by Brian Truitt)
Horror has come to live in Riverdale, and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla are loving every goosebump-inducing panel of it.
So, too, it seems have Archie Comics fans and newcomers alike. Even though the zombie-filled Afterlife With Archie series isn't the usual kid-friendly fare from the venerable comic-book publisher, the book's found increasing success putting Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and the gang through an undead fright fest.
"I jokingly say to (publisher) Jon Goldwater that I started writing comic books 11 years ago so that I would one day write Afterlife With Archie," says Aguirre-Sacasa. "For something to be such a passion project, as this is, and for it to be so embraced, it's amazing."
Out Wednesday, Afterlife With Archie No. 5 ends the first "Escape from Riverdale" arc, and Archie and the rest of the survivors of this zombie apocalypse hunker down in Lodge Manor to figure out what to do next: wait for the horrors outside to end or make a break for the outside world?
"All these subplots start banging against each other now," said Aguirre-Sacasa, from secret couple Ginger and Nancy to the odd twins Cheryl and Jason Blossom to Archie dealing with his shell-shocked mom.
The new issue also plants seeds for big stories down the line as well as teases the next arc, including Cheryl vs. Jason ("One of them will cross a point of no return," the writer says), nascent antagonism between Reggie and Kevin Keller, and a dynamic between Kevin and Ginger that's too delicious to spoil yet.
Francavilla also gets a chance to illustrate a few horrific moments — the most intense scenes he drew "are one involving love and one involving rage," says the artist.
"The fact that Roberto and I seem more and more like twins separated at birth when it comes to our love and passion for the genre — in comics and movies and books — is really helping to make this story shine."
Aguirre-Sacasa calls Francavilla "the heart and soul of this book," and the terror he's coming up with is only going to get worse for the teenagers — especially Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who is soon faced with all sorts of madness after being banished to a witches' purgatory due to her use of the Necronomicon.
"Issue 6, which is the truest horror story we'll have put out, came from Francesco's love of all things Lovecraft," the writer says. "Mine, too, but he was the one who said to me, 'Roberto, I want to draw monsters.' "
Afterlife has been eye-opening for Aguirre-Sacasa, Archie's newly minted chief creative officer, and others at the publisher about how passionate fans are for the characters and also hungry to seem in different contexts. For example, they're prepping a Sabrina series for launch in October that is tonally different from Afterlife but still grown up, sophisticated and dark.
"Readers will be ready for it because Afterlife has paved the way," Aguirre-Sacasa says. "Now, when writers and artists pitch us stuff, they say: 'It'll be like the Afterlife version of fill-in-the-blank.' "