Today, the second issue of the new ongoing music-themed series The Archies arrives from Archie Comics. In it, the rookie band, consisting of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead, takes to the road with plenty of challenges ahead and fan-pleasing real-world musical guest starts coming up, too.
Co-written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Joe Eisma, colors by Matt Herms, and letters by Jack Morelli, there’s also a neat synergy at work in the book’s creative team, since Segura, Rosenberg, and Eisma have all been in bands, not to mention on tour, and the book springs from lived experience for the elements of realism that will bring a particularly challenging story to the kids from Riverdale as they journey beyond the safe confines of their hometown.
Musical guests coming up will include the bands CHVRCHES and Tegan and Sara, and so far the series has wowed reviewers.
[Variant cover for The Archies #2 by Fiona Staples]
Comicon.com had the unique opportunity to get most of the band together to talk about the series at New York Comic Con last month, including Alex Segura, Matthew Rosenberg, Joe Eisma, and Matt Herms.
I opened by saying that it had occurred to me that there are a lot of stereotypes about how teens in bands act because TV and film often feature those ideas, and some of them are based on truth. I wondered if they worried at all about falling into tropes or stereotypes writing about a bunch of teens forming a band and trying to break into the music scene.
Segura explained that they all tried to incorporate their own experiences of playing in bands since he, Rosenberg, and Eisma had all been in bands and on tour. It was the “truest way to tell the story”, he felt. Rosenberg added that they were aware of all the “media” about bands and he feels they “miss some of the grit and the nuts and bolts of being in a band”, and that those things are “fun and interesting”, even though they are often glossed over.
Seeing The Archies in that world is just “logical”. Things that are basic to the experience are trying to find hotels and food in unknown towns, making sure you have and agree on playlists, and the like. Segura said that there’s also a “high” after your first live show that quickly “crashes” into the question, “What do we do now?”.
Eisma commented that there’s a “lot of lightness” in The Archies, too, so the darker stuff that happens when a band starts to tour, like getting stiffed on payment, is something they try not to render as too heavy or too upsetting in the comic. They aren’t trying to “sugar-coat” the experience, but are just looking on the lighter side.
I said that I found reading The Archies One-Shot interesting, when The Archies went to play at a gig outside of Riverdale, and suddenly the art and the colors changed a bit. You suddenly weren’t in Kansas anymore, and there was a big world out there.
Segura enthused that part of the process has been very “cool”, taking The Archies out of Riverdale and seeing what happens. They’ve also had fun “mining” Archie Comics history in its ties to music. “You’ll see a character in issue #2 who hasn’t been seen in the new Archie world”, Segura teased.
Eisma said that Matt Herms does a fantastic job establishing a “shift in color palette” between the band on-stage and their lives off-stage to establish those two modes of storytelling. I agreed that the colors help differentiate between the more familiar Riverdale world of Archie traditions and the sense that they are moving into new, unknown territory, too.
I asked Herms, who had joined us, whether he did the color work on the One-Shot also, and he said that he had. Herms said he was the “odd man out” since he hadn’t been in a band, and sometimes had to google search all the band-name t-shirts that pop up in the comic.
I brought up the fact that in The Archies One-Shot, the story partly revolves around the realization among the band members that they actually don’t get along with each other in this new dynamic of being a band, however much they might have gotten along as friends before. But that’s resolved, to some extent in the One-Shot. But those problems don’t totally go away, as we know from real life experience, and from decades of Archie Comics. I asked how that would affect the coming storyline.
Rosenberg explained that what they like about this series is that “a lot of peoples’ favorite characters from Riverdale are taken out of Riverdale and smashed really closely together”. Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie are in new environments, so everything gets “heightened and exaggerated” and old problems that have been “brewing” come up. Like the facts that, “Reggie is a jerk. Jughead does do his own thing”. The things you love about your friends, Rosenberg said, “After being stuck in a van for 30 days, you hate about them”.
I noted that this all really contrasts with the ways in which characters Josie and the Pussycats approach the music scene. They know what they are doing. They are not troubled, it seems, by these issues. Their problems are other bands and other people, not themselves.
“They are further down that road”, Segura agreed regarding The Pussycats, “The Archies are a garage band. They are just starting out”. Segura said that when Joe Eisma came on this book, he had just come off the main Archie title written by Mark Waid, so he brought along with him “all that history” between the characters, where Archie had actually been dating Veronica.
I asked Eisma what he’s encountering on this series that’s “new and challenging” to him as an artist. Though styles will be similar, this is a whole different kettle of fish as a story. Eisma said the biggest challenge, as a former band member, is to “project that in a comic and do it right”. He’s noticed that people drawing bands in comics rarely “draw guitars right” and he wants to make sure that things are correct on a basic level while being “interesting”.
Every issue has performances, and you don’t want to keep repeating the same shots and angles each time, like “from the crowd” or “from the stage”, Eisma explained. It’s a challenge since he’s never done this before.
There are bound to be a lot of crowd scenes, too, I agreed, and finding ways to render that differently must be a big task. Eisma concurred. It must also be an issue, visually, to be working with a band, and trying to decide how to depict this group of kids interacting without having every band member visible in every single panel, which would get really crowded.
“You want to know they are there”, Eisma said, “but you don’t necessarily need every member in every panel. You can establish in a previous shot who is on stage”, for instance, Eisma said.
Segura explained there’s also a challenge in having an “over-arching” plot of The Archies as a band developing and interacting, then the issue by issue plot of different bands appearing. For instance, coming up, introducing CHVRCHES in the same issue where Betty is deciding that she wants to be more involved in the song writing process.
I asked how Segura and Rosenberg write for real fans of the real bands that will be appearing in the comic as guests, and make sure that they are going to be excited about the final product. Segura said that you definitely “show the bands what you’re writing” and make sure they are ok with it. I asked if this is a difficult process at all. Segura said that the bands get so “stoked” about these comic appearances that they are generally very easy to work with and are “into it”.
Eisma said that especially once the bands see the art, they get very excited, realizing this is all really happening. I commented that creating “likenesses” of these real band members must be a fairly big thing to get right in order to make them happy. Eisma said it’s a “challenge”, and many artists “cower” at the thought of doing likenesses. What he tends to “fall back on” is starting with a “caricature style” where you find aspects of a person’s face and “exaggerate” it. In this case, you follow that process loosely. He feels that if he can “ballpark” their appearances and the bands “recognize themselves”, then it usually goes ok.
I asked Matt Herms whether the unusual nature of this book, working with a lot of music venues and gigs, meant that he’s presenting a lot less “natural lighting” and he therefore had to explore more options in artificial lighting. Herms said, “Definitely”. In his coloring, he wants to present the “normal” scenes in more naturalistic lighting, but in any kind of “band-scene”, to totally “blow it up” with different “special effects” including “strobe lighting”. He comes from working on comics that have “big explosions” and energy, so these music scenes are his chance to that for The Archies.
I commented that it was interesting how layered the entertainment experience must be for readers approaching a comic about musical performances. Firstly, they are reading the comic for entertainment, then the narrative shifts and the creators have to establish a boundary crossing into a different kind of entertainment for them, and Herms and Eisma have to create that secondary experience, too, within the comic.
I finished up by introducing the idea that it’s actually very different to render music in comics, with plenty of debate about how elements of songs work in different stories, since we can’t “hear” them. For instance, the many songs that pop up in Watchmen. I asked if the creative team on The Archies felt this to be a difficulty, and if so, how they addressed it.
Eisma said in dealing with a “two dimensional medium representing a three dimensional world”, you’re facing challenges anyway, so this is no surprise. He goes back to the idea of caricature again, starting with exaggerated movements, and exaggerated expressions to try to give the performances movement. He needs to suggest that these characters think and feel themselves to be “rock stars”, and that will go a long way, Eisma said.
Segura agreed that it’s about “capturing feeling” which goes well beyond the writing, which may just say, “Show them jamming”. At this point, the artist and the colorist need to “cut loose” in order to bring about the mood and feeling necessary, Segura explained. Also, using lettering will come into it. Jack Morelli, who works on The Archies, uses lettering to capture lyrics, emphasize vocals, and give the reader “the sense of music”.
It is, however, true, I pointed out, that Archie Comics has a long history of attempting to present musical performances in the comics medium, so it’s not that surprising that The Archies is doing that, too.
Huge thanks to Archie Comics for setting up an interview with so many team-members at once and for Alex Segura, Matthew Rosenberg, Joe Eisma, and Matt Herms for their time and enthusiasm during this discussion.
The Archies #1 is currently available. The Archies #2 lands in comic shops today, Wednesday, November 8th, and is highly recommended.