Killing Archie, to keep his brand healthy

A grown-up Archie Andrews gets shot to death in issue 36 of Life with Archie, as part of a strategy to keep the Archie brand alive and well.

Archie Andrews dies on Wednesday. Not Archie the teenager, who will return in future issues of "Archie Comics" and other titles. This is a grown-up version of Archie in a series called "Life with Archie," featuring stories about Archie as a married adult. Each issue features two versions of Archie's grown-up life — married to Betty in one, Veronica in the other. Both die in issue number 36.  

Killing Archie-the-character fits into a strategy for keeping Archie-the-brand alive and relevant.

Archie gets shot defending his friend Kevin Keller, who is gay, married and running for office.

"It’s not your traditional high-school aged Archie," says Jonathan Goldwater, CEO of Archie Comics Publications. "It’s Archie aged-up just a little bit."

And grown-up Archie is a hit. Goldwater estimates the comic sells more than 75,000 copies an issue — a lot more than an issue of "Archie Comics." Just as important as the narrative tweaks, "Life with Archie" comes in a different size and shape — one that goes on magazine racks in supermarkets and bookstores, not just comic shops.

"Basically, the 32 page comic on the newsstand is going away," says Goldwater.  "And most of the sales now on the traditional comics are in the comic-book shops."

The company's other big hit is "Afterlife with Archie"— in which the gang from Riverdale live through the Zombie Apocalypse. (Jughead, ever the hungriest of the bunch, makes a terrifying zombie.)

 Just as important as the content, "Afterlife with Archie" is published as a series of graphic novels sold in bookstores. The latest issue was the biggest-selling graphic novel for June, according to ComicChron.com, which tracks sales figures.

John Jackson Miller, who runs the site, says fans know better than to take the death of a character seriously.  

He credits longtime comics writer Len Wein with the following maxim:  "No one in comics is ever really dead, unless you can see the body. And usually not even then."

Killing a character is also a time-tested way to grab extra sales. Superman died in 1992, and Captain America died in 2007. Both sold lots of comics, and both came back.

"I appreciate in the publishing world that they need to get some kind of event and sensation to get noticed," says Nick Purpura, co-owner of the store JHU Comics in New York. "You’re not calling me because Archie came out every month— you’re calling me because there’s something happening in Archie."

He hopes people come to his shop to find out more. 


What's a comic book death worth?

Killing off its namesake will likely boost sales for Archie Comics, but high-profile deaths (and resurrections) are common in comic books. So with characters meeting their "end" at every turn, what's a comic book death actually worth? We looked back at some recent deaths that made headlines and how they helped – or hurt – sales.

Superman

Perhaps the best-known entry on this list, DC Comic's "Death of Superman" storyline found the Man of Steel fighting an alien rock monster called Doomsday, and the image of him dying in Lois Lane's arms became iconic. Collectors snapped up that issue, which sold millions and made headlines around the world.

Of course, it didn't last. Superman returned – with a black suit and a mullet, because it was the '90s – to fight off impostors and resume his post. Fans labeled Supes' death a gimmick, and the backlash arguably helped push the industry into collapse. You can buy the issue, still sealed in cellophane, on eBay for a few bucks.

Spider-Man

This one depends on your definition of "death," which is already pretty slippery in comic books. To commemorate the 700th issue of "Amazing Spider-Man," Marvel Comics had the wall-crawler swap brains with his dying nemesis Dr. Octopus. During the ensuing battle, Peter Parker died trapped in Doc Ock's body. The issue sold more than 200,000 copies, according to ComicChron.com, making it one of the best-selling comics of 2012. The $8 price tag probably helped.

The decision to have Doc Ock take on Spider-Man's identity divided fans, but a new series about Octopus' exploits debuted with 188,000 copies sold. "Superior Spider-Man" ran for about a year-and-a-half, selling a solid 70,000 to 80,000 copies per issue before Parker returned to his own body this past spring.

Batman

Four years before the Dark Knight met his end (sort of) on movie screens in 2012, Batman was killed off in the comic book storyline "Batman RIP." The final issue, in which Batman seemingly died in a helicopter crash, sold a disappointing 103,000 copies, according to ComicChron.com. Maybe that's because Batman survived, only to be killed in an epic battle during a huge crossover series. That issue only sold a little better, but it was another fake-out; it turns out Batman's charred corpse was that of a clone. The real Batman was unstuck in time and ended up back in the Stone Age... you know what? Never mind.

It's worth noting that the conclusion of "Batman RIP" was beat out by the debut of "Ultimatum," a limited series that brutally killed off dozens of Marvel heroes and villains (not to mention thousands of regular folks) in an alternate universe.

Captain America

As these things go, Captain America's death in 2007 was downright realistic: following a superhero civil war, sniper downed Cap on the steps of a federal courthouse. In the midst of an economic downturn, seeing America incarnate bleeding to death was a poignant image. "Captain America" issue 25 made headlines and became the top-selling comic of the year with over 290,000 copies sold.

Believe it or not, Capitan America's resurrection involved both time travel and brain-swapping. He was back on the job by 2010. In the meantime, Cap was replaced by former sidekick Bucky Barnes, who was himself killed during World War II and resurrected in 2005.

Got all that?

About the author

Dan is a sustainability reporter for Marketplace.

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