It may just be the rabid comic book fan in me talking but I firmly believe comic books are America’s version of mythology. That, and anything involving the Wild West. Comics are a medium that allow us to tell important stories about our national mindset while wrapping them in high-concept fantasy, whether it be through a superhero like Superman or a group of teenagers like Archie and his gang.
Today, we interview someone firmly implanted within the comic book industry. Alex Segura is the Executive Director of Publicity and Marketing at Archie Comics, presiding over such classic American characters as Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and, of course, Archie. If you look at his resume, things get even crazier. Before joining Archie Comics, Alex was the Publicity Manager over at D.C. Comics. And on top of all that, Alex is the writer of a new and amazing sounding miniseries titled…are you ready for this?…ARCHIE MEETS KISS, which hits comic book store shelves on November 30th. Yeah, Betty and Veronica meet Gene Simmons. Nice.
You can find Alex on Twitter at @alex_segura.
HT: At Archie Comics you are the keepers of Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and, of course, Archie. How do you keep these decades-old characters and storylines relevant?
Alex: Well, we’re really lucky at Archie to have a stable of really talented creators. Guys like Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Paul Kupperberg, Rex Lindsay – these guys are pros and make every effort to keep in touch with what’s going on in the world today. Also, while teenagers are dealing with a lot of new and different issues, a lot hasn’t changed. Kids still worry about homework, have issues with their parents, wonder if the girl/guy they like feel the same way and so on. So, as long as the stories resonate with kids and entertain, we’ve done our job.
HT: Follow-up question: Have there ever been discussions about making drastic changes to the characters over the years? Any writers and artists ever offer suggestions about putting the characters in space and giving them a sassy robot dog?
Alex: A sassy robot dog sounds pretty cool!
I can only speak to my time here, and that hasn’t really come up. These characters are pretty flexible, so aren’t in need of a continuity revamp or reboot like some other companies. We strive to make their stories and adventures relevant to the current teen reader, but it’s also about comedy. It’s less about what Archie did in issue #236 six years ago and how that ties into the current issue. It’s more about executing the joke, presenting it in a fun, safe and enjoyable setting and letting these classic characters do their thing.
It’s funny, and I’ve told this story to some friends – but when I moved from DC to Archie, a lot of people asked “Why would you do that? Everyone knows Batman!” Which is true, but my response was “Well, everyone knows Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead, too.” And really, you could make a case that MORE people know them. So, with that knowledge base, you want to keep the stories interesting and fresh, but also recognizable. If we totally altered Archie or any of the gang, they wouldn’t be those characters anymore.
HT: The properties have thrived in print for years. How have they made the transition in to the digital age?
Alex: Archie’s been the industry leader in digital. We were the first company to have our own, standalone app (which has been downloaded over 3 million times) and were the first company to go day-and-date with our titles – which basically means that our titles come out digitally the same day they’re on stands. Additionally, we have a really robust social media presence and are available on the iPod, iPad, Nook, Android, Windows 7 phone and more.
It’s really about making these titles available to as many people as possible. Not everyone has a comic shop down the street, but a lot of people know about Archie and want to read about his adventures. This is our way of making sure we give fans every opportunity to read our books.
HT: Speaking of the digital age, the internet and its legion of content creators have taken the idea of comics and comic strips and expanded upon them in a huge way. What do you think of today’s biggest web comics, like Penny Arcade, Dr. McNinja, Dinosaur Comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and the like?
Alex: There are a ton of great webcomics out there. I love Destructor, by Sean T. Collins and Mat Weigle. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart. Big fan of Achewood, Dinosaur Comics, Cats vs. Human, Nedroid and a ton more. The instant gratification a webcomic provides is hard to top, and is akin to how I felt getting a new comic from the store as a kid. Plus, the wide range of genres and characters being introduced all the time is mind-boggling. I’m always looking for a new webcomic to add to my daily reading list.
HT: Furthermore, what do you think about the future of the comic book industry? Do you foresee an all-digital future?
Alex: I think there will always be some kind of print component, at least as long as there’s a strong collector’s market. A lot of people are used to reading comics in print. I’m one of them. I still like sitting down and cracking open a 32-pager or trade. As long as those people exist, they’ll want their print fix. However, it’s clear things are moving toward digital – there’s an entire generation of readers that use their devices for much more than checking email and answering phone calls. We have to cater to them as best we can. I think you’ll see the message – comics – adapt to the medium as time passes. It’s a different format. Comics aren’t drawn to be read panel-by-panel up close. At least the current ones, meant for print aren’t. So, we’ll see artists and writers changing how they do things as we move to a point where more people read comics digitally than in print. We’re not there yet, but that’s where things seem to be heading.
