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Interview: Crafting holiday high school cheer in 'Archie's Holiday Magic Special'

Comic Books

Interview: Crafting holiday high school cheer in ‘Archie’s Holiday Magic Special’

The holiday one-shot is due out December 8.

For comics fans, the holidays add a little extra something to their favorite titles thanks to seasonally-appropriate stories, specials, and anthologies. And that proves extra true for Archie Comics, which this year is launching Archie’s Holiday Magic Special. Centered around the annual Snow Ball dance on Christmas Eve in Riverdale, Archie gets help from a spirit guide to decide who he should take to the big shindig.

The one-shot is out tomorrow (December 8), and to gain a bit of insight into the comic, we sat down and spoke with the entire writing team. That includes Micol Ostow, Michael Northrop, and J. Torres as well as editor Jamie L. Rotante. The special has a real holiday classics feel, like It’s a Wonderful Life with plenty of Hallmark movie Christmas charm to boot.

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As part of the Q&A, the creators talk about the value of holiday stories, the magic of Archie, and their favorite moments, among other tidbits.

Interview: Crafting holiday high school cheer in 'Archie's Holiday Magic Special'AIPT: In order to get a Christmas special like this out in time for the holidays it means creating the story far before the holiday vibes permeated the air. How do you get in the holiday spirit when approaching the Archie stories here?

Michael Northrop: I’m originally from a small town in New England, so for my story “Return to Riverdale,” it helped me to remember what it was like to return home for the holidays when I was in my 20s. The sound of cars going by on snow-wet roads and the smell of wood smoke and evergreens and all that. They’re such strong, resonant memories. 

J. Torres: I wrote my story in the middle of a heatwave and even with the AC on, I had to retreat to the basement because my office on the second floor was still too hot for me. I don’t know if that put me in the holiday mood, but it kept me from melting like Frosty the Snowman! 

Jamie L. Rotante: We were truly celebrating a Christmas in July putting this book together! I think trying to imagine myself in a cool setting definitely helped—plus the Hallmark’s Christmas in July movie marathon helped to keep fun holiday ideas at the forefront during an unlikely time! 

Micol Ostow: Honestly, I’ve been a writer and an editor for so long now that writing and planning for seasons that feel eons away is kind of second nature by now. And as much as I love summer (I wrote most of this comic sitting by the pool, no lie!) who doesn’t love a chance to take a little holiday vacation in their mind when the spirit (and their editor) calls?

Archie's Holiday Magic Special

Art by Gretal Lusky. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: Why do you think Archie, and the love triangle, is so timeless?

MN: First of all, just talking about the comics, they’re a perfect age: teens. Kids aspire to it, teens relate, and adults look back nostalgically. So it’s common ground, and then it’s all sort of gently idealized. It’s a town with more Pep than edge, the disagreements are gentle, the misunderstandings are funny, and there are endless do-overs. That might be the most important part. Everyone has those questions about their life: What if things had played out differently? In Archie, they do. Whether you’re Bughead or Barchie, or just in it for the time travel or zombies, there’s something there for you. The formula is so durable and iconic that even when you riff off of it as J. and I do with slightly different age ranges, you never really lose that north star. 

MO: Archie, his pals, and the whole town of Riverdale represent classic pop-culture Americana that reality never quite manages to deliver, which means it’s escapist and aspirational all at once. It’s an irresistible creation, a Brigadoon for loyalists to tap into whenever we’re moved! And wouldn’t we all rather think of ourselves as Betty or Veronica in pure, basic terms? And know that our role as such is unshakable, despite the fact that it necessarily pits us against our best friend and our love interest over and over again? Archie (and Archie) give readers familiarity and comfort along with drama, humor, and — even after all this time — real surprises, even within the paradigm of the expected love triangle. It’s no wonder readers of all ages come back again and again and again.

JLR: The love triangle and Archie himself can be either aspirational or educational. You can be entertained by Archie’s mistakes (esp. in regards to the love triangle!) while learning a valuable life lesