The spotlight was on Riverdale’s dark side during the “Afterlife With Archie” panel with writer and Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa at Long Beach Comic Con on Sunday.
“I’ve never felt like we should dial back the horror, but the challenge is, as horrific as the events get, at the core it is an ‘Archie’ book,” said Aguirre-Sacasa in a discussion with Hero Complex’s Blake Hennon at the weekend expo.
Among the topics explored were Aguirre-Sacasa’s history with Archie Comics, the origins of “Afterlife” and what readers can expect in future issues as well as his upcoming “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” series.
“Afterlife With Archie” chronicles Riverdale’s zombie apocalypse, which was instigated when Sabrina the Teenage Witch attempted to bring back Jughead Jones’ dog, Hot Dog, from the dead. The consequence: Jughead is the first human casualty of the zombie plague after he is bitten by his undead dog.
“Because Jughead is historically always eating, it felt right that he was the first one to be a zombie,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained.
As Aguirre-Sacasa has previously revealed, “Afterlife With Archie” was inspired by a “Life With Archie” variant cover by Francesco Francavilla, which included the image of a zombie Jughead. Remarking how often in “Archie” stories the inciting incident is a Sabrina spell gone wrong, Aguirre-Sacasa said the progression of events “all felt so ‘Archie’ that it all fell together.”
While Aguirre-Sacasa’s first official project with Archie Comics was 2013’s “Archie Meets Glee,” his initial exposure to “Archie” was as a child who read the comics and “wanted to be their friend.”
In 2003, he was served a cease and desist order for the Atlanta based Dad’s Garage Theatre production of his play “Archie’s Weird Fantasy,” which had to be changed to “Weird Comic Book Fantasy.”
The play, he explained, was an Archie satire that originated from an assignment for a playwriting class where he was tasked with creating a mash-up of two genres. Aguirre-Sacasa chose to meld the “highly moral” teenage characters of “Archie,” with the real-life murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who were obsessed with committing the perfect crime.
Now, officially sanctioned to take these characters on adventures, his love for the series is evident through the effort he takes to maintain the “Archie” sentiment even through a zombie epidemic.
Among the quintessential “Archie” tropes Aguirre-Sacasa has made sure to keep alive in the series is the relationship between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, as well as their love triangle with Archie Andrews.
“I don’t think of them just as best friends and I don’t think of them just as rivals,” he explained when asked about his interpretation of Betty and Veronica’s dynamic. “I see them as both.”
In “Afterlife With Archie,” however, he has made their dynamic “more snarkier.”
On the other hand, Aguirre-Sacasa has not shied away from changing characters’ relationships, or modernizing and diversifying Riverdale. In issue No. 2 it was revealed that longtime supporting characters Nancy Woods and Ginger Lopez were in a closeted lesbian relationship. Citing his time as a writer for the TV series “Glee” he thought it would be a good take on the characters that also served the storyline.
As much of “Archie” revolves around love triangles, Aguirre-Sacasa explained that he thought “it would be interesting to tell a story where part of the love triangle is this ‘forbidden’ romance between two girls and Chuck [Clayton, Nancy’s on-and-off again boyfriend] doesn’t even know the love triangle is happening, though he will very soon.”
When asked about exploring other horror creatures besides zombies within the series, Aguirre-Sacasa replied he was definitely interested “as long as it’s compelling and it serves the story in a way that’s quintessentially ‘Archie.’”
In fact, he has already introduced a non-zombie trope through his portrayal of the relationship between the siblings Cheryl and Jason Blossom.
“I wanted to make ‘Afterlife With Archie’ more of a horror book, not just a zombie book,” he explained with regards to Cheryl and Jason. “We wanted to introduce something more psychological … to make it more obvious we were playing with various horror tropes.”
So he “snuck” in this “Flowers in the Attic” subplot.
“I loved the ‘Flowers in the Attic’ books,” Aguirre-Sacasa said of the V.C. Andrews series. “They were so forbidden.” He also admitted “as a kid I didn’t know what was happening.”
When the discussion turned to what readers can expect in upcoming “Afterlife With Archie” issues, Aguirre-Sacasa revealed that the series is already planned out through issue No. 18.
Following the “Escape From Riverdale” arc that wrapped up in issue No. 5 is the “Betty R.I.P.” arc, which readers will delve further into with issue No. 7, due to be released next month.
Issue No. 7 is the Thanksgiving issue chronicling the first Thanksgiving post-zombie apocalypse. He explained readers could expect to see more of Cheryl and Jason’s dynamic revealed.
Also included in this second arc is a Christmas issue, which he said is “sort of an homage to ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Shining,'” as well as an issue that focuses on Reggie Mantle, who ran over Hot Dog, living with the guilt of starting the zombie apocalypse.
He even went on to reveal the third arc, which is called “Archie is Legend,” and that Josie and the Pussycats (Melody and Valerie) will play a large role in the story.
“They will definitely be horror versions of the characters,” he said about the musical trio that readers can expect to see “soon.” When remarking on their absence from the series so far he joked that “they were on a plane, spared from the zombie outbreak. But that plane will have to land soon.”
Aguirre-Sacasa also discussed his other projects outside of “Afterlife With Archie,” such as his upcoming “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” series that is “not a continuation of the ‘Afterlife’ Sabrina.”
He described the series as a period book set in the 1960s that is “a full on horror book, more in the vein of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist'” that follows Sabrina’s coming of age.
Additionally, he is working on the “Archie” movie project that he clarified “is definitely not a horror project,” although he did not discount the possibility of “Afterlife With Archie” coming to life on the big screen.
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