As the president of Archie Comics, Mike Pellerito oversees a line with decades of history, nostalgia, and all-American prominence. It’s also a line that has recently seen updates that bring it firmly into the 21st century, from the marriage of Archie to the introduction of a gay character. We caught up with Mike to discuss what he sees going on in the industry and how Archie Comics can be a part of it.
What was your first interaction with Archie Comics?
Loved comics of all kinds as a kid. Archie Comics were part of that. The first person I ever met in comics was Dan DeCarlo, one of the best Archie artists ever. He was nice enough to take me to his studio and talk about how he did things. I was pretty much hooked wanting to work in art after that.
What is your professional background and how did you come to Archie?
After graduating from the Joe Kubert School, one of my teachers, Archie artist Fernando Ruiz, mentioned there was a staff position. I was doing graphic design and was happy and had given up on comics. The timing and opportunity was right and now, a decade later, I’m happy to be at Archie.
What is the role of Archie Comics in the 21st century? How have they made the transition from their old-school roots to meeting the needs of today’s readers?
It’s so cool to deal with this property and the other brands in the Archie Comics library. It’s very unique and all our fans that love us are really possessive of the characters. Archie always seems old-school to those who put the books down at a certain age, but every new story tries to keep ahead of the trends. Everything is cyclical. So skinny jeans or bellbottoms float in and out of the Archie characters’ closets every few years. But where people really notice is when we hold a mirror up to pop culture, like Twilight or Jersey Shore parodies. We did it with Elvis, Madonna, Gilligan’s Island, Survivor—Archie is always there with what is next.
What is the primary audience like for Archie Comics? What do they expect from your books, and how do you meet those demands?
We have taken on a new attitude and work to make every Archie a must-read for kids and a guilty pleasure for adults. And it has really worked, not just internally, but with readers. We took the super successful Archie Marriage storyline and continued it in the new Life with Archie magazine with two new stories, one with Archie’s life married to Betty and one with his life married to Veronica, plus some editorial with Hollywood features. The magazine appeals to a wide audience. The Archie brand and Hollywood component connect with kids and the story pulls the older reader, who want to see the future worlds of Archie. It’s been our most well reviewed project, maybe ever. We are compiling those two future worlds together in two separate graphic novel collections, Archie Loves Betty and Archie Loves Veronica and based on the response, it is being approached so as to include older readers and not just focus on kids.
A gay character has recently been introduced to the series. What has the reaction been, and what has the character brought to the stories?
Overwhelmingly positive! The first issue with Kevin Keller sold out and we had to issue a reprint. Our subscriptions on Veronica #202, the first issue with Kevin, went up almost a thousand percent and people showed even more support by subscribing to the entire line. There was some negative backlash and concern, but not much. Less than a dozen subscribers canceled and a handful of people called in with concerns. Although once the issue with Kevin did go out and people read it, the story was handled with all the warmth and fun of an Archie comic. The kids of Archie Comics are a bunch of cool kids; Kevin is another new cool kid who is now part of the group. Archie Comics are for everyone and all are welcomed.
What are the challenges you face with an iconic brand such as this?
Archie might be one of the most challenging brands to deal with, but with that there is enormous need for creativity, which causes great opportunities. Other brands that have been around nearly 70 years sort of close off into their own worlds of fantasy or stay locked in a certain time period that is not current. Archie must have been Madonna’s inspiration, since we are always reinventing ourselves.
What would surprise people most—meaning people who haven’t seen them in a while—about the Archie Comics that are being published today?
You know cell phones; smart phones seem to be the biggest surprise. It’s an immediate visual marker that this is new and now. Adults who have grown away and come back are always surprised it’s not as they left it. We are not parodying the New Kids on the Block; now it’s Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Lady GaGa, or something else
What are the most popular Archie titles currently being published?
Everyone has their favorites, but the books with the biggest distribution are our six Double Digests: Archie Double Digest, Archie & Friends Double Digest, World of Archie Double Digest, Betty & Veronica Double Digest, B&V Friends Double Digest, and Jughead Double Digest. Also our new magazine Life with Archie looks like an amazing success. The comics Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe do great and Archie and now Veronica have really taken off. And our digital sales have been incredible, which surprised me to see helps to push our print comics.
How much of a presence do Archie Comics have in schools today?
We have a terrific group of teachers and librarians who support Archie. We are now getting more proactive about schools. Once our book distribution went to Random House, a lot of opportunities opened up. We also launched Comic Book Fairs (comicbookfairs.com) to help get connected to schools directly.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for you and the company at this point?
We need longer days! Literally, just seconds ago, one of our writers was spitting out ideas and they were all great. It’s an amazing blessing to have a property like Archie that can do anything.
Are there any trends you are noticing in the industry that you see Archie Comics meeting?
We are doing what we do better than we have in years at Archie. We are making stories for a wide audience that is fun and timely with everyone’s favorite characters. More importantly, Archie Comics are going everywhere from being among the first in digital (and having the most downloaded comic of all time, Archie Freshman Year) to Double Digests at checkouts and a great push into the book market with Random House, Diamond still doing it for us in comic shops, and our first magazine ever, Life with Archie, breaking new grounds everywhere.
When it comes to Betty and Veronica, do you have a favorite?
Ah, the question that will live forever! My opinion shifts year to year, so it’s best to follow Archie’s lead and take the Fifth!
What are some important upcoming projects you have coming out?
The two new graphic novels Archie Loves Betty and Archie Loves Veronica are coming out in March 2011 exploring the two futures of our characters and really all the characters’ lives. Those are probably the two biggest releases coming right up. Archie #617 and 618 featuring President Obama and Sarah Palin invading Riverdale are huge and hugely funny! Life with Archie will be dealing with some major issues and helping relaunch a new version of one of thousands of characters, Jinx, written by J. Torres with art by Rick Burchett and Terry Austin.
But the most important Archie project is a four-issue series starring Kevin Keller written and drawn by Dan Parent. Kevin, since first showing up in Riverdale, has gotten so much attention and we need to let the fans get to know him. Kevin joining the Archie gang might be the most important new character since the Fab Five of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie.