Respected Italian comic book artist Francesco Francavilla will team with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on the new zombies-invade-Riverdale series “Afterlife With Archie” — Francavilla’s cover for the first issue, due out in October, can be seen here in its exclusive debut. The Eisner Award-winning artist (“Batman,” “Black Beetle”) will provide interiors for the title as well.
Aguirre-Sacasa, currently a writer-producer on the TV series “Glee” and the writer who crafted the recent four-part “Archie Meets Glee” crossover, was inspired to pen the story after seeing Francavilla’s striking cover image. In the new comic, Sabrina the Teenage Witch inadvertently brings about the zombie apocalypse with a spell-gone-wrong, and the gang has to deal with the fallout while she attempts to restore order to Riverdale.
With credits involving teens, horror and comics, Aguirre-Sacasa brings a unique set of credentials to the project. In addition to his “Glee” duties, he wrote the script for the remake of “Carrie” that’s set for release in October, and his Marvel Comics writing credits include a comic book adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Stand.”
In email interviews with Hero Complex, Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla discussed how the series came to be and their points of inspiration for “Afterlife With Archie.” Aguirre-Sacasa also clarified plans for the new “Archie” movie he’s writing — which will definitely not center on the undead, despite some reports to the contrary.
HC: Roberto, you were inspired to write this story after seeing Francesco’s “Afterlife With Archie” cover, which was done in the style of an old EC horror comic. Is that true?
RAS: Absolutely. I was having breakfast with [Archie Comics co-CEO] Jon Goldwater and his son Jesse. I was raving about Francesco’s variant cover, saying how awesome it was, and how — as a hard-core horror fan — I was bummed when the interior of that comic book wasn’t about zombies — and it was sort of like a mind-mend moment. We all thought it at the same time: “Holy crap, a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale would be an awesome story!” And then it was like, “OK, we’re doing this,” and now, it’s happening.
HC: Francesco, how did you come to do the zombie-variant cover for “Life With Archie” last year?
HC: Roberto, what was it about the idea of bringing zombies to Riverdale that got you really excited creatively?
RAS: The challenge of telling a great zombie-horror story while also telling a great “Archie” story. In other words, the fun of the project is keeping all of the quintessential “Archie” elements alive during a zombie-apocalypse and using well-known “Archie” tropes in service of a post-apocalyptic survival story. So that it’s Sabrina screwing up a spell — typical Sabrina — which lets an “Evil Dead”-like force loose in the word. And it’s Reggie’s thoughtless and casual cruelty which sets things in motion. And Betty and Veronica’s rivalry plays out with, literally, life-and-death stakes. Archie bumbles his way into the role of de-facto leader; Jughead just wants to eat everything — and anyone — in sight, etc.
HC: Can you describe what readers can expect in terms of the story?
RAS: It’s a “World War Z”-style epidemic, which we track from the first zombie infection — Jughead — as it spreads throughout Riverdale and then the world. The first arc is set in Riverdale, with the kids figuring out what’s happening, and hunkering down against the swelling zombie masses before deciding that the only chance they have of surviving is if they leave Riverdale.
HC: How would you characterize the tone of the comic? How dark is the material? Is this “The Walking Dead” for young teens?
RAS: Actually, that’s a pretty good way to describe it. Listen, it’s dark. There’s gore, there’s a body-count, but it’s fun too, it’s not hyper-bleak. It’s a romp, like an early Peter Jackson movie. The head may be decapitated, but the tongue is still firmly planted in cheek.
HC: How closely have you collaborated with Francesco? What’s your working relationship like?
RAS: I’m a huge fan of Francesco, he’s the reason we’re doing this. His artwork is incredibly inspiring and informs everything, and we’ve been in constant communication since we started this project. He knows, if there’s something he wants to draw, all he has to do is ask.
HC: Francesco, you mentioned Bernie Wrightson as a personal hero. Are there past horror-comics artists that particularly influenced your approach to this new series?
HC: Last week, with word of the new “Archie” movie, there was a lot of discussion that it was this particular story line that would be adapted. Does the script you’re writing mirror the story in the comic? Are the projects related?
RAS: The movie and this series are completely separate entities. Jon and I have been talking about the movie for a while now — in fact, now that I’m remembering that breakfast where we first discussed “Afterlife With Archie,” it was at a breakfast meeting for the “Archie” movie, which is going to be a straight-up teen movie. It’s Archie’s coming-of-age story. Hopefully, it will be the “Archie” movie people have been anticipating for 70-plus years. And here’s a tidbit: Expect to see fan-favorites Cheryl Blossom and Kevin Keller in it, in very prominent ways.
HC: Last year, Riverdale was the site of a biracial, same-sex wedding. Now, Riverdale is facing a zombie apocalypse. Would you say that there’s an attempt to give the world of “Archie” a little more edge? Is that necessary to appeal to young readers today?
RAS: Of course there’s an element about staying relevant — reflecting the world, reflecting current pop-culture (to me, “Archie” is pop-culture) — but mostly it’s about telling fresh, compelling stories that shake up the status-quo. I don’t want to speak for Jon [Goldwater], but it seems like his philosophy is to constantly be pushing forward, into new realms. Stagnation = death. And not the good, zombie-dead dead.
HC: Francesco, how do you create zombies that are visually arresting and unique at a moment where they seem to be everywhere in popular culture?
FF: I have two words for you — zombie Archie. If that isn’t unique, I don’t know what is. It certainly caught my attention and has me very excited to draw it.
— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex
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