While their ongoing series of comics and digests may be best known as the remaining anchors of the industry's once vital newsstand and supermarket sales platform, Archie Comics has been moving to expand its reach in other areas over the past year. From the comic shop sales-boosting stunt issues that saw Archie Andrews marry both of his high school sweethearts Betty and Veronica through new digital sales on the iPhone, the publisher has been increasing awareness amongst traditional comics readers in a way it hadn't in years.
Yesterday, Archie announced a deal with comics legend Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment and multi-media branding company A Squared Entertainment that will see Lee creating the "Super Seven," a comic book series where the writer will appear as himself leading a team of seven alien superheroes. For more details, CBR News spoke with Archie CEO Jon Goldwater who, since coming on in June of last year, has spearheaded the company's new initiatives. Goldwater opened up about how Archie and Lee hooked up, what other former Marvel Editor-in-Chief would be working to bring "Super Seven" to life, the publisher's plans for both the direct market and the bookstore scene through their new Random House distribution deal and much, much more.
CBR News: Well, Jon, if you're looking to start a new superhero concept and have ears perk up, involving Stan Lee seems an good route to go.
Jon Goldwater: For me personally, first to have met Stan and now have not just a working relationship with him but a personal one with him and his partner Gil [Champion,] is just a dream come true. He is obviously legendary in the comic book world, but he's just a wonderful person - funny as heck and without a doubt one of the smartest people I've ever met in my life. He's a great all-around person, and it's great to be partnered with him and with A Squared Entertainment as well with Andy Heyward. Andy was the impetus for putting all the puzzle pieces together, and he's done an amazing job as well. The whole team we have in place is fantastic.
What was the exact process by which "Super Seven" came together? Were you looking to do a superhero book first? Something with Stan? Something with A Squared?
I'm going to give the credit for the idea of putting Stan and Archie together to Andy Heyward of A Squared. It was all his idea. He said, "How would you feel about Stan Lee?" It was just the germ of an idea that he had, and of course I jumped at that as quickly as I possibly could. I said, "Done deal. If we can make Stan a part of this, I am in, lock, stock and barrel." And Andy went to meet with Stan and Gil. They talked and ruminated about the whole thing and came back to say, "Stan's interested. Let's put together a meeting." I flew out to L.A., and we all had a lunch, and at the end of lunch we agreed to agree. That's how it started - from a call with Andy to now staring down a whole new line of comic books featuring superheroes that Stan has created.
Tell me about the full creative lineup on the project. We know that Stan is creating the nuts and bolts of the seven superhero characters, but what's exciting you about the project beyond that?
Well, the icing on the cake is that we've got Tom DeFalco who's going to write it. Tom is legendary, so not only do we have Stan, who's been my hero my whole life, but you've also got Tom who's an amazing writer. He and Stan are of the same mindset. They share the same kind of brain. So with Tom on board to work with Stan, we've come up with something really, really special. And it's going to be a stand alone series that's not part of the Archie world. We're creating superheroes that are timeless. They're not of any age group. We're not gearing towards five-year-olds or 40-year-olds. We're just putting together great superhero characters for everybody. Those were Stan's marching orders to Tom. And Tom's in the process now of putting pen to paper, with Stan's guidance, of course, so that's where we're at right now, and the team we have in place is A+ outstanding.
We've seen some preview art of a few of the characters. Is that the same artist who will be drawing the interiors?
That's our guy - Patrick Spaziante. He does "Sonic" for us, and when we sent the initial drawings to Stan to get his feedback, he was like, "This is the guy. He's got it." So Pat is going to do the art on the book. So we've got the team: DeFalco, Pat and Stan. We've got it cookin'!
One of the things that seems to be a focus for Archie these days is cross-media appeal. This all starts at the comics level, but with this you're also talking about web initiatives and animation and things. Do you hope to have some of that off the ground at the same time as the print comics launch?
There's certainly web stuff lined up that we're going to do. We're going to get the comics out, because the distribution network with Archie is really big with both the newsstands and the supermarkets. We're going to gear towards getting the book out in our traditional venues like the direct market, and digitally as well. This will be up on iTunes and ready for digital downloads. And we want to do webisodes and the whole thing. It's going to be very, very vibrant and rich in terms of the publishing side of things. Andy with A-Squared is going to be in charge of all the animation and live action movies and all the other things that come with creating wonderful new superhero characters. And we're going to be trying with that as fast as we can, but most importantly we want to create a great comic book. Because from a great comic book, everything else springs. That's our first goal. Once we say, "All right...we have just hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning with this comic," then we'll attack everything else. That's the foundation of everything we're building right now - to create a great comic for Stan's fans and all comic fans.
Archie for so long has been known as the company that really held on to the newsstand presence in a way that many other comic publishers were unable to. Though it feels with recent moves, since you came on as publisher last year, from the much-publicized wedding issues by Michael Uslan to even smaller fan-centric hires like having "Robot Chicken's" Tom Root write "Jughead", that there's a new focus on the direct market side of things. What's your plan for that end of the business?
It's everything. I'm going to tell you, the direct market is so important for the success not just of Archie but of all comic book companies. Yes, we've had success on the newsstands, and that will continue. But our direct market presence was not what it needed to be or should be. It was an area that - and I don't mean this to sound harsh - wasn't neglected, but it wasn't targeted in the way that Archie needed to in the way that DC and Marvel have done a great job with. Archie needs to focus on and take care of the direct market. Like you said, with the Michael Uslan stuff, the Tom Root stuff and now the Stan Lee stuff - and we've got a couple of other things coming in the next month or so that are really going to drive this point home - the direct market for us is something that is so important. It's something that we are really, really focused on. And that's something we're going to focus on as long as I'm around.
The other news track that a lot of people have taken note of over the past year or so has been Archie's moves in the graphic novel area, first with the archival projects with both IDW and Dark Horse, but more recently in a bigger sense with the news that you'll be distributed to book sellers via Random House. Archie has had some trades out there over the years, like the decade-by-decade "Americana" series, but what do you want to accomplish with this new distribution in terms of the types of collections people will be seeing?
We'll always have some of the older stories around, but it's really about new stuff going forward. We'll be focusing on graphic novels and making sure that our presence in the book stores is as huge and vibrant as it can be, because we're going to start focusing on that whole wonderful side of things that Archie in the past hadn't put a lot of focus on. We're going to have tons of new graphic novels through Random House, and Random House's reach not just domestically but internationally is something we want to use to globalize our brands as much as we can. There will not only be new Archie stuff, but new Josie and the Pussycats stuff, new Sabrina stuff, and we'll have the Stan stuff go through it. It's really to make sure that we prioritize new material that's as great as it can be. We're going to create brand new stories, brand new characters, and the deal with Random House is going to help us create that presence in the book stores that we need for these new projects, and to really get a foothold in other areas like licensing and animation and feature films going forward. And we're proud to be working with Random House, and we're thrilled to be with Diamond too. They're still handling all the direct market stuff for us, and they do an absolutely fabulous job.
Well, that's the third element I wanted to ask about: multimedia stuff. Obviously, the going thought in comics these days is that things are always in development in some form, and who knows when they'll actually make it into production somehow. But you've had some announcements of late, including Nick Cannon working on a Josie and the Pussycats TV launch. Do you expect that some of those things will begin to develop and see real movement within 2010?
I would have to say the Josie thing is something you can watch out for. That's coming down the pike without a doubt. As far as the other stuff - Archie stuff and Sabrina stuff - we're hoping in 2011 you'll certainly see animation for both. Our feature films for all our characters are probably a couple of years away in terms of actually seeing them on screen, but know that they're currently in development and that we're working on them every day. It's sort of like moving a mountain, because Archie hadn't moved in so long. It's a process. And most importantly, my initial focus coming in was to fix the publishing division. I wanted to make the publishing division as strong, as vibrant and firing on all cylinders as it could be.
And when I say "fix it," I don't mean that it was broken. I mean that we needed to reinvigorate it. We had the engine, but it needed some high quality gas. That's how I look at it. We gave it some high quality gas, it's starting to hum a little bit, and once the publishing division is where we need to be, then everything else will come from that. And I think the future in other media is phenomenal.
"Super Seven" is set to debut in the fall from Archie Comics.