The Summer's for Distant Things: An Open Letter to Archie's Alex Segura
The last time we spoke, Alex Segura and I, we spoke about his having written Archie Meets KISS, already a critical piece of Archie Comics-lore. After yesterday's release of the hardback collected edition, I've had a few thoughts. About the summer, and about ourselves.
When last we spoke, we spoke about Archie Meets KISS and I felt like I was being drawn into a higher drama I could barely concede at the time. Just the idea of Archie and the whole Riverdale gang in one kind of "event" story felt like just the right kind of too much. It felt like KISS on the radio, the power of their songs speaking directly to rock music's quest for tilting at a world that is desperately insufficient to the lives we hope to lead. It felt like the last day of school, and that this feeling would linger on forever. It felt like all the best summers by the lake, it felt like hotdogs and fireworks.
But of course it's not just the whole Riverdale Gang on this one. It's the Cousins as well, Josie and the PussyCats, it's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. And it's KISS themselves. KISS is one of the secret happy places for me, just like Riverdale, one of my own private undisclosed locations. Since we've spoken, I've had a chance to read Bill Gibson's Distrust That Particular Flavor. An anthology that he himself candidly admits being a strange one for him, in that this book collects his nonfiction. In the introduction, "African Thumb Piano", he speaks about a certain awkwardness he feels in writing nonfiction. It's not what he learnt to write, it's not a machine whose moving parts he disassembled and lovingly pieced back together in the way he did fiction. But nonfiction is a kind of a passport for him.
What catches in my imagination, is his description of his first brush with an idea for a short story. Perhaps this was his very first idea for short fiction. In a darkened room a man sits and is engaged by the single source of light in the room -- a clean, well-lighted screen. Is the man simply passively observing images on the screen? Are these images fired off in rapid succession? Or is the man interacting with information on the screen? Is there a keyboard or gesture scanner that allows him some limited range in manipulating what appears on the screen? I can't quite remember the details, but this book really is worth a read, if only for the essay on Japan. What I do remember about this first idea though, is the idea that the man in the room is not locked into the room. The door to the darkened room opens on a courtyard. In this courtyard, as with many courtyards, there's a fountain, filled with wristwatches. This means, Gibson surmises for us, that in this society the human relationship with time has been radically altered.
When last we spoke, I remember you repeating the phrase "all in" on a number of occasions, in a number of different ways. Your using the phrase caught in my mind. "Jon", by which you meant Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater, you said to me, "and the whole team went all in on this one." Gene Simmons, KISS frontman, and bandmate Paul Stanley were "all in" on this project as well you tell me. They were easy to get to (a difficult thing I know, with their high-visibility profiles in the media), they were kind with their time and generous, you remind me. The project of Archie Meets KISS was made easy by your supporters both within Archie Comics, and within KISS. And you tell me also, that this was the first story to really pull together the company's three character lines, the teenage kids in Riverdale, the young musicians who are Josie and the PussyCats, and the magic and reality-bending trippiness from the world of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And when you mention this amazing drawing together, you again use the phrase "all in".
Alex, I'm dizzy from the wonder of this phrase. "All in". Like we're hitting the point of exhaustion. Like there's nothing left to be able to give. Like this is the very last from the reserve tank. In just two words you gesture at a level of artistic commitment we seldom see in commercial world. Time and the world have ground us down, teaching us that we shouldn't expect this caliber of artistic integrity. So when we do see this, from you, from Dan you artist and collaborator, from the entire team at Archie, and from Gene and Paul themselves… when we see this we celebrate. Because this level of commitment is rare. And we treasure it.
And just having said that. I also need to say this level of artistic integrity seems far, far less rare at Archie. I don't doubt the creators for a second, but honestly, Archie, Riverdale, Sabrina, Josie, everyone, just seem like that kind of brand. Just seem like, tomorrow, things will be good again. It strikes me now, that Archie and the whole of the line, are iconic for very different reasons than Superman or Batman or Spidey or Cap are iconic. That Archie, all of Archie, is iconic because its ionic. Because these comics, these profound simple pictures, speak so vividly to those inner bonds, the bonds within ourselves, and between ourselves and better things.
Jon really knew what he was doing when he ushered in this digital revolution. I think about his own story a lot. When Jon and I last spoke, he said to me "I believe that digital distribution will be the rescue of comics in exactly the same way it was the devastation of the music industry". I think about the kind of black hand of fate that would move Jon into a rising career in the music biz, just as the industry began to crumble under file-sharing and P2P exchange. Then I think about now. I think about the resilience and the fortitude Jon needed to show to get here, to Archie Comics, at this point. And then I think about how Jon's built a box around that personal defeat, back then, and how he used it as a gameplan for a revolution.
Just as much as you've made an artistic statement, Jon's made a statement of his own. He's built this moment where comics needn't collapse into the thrall of either/or, a perpetual war of its own making between print and digital distribution. Because of Jon, almost singlehandedly, comics has gone from "either/or" into "more". The work Archie is doing in digital distribution means we can have more. And that's more than what we could have hoped for, just three years back now.
I've got to tell you though, the zombies scared me, and the timing scared me. Not that zombies are scary. But that they seem to have been done to death. That we're living in an age where many staples of horror are now firmly imprinted on a new generation. We've seen vampires and werewolves, we've seen witches and wizards. We've seen zombies. And the more we've seen these, the less we've seen of their originary power that has firmly established these character tropes as genre of distinction.
What of the zombies of Dawn of the Dead? Will we ever see those zombies again? Where their savage attack is not on humans, but on human mentality -- where the appearance of zombies expose the inner self-serving of humanity as it scrambles to survive even by throwing their own under the bus. Where are the vampires that are so alluring you're ready to sacrifice your life just to be as sexy as they are? In multiplying the use of these fine horrors, there's every sense in which we've lost them to a degree.
But you've gotten this popular representation of our classic horrors to turn a corner, Alex. I can say this honestly. There's no going back after how you've conceived of these zombies in Archie Meets KISS. "When they lose their sense of fun, they turn mindless." Zombies are what happens when we lose touch with the popular. Just an amazing framing, Alex.
I was worried about the timing also. And again, my fears were assuaged by the quality of the work I hold in my hands. This release, timed for just before the summer, taps into the psychology of summer. It's a strange and unearthly time, and if we believe Parker & Stone of South Park fame, "Summer Sucks". And they're not really wrong. Because summer's that time we wrestle down and measure the gap between our expectations, and our aspirations. We need material things, and then we want material things. Our pursuit of happiness. But the very fact that we can articulate our pursuit of happiness and that our freedom to pursue happiness is acknowledge and entrenched, comes from the aspirational elements of the American Revolution. It was a revolution in thinking as much as anything. And this revolution enshrined and defended our rights, but didn't give us our rights. Those rights are natural rights, preexistent.
I'm thinking Alex, how very much Archie Meets KISS rearranges things. So that the gap between our material expectations and our idealistic aspirations seems small and easily bridged. There's something profoundly summer about your book. And I like that fact that it's released in hardback first. I like the fact that I can hold it in my hands, that I can pack it in my bag, that it can travel with me where I travel. Archie Meets KISS feels like long days spent at lakes, like the things we promised ourselves we'd want, like there's still, as there's always been, time enough left over for tomorrow. Beyond the festooning and the pantomime of the rest of the year, Archie Meets KISS feels exactly like never needing to come through slaughter again.
Your book is who we were, and never stopped being. And I've got to thank you for that.