Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dear Jon and Nancy, It's Been A While

Today's letter is prompted by this New York Times article, which contained some very good news, and some very worrisome news.

For those with an interest, the previous open letters I've written to Jon and Nancy tend to discuss a lot of the same topics.

Dear Jon and Nancy, an Open Letter the the Co-Ceo's of Archie Comics
Dear Jon and Nancy Part 2
Dear Jon,

Dear Jon and Nancy,

It's been a while. I know you've been busy, 2010 is proving to be a watershed year for Archie Comics, and a huge congratulations goes to you both for bringing Archie and Co. into the 21st century. The amount of press you've managed to get this year is extraordinary, and some of your decisions have been excellent.

Making it OK to be gay in Riverdale? Awesome. Parodies of (very) current shows and movies? Right on. The "Life With Archie" magazine that shows us two possible futures for Mr. A? Looks good, but I'm worried after the NYT article.

Before we dive into things, let's congratulate the New York Times for finally catching on to some of the things we've been discussing here for quite a while. The article gives props for Archie being well ahead of Marvel and DC in the digital realm (which was examined in Dear Jon and Nancy Part 2 from March), makes a big deal out of Archie's strategy to invade traditional newspaper racks (something I've been harping about ad nauseum for almost a year) and discusses the brilliance of publishing a magazine-format comic, a move that opens plenty of new doors for distribution (which, again, was dissected here 6 months ago).

It was also incredibly good to see you, Nancy, featured in the article. I've noted your absence quite a few times, and have spent many a night worrying that your educational initiatives are being neglected in the pursuit of press and Hollywood money. Thankfully, these fears are for naught. The Comic Book Fair initiative is not only an excellent literacy program, but is also giving schools a new fund raising option beyond chocolates, oranges and all the other crap I had to hawk as an innocent band geek in the early 1990's. And when I say band geek, I mean geek. Before geek was cool, in any way. And now that geek is cool, I'm more of a dweeb, once again missing the boat. Sigh.

And Nancy, you coyly mention an Archie musical. Talk to me, I'm begging you. I've spent four years working with the most brilliant theatre director in Canada (James Fagan Tait) and one of the greatest theatre composers you'll ever hear (Joelysa Pankanea). Plus, I have an amazing idea for an Archie musical that is A) Accessible to anyone, regardless of their Archie knowledge, B) Pays tribute to the long and colourful history of Archie, C) Brings Archie into the 21st century, just like Archie Comics has been doing and D) would be incredibly easy to tour, and wouldn't rely on finding actors who resemble the Riverdale clan. Seriously, we should talk.

So what the hell am I worried about? Almost a year ago I made a joke about "very special" issues and episodes (by recalling the "Family Ties" episode that featured Alex struggling with the death of his incredibly close, but never before seen, friend Greg) and hoped that Archie wouldn't stoop to the point of having a character die (see this post from last Oct). And now, you're bringing death to the world of Archie.

Why? Yes, I know it's going to mean yet another media firestorm, which will result in better sales for the issue. Gotcha. I just really can't help but feel that you're making a big mistake here.

Archie Comics are meant for children. You both acknowledge this all over the NYT article. Michael Uslan makes the same point when he talks about making it easier for parents to buy Archie comics for their children. Does the last bastion of childhood innocence really need to denigrated like this?

And yes, I'm an obsessive fanboy. I admit it.

My fears have nothing to do with "continuity", nor are they based in the need for things to stay the same. I welcome Kevin with open arms (well, I worry about him stealing panel time from Adam Chisholm, as evidenced in my 5 Questions With Dan Parent), I support the "possible future" story-lines of "Life With Archie" and went ga-ga over the Archie and Valerie romance.

So why my concern?

Most people don't follow the Archie world like I do, and most parents don't differentiate between the regular Archie comics and the "possible futures" of your new venture. When the story hits mainstream media, and it will, that a major character will shuffle off this mortal coil it will change a lot of people's perceptions of what Archie is all about. And not for the better.

Will Dad be as willing to buy Junior an Archie comic after he sees on CNN that the Reaper is now a Riverdale resident? I'm not convinced.

Jon and Nancy, I sincerely worry that you're on the brink of violating one of the principles that has shaped Archie for 70 years.

Things go wrong in Riverdale, people learn lessons and bad deeds are often punished. These are all good things. By killing off a major character Archie comics will lose a large part of the innocence that has made your books safe childhood reading since my Dad was a kid.

Archie and the gang have long represented an idealized version of what life could be for the average teen in America. Even now, Archie serves as a glimpse into a better, more polite world. Our modern age has become crass, insensitive and boorish. We love to watch other's misery, as long as it's labelled "reality TV". We love to follow the personal destruction of celebrities and politicians, revelling in the downfall of those we once put on a pedestal.

Through all this Archie has remained true to a higher set of values. I honestly hoped that Archie would not bend, even against the weight of an ugly world determined to take everything beautiful and pure and turn it dark and menacing.

But it seems the dream is over. I know, the death is taking place in an "adult" Archie comic, but that justification is pretty thin. The cover of "Life With Archie" is aimed directly at young people (arguably young girls), so spare me the reasoning that readers should expect a more mature story since Archie is all growed up.

I know you're trying to make Archie more relevant, but this is not the way. Yes, the argument could be that death is something today's young people and teens are exposed to every day, so why not address it? This is also a weak justification. Archie was first a popular character during World War 2, he was surfing and chasing the ladies through the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There have been many times in the last 70 years where death and dying were something young people were faced with every day, but Riverdale remained an oasis from this.

We don't need to make children grow up faster by introducing them to themes that will haunt their adult lives. There are enough things out there that bring these themes home.

Jon, I've been worried for a while that your relentless pursuit of Hollywood money would lead to a cheapening of the core values of Archie. It breaks my heart that this seems to be happening already.

I beg you both, don't take the easy road. There is time to stop. You have insanely talented people (Michael Uslan, Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Victor Gorelik) doing amazing work for you, cheap stunts are not necessary.

Cream rises to the top, my friends. It just takes time. You've put in so much amazing work, and the results are palpable. Beware the path you're heading down.

If there's one message Archie has been delivering for 70 years it's this:

The world doesn't have to be dark.

Don't abandon this message, it's the heart of Archie.

With great respect and admiration,


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