Archie’s death: CEO Jon Goldwater discusses iconic redhead’s sacrifice

July 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
Say it ain't so! Archie draws fire protecting his friend in Issue No. 36 of "Life With Archie." (Archie Comics)

Say it ain’t so! Archie draws fire protecting his friend in “Life With Archie” No. 36, out Wednesday. (Archie Comics)

Riverdale’s beloved scion Archie Andrews will be headed for that big Pop Tate’s in the sky, as announced earlier this year, with the character set to meet his demise in “Life With Archie” No. 36, which hits stores Wednesday.

Archie Comics shared new details of the story earlier this week, revealing that Archie will die in the future-set title saving the life of friend — and newly elected senator — Kevin Keller.

Issue No. 37, which will conclude the “Life With Archie” series, will take place a year after the slaying, revolving around how the remaining members of the core gang — Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Reggie — are coping with the loss of their red-haired prince.

Both stories will be collected in a double-sized commemorative magazine and upcoming trade paperback collecting the entire tragedy, written by regular “Life With Archie” writer Paul Kupperberg, with art by Pat and Tim Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz.

Of course, Archie will get a chance to live on in many ways. For starters, he won’t be disappearing from the regular “Archie” series titles, and he’ll also be the star of his own panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con in “Archie Forever: Life, Afterlife and Beyond” as part of Friday’s programming. The panel will run from 1 to 2 p.m. in Room 4 and will feature Archie Comics luminaries such as publisher and co-Chief Executive Jon Goldwater, editor in chief and co-President Victor Gorelick, President Mike Pellerito, the “Afterlife With Archie” creative team of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (also the company’s chief creative officer) and artist Francesco Francavilla, “Kevin Keller” writer-artist Dan Parent and “Farewell, Betty & Veronica” writer Michael Uslan.

Despite a legendarily hectic week for Archie Comics, Goldwater spoke with Hero Complex in an email interview about the death of the iconic redhead and the groundbreaking run of the “Life With Archie” series.

Archie leaps into action in "Life With Archie" No. 36 (Archie Comics)

Archie leaps into action in “Life With Archie” No. 36. (Archie Comics)

Hero Complex: I suppose the most obvious question is: Why? What was the thought process behind this dramatic event?

Jon Goldwater: It’s been a long time coming. “Life With Archie,” as you know, has been around for well over three years. We first discussed the death of Archie over two years ago, following the success of Issue No. 16 – the wedding of Kevin Keller. We knew that the series was really gaining momentum sales-wise and creatively. But at the same time, we wanted to make sure we didn’t overstay our welcome. We took this very seriously, and were very much aware of the implications a story like this would carry – but we also knew that it wasn’t a gimmick. This was based on the overarching story we had been telling in “Life With Archie,” and it was an organic part of that narrative. Archie is an icon, and he goes out heroically as we’d expect – and while the death is sad, by the time you read the last issue, which very much celebrates Archie, you get a sense of closure and how important this character is to generations of fans.

HC:  Were you initially nervous about how fans would react to the news?

JG: Not overly so, no. We’d planned it so carefully, put together such a wonderful product that I knew fans would read the book and understand that it was a fitting and deserved tribute to Archie. Plus, as a teenager, Archie is pretty close to immortal – we knew those books weren’t going away. That being said, this death has more weight than your typical comic book endings in that we’re not going to revisit this timeline or universe and Archie isn’t some kind of superhuman who can fly, stick to walls or has endless gadgets to get him out of trouble. When Archie is cut, he bleeds like you or me. So when he’s shot, that’s it.

HC: As we know now, Archie dies taking a bullet for his friend Sen. Kevin Keller. When you introduced Kevin, the first gay character into the Archie universe, what was the response like?

JG: It was great. Kevin was the first, huge step for Archie to show that Riverdale was a welcoming town that represented the world. It was accepting, diverse and a safe place for everyone. For the seven people that asked for refunds on their subscriptions, we gained thousands of new fans. Kevin is the most important new character since the original five – Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead and Reggie.

HC: We also know that the story will touch on the issue of gun control. What was the reason behind this aspect of the story?

JG: Gun violence is a reality we all live with. Archie dying due to a gun isn’t a political statement – it’s a sad fact many people face on a daily basis in this country. In Riverdale, we’re against people not feeling safe outside their own homes and we’re against people not being accepted for the peaceful and personal choices they make. No one should fear for their safety when they’re walking around, but the reality is, a lot of people do. This was our way of sharing our point of view, independent of politics and posturing.

The cover for "Life With Archie" No. 36 (Archie Comics)

The cover for “Life With Archie” No. 36. (Archie Comics)

HC:  The “Life With Archie” series has long been a place for more dramatic story lines than typically thought of in the Archie universe. What are some that you were most proud of or excited by?

JG: Aside from the finale, I’m most proud of No. 16 – the marriage of Kevin Keller and his partner Clay Walker. We showed the world we were not afraid to tackle important issues and that Riverdale was a safe haven for everyone. We were the first company to tackle the issue and do it in a meaningful and lasting way. Both Kevin and Clay became and continued to be big parts of the series and are major parts of Archie history and the company’s future. I’m also proud of how we portrayed the death of Ms. Grundy, Cheryl dealing with and overcoming breast cancer, Kevin’s run for Senate in the wake of Clay’s shooting…. I could go on, but those come to mind right away.

HC: This event will mark the series conclusion of “Life With Archie.” What do you see being the next avenue for telling more serious, socially conscious stories like this for the Riverdale gang?

JG: I don’t think being socially conscious, or representative of the world today, is limited to “Life With Archie.” Our classic, main Archie titles are much more modern and relevant than ever – just last month we introduced Harper, a new character who happens to have a disability. The response was huge – close to the level of attention we saw when Kevin first appeared. People want a world that reflects their own in their comics, and it’d be unfair of us as a company to keep the company trapped in amber, reflecting someone else’s idea of what America should look like. We want the “Archies” – presented true to their nature and characters – interacting with a world that looks like our own. Our audience is very much made up of kids and longtime fans. The last thing I’d want them to feel is left out or not represented when they read one of our titles.

HC: You’ll be appearing at Comic-Con next week with some announcements of what’s to come for the Archie titles. Can you give us any hints of what might be next?

JG: So much! We have “Afterlife With Archie,” which has been a huge hit – critically and sales-wise – for us. Lena Dunham is coming onboard to write four issues next year. Our superhero titles are ramping up under the Dark Circle banner, plus a few interesting things that I can’t get into just yet. It’s a great time for Archie – and it’s only going to get better.

– Justin Sullivan | @LATHeroComplex

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