Archie Comics chief Mike Pellerito ruminates on timeless characters and a modern series…
Quick story before the main event: I read Archie Comics as a kid in the ’70s thanks to friends Paul and Nina Kessin but never thought of them as more than a passing fancy. For years, I just considered it kids’ stuff. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the marvelous work of the greats like Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey and Dan Parent, to name but three. Archie isn’t kids’ stuff: It’s timeless Americana, and just the other day I found myself at my local comic shop — Aw Yeah Comics in Harrison, N.Y. (more on that below) — buying a stack of Archies from the ’60s and ’70s just for the laughs and the warmth they bring. (Not to mention the fabulous fashions!)
These enduring characters can be molded into any scenario — such as the hit TV show Riverdale, which just completed its seven-season run. Well, if there’s anyone who can put all that into the proper context, it’s Mike Pellerito, Archie’s editor-in-chief and president (as well as the co-owner of Aw Yeah). So dig this piece by Mike, as he looks at Archie’s world, its changes — and a TV show that captured it all. — Dan
By MIKE PELLERITO
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an all-time teen movie favorite, filled with great moments and quotes. Given my job, as editor-in-chief and president of Archie Comics, I’m always looking for a good pop culture teen drama or comedy, old or new, to see how it can influence what we do. With that in mind, let me tell you a story about the first time since I had been at Archie that I noticed that what we were doing in the comics was not only getting widespread attention but inspiring a series that would change everything for the company.
As Riverdale’s season finale aired last month and its final season is up on Netflix, let me take you back to the beginning. It was San Diego Comic-Con 2016 and Archie was getting hot. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to tell you that we had been running at breakneck speed: We had revitalized the classic Archie with lots of pop culture stories, married Archie not once but twice, killed him off, fought some zombies, rebooted him –first with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples (how did that not win every award?) — then released an Eisner award-winning Jughead run with Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson, Ryan North and Derek Charm, and followed that with the Betty and Veronica relaunch by the one and only Adam Hughes. Talk about firing on all cylinders! Additionally, we were creating variant covers with the best talent in comics to show the versatility of the Archie characters. The Riverdale gang can genuinely do everything!
Riverdale still had yet to debut. The premiere date was about half a year away, but the promotion had already started to gear up. The CW/WB had brought the cast out for a panel, which drew a ton of positive attention. There was a preview of the first episode held in a ballroom with hundreds of people. To say that it received a great response would be downplaying the massive response it garnered. Although we had all viewed the pilot in the office already, there was something magical about being there as the SDCC audience laughed and gasped at all the same moments that we did when we watched it together as a company. Riverdale was starting to get a lot of early buzz.
There was a 50/50 chance that the signing featuring the cast members would happen at the Archie Comics booth. We got the word the night before that it was a go, and we had to set up by morning. As you can imagine, it was a lot to coordinate. We hired my friend and business partner Marc Hammond (of the Aw Yeah Comics shop in Harrison, N.Y. ) to run the Archie booth. Somehow, he managed to get into the hall extremely early and redo the entire booth so that we could handle the signing’s expected crowds. I can’t stress how tough that is to do. Also, I have no idea how he got in there so early. Actually, it’s better I don’t know.
He also grabbed his friend Constance Ezra to help us coordinate line control and all the little odds and ends that we needed. She has a lot of experience doing this stuff and is really good at it, and her day job is that she’s a brain surgeon. That will be important later. Really.
We had an all-hands-on-deck effort with the entire Archie team to make sure this event went perfectly. And it really did. The cast was so great. Luke Perry was so impressive, taking so much time to talk to each fan, and it was very obvious he was looking out for the show’s young cast. (He played Archie’s dad so well because he was built that way). KJ Apa gave off great energy and was glowing. Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes — Betty and Veronica — were sitting right there! Madelaine Petsch gave off an incredible warmth and aloofness that perfectly captured Cheryl Blossom. Ashleigh Murray fully embraced the Josie role, showing up in Pussycat ears and was just a ball of energy. It was electric.
Cole Sprouse and Luke Perry were the actors who came to the show with a lot of fame already. Cole was terrific. The Archie booth was at the end of an island and the people just to the side of us were accommodating. We made sure we gave them some of the cast signed posters we had made up (featuring gorgeous art by Francesco Francavilla). A person around the corner was either selling or had a really cool yellow Jughead beanie-type cap. Marc walked over, asked for the hat, and promised he would return it to her, but she could not ask us why. Cole happily donned the Jughead hat mugged for photos and had a great time.
The crowds of people loved it. Marc explained how he found the cap, and after our signing Cole went over to the booth the beanie came from and thanked the people and took a couple of pics with them. The signing was amazing, the cast was amazing, and the Archie crew was amazing!
After the Riverdale signing, we had another signing featuring our talent and along came a guy in a Batman mask. If his badge had not stated it was Cole Sprouse, I might not have recognized him. I discreetly signaled that he hide his badge in his shirt, and as he waved in thanks… the string from his Batman mask snapped! You could see the concern sweep over his face and realize there was no way, without security, he was getting off the convention floor without getting mobbed. We quickly got him behind the booth as Constance pulled out a paperclip and fixed the mask. Much to Cole’s surprise (and relief), he remarked it was even stronger than it was before. Constance shrugged and mentioned, “Well, it’s not like it’s brain surgery.”
It got a huge laugh out of us, and once we explained the joke to a very confused Cole, he got a laugh out of it, too. It was a great moment in a terrific day that set the stage for an epic TV run. Riverdale went on for seven seasons, was nominated (and won) a ton of awards, and got people to look at the Archie characters in an entirely new way. Just like all the work we have been doing in the comics.
Once in a while, you get lucky enough to actually look around, and not miss that these truly special moments in life are everything.
— 13 Great DAN DeCARLO ARCHIE Covers, by MIKE PELLERITO. Click here.
— 13 COVERS: A Celebration of SUMMER, by the Gang at ARCHIE COMICS. Click here.
Mike Pellerito is editor-in-chief and president of Archie Comics and is co-owner of Aw Yeah Comics in Harrison, N.Y., a recent winner of the Best of Westchester Award.