Dark Arches.

Archie Comics, in the past nearly consistent in presenting its leading brands as wholesome fare featuring small-town America, has branched out into horror with titles such as Afterlife with Archie and the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Heading in a different direction with the Dark Circle imprint, the company has also thrown itself headlong into the realm of the superhero and the world of pulp comics.

While Sabrina’s move from a humor title to one of horror is simply a twisted look at a theme already embedded in the character’s history—the supernatural—Afterlife with Archie stripped away the main premise of Archie—a suburban coming of age story (though one admittedly frozen in the penultimate stage)—to focus on zombies. While the title is a critical and commercial success, what if Archie Comics took a dark look at what Archie is actually about—small-town American life?

My suggestion? Black Betty, a title that takes the premise in Archie and presents a warped reflection of it. Riverdale has always been the idealized suburbia we dream about—close-knit, supportive, tolerant, wholesome, and diverse. Springvale would be the small town at its worst, a thin veneer of respectability cloaking corruption and intolerance—tawdry secrets kept behind closed doors. While character names and basic attributes should be kept the same, the art should be severely different from the traditional friendly and open DeCarlo style. It should serve as a clear indication that what is being presented is a Riverdale that is not quite right. Perhaps a style reminiscent of one of the newspaper masters such as Jorge Longarón would be ideal—a style that conjures up nostalgia for the soapy strips of yesteryear.

Black Betty is not my only suggestion! Just as Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats serve as a steadfast trinity for the publisher, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Black Betty, and Pussycats! could act temporarily as its dark triad. While Black Betty examines small-town secrets, Pussycats! could illustrate how the scandalous world of celebrity can quickly poison one seeking stardom. Dreamgirls meets Less Than Zero.

Each series should be capped at 6 to 12 issues—long enough to create a splash, tell an interesting story, and be bound into 1 or 2 trades, but short enough to avoid interfering with the main brand. I think it would be a great way for Archie Comics to shake off the shackles of its kids’ publisher status and show that it is willing to try new things.

Golden Archie.

I’ve been impressed with Archie Comics as of late. While I’ve always been fond of the Riverdale gang (except Veronica), the company itself has made a serious effort to embrace diversity and redefine what we think of as suburban small-town America. It’s the America we’ve always wanted and pretended we’ve always had—the one that embraces everyone and accepts and delights in all colors and creeds.

Sounds very “after-school special,” no? It is, but the company can safely revel in its hokey elements while dragging its less tolerant readers towards enlightenment—while four-color competitors such as Marvel and DC must tiptoe around its reactionary clientele lest the delicate white eggs they have placed all in one basket tumble to the floor of the direct market.

Archie, however, has been weaving baskets for eggs of all hues on Tumblr. (As an aside, its Tumblr account is hilarious.) Reveling in camp is a nice way to lure former adult readers back into the fold. While those adults will likely continue to view Archie Comics as a company that produces kids’ material, they will buy tie-in merchandise for themselves or perhaps purchase material for their children. Still, while Archie Comics has been making strides, I’d like to see more from the company.

Multi-Media Outreach: A new incarnation of The Sims video game, wildly popular with women and young girls, is just around the corner. Partnering with EA to provide a special DLC pack of the Riverdale gang (and neighborhood) would be a brilliant move. I’d also like to see Red Circle characters move past comics towards the small screen. A kids’ cartoon show featuring The Fox would blend the best of DC’s slick animated output and the charming humor of Marvel’s cartoon past. And, of course, there would be a host of toys to sell. Speaking of toys and cartoons, the time is very ripe for a new era of Josie and the Pussycats. Getting Josie’s crew to the small screen as Jem gears up for the big screen would give the illusion (and hopefully spark the reality) of a rebirth in material geared towards young girls. Just make sure women are involved in the creative process! Oh, and make Alexandra and Alexander Asian! Surely, we are past having solely one member of a minority group in the mix.

New Genres and Imprints: I love that Archie Comics was daring enough to delve into horror with Afterlife with Archie. I hope that they continue to test new waters by launching a small line (three books maximum) of romantic graphic novels for women. Alitha Martinez has worked with Archie Comics in the past. Looking at her work on her original characters, she would likely fit in well given such a project. I’d also love to see Yasmin Liang and Natalie Nourigat tapped too.

Celebrity Creators: Once I heard Lena Dunham would be writing a four-part Archie series, I immediately stated that the company should seek out Nicki Minaj for a Josie issue. The goal is to acquire work from controversial men and women who are a great deal smarter than the public believes them to be—resulting in good stories and an immense amount of publicity.

A “Face”: In the same way Stephenson has become synonymous with Image, Berger (and now Bond) represents Vertigo, and Didio is DC, Archie needs a couple of “charmers” out front and center to woo the media. Like the company itself, they should be seen as quirky, cheerful, and sincere.