There's something so wrong, yet so right about AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE. It's more than just zombies with Archie characters. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla have turned this into something truly intriguing. We're hooked on the story. Seeing the beloved Archie gang in a dire situation is something we never thought we'd see. And if you've been reading and that issue with the heroic sacrifice by someone close to Archie didn't get to you, you must have a cold heart.
We had the chance to ask both Roberto and Francesco some questions. Check it out and pick up the trade paperback if you haven't already.
COMIC VINE: Roberto, What did you think people’s reaction to AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE would be?
ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA: Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought beyond hoping people would enjoy the book and would go on the ride with us. There was a moment of panic, right before the first issue came out, when I called Jon (Goldwater) and said, “Are we crazy? Are we in trouble?” And Jon, to his complete credit, told me to relax—and predicted that the book was going to be huge for the company. Five issues later, I still have a minor panic attack before each issue comes out, I don’t want to disappoint our fans, but I suppose that goes with the territory.
CV: Francesco, the characters are recognizable but do have your touch added to them. Were you given any direction on how the characters should look compared to their ‘classic’ appearances?
FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA: No, no direction at all. I think everyone (including Archie Comics) loved the more realistic approach to the characters I adopted when drawing those ARCHIE MEETS KISS covers and the Zombie Variant cover I did for LIFE WITH ARCHIE #23, so when it came time to draw this, I knew that was the way to go.
CV: How were you approached to take on this project? What was your first reaction?
FF: It's no mystery that the zombie variant cover for LIFE WITH ARCHIE #23 was what started this "Apocalypse in Riverdale". Once Roberto, Jon Goldwater and his son Jesse came up with the idea to make an Archie horror ongoing, they contacted me and asked if I was willing to be part of this, at least for a few issues. Of course I had to say yes: I'm a huge fan of those classic CREEPY and EC comics – this was screaming that kinda story all over – and Roberto's scripts were to die for (pun fully intended). And clearly I'm enjoying it so much that I'm sticking around for as long as I can.
CV: We’ve seen several tragic moments already. Have you mapped out the demise or fates of certain characters in advanced or do you focus on the story and fill in any deaths as they come?
RAS: Good question. I knew Hot Dog and Jughead were going to be the first to fall. I knew Big Ethel and Moose and Midge were probably not long for the world of “Afterlife.” But Fred Andrews was a surprise, as were Betty’s parents, who popped into the story at the last minute (and were dispatched in that same moment). I’m sad to report that I have the next few deaths mapped-out, and they’re not gonna fun. Because they include some of my favorite characters. But like Stephen King said when [SPOILER ALERT!] the little boy died at the end of Cujo, the novel, not the movie, it’s what the story demanded.
CV: How much of the series do you have planned?
RAS: The first 18 issues. The next six (up to Issue 12) in pretty specific detail. The next six, more in concept, though details and story-beats are becoming clearer and clearer the closer we get to it. The second arc, as everyone knows, is called “Betty RIP.” The third arc, let it be revealed now, is called: “Archie Is Legend.”
CV: What were the challenges in taking this seemingly small story idea and expanding it into an on-going?
RAS: It was always intended to be an epic, wide-ranging story. But I love stories that start small. With one domino falling. Reggie hitting Hotdog was the first domino. Jughead going to Sabrina was Domino Number Two. A few years ago, I finished a 31-issue adaptation of The Stand, which is one of my favorite novels, probably my favorite Stephen King novel. That story started small, with a cough, and a sniffle, and ended up telling the story of America. We should be so lucky.
CV: Francesco, did you read Archie comics before and did you ever imagine you’d be drawing these types of scenes?
FF: I didn't read Archie comics growing up (they were not available in Italy) but I have gotten familiar with the characters since I moved here in US. When I did that variant cover, no, I didn't imagine I would be drawing full interiors of an Archie horror book. As for these kinda scenes, being the big fan of horror films that I am, yes, I was prepared to draw them all along ;)
CV: Has there been anything you’ve drawn where you’ve been told to tone it down a little?
FF: No, it hasn't happened so far, but we just started ;) Seriously though, I've been drawing comics for a while and for all kind of audiences, so I've a bit of knowledge of what could be too much and try to not go there.
CV: We saw cheerleaders Nancy and Ginger step into the spotlight a bit and some development with their character. Their story started out separate/parallel to Archie and the others. Will they stay with the others?
RAS: Their stories have intersected, as you can tell from the end of our first arc. Now that we’ve gotten all the kids together, we’re really going to be able to play all of these dynamics. In fact, our two big subplots—Nancy and Ginger (and now Chuck), and Jason and Cheryl Blossom—take center-stage in Issue 7, our Thanksgiving issue. Everything changes for them in that issue. For everyone, in fact.
CV: While this book is critically acclaimed, have you had any backlash from longtime Archie fans?
RAS: Nope, none yet. Not sure after “Betty RIP,” however…
CV: Have you had any moments during the plotting of the story where you felt bad for subjecting these beloved characters to such dark times?
RAS: Yes. Throughout Issue 6, our Sabrina stand-alone. Victor (Gorelick) said to me, “What did Sabrina ever do to you?” Francesco even encouraged me to change the last line, to make it not quite so dark… I agreed, but it’s still pretty dark.
CV: Anything you can tell us about Jughead appearing to be more than just a regular zombie?
RAS: There will be more Jugdead. A lot more. That’s all I can say at this point.
RAS: Oh, yes. Kevin’s been in AFTERLIFE since Issue One. He’s sort of taken a backseat as we’ve gotten the story up and running, but he’s featured in Issue 5, in two of my favorite moments from the series so far, but he’ll be much more prominent, moving forward. He’ll get a story. As for the Pussycats, they’re out there, somewhere, biding their time…
CV: Vegas’ scene in issue #4 was amazing. Did you imagine more people would react to that scene over the one with Archie and his father?
FF: Drawing the Vegas sequence got me, so I knew that if even a fraction of the emotions I was going through while working on those pages were sticking to the artwork, people would be emotionally touched by it. The combination of Vegas' eyes with Roberto's wonderful (and genial) canine inner dialogue did it. As far as I can recall, I never, never heard of people crying while reading a comic book, let alone this many people.
CV: It seems Sabrina could play a helpful role in the future. Will there be a normal passing of time in the series? Will we have to wait a “year” for Sabrina’s banishment to be over?
RAS: Nope. As will be revealed in Issue 6, Sabrina’s banishment isn’t following any kind of real-time timetable. And that her troubles are just beginning.
CV: Is there anyone in particular you’re rooting for?
FF: For Roberto, (letterer) Jack, and myself, that we survive the zombie apocalypse and make lots more of AFTERLIFE and comics in the years to come :)
Make sure you pick up the AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE trade paperback. It contains the first five issues, the covers and variants, and twelve pages of Francavilla sketches. Issue #6 will be out in July.