Solid State Society 2: Archie CEO Jon Goldwater and the New Economy

Part 2 in a Series

Last week’s decision by Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater to synchronize their digital and print distribution calendars this coming April, was both unprecedented, and industry-defining. In a frank and earnest conversation with Jon, a veteran of the Music Industry who felt the effects of the rise of Napster firsthand, PopMatters explores the changing face of the entertainment industry, and the effect of newly-emerging content-on-demand cycles of media.

But the effect of these new shifts are not simply producing content that is always available, easily accessible, for whenever it’s demanded. Rather, a more fundamental shift is occurring. The changing nature of media availability is offering a set of opportunities that will ultimately result in new forms of traditional media. New lines of distribution in other words, are in the process of causing structural changes to traditional media.

What is the role of Archie Comics with respect to, not the changing world of today, but the more stable world of new media that users will encounter tomorrow? With a wealth of experience garnered from a crisis-point in another branch of the entertainment industry, Jon Goldwater has already displayed a visionary capacity to neutralize not only one of the core issues of the industry (Will digital end print?, not so says Jon), but one of the core issues of the internet as well (how to re-monetize content for a digital environment).

Following on from an investigation into the nature of last week’s announcement, The Iconographies remains with Archie Comics, CEO Jon Goldwater, the digital debate and the new economy. In this edition, we focus on the shifting nature of media resulting from the changing face of distribution. What will it look like, not when we are able to download desired content on demand, but when we are able to migrate the physical world with desired media, and transmit it across our social network?

‘Solid State Society’, a story in three acts. This edition, Act Two.

Act Two: Solid State Society: Steps Towards Highly-Mobile Culture

It’s during a question about the nature of Archie Comics involvement with video game companies that a crucial pattern in Jon’s thinking emerges. With a single comment you see a mind at work. Not simply the mind of a salesman who genuinely understands his product, but also a mind coming to grips with the newly-emerging digital reality.

Perhaps a little more backstory is in order.

Archie Comics has a longstanding history of animating the stories behind video-games. Not the slick, nextgen games that bedeck the shelves of today’s toy-stores, not the games with weighty storylines that fixate players so easily. Instead, Archie’s history with video-games lies in animating the stories of side-scrolling, ultra-speed adventures. Animating in the strictest sense of the word. Animating as in animating the characters, adding in character depth and motivation, crisis points in the narrative as well as individual arc. And animating the setting, allowing creators to shape a coherent and logical scope to the fictional worlds players find themselves immersed in, but do not necessarily fully understand.

This was not simply animation in the sense of weaving the illusion of motion. Players could easily find that that sense of perpetual immersion in their various action-packed breakneck-paced games. By slowing down the world and allowing for reader engagement at, the characters and their world became animated.

Comics role with video-games would be a reversal of the anticipation economy. Rather than mirror the ultra-speed of games and fine-motor coordination that gamers themselves often relied on, the comics of video-games became an essay in meaningful connection and emotional context. With titles like Sonic, the super-speed hedgehog familiar as far back as the earliest days of the Sega Megadrive, Archie Comics bucked expectations. Here were characters that readers could care about deeply, rather than be entertained by at the speed of light. The idea of video-game characters being the object of almost childlike fascination is something Nintendo exploited fully with such characters as Mario the Plumber, Donkey Kong Jr. And Link from the Zelda series of games.

So given the nature of this association, given the scope of it’s cooperation, it would be easy to focus on the inner strengths of the medium. To simply delineate those facts that are already known. To focus the conversation around the value of comics to shaping the iconic characters of video-games and their immersive realities. Instead, Jon makes the unexpected move of discussing the network of corporations that Archie deals with. “We only work with the best of the best”, Jon says in a way that, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, these words kindle a childlike hope.

Archie’s launch of MegaMan this spring is not the result of simply exploiting a latent commercial opportunity. Instead, the relationship has emerged because Archie has identified a set of values in CapCom, the owners of MegaMan. Values that are shared by both companies, and values worth aspiring to. It is because CapCom treats their intellectual property a certain way that Archie can work with them.

“We’re one of the original 3”, Jon reminds me, referencing the fact that Archie emerged contemporaneously with DC, and Marvel’s forebear, Timely. “But we’re still a family business, and we’re smaller, and more nimble than the other 2, meaning DC and Marvel”. But given Jon, as Co-CEO’s view of the company, how is the Archie’s navigation of the post-crisis economy, and it’s developing of a partnership network, different from say your attempts to develop a social network on a site like say Facebook?

Over speakerphone I can hear the sound of a flatscreen TV powering down. “I think between the three of them, they’ve covered all the bases”, says Andrew Donaldson, Director of Metaphor!a. Andrew is referring to three guests on a recent episode of Charlie Rose; contributor to the New Yorker and author of Googled: the End of the World as we Know It, Ken Auletta; technology and business journalist Michael Malone; and author of the recent Facebook biography, the Facebook Effect, David Fitzpatrick. Excerpts of the Charlie Rose interview were prepared by Andrew himself, and meant to underline crucial points he made during our conversation.

“A billion-dollar valuation on Facebook is a big deal”, he continues. Andrew is the Director and Lead Illustrator for a new brand of company. Metaphor!a is specifically geared towards developing immersive, information-rich environments that visualize highly-structured text-based data. Rather than pitch either products or services, Metaphor!a focuses on developing a meaningful and pragmatic relationship between their clients and the corporate data generated by day-to-day or longer term business activity. A prospectus detailing projected ROI for investors (along with the mix of fear and opportunity) might assume the visualized metaphor of a trip to the dentist’s.

An Idea You’ve Never Had Before: Are books opposed to libraries? Was knowledge always portable?

“You can’t see it right now but I’ve just pulled out my Blackberry, and put it down on the desk in front of me”. It is unexpected that a person needing high end data transfer capacity would opt for a Blackberry rather than an Android or an iPhone. Surely it must be a high-end model like the new Torch? Not quite. “It’s a plain old entry level Curve”, Andrew tells me. “The thing to get about mobile devices, is that they remain iPhones or Androids or Blackberries for all of three weeks. After that they simply become devices, windows into the digital world or another area of your life. And that’s what makes them so amazing”.

“With an entry level-Blackberry”, Andrew continues, “you’ve got an amazing piece of technology that gets you connected and keeps you connected. And that’s the important thing. This is the draw of low-threshold, high-yield technologies. There’s no longer any delay. In fact it’s better than that. You’ve got your social network with you wherever you go. It’s not you watching Tron: Legacy it’s you filtered through every one of your friends on Twitter or Facebook at the time”.

Could we have seen this before? Could this have been the radical notion latent in books that so frightened the medieval power structures? The notion that books are in some way opposed to libraries? And that knowledge has always been portable. With ever growing numbers entering the market of smartphones, Archie Comics move proves seductive. If Jon Goldwater has opened the door to anything, its not the content-on-demand immediacy of being able to have comics whenever you want them. Rather it is the notion of a solid state society. The idea that culture itself, like the USB flash drive in your pocket, is now incredibly mobile.

The PopMatters exclusive interview with Archie Comics’ CEO Jon Goldwater will conclude in the following edition of the Iconographies.