Jon Goldwater, Publisher and Co-CEO of Archie Comics, sat down with ICv2 to discuss the current state of the comic market and Archie’s unique perspective as the only major comic publisher that is stronger in the mass market than it is in the directs.  Goldwater also ran down Archie’s new initiatives, such as experimenting with changing the look of the company’s iconic characters, launching a new line of superhero comics based on the company’s vintage Red Circle heroes under the leadership of Alex Segura, and hiring multi-media maven Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as Chief Creative Officer to shepherd the company’s properties into a number of different media.
What’s your overview of the market conditions for comics, graphic novels and comic properties?
My view is this: if you give people something great, they will buy it.  People are starved for great comics, great movies, great television, and great entertainment.  If it’s a great comic book, they will buy it.  If it’s something that’s not that interesting or something that’s not tickling their fancy, I think people adopt a wait and see attitude.
With Archie we’re lucky because we have 70 years of history built in.  We have generation upon generation of fans, so we sort of pass the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  We’re not just a comic book in terms of what you would traditionally say is a comic book; we’re a young person’s maybe first reading experience.  We’re many things at Archie Comics.
I think the market conditions are good but they really depend on the quality of the content you put out.
Archie has always been strong in the newsstand channel while that channel may be shrinking for other publishers.  What is Archie doing with the newsstand channel now?
We’re maintaining.  Our visibility is everywhere.  We’re still in your supermarkets and drugstores and your corner newsstand.  Wherever it is that we can be, we are there.  Archie is still the #1 mass market comic book in the world.  We’ve maintained that positioning and that’s our goal for the future, as well as increasing our visibility in the direct market. 
You could argue that Marvel and DC characters have a lot of visibility because of the movies and television, yet Archie seems to be doing better in the outlets with the most mass exposure.  Why is that?
We have something for everybody.  Our content is very friendly.  People love the art style, our art style is eye candy.  It’s a welcoming art style.  The stories are broad based about high school experience, whether a young person is aspiring to high school or whether you’ve been there and can relate back, it just works for everybody.  Archie as a broad based representation of what America is about, to a certain degree, really transcends your traditional comic book.
Are you still doing magazines or just digests these days?
The supermarket is the digest, but if you go to Barnes and Noble or some of the other bookstores, you’re going to see our Life with Archie magazine.  That is still humming along strong and we’re very proud of that because that was our first departure from the traditional Archie storyline.  When we had the parallel universes of what Archie’s life would be like married to Betty or married to Veronica, we saw that it worked.  We saw that people accepted Archie in a different sort of setting, but we kept Archie the same.  So Archie as person was still Archie and all the characters were who they were so the integrity of their personalities was consistent with what everyone knew, but they were in a different setting.  We’re so proud of that book.  Since I came into Archie that was the first departure in decades of what the possibilities could be going forward.  That magazine is still out; it’s still humming and it’s still vibrant.
You mentioned the Archie art style.  Afterlife with Archie and The Fox have a totally different look from previous Archies.  Why have you taken a dramatic divergence from your past style and what results do you see?
In Afterlife with Archie I have to give 100 percent of the credit to Francesco Frankavilla.  His reimagining of the Archie characters in a more realistic style has just exploded.  People are loving this art style.  They wanted to see what Archie might be in a more realistic style, I just didn’t know it until Francesco did it and we saw it.  And it works.  It feels so right.  Even though the art style has changed with Francesco’s work, you can feel that it’s still Archie.  It’s not somebody else.  It’s still Betty; it’s still Veronica.  He has somehow miraculously been able to pull that off.  I think Francesco is the Picasso of comic book artists.  He’s in a league of his own.  I’m thrilled he’s part of the Archie family.
As for The Fox, that’s a little bit different.  That’s part of the Red Circle line of characters, so we had freedom to do what we wanted.  That was more building from the ground up; there was nothing we had to be locked into.  In Afterlife with Francesco, he had 70 years of history weighing on him when he reimagined those characters.  
Are you thinking of taking this more realistic look broader within the Archie universe?
In the traditional Archie universe we’re going to leave that as is.  But now that Francesco has knocked that wall down, I don’t see why we wouldn’t think about it in other areas.  It wouldn’t be a clone of what Francesco does, but we’re certainly open to new art styles.  I’m very passionate about that.  We want to expand our reach with new artists and new talent all the time.  If someone comes to us with something we think makes sense for Archie, then absolutely we would consider using it.  Without a doubt.
Since I’ve been here  my mantra has been "Archie is open for business"  and that’s what it is with new art styles, new writing styles, whatever it may be, Archie is open for business.  I don’t know if we’re going to do everything, but we certainly will consider anything that makes sense for the company and for the brand. 
What are your plans for the Red Circle and adventure comics at Archie?
