With all its apple-cheeked, freckle-faced residents, Archie Andrews’s hometown of Riverdale always seemed a little too perfect — like at any moment death and destruction might befall it. Now, with today's release of Archie Comics' Afterlife With Archie, the first issue of the new zombie apocalypse series, that dark fate is finally upon the neighborhood. (Synopsis: Jughead's beloved Hot Dog gets hit by a car, the boy turns to Sabrina to bring him back to life, the dog returns as a zombie and bites Jughead, and so a plague begins.) We spoke to Afterlife creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has also written for Marvel (Fantastic Four), Broadway (Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, the upcoming American Psycho musical), and the big and small screens (Glee, Carrie remake), about Archie Comics' new direction, the movies that inspired him, and turning Jughead into a zombie.
Archie is one of those characters who always looks the same, but he doesn’t look like so cartoon-y in Afterlife.
You’re totally right. Archie looks like a regular guy as opposed to the nose and the freckles and stuff. But what’s iconic about Archie? His orange hair, right? What’s iconic about Veronica and Betty? Dark hair, vixen; blonde hair, girl next door. So as long as that’s in place, I think, visually, Francesco [Francavilla, who does the art for the series] has leeway to play around with those archetypes. Jughead still has his crown, in other words.
So they let you make Jughead a zombie, but does the publisher know you’re the same guy that wanted to give Archie a boyfriend?
Yes. Archie is fully aware of my long relationship with Archie comics. I wrote Archie’s Weird Fantasy in grad school fifteen years ago. You know, I can’t speak for the publisher, but I think it really reflects how much the culture at Archie Comics has changed over the last five years, with the introduction of Kevin Keller as a gay character, with having Kiss guest-star in a comic book, with them fully embracing Afterlife With Archie.
Have you read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or have you checked out Marvel Zombies?
I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, although I certainly know what that is. And what I love about that concept is as much as it’s a zombie story, it’s also Pride and Prejudice. It’s the exact same thing with Afterlife: As much as this is a hardcore horror zombie book, it’s still an Archie book. Who is Archie going to take to the Halloween dance? Betty or Veronica? Why does the zombie apocalypse start? Because Sabrina the Teenaged Witch messed up a spell, which she is constantly doing in the comic book. Who but Reggie would be the guy who runs over Hot Dog? If anybody has a dark secret like “I killed Hot Dog!” it’s going to be Reggie Mantle.
Even with Jane Austen’s zombiefication, they didn’t turn Darcy into a zombie. There’s a line that doesn’t get crossed.
Listen, Jughead is the first, and all I can tell you is the body count rises in issues two and three and four. It’s not a limited series. The fun of it is seeing characters that people have known for 70-plus years turn into zombies.
Riverdale is more connected to the real world than it usually is in this; there are references to Jughead watching Man vs. Food.
Correct. Usually in Archie comics, instead of going to buy an engagement ring at Tiffany’s, they go to Spiffany’s. In this world, they binge-watch AMC shows and all that stuff. And the end of this first arc is called “Escape From Riverdale” and the next arc is set in a real-world city. At the end of issue five, the surviving Archie kids do something they’ve never done before: leave Riverdale.
Comic-book readers' thirst for verisimilitude is intensifying. Like, the Marvel world doesn’t use as much magic, the best zombie apocalypse stuff is also realistic. Do you like World War Z? What things have you read or watched that you think has done this right?
I think all of those have done it right. I admire 28 Days Later and the original Night of the Living Dead. But for me, the two movies that have really influenced this are Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movie, because it’s supernatural instead of scientific, and there’s a certain almost tongue-in-cheek aspect to that movie that’s really helpful to the Archie comics version of the zombie apocalypse. And there’s a great kind of punk zombie movie called Return of the Living Dead, which you may know of, from the eighties. A bunch of kids break into a cemetery and a can of nuclear waste reanimates the zombies. But it’s very pop, it’s very punk, it’s almost a romp in a weird way and not as relentless as World War Z.
Your favorite characters to write in the Marvel universe were the Fantastic Four. You’ve written for Glee. And the family in Big Love seems to be classically American but it’s a little weird once you get past superficialities. Are you messing with the American family again in Afterlife?
I haven’t consciously set out to do that stuff, but you’re right: When you lay all that stuff next to each other, there definitely seems to be a common baseline to all those things. I am drawn to Americana, and I am drawn to gothic stories and I love American gothic stories. I love retro stuff, I love archetypes ... Archie is about teen archetypes. And I just wrote the new Carrie movie. That’s also about teenage archetypes — the good girl, the bad girl, the bad boy. I think I’m just drawn to these mythic institutions and I love exploring them in different ways.
You're doing the musical version of American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is almost another Archie at this point in terms of being a legacy character. How is he going to be handled in your production?
He is still very much the character that Bret Easton Ellis wrote about now 25 years ago. Which seems crazy, that that book came out 25 years ago. And he’s still very much the character that he was in the film, though when we went back to work on it we really did go back to the novel. There’s obviously a strong element of satire to our version, but it’s not campy. It’s not a spoof of American Psycho. It’s potentially the darkest, most nihilistic version of it. When you work on a musical, you focus on different aspects. There’s a lot of violence and a lot of sexuality in the musical. But similar to Spider-Man, because it’s the musical, you focus on things like the unrequited love between Patrick and his secretary, Jane. It’s in the movie and it’s also in the novel, but in the musical, it takes on a little more weight.
What’s the last new comic-book character that you’ve loved?
Newly invented? Gosh. That’s a really good question. I really enjoyed Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. I thought it was a brilliant idea to give him a son. I thought that was great. Because you completely bought that he had a son with Talia, and it was an immediate story generator. Suddenly every story being told with Batman was different because he had a son. And it threw his surrogate sons for a loop. It was a great way to shake things up. And I think Dan Slott is doing a phenomenal job with Spider-Man right now. It’s totally in keeping with the history. I love it. He’s my favorite Spider-Man writer of the last ten years. His love for the character is on the page.