HT: Superheroes, and comic books as a whole, really, have been making some big money at the box office over the last decade, yet comic book sales haven’t really gone up alongside them. Is there any particular reason for that?
Alex: If there was one, simple answer to this question I think the industry would have probably solved it by now. A lot of it, in my opinion, is reach and availability. Not everyone has a comic shop nearby. Not everyone knows what titles are coming out or why they’d want to buy a comic. I think the trick is making the connection stronger. Hey, this movie? It’s also a comic that comes out every month. The adventure continues. Or that video game you just beat? You can now download a few comics featuring the same character for free. I think there are inroads being made in those areas by the major companies – you see some cross-marketing happening and that’s good. Additionally, you’ll see streamlining of stories and similarities between movie/TV/video game versions of these characters cropping up in the actual comics. Which can be good, if done organically and without looking like marketing over story. So, as an industry, we’re getting to a point where the synergy is stronger. But it’s a tough balance to strike. You don’t want to turn off longtime fans by appearing to pander to the casual movie or TV show fan. But on the flipside, you have to make your books accessible to those readers. Otherwise, you’re preaching to the converted.
HT: Comic books are still a medium dominated by superheroes, but there’s a wealth of books out there that don’t involve capes and cowls, like The Walking Dead and DMZ. What non-superhero books would you recommend to non-comic book readers?
Alex: For the crime fan, 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso is top of the list for me. I also really love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal and Jason Aaron’s Scalped – really gritty, in-your-face stuff that will make you crave the next trade. Fables and Sandman are essential reads that fall outside of superheroes, but also create their own intricate, compelling and engrossing mythos. You can’t go wrong with the key Vertigo titles, really: DMZ, Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, Animal Man by Grant Morrison (my favorite comic run ever – and while it does deal with superheroics, it’s SO MUCH MORE than that), Y: The Last Man, Transmetropolitan, Ex-Machina. We could do an entire interview just on this list.
HT: Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead have been teenagers since 1942. Pitch us a crazy, sci-fi-inspired story explaining their dark secrets to eternal youth.
Alex: Ha, not sure If I’d be able to put together that kind of pitch, but if you want something involving the Archie kids that’s totally fun and totally off-the-wall, then I’d suggest reading ARCHIE #627, the first part of the four-issue ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline. Yes, KISS the band. It’s been a ton of fun to write and Dan Parent is drawing it, so you know it’ll look great. Plus, it features KISS! How cool is that? The greatest rock band in America meets America’s most beloved teenager. It’s two parts of Americana joining forces for the first time. I get to write Gene Simmons breathing fire in the Chok’lit Shoppe. I had to stop and reflect on that for a split second after typing it. Surreal stuff. Surreal and awesome.
HT: Before your time at Archie Comics you worked at DC comics from 2006 to 2010. What’s it like knowing that you worked at the company responsible for such iconic characters as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman?
Alex: Working at DC was a dream come true – I’m a lifelong comic book fan, so getting to promote characters like Batman (my favorite DC character), the Flash, Superman and Wonder Woman was something I never imagined as a kid. I got to meet and interact with a lot of creative, wonderful people – many of whom I’m still in contact with today. It’s a time I’ll look back on really fondly. There were so many exciting things going on, and just seeing the energy and ideas coming up on a daily basis was a real treat. Working on The Source, in particular, was a lot of fun, because I felt like it put me in direct contact with the readers – which is a unique experience. Being the person tasked with making sure fans were made aware of what was going on in the DCU was a huge responsibility and, more importantly, a fun ride.
HT: As a fellow Miamian (even though you currently live in NYC), where would you say is the best place to get a plate of Cuban food? Perhaps some peccadillo and tostones?
Alex: Great question. If you’re wandering South Beach, David’s Café is a must. Get a medianoche sandwich with some black beans and rice on the side. You can’t go wrong with Versailles, either. Picadillo, for whatever reason, is cooked differently in each place, so I have to defer to my mom’s version as the definitive dish for me. But Versailles has a wonderful bistec empanizado (breaded skirt steak) and their arroz con pollo was pretty good. If you’re not sure what’s nearby, just drive around for 15 minutes and I’m sure you’ll stumble upon La Carretta.