Smash Pages Q&A: Fred Van Lente on ‘Everything’s Archie’

The writer of ‘Action Philosophers,’ ‘MODOK’s 11’ and more discusses his work on Archie’s 80th anniversary one-shot, which arrives in stores next week.

Fred Van Lente is well known as the writer behind Action Philosophers, The Comic Book History of Comics, Archer and Armstrong, MODOK’S 11 and many more. He’s written novels like The Con Artist and Ten Dead Comedians, and he co-wrote the play King Kirby, which premiered earlier this year as a podcast.

Van Lente is also the writer of the new comic Everything’s Archie. The one-shot from Van Lente and artist Dan Parent is a collection of linked short comics that center around Archie trying to make enough money to buy a new guitar. To do that, Archie signs up for an app and what follows is a satire of the gig economy with multiple jokes about late stage capitalism, and yet, it still feels like an Archie comic we’ve seen before.

Van Lente and Parent’s comic is paired with an Archie story from 1997 by the late George Gladir and Stan Goldberg, Betty in High School 2021 A.D. The story went viral because of remote learning and other not entirely inaccurate predictions about this rather unusual year. I spoke with Van Lente recently about the comic, which is out next week.

Fred, just to start, how did you end up writing an Archie story?

Alex Segura, Archie co-president at the time, contacted me about doing something that combined what I’d guess you call the classic feel of Archie with a more modern sense of humor. Being a long, longtime fan I said yes immediately, and set to outlining – but then this little thing called the global pandemic hit. And that slowed us down for most of the year. Fortunately, we geared back up again at the end of 2020, and I’m thrilled for readers to see what Dan and I have cooked up this June. 

Was the idea from the start that you wanted to write a comic that on the surface is a typical kind of Archie story and hits a lot of themes and beats we all know, but is also this very subversive and critical piece?

I appreciate you calling it subversive and critical, but I guess that’s more just my sense of humor. The great thing about the Archie characters is that they’re such great archetypes that you can apply them to pretty much every situation and era – you sort of see that with the Riverdale TV series and the Archie Horror line and so forth. I feel like Archie, Betty, and friends are great guides to the gig economy, and spoiler culture, and all sorts of other petty obstacles of modern life – and they’re just as flummoxed by them as we were. 

The comic plays with these 4-6 page stories, which are what a lot of us think about when we think of Archie stories. How easy was it to write short comics like this? 

Pretty easy. I started my pro career at the Marvel Adventures line, where we had a mandate to do these done-on-one stories that didn’t continue from issue to issue. Granted that’s 22 pages versus 6, but the idea is the same. And as you’ll see, one of the sneaky things about Everything’s Archie is that though they seem like short stories on the surface, turns out they may all be interconnected! 

You made me laugh out loud reading the comic, and I think you’ve written one of the best lines of 2021 when Archie exclaims “My hopes and dreams have once again been thwarted by my arch-nemesis, late stage capitalism!”

Ha, thanks. I liked that one so much I made it my Twitter profile header

For the comic you’re paired with Dan Parent, who is one of the the great Archie artists of all time. What did Dan bring to the story, and did he change how you thought of certain scenes or elements of the story?

Dan is absolutely the modern master of the Archie style, and it was a great thrill to work with him. I certainly wanted to go “classic” in the style of the tale, even if we had sort of more modern kinds of jokes, and with Dan at the artistic helm that transition was completely seamless – come to think of it, I imagine that’s why you saw it as “subversive.” I’ll take it! 

The comic also includes a 1997 comic, Betty in High School 2021 A.D. by George Gladir and Stan Goldberg that went viral recently. I’m curious how you read the comic and how you think it reads paired with yours?

All the predictions about at-home learning are remarkably prescient, aren’t they? The only thing George and Stan really got wrong is how not-miserable Betty’s parents are that she’s stuck at home with them – that’s the reaction I’m getting the most from parent friends of mine. 

Reading the two comics back to back, I thought, “2021 is a crappy dystopia in the past and the present.” Is there any chance you’ll be making an Archie comic about 25 years in the future?

Sure, I’d absolutely love to keep creating Archie comics through 2046! (By a strange coincidence, also the name of my favorite Wong Kar-Wai movie.) 

Thanks, Fred.

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