Archie’s expanding its reboot with the help of…Kickstarter?

Archie announced today that it plans to expand upon its upcoming reboot of “Archie” with new titles for “Jughead” and “Betty and Veronica” set in the same universe. There’ll also be a new book starring Kevin Keller, “Life With Kevin,” that’s set in his early 20s and on his own in a new city. “Life With Kevin” will be written/drawn by Dan Parent; “Jughead” will be written by Chip Zdarsky (of “Sex Criminals” fame), artist unknown; and “Betty and Veronica” written/drawn by Adam Hughes.

A sample of the artwork for Kevin’s new series is below:

Life With Kevin
Art by Dan Parent.

Instead of merely announcing these as normal new comics (and why I’m not writing about this in the monthly solicits), Archie’s taking an unusual tactic. It’s announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds ($350,000 to be exact) to pay for the new books. Archie plans to offer various tiers of benefits (as per a typical Kickstarter campaign), mostly digital comics, etc. Details are available at its Kickstarter page.

Since the news broke this morning, online reaction’s been mixed, and heavy with questions, which Archie’s management has been fielding on Twitter and website Bleeding Cool:

  • The Outhousers has a typically sarcastic response.
  • Laura Harcourt of Women Write About Comics is fairly positive about the plan.
  • A few on Twitter have wondered about whether Archie plans to hire any women writers for “Betty and Veronica.”
  • Bleeding Cool notes plans by Archie to also expand sales of their books at Target and Wal-Mart, which has made some ask why the need for a Kickstarter campaign (and irritated a few comic shops).

As for myself, while it’s an interesting marketing strategy, it raises some questions and concerns of my own:

  • How’s Archie doing financially? A lot of the reaction is because a long-standing company like Archie asking for money on Kickstarter gives the impression Archie’s doing poorly (despite its recent changes). If they’re truly in big trouble, a Kickstarter campaign would be more widely welcomed.
  • A few remarks from Archie execs like Alex Segura and Jon Goldwater noted they’re “not Marvel or DC,” and seem to be taking a “little guy” approach. While it’s true Archie’s independently owned and a smaller publisher, Archie also isn’t quite the same as creator-owned venues (Image, etc.), webcomic creators, etc. Historically, the company’s been run similarly to Marvel or DC: a heavy reliance on freelancers; lackluster creator rights; a Marvel/DC-style tight ownership/control over their characters; being involved with lawsuits; and so forth. They’re also a decades-old company—Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead date back to World War II, and pre-date the creation of most of DC/Marvel’s characters save the very earliest ones. It’s hard to view them as quite the same as the average Kickstarter comic campaign by by creator-owned individuals or companies. If the Kickstarter fails, we’ll surely still see plenty of Archie and company in the future, plus we still have the 70+ years of comics, TV shows, etc. to draw from; the same can’t be said for indie Kickstarter creators. If anything, the Riverdale gang, like DC/Marvel’s Golden Age characters, should’ve entered public domain by now, under fairer copyright laws.
  • While some compare this to pre-ordering, this still comes off feeling a bit unusual. As Geek.com put it: “It just feels weird because publishing a comic book is still publishing, and publishing is still a business. If Starbucks asked us for thousands of dollars to burn more coffee beans per day, then sold that coffee back to us, we’d laugh them right out of business.” If Archie wants to publish more books, shouldn’t it just do that on its own? Publicity-wise, having hot names like Zdarsky and Waid on board should be enough of an attention-grabber.
  • I wonder if this just points out how flawed and outdated the traditional comic publishing model is nowadays: a 22-page paper comic that’s out once a month that costs $4 (or even $5), that doesn’t contain a complete story. When even a hit book like “Batman” only typically sells 100,000 or so copies a month (the size of a mid-sized US city like South Bend, Indiana, out of a population of 300 million+ Americans), is it time to consider a different approach instead of going through this much trouble for more of the same? Archie already deviates from most US publishers with its digests, so it’s not like a different publishing approach would be foreign territory.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens from all of this, or if it’ll change the nature of Kickstarter-funded projects. I do look forward to seeing what Kevin Keller’s new series will be like.

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