Alex Segura is not only back at Archie for the amazing job he does in publicity and marketing but truly, Alex is here to captain the Red Circle brand for Archie.   We are very much invested in the future of Red Circle.  It’s going to be its own stand-alone brand and even though Archie is the IP owner ,we are going to be branding that in its own division which Alex will captain.  Alex will lead the charge in putting together creative teams.  He’s going to be working very closely with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, our new Chief Creative Officer and will work closely with the team here and with me.   
The future for our characters is absolutely fabulous.  The Fox is a small step into that bigger pond.  We have Hangman, Black Hood, The Jaguar, Shield and on and on with the great library of characters we have here.  That’s going to be something that we’ll be focusing a lot of time, effort and attention on in developing those books.  Come the end of this year, you’ll be seeing some new Red Circle books. 
Do you know how many new titles you will launch in 2014?
I don’t just yet.  We’re putting together the plan right now.
Why does Archie need a Chief Creative Officer at this point?
I wouldn’t say Archie needs a CCO, just having the opportunity to add the Michael Jordon of comic book writers to our team, you just can’t turn that down.  Roberto is not just a brilliant writer, he has a love and passion for Archie and for our characters and brands here that he wears on his sleeve.  Roberto’s knowledge of the comic book world in general is second to none.  He is a maven of pop culture.  He’s currently a writer on Glee, which is a pop culture phenomenon.  He’s written movies, theater, this guy is a triple threat. 
Roberto is going to be the guy who is our feet on the ground in Los Angeles and will interface with film, TV, with anything that will be a stage play with Archie, and he will be the creative voice behind everything.  There’s some things he will be actively writing or directing, or whatever it may be, and there will be other things where he will be there as the creative consultant.  It’s a general broad based job and I couldn’t have anyone better than Roberto.
When I met Roberto a couple of years ago, he asked me if he could write an Archie-Glee crossover.  I said "Wow, fantastic!  If you can make that happen, consider it done and done."  Well, he made it happen and it was absolutely brilliant.  The more I got to know him and talked about comic books and film and television, I got to understand what a creative genius this guy is. 
His love of Archie goes back to childhood.  He brags about it and we’re thrilled he’s part of our family.
Bringing in Lena Dunham is interesting.  How do you reconcile her edgier style with the Archie world?
Again, she’s a huge fan.  She’s been speaking with Roberto about what she wants to do.  As long as the integrity of the characters is maintained, I think you could put these characters in almost any setting.  Lena is going to be respectful of the Archie universe.  She loves it.  Roberto loves it.  Roberto can write Carrie, but he can also write Archie.  People have many colors to their talent.  Woody Allen can write Manhattan and he can write Bananas.
Last summer you announced an upcoming Archie movie to be written by Roberto.  What’s the status of that?
That’s on hold for the time being.  We’re figuring out the creative vision of where that’s going to go. 
Due to the explosion in the popularity of Afterlife with Archie, we’re thinking about an Afterlife with Archie movie.  It’s gotten an incredible amount of interest so that’s something that we’re actively pursuing at this time.  I think it could be something fun, spectacular and wildly successful.  Right now, that’s what we’re leaning toward.
What’s going on with Sabrina media development right now?
We have our cartoon on The Hub every Saturday morning.  That’s doing very well and they just renewed for a second season.  And our script is in development at Sony and we’re very happy with how that’s going as well.  So they’re both moving forward brilliantly.
Any other media projects in the pipe for Archie?
There’s a couple of things, but it’s a little premature to get into right now.  There’s a lot of discussion around Josie and Katy Keene, a couple of our other properties as well.  
On the publishing side, what you most excited about in 2014?
I’m excited about a bunch of things.  I’m excited about how our expansion with Random House just keeps growing; The Best of Archie Comics is in its eighth or ninth printing.  The Afterlife with Archie is probably something I’m the most proud of because that’s a new invention in the Archie world.  I’m very excited about the launch of the Red Circle Universe under Alex’s leadership, and of course, our traditional Archie books, that I don’t want to neglect because that’s our bread and butter.  We’re still putting all of the care, energy, effort into the art, stories, everything that is the foundation of what this company was built on which is the traditional Archie.
I’m pretty pumped up about how the rest of this year and next year are laying out already.  It’s pretty exciting stuff. 
Are there any risks or threats to the industry or to Archie that concern you?
Not really.  Again, it’s all about the content.  If you put out great content, I think you’re going to be just fine.  And that’s our goal; to put out great content all the time.  No, I don’t see any threat at all.  People have tried to imitate what Archie is for many years and have not been able to do so.  There is only one Archie.  The thing we’re the luckiest and the proudest about is that we occupy a very unique place in the comic book world.  There’s DC, there’s Marvel and there’s Archie.  These are the three founders of the comic book business that go back to the beginning of time, as far as comic books go.
Anything you want to say to retailers?
If you put Archie on the shelves, it will sell.  Whether it be Afterlife, The Fox or any of the new Red Circle Books coming out, or Archie itself.  If you put it on the shelves, people will buy it.  There is a market for Archies.