Comic book writer Dan Parent talks about the many iterations of ‘Archie’ comics, which he has spent 30 years writing and illustrating
Critics might have panned Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies but it has also sent a whole lot of us on a nostalgia trip, hunting for well-thumbed Archie Digest comics that kept us entertained during summer holidays as kids growing up in the 1990s. As the comic book characters return to the spotlight and become a part of banter among the younger lot, it almost feels like a fond tradition being passed down: of shrugging away Archie’s flirty ways, envying Jughead’s bottomless appetite, and admiring Veronica’s snazzy wardrobe to a generation that primarily communicates in emojis and reacjis.
Comic book writer and illustrator Dan Parent is all too familiar with the responses the characters elicit. Starting as an illustrator at Archie Comic Publications in New York in 1993, right after his graduation from The Kubert School in New Jersey, US, Parent has spent the past 30 years creating characters that keep the idyllic world of Riverdale alive for its readers. Parent has watched different adaptations of the comic—including the Netflix show Riverdale and
Akhtar’s The Archies—and is only too happy about it. He recently posted on X:
“THE ARCHIES on Netflix is fantastic! Beautifully shot, great cast, great music! A wonderful film!”
In a telephone interview with Lounge in November, when he was in Bengaluru for the 11th Comic Con, Parent said he loves the different adaptations of Archie. “I love the fact that Archie is so diverse that it can be adapted in so many ways,” he said, while pointing out that the comic worked in different iterations because of its characters. “The characters work in all kinds of situations because they are universal,” he said. He also discussed the work that goes into creating new characters and his favourite milestones from the comic series. Edited excerpts from the interview:
‘Archie’ comics turned 80 in 2021. You have worked on it for 30 of those years. Have you ever paused to think of how you have added to the legacy of one of the world’s favourite comics ever?
When I stop to think about it, I realise I have made some contributions to Archie. It has been great to create storylines and do things that are part of the brand. Creating Kevin (Keller, Archie’s first gay character) and other characters along the way have sort of helped form Riverdale, so yes, I am happy with what I have brought to the table.
Has the legacy of the comic ever weighed heavily on you in terms of the kind of storylines you can do today?
There are obviously things that you can’t do because they are established characters but it’s never really been much of a limit because the characters are easy to work with. They are pliable, very easy to put into different situations. So, I don’t find the legacy holding me back. There are so many different personalities to the world of Archie that I don’t find it limiting.
After all these years, are there some days where the job still teaches you something new?
Oh, absolutely. Locations, technology, fashion are subjects that I have to research sometimes. For instance, we may be working on a story where they might be going to a place they have never gone before and I will research and learn something. Or there’s a new kind of technology that’s involved in the stories that I may not know about. I am not always aware of the latest fashion trends, you know, so there may be fashion-related things that I’d have to look up. So yes, I definitely learn along the way, depending on the story I am working on.
In terms of your work on ‘Archie’, what are some favourite milestones that stand out from all these years?
As far as my work is considered, the first big milestone goes back to 1993 where we did a storyline called Love Showdown. It was like a big crossover where Archie was going to choose a girl other than Betty and Veronica. We got a lot of media attention at the time, including being discussed in talk shows. This was pretty much pre-internet, so it was the first time we got a taste of what a crossover could do. That was the first big thing that caught fire. The introduction of Kevin Keller was another milestone, and it happened when social media was around. I guess one of the things I really enjoyed was the crossovers we did with other characters. We did Archie Meets Batman, Archie Meets KISS, Archie Vs . Predator—we have done some really out there crossovers which have been pretty fun.
You are the creator of Kevin Keller and Harper Lodge for ‘Archie’. There’s Kitty Ravencraft (of the ‘Die Kitty Die’ comic book series) too. Can you elaborate on the thought process and research that goes into creating a new character?
Sometimes creating a character is just easy. Sometimes you do a story with a character randomly and it just takes off. With Kevin Keller, we planned to do an LGBT character, so there was a little bit more work that went into creating him. You mentioned Harper Lodge (Veronica Lodge’s cousin): she is a character who is disabled and in a wheelchair. She came about based on a real-life person (the late children’s author Jewel Kats) who was disabled, in a wheelchair, had been a big Archie fan, and who came up to me at a convention and said, “Why aren’t there many people in wheelchairs in your comics?” And I was like, “I don’t know, maybe we should do that”. That’s how that character came about.
Kitty Ravencraft is a character from the series, Die Kitty Die (Parent co-created the series in 2016 with artist/writer Fernando Ruiz). She happened because I wanted to do something different. I like things with magic, so I built her as a sort of witch, but because I wanted her to be different from Sabrina (the teenage witch), I based her on different characters from TV shows like Bewitched and created a world of my own.
Do the characters and stories you create reflect people and moments from your life too?
I think whenever you are working on a story, you always go back on your own life experiences. I was doing the Veronica series for a long time and I remember writing stories based on things that happened to my daughter, like something she’d do in school or based off of a discussion or argument we’d have had. I have had many such situations with my kids where I have been able to take little things and use them in my stories.
As an illustrator, how important is it for you to stick to one style? Is having a signature style that is loved and recognised by fans a sign of success?
I definitely think it is a sign of success. The Archie’s style has been around for a long time but I was fortunately able to take the style and make it my own in a way too. Growing up, I always liked the simple, straight-lined cartoony style like you saw in The Batman Adventures. I think I have been lucky that I have been able to work in that style (for Archie) because it is a style that I have always liked.
The stories in ‘Archie’ comics are generally funny and uncomplicated. But in a world that’s quick to take offence, do you sometimes find yourself thinking twice before you zero in on a story or the funny one-liners?
Fortunately, our stories are pretty family friendly so there’s nothing too offensive, we don’t offend too many people. There have been things we have done like we have added an openly gay character that somebody might get offended by. But if you think something is good, if you think something is funny, you just stick to your guns and it normally works out.
Finally, what is keeping you busy these days?
We work about six-eight months ahead, so we are already looking into next summer back in the US. Right now, I am pretty much working on the Betty And Veronica comics along with a bit related to the Sabrina comics too. One of the issues I am working on right now is a magical sleepover story with Betty, Veronica and Sabrina, thanks to whose witchy ways, things go awry!