Archie Comics has seen a resurgence that you never would have believed. It began with Life With Archie performing a dual-storyline option, though this wasn’t exactly the biggest breakthrough. Afterlife With Archie then came; inspired by a zombie variant cover that one of the Life With Archie comics had, and started something close to a comics revolution. Rather than just being a campy throw back to Archie character, it treats itself seriously as a horror comic, hailing more to the EC horror standards of the 1950s and drawing serious elements of terror from a teenage suburban landscape. Sabrina’s place in the story as the maestro of Jughead’s zombie horde led her into her own title, which took an even darker turn as her family is indebted to Satanic worship and human sacrifice. They decided to finally off Archie in Life With Archie, bringing sales into astronomical numbers for the check stand publisher. This even led to the recent success of Archie vs. Predator, which finally does give us the ironic glee that we were looking for, yet still with splashes of hyper violence. Something’s happened to Riverdale.
All of this success is leading us directly to the massive relaunch: Archie #1. This comic is meant to reboot the series entirely with a more contemporary take on teenage life. The original idea behind Archie in the Golden Age was to create a character that kids could relate to, which was different than the caped crowd. Today, Archie itself represents not only a bygone era, but also a very white-centric middleclass experience. Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller introduced an openly gay character to much fanfare, and it is actually Archie’s defense of Keller from a rabid homophobe that got him killed in Life With Archie. Now the new series is being done by comic superstars Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, with a line-up of 22 variant covers by some of the biggest artists in the business. This is huge, and you might actually see an Archie comic getting DC and Marvel sales number.
It is this string of recent success, and Archie Comics’ desire to capitalize on it as quickly as possible, that led them to announce a Kickstarter campaign to raise $350,000. This campaign was to start three new series to fill out the Riverdale universe, the most notable being a Jughead series from writer/artist Chip Zdarsky, best known for Sex Criminals and Howard the Duck. There would also be a Betty and Veronica title from legend Adam Hughes, and a Kevin Keller series from Dan Parent and J Bone. The rewards are things like digital comics, variant covers, massive comic packages, and even to have you drawn as a zombie in an issue of Afterlife With Archie. The campaign reached just under $35,000 before Archie Comics received so much blowback that they literally had to cancel the campaign.
Fans and comics professionals alike were incensed that Archie Comics, a very well established company, was using crowd sourcing to fund the launch of new books. They mention in their video that they are not “DC and Marvel,” meaning they don’t have that kind of money, yet they are still a viable corporate entity. Instead, people assume things like Kickstarter are meant for creator-owned projects from individuals or start-ups. Instead, Archie Comics wanted to get fans to launch their comics since their money had already gone elsewhere. They recently signed a deal with Target and Wal-Mart to have distribution kiosks of older Archie books in-store, a move that has already pissed off comic retailers. In a certain sense, small comic book stores have been carrying Archie titles for years without making much money off of them. Now that Archie is back in the game, they are shifting some of their market to big box retailers and having fans fund their launch. While the new Archie universe titles will not be sold at these stores, it still acts as a slap in the face.
“Our fans are part of our family — they’re an integral part of everything we do,” they said in their press release. “We’re not flush with corporate cash like Marvel or DC. But we’re also not afraid to take calculated risks. With this Kickstarter, fans have the chance to get in on the ground floor of an exciting and forward-thinking initiative. Fans can help build a New Riverdale, brick-by-brick. We’ve put together a stellar lineup of titles — featuring the best and the brightest creators working on our top characters. With your help, we can make this New Riverdale a reality. The best part? This is only the beginning.”
The real question here was about the ethics of having a major corporate entity fund new products through crowd sourcing. Archie has canceled their campaign because of the blowback, but they still plan on releasing all three titles. Instead, it will just take a few extra months.
“”The conversation, at least in some circles, was no longer about funding these great new launches,” Archie CEO Jon Goldwater told Comic Book Resources. “Once that happened, we decided it was time to stop. While we don’t mind putting ourselves under the microscope or answering questions, the creators involved didn’t deserve that level of negative attention. Though we fully expected to get funded, we felt it was time to step back.”
“We explored all options. The plan always was to do these books. However, when the chance arose to be a presence at Wal-Mart and Target we couldn’t turn that down — and that made us pivot in a major way, financially and in terms of manpower. So, these titles that we’re so excited about had to be put on a slower track, to speak generally. At that point, we realized we needed some kind of outside funding if we wanted the books to come out faster — in time to really maximize the opportunity presented by the great “Archie” #1 numbers, and to truly “relaunch” the two other most important books in Archie history. “Jughead” and “Betty & Veronica”, in a timely manner that signals — “This is a new beginning!””
“So, once we realized funding was needed we explored more traditional options, but because of elements in relation to the company I can’t really change for the time being, those options weren’t as open to us as I’d like. Then we stepped back and thought, what’s the best way to get this done, get attention for the company and our creators, celebrate our 75th anniversary and really jazz our audience? That’s when Kickstarter came up. We had an amazingly productive meeting with them at their offices and bounced around some ideas and came up with the campaign you see.”
The reality here is not that Archie Comics needed the money just to get the products up, but instead that they did not have enough liquid assets to pay superstar creators to launch them. That being said, this is exactly what fans wanted. They want to see Jughead done by Chip Zdarsky, and it is exactly that hook that is going to make the title work in general. The question is if corporate campaigns on crowdsourcing platforms go unchallenged, will it essentially destroy crowdsourcing as an option for independent creators? It should also be noted that the creators are not going to own the work or characters, Archie Comics will.
We shouldn’t forget, however, how stacked against smaller publishers the comics sphere is. Marvel and DC make up more than 80% of the market, and Archie is still well below smaller publishers like Image, IDW, and Oni Press. This means that Archie may simply not have the money to launch big titles like this, which means they will never really be able to make the jump back into relevancy. They have stated firmly that the books will be released no matter what, but readers may have to wait until a few issues of Archie #1 have actually been released. They wanted the money to feed the momentum, but instead they are simply going to have to peddle their wears before they can release another book.