier, Robert Hack with Kelly Fitzpatrick
On Sale Date: 3/15
32-page, full color comic