Paul Kupperberg on Archie and the Gang in the 21st Century
Get ready for the big wedding! Archie Comics’ Lt. Kevin Keller is marrying his sweetheart, Clay Walker. Longtime comics scribe Paul Kupperberg discusses the nuptials as well as all the new events coming up for Archie and the Gang.
How did you get involved with writing Life with Archie?
I’m coming up on two years now. Issue 16 just came out, and I just finished the scripts for #22. I started writing for Archie Comics about three years ago. I’ve known Victor Gorelick there forever but never really did any work for them. I’d been mostly associated with DC, usually on staff there, so I couldn’t write for other companies. But now I’m freelance, so I got in touch with them and Victor invited me to pitch some stories. I sold them a bunch of straight-up Archie teen stories and at some point along the line, Victor called me up and asked me to come on in to talk to him and Michael Uslan about an upcoming project, which turned out to be Life with Archie [which focuses on the characters as adults]. They asked if I’d be interested in writing the ongoing monthlies and I said yes pretty quickly.
Had you long been a fan of Archie?
Oh, sure. When I was a kid in the mid-’60s, I read and collected just about everything that came out—DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Charlton, and definitely Archie. I always read and liked the characters. Over the years, you always kind of stop and check out what’s going on with them. You know, you want a fix of Stan Goldberg or something like that. It’s always good. It’s always consistently right there, and in the last few years, they’ve been doing a lot of interesting stuff, taking chances and doing different takes on the characters.
Are there challenges related to writing a modern version of something so ingrained in our culture?
Surprisingly few. It’s actually pretty easy, because they are so ingrained in the culture. I was amazed at how well I knew them when I sat down to write them. My very first Archie story was just a typical thing: Archie volunteers to go pick up Mrs. Lodge’s dog from the groomer to take him to the dog show. “Don’t you dare get him dirty, Archie!” So it’s eight pages of him contorting himself not to get the dog dirty. He almost kills himself but gets the job done, delivers the dog, and Archie’s a mess. Along the way, the dog lost its ribbon, and he gets yelled at for losing the ribbon, but meanwhile, he’s kept the dog from falling into tar and everything else. Absolutely dead-on typical Archie story: A dead-on typical Archie story is about a kid who’s so eager to please he’s going to tear himself in two to do what he said he was going to do, because he said he was going to do it. That’s who that kid is. He’s always looking to please somebody. He’s looking to please his parents, his teachers, Betty, Veronica. He’s looking for approval. That’s Archie. Good guy. Well-intended. Tries to do too much. So I just took that trait when he’s grown-up and applied that to grown-up problems. Reggie, who’s really my favorite character of the whole group—you know, when you’re writing a book, writers have special characters that they relate to for whatever reason. Jack Kirby had The Thing; that was his doppelganger in the book. For me, it’s Reggie. He’s just this really solid character. In high school, he was a jokester and kind of a ne’er-do-well, but he was also rich and handsome and a football hero. But then he grew up and found out that his best years were behind him. And he could either turn into the bully from Back to the Future or he could step back and look at his life and say, “Whoa, I can’t rely on this anymore. I can’t count on this to get me through life. I have to change.” So I basically just took what was there with the characters and extrapolated it into adult problems.
I think a lot of people who haven’t picked up an Archie in a while would be surprised at how modern the books are.
Yeah, they are keeping current with the times. They’re very good characters. They’re easy to keep fresh. Another story I wrote, a straight Archie story, just came out in an issue of Betty and Veronica. They have a car accident in a snowstorm, and Betty, who’s usually the competent one, the mother figure who takes care of everyone, has a concussion, so Veronica has to take care of them. The bit is she’s got her servants to do everything for her and now she’s suddenly out in a snowstorm with no one to protect her and she has to take care of her friend. What would Veronica do? Well, Veronica’s a very sensible, straight-thinking businesswoman wannabe, so she approaches it as a business problem: You check your assets, you build on what you have, and gradually she figures it out and they get through the storm and they’re rescued. They’re the type of characters you can really stick in any situation. Part of what’s interesting about writing Life with Archie instead of Vigilante or Checkmate or any of the other long-running things that I’ve done is that the cartoony aspect of Archie allows you a lot of leeway that you don’t have in more real-world series. I can do things, I can write it in such a way that is a more cartoony and more expository way. So it’s this weird blend of my trying to keep it very realistic but also using its cartoony roots to tell the story. I’m trying to keep it familiar to Archie readers. I’m not making it far-out and strange and straight-laced and all that. The characters are still the characters, and they’re funny and they have their moments.
The big story coming up is Kevin Keller’s wedding. Any surprises in store?
Well, it’s afternoon casual. [Laughs] Surprises? No, not really. Dr. Doom’s not going to come and try to break up the wedding. [Laughs] Riverdale is a supportive, inclusive place. Everybody’s happy. There’s no problem with the wedding. We do touch on the reaction to gay marriage in Riverdale in upcoming issues, but the wedding itself is pretty straightforward. We’re using it as the base for the current stories. Our characters are all interacting and coming together and using this occasion to continue the story.
Is there ever any pushback from readers about stories involving Kevin or other gay themes?
Yeah, I guess the idiot lunatic fringe does some bitching and moaning about it. But the reaction that I’ve seen has been positive. It’s been “This is great—thank you! It’s about time! These are the kind of stories we want to see.” And if people can’t deal with it, well, go away, don’t read it. That’s okay. I don’t care what you think. I haven’t had any negative reaction to it, though. Just the opposite.
That’s great. And it’s certainly been a big news event.
Yeah, when the story broke a month or two ago, there was a comment left on some Fox News site, and they didn’t cite me by name, but it was essentially “Whoever would write and draw and publish such a story should get AIDS and die.” And you know…I thought that was great. [Laughs] I have so much power that I can write a simple comic-book story and that can cause you to wish me death! I am mighty. [Laughs]
But in the end, it’s a story about two people obviously in love. We tell the story of how they meet. There’s nothing subversive about any of this story. It’s all out in the open. We’re not trying to plant any messages. We’re just telling you a story about two characters who happen to be gay. Would we have played up the wedding as much as we did if it were a heterosexual wedding? Probably not. This is an event. But we’re not doing it for the event. We’re doing it for the characters. This is what happens in life. And a lot of what happens in the Archie stories—you know, Mr. Lodge’s great Dallas-level schemes notwithstanding—they’re pretty much realistic. I try to treat situations as realistically as possible. When Reggie was on trial, I didn’t do some Perry Mason TV courtroom kind of trial. I actually have a friend who’s a criminal attorney and consulted on what would go on and how does this work and is this realistic testimony and a realistic reaction to it. I wanted to get it right. Because when you have these cartoon characters and you stick them in explosive situations, if you don’t treat them as real and serious, then they kind of lose the emotional impact. You don’t want to know that these guys can walk off a cliff and then get up in the next story.
Have you noticed a resurgence of Archie these past few years?
Yeah! I was on the Archie panel at New York Comic Con last year, and we didn’t have a huge room, but it was standing-room-only, which surprised the hell out of me. And we had a constant flow of knowledgeable and interesting questions from the room. I was impressed by the number of questions and the level of knowledge.
We have a bunch of things planned. We have a lot of interesting things for the characters. We plot these things out six months in advance, but as I’m working on them, I come to these scenes we’ve plotted out and I realize how much fun I’m having.