By Robert J. Sodaro
In 2009 Archie "grew up" and married both Betty and Veronica, then in 2012 those imaginary stories morphed into an ongoing comic magazine Life with Archie: The Married Life, written by Paul Kupperberg. Now, in June of 2014, Kupperberg has been tasked with chronicling yet another milestone in Archie's life. Kupperberg gets to kill Archie. We recently spoke at length with Kupperburg about this and his feelings on the matter — that conversation follows:
Robert J. Sodaro: Let's start off with an easy question. Why did you kill Archie?
Paul Kupperberg: When it was decided that the Life With Archie title, which features dual ongoing story lines, one showing what could happen in the near future if Archie was married to Betty, the other if he married Veronica, had reached the end of its run, we all sat down to decide exactly how it we were going to wrap up the series. We — "we" being Archie publisher Jon Goldwater and co-presidents and editors Victor Gorelick and Mike Pellerito — starting throwing out ideas and one of us said, almost as a joke, "Well, we could kill Archie," and moved on to other ideas. But about 10 minutes later, Jon said, "You know…we could kill Archie! It's something that's never been done." Of course, plenty of superhero characters have died — and been resurrected — over the years, but no one had ever done that with a character like Archie. And, unlike the dead superheroes, this death could actually be permanent since it was set in a What-If future/alternate universe. The more we discussed it, the better it sounded, especially as all the things we'd been setting up in the book actually worked towards that as our finale.
RJS: How does it feel that you've killed everyone's favorite teenager?
PK: It wasn't easy. I mean, the mechanics of it weren't that complicated, but there was definitely an emotional impact on me as I was writing the story and the big moment. That's happened to me a number of times writing Life With Archie…like when I wrote the death of Miss Grundy in LWA #6, I got choked up and actually had to walk away from the computer for a bit to compose myself. In LWA, Archie and the rest of the characters have, with a few exceptions, been very much grounded in reality; if it couldn't happen to someone in the real world, it didn't make it into the storyline. Like a lot of kids, I grew up reading Archie comics — in my case since the early 1960s, so I'm very attached to the characters, all the more so after spending 40 pages a month for over three years writing about their trials and tribulations.
RJS: I get that the whole The Married Life with Archie was an alternate universe Archie, and that Archie is still alive and well in his regular comics. What was the reasoning for launching The Married Life?
PK: The Married Life story line that ran in Archie #600-605 by Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg was very popular, sold very well, and Archie Comics knows a good thing when they see it. Besides, those six issues barely scratched the surface of their lives as grown-ups, so there were a lot of gaps waiting to be filled in.
RJS: What was the reason for ending it?
PK: It was just time. Archie's been taking off in a lot of new and interesting directions lately so it was a matter of clearing the decks for what's coming next.
RJS: How did you land the assignment to write it?
PK: They asked me! I had been writing teenage Archie humor stories for them for a few months, and one day I got a phone call from Victor asking if I'd be interested in taking on the book. Michael Uslan was going to write the first issue, but his day job as a Hollywood producer didn't leave him the time to write what's essentially two ongoing monthly comics. I guess I'd demonstrated my understanding of the characters in my humor stories — I always played the humor off of their individual character traits rather than relying strictly on funny situations — plus I had a lot of experience writing long form, ongoing story lines. I never asked why they picked me…I was always afraid I'd find out I just happened to be the first guy who answered his phone when they called.
RJS: Now that it is over, what's next for Archie? For you?
PK: Archie marches on, eternally wavering between Betty and Veronica and sipping sodas at the Chocklit Shoppe. I also march on, writing my stories for comics and other medium.
RJS: Will you be writing any more comics for Archie?
PK: Sure. I just wrote a couple of Christmas-themed teen Archie stories and hope to keep writing for them for years to come.
RJS: Which do you like writing better superheroes or "real life" comics like Archie?
PK: They've each got their advantages, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the challenges of writing real life stories. Superhero comics are still lots of fun, but they're too easy. In a superhero story, something terrible happens to someone and, two months later, they're back, alive again or healed, and it's explained away by some hocus pocus: "I was taken to the planet Fonebone and healed by the Whoziz Ray!" There's no consequences to the characters in a superhero story. There's always a gimmick that's pulled from the writer's sleeve to save the day, without leaving any lasting emotional or physical scars on the character…it's all about the illusion of change and progress without ever having to really change them. On the other hand, superheroes give the writer the chance to go nuts. Blow up planets, destroy universes, beat each other up with mountains, whatever. The trick's becoming for me to find the balance between the real life feel and the hyperactivity of superhero story tropes.
RJS: To get back to Archie, could you explain the appeal of Archie, why it has lasted all these years?
PK: I think it's because Archie was and remains relatable to its readers. For all the exaggerated humor and character traits, we all know kids like Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, and the rest, and the creators have always kept things contemporary without being trendy. Fads in dress, music, and language, for instance, come and go pretty quickly, especially these days, but you never get the sense in an Archie story that they're set in a specific moment but you can always tell what era they belong to. And still, you can read a 10-, 20-, 30-year old Archie story and still enjoy it without getting distracted by details like clothing or hair styles.
RJS: Even though Archie has a history of Little Archie, Superhero Archie, and Imaginary Stories, do you feel that the Married Life and Zombie Archie dilute the Archie brand?
PK: Not at all. I think all these permutations actually demonstrate the versatility and timelessness of the brand.
RJS: Do you think that there is any type of genre you can't do with Archie?
PK: No. As long as the characters remain true to who they are, they'll work in any genre, as I think Archie Comics has proved time and again.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing comicbooks for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications from Amazing Heroes to Wizard, as well as on the web including Examiner.com. He is also the author of a number of books as well as the editor for Red Anvil Comics, where he also writes a pair of comics (Owlgirls and Cyberine Corps).