Monday, August 24, 2009

Making news: Archie comics

When you hear about comic books these days, the discussion is usually about plotlines darker and characters more complex than you find in Archie comics.

Archie Andrews and his buddies have been dealing with the same rivalries and petty jealousies for 67 years or so – and while the props in the stories have been updated over time (e.g., they now have cell phones and the Internet, not to mention their own Twitter profile and blogs), the main characters have remained relatively consistent. Archie loves Veronica, Archie loves Betty, Betty and Veronica both love Archie, and Reggie loves all the ladies (almost as much as he loves Reggie); assorted other characters associated with the high school and the Chocklit Shoppe have defined roles to play too.

To some Archie readers, I think this predictability is part of the appeal: I know at least one corporate executive who reads Archies at night, to turn off the brain with the reading equivalent of warm milk before sleep. But if you’re the people behind Archie Comics, how do you drum up interest in an aging brand?

Make news.

2 weeks and counting... on Twitpic

Earlier this summer, Archie Comics made an announcement: after 67 years of trying to decide between Betty and Veronica, Archie was going to propose to snooty rich girl Veronica, in an issue to hit newsstands next week.

From a publicity perspective, it was brilliant. Suddenly, people were talking (see the 250+ comments posted to the announcement alone) – and the reactions were, in many cases, emotional. How could Archie forsake Betty after all her years of loyalty? Was Archie just a gold digger? Hadn’t Archie ever noticed that Betty and Veronica looked identical, other than the colour of their hair? People who’d read Archie comics decades ago were weighing in, and getting involved in a conversation about a brand they’d long forgotten they cared about.

Coverage of the development in mainstream media and in the blogosphere was significant – even Macleans got in on the action. The story got an unexpected additional boost when an irate comic book collector (and seller) sold his first-edition Archie comic for almost $40,000 in “protest” of Archie’s decision to propose to Veronica – though he admitted, when asked, that the economic downturn had played a role in his decision to sell.

National Public Radio (NPR) asked syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson, in her “Ask Amy” column, to advise Betty on what to do now (see Betty’s letter to “Ask Amy” and Ms. Dickinson’s advice here). And as the days tick down to The Proposal’s “on the stands” date of September 1st, I’m sure we’ll hear more. As the Republic of Comics blog puts it, “…whatever people say about Archie and his girls, there’s no doubt that the proposal sparked newfound interest in the aging Archie comics series, which was losing its fan base to more sophisticated video games and darker comic books.”

A tip of my hat to Archie Comics for earning media coverage the old-fashioned way: by making news.

Click here for a preview (i.e. the first 5 pages) of the issue.