Just days after his pop culture crossover "Archie Meets glee" launched in the pages of "Archie" #641 last week, the comics, television and theater writer was announced as the scribe of the publisher's new zombie-fueled ongoing "Afterlife With Archie." The pivot shouldn't be too shocking considering Aguirre-Sacasa's resume. Aside from serving as a staff writer on Fox's "glee" and writing Broadway plays like "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark," the writer has also has experience in apocalyptic storytelling adapting Stephen King's "The Stand" to comics.
CBR News spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa about his Archie work, starting with the challenges of crossing the comic hijinx of Archie's world with the musical exploits of the "glee" cast. Below, the writer explains why brainy Dilton and brainless Brittney were the perfect match to fuel the pan-dimensional crossover, how breaking the fourth wall led to breaking into song and what other musical mash-ups will take place now that the casts of each world have been mixed up. Plus, he gives an early insight into how "Afterlife With Archie" will be an undead black comedy unlike anything he's done before.
CBR News: At this point, everyone's heard the story of how you and Jon started talking about what's become "Archie Meets glee." But once the conversation was going, what did you see in the two worlds that could really connect up. What are the common qualities that make these kids a good mix? What conflicts are inherent in putting them together?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The big thing to get right was tone. On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the characters and the worlds. High school and high school archetypes. But "glee" can be quite edgy and racy, in its way, whereas there’s a basic wholesomeness and innocence to Archie and his pals ‘n gals. The fun was finding where the two universes overlapped, where they diverged and how to put them in as much conflict as possible. Like, sending Archie’s most "decent" character, Betty, on a date with one of glee’s most reprehensible rogues, Puck, for instance.
The first issue of the book very much delves into the not quite perfectly mirrored status of each world's most famous characters. What was the draw in trying to nail down who the Finn of Archie's world is or who the Kevin Keller of the "glee" world is?
The first issue is a lot of set-up, I admit, to make sure everyone knows everyone. I didn’t want to take anything for granted, that "glee" viewers would know the Archie kids; and that Archie readers would automatically know all the "glee" kids. By giving the story and narration to Dilton, I felt that we could justify the almost scientific analysis -- the compare and contrast -- of these two eco-systems. Never fear, the crazy begins in earnest in Issue 2, I promise.
The issue also features a total breaking of the fourth wall for some comedic effect. When did you make the move to get meta in the humor of the story?
Listen, I love breaking the fourth wall, as a rule, as often as possible. I do it in my plays, all the time. We do a lot of voice-over on "glee," the kids frequently narrate their stories, and obviously that’s a comic book convention as well, so it just felt right. Also, with so many different characters to keep track of, and such a relatively complicated inciting incident, it felt like a good tool to use for clarification. As for the "meta-ness" of it, "glee" is pop culture, "Archie" is pop culture and pop culture is often very meta, which I love. Believe me, the series is only going to get only more meta as we go on.
At first, our story centers on Dilton and Brittney. That, in some ways, is a totally odd match, and yet, a perfect one. How does their initial connection define what you wanted to do with this series overall?
Dilton, the smartest kid at Riverdale High, falls in love with Brittany, the most -- let’s say naïve student at McKinley. That was a delicious pairing. Also, though Dilton could accept what was happening -- a wormhole existing between two parallel universes -- on a scientific level, it felt like the only “glee” character who could possibly even entertain such an insane notion would be Brittany, who -- need I remind anyone -- believes in leprechauns and magic combs and telepathic cats. In this series, Dilton’s doppleganger is Artie Abrams, the nerdy kid in the wheelchair, but it felt like the best point of initial connection between worlds should be Dilton and Brittany.
One common thread between worlds is the music each cast makes on their own. Of course, comics are a silent medium, so how did you approach the challenge of making songs work in the story when they're so identified with what "glee" is?
That was a challenge, yes. But the first thing I asked Jon [Goldwater] was if we could increase the page count for each issue, from the now-standard 20 pages back up to 22. He said sure, but wanted to know why. I said, "So we can have musical numbers!" Which we do. Full-on musical interludes, with costume changes and choreography, though of course it’s just the lyrics written out in dialogue balloons. But, like in "glee," something is always being "worked through" the musical numbers. There’s always a subtextual story being told. Something’s always being explored or resolved through the song. Emotionally, at least. I included pretty well-known songs so that readers would more easily be able to "hear" the singing in their imaginations, if that makes sense.
Moving forward into the rest of the series, we know there will be a lot of specific character crossover in terms of Archie kids and "glee" kids hanging out. Which matches most excited you once you got to that phase? Which ones surprised you as you wrote?
Blaine and the Pussycats was great fun, like a pop-culture dream come true. But the best -- the absolute most fun thing to write -- was Betty and Puck’s courtship, and Cheryl’s attempts to undermine it. Great stuff for the three of them, as well as for Quinn Fabray. That kind of became a through-line. Ditto Sue Sylvester versus Jughead, who -- of course -- Sue would immediately detest on sight. And boy, does she ever.
Of course, this whole thing couldn't have happened without the cooperation of everyone at "glee." What's the response been from the cast and creators of the show as you've been sharing the issues with them?
The creators -- Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan -- have been incredibly supportive. I’ve vetted stuff by them, the outline and such, and Ian, who voices the "Here’s what you missed on glee" at the beginning of each episode, recorded the narration for our "Archie Meets glee" trailer. Also, whenever I was stuck on something, or needed something punched-up (a Santana line or something), the other "glee" writers were happy to pitch in. As for the cast, they’ve all been really excited, especially Darren Criss (who plays Blaine), who is a huge comic book fan. He says this is his dream come true, to finally be a comic book character.
On another pop culture front entirely, Archie just announced your "Afterlife With Archie" series, which seems to have some of that meta humor you've been working in the "glee" issues built into its title. At the same time, this is very much a horror premise. At this stage in the game, what can you say about how you're balancing the two?
Well, there’s definitely going to be some humor in the book, though I’m not sure I’d describe it as "meta-humor." Tonally, I think we’re going for horror laced with an undercurrent of black comedy. Like the first and second "Evil Dead" movies, or the original "American Werewolf in London." The comedy will hopefully heighten the horror, and vice-versa.
Speaking of that horror ideal, we know the first arc of this series will be called "Escape From Riverdale." That seems to point a finger towards Archie's Everytown U.S.A. as ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. How did you approach opening a premise like this? Will we see how this all started, or is it more a "28 Days Later"/"Walking Dead" setup?
It will definitely not be like "28 Days Later" or "The Walking Dead." We will witness the zombie apocalypse begin with Patient Zero -- in this case, Jughead -- and take over the world. In that sense, it’s much more like how the "superflu" spreads in the Stephen King novel "The Stand."
Overall, I think the big question coming for "Afterlife" is the idea that some if not all the Riverdale gang can die in some pretty gruesome ways as this book goes along. What's your plan for who will be survivors and how?
Very quickly, some of are key cast members are going to be infected and/or eaten. It’s a zombie book, it’s going to happen. At the risk of getting too spoiler-y, all I can say at this point is -- we’re going to find out just how eternal the Betty-Veronica-Archie love-triangle actually is during our second arc, "Betty RIP."
"Archie" #641, the first part of "Archie Meets glee," is on sale now.