Archie has been around for decades and while we might know the Riverdale kids for their high school hijinks they’ve also seen unique and interesting takes.
Archie 1941, recently released in trade, is a tale set in Riverdale during World War II. It finds Riverdale dealing with the impact of the impending conflict on the small town and in the personal lives of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie.
We got a chance to talk to writers Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn about the research that went into the series and its honest look at the homefront during that time.
Graphic Policy: Where’d the concept for Archie: 1941 come from? Was that something you pitched to Archie or did they come to you?
Mark Waid: That was cooked up by the home office and was a great idea.
Brian Augustyn: The front office at Archie came up with that, 1941 being the year Archie made his debut in Pep Comics. Great inspiration.
GP: What type of research did you do for it? There seems to be an eye for the design and detail of the time.
MW: Both Brian and I dug in deep. We wanted to get it all right — the language, the homefront shortages, the hints of an isolationist, “keep us out of this” movement — we hit every internet resource we could.
BA: We lived on the internet, of course, and a trip or two to libraries. Movies from the time helped, too. Also, my parents and grandparents lived through that time and I, fortunately, remembered a lot. Alas, they’re gone now, so I hope Diamond ships to the great beyond.
GP: Some of the scenes, especially in the fourth issue are very cinematic. Were there any influences in the war sequences as far as the visuals and pacing?
BA: Pete brought his dedication and talent to capture the period and the combat scenes brilliantly.
GP: The series really stands out in the beginning as it doesn’t have everyone completely on board with the war. You could easily have fallen into a jingoistic trap but you didn’t. Why was it necessary to show this side of history?
MW: Again, accuracy. In today’s era of instant global information, where worldwide news is delivered to us 24/7, we forget that in 1941 most people got their news from the local daily newspaper or occasionally from radio, neither of which was in a position to really, truly convey the drama happening in Europe.
BA: I don’t think either Mark or I are jingoists anyway, but especially when working with history, there’s no need to impose opinions over the true drama. Also, that period and the war presented us with great real-life stories. We found some really awesome true events and personal stories.
GP: Is there anything particular about Archie and his friends that makes it a bit easier to explore history with them?
MW: They’re elastic characters, as proven by the fact that they’ve been around, vital, and a recognized part of pop culture for 80 years. They can adapt to any circumstance, any era.
BA: We all know them so well after all these eras, and because they’re such everypeople they are perfect in any kind of story.
GP: There’s a death of a well-known character in this. How freeing is it for you as writers to be able to do that sort of thing?
MW: Tremendously. The flip side to the characters having been around and vital for 80 years is that it’s dangerous to shake up the status quo too much — you never know what you might accidentally break.
BA: It was driven by the story, and layered the last chapter with tragedy over the layers of joy and relief. It was a fitting turn of events.
GP: Visually for that sequence, and the battles as a whole, you all shied away from blood and gore when you could have easily gone that route. What went in to the thinking about going that way?
BA: We don’t need gore, and anyway, the combat played out to be mostly seen from a distance, with planes buzz bombing the scattering troops.
GP: So many stories surrounding the war focus on the battles themselves. In Archie: 1941 there’s also a focus on the impact at home. Did you have a more war focused take at one point? Why was it important to show the impact on the home front?
BA: Not at all; it was always going to be Riverdale-centric. The war’s effect on the families at home was ultimately our favorite part.
MW: It was always largely — at first, exclusively — about the homefront. Riverdale is as much a “character” in the Archieverse as are the kids. It was Brian who suggested we follow Archie overseas, and it was a good call.
GP: On the home front aspect, you also dive into topics like profiteering and cooperation with Germany and Nazis by some Americans. This is a pretty brutally honest and truthful take on the war you don’t hear in school. Thoughts on that?
BA: Those were realities of the period and added texture to our historical tale.
MW: Again, historical accuracy. That, second only to telling a good story, was of great importance to us. Getting back to what I said earlier, not every average American had a true perspective on what was really happening overseas. Veronica’s father, Mr. Lodge, would certainly have been doing business with the Germans prior to Hitler’s declaration of war — he was wealthy because he was a globalist when many millionaires were nationalists.
GP: It’s interesting to explore history through comics. Is there anything to the medium that benefits those sort of lessons?
BA: Any entertainment that uses history as the spine of the narrative both gains depth and is made palatable to a consumer who might not want a “history lesson.”
MW: It’s a vital storytelling medium. By that, I mean it’s more visceral than simply words on the page of a history book. And unlike a TV documentary, comics allows the reader to take his or her time reading the story, absorbing it at their own pace and being given the luxury to dwell on — and really think about — the parts that move them.
GP: Thanks so much and look forward to seeing what you do with the next decade in Archie 1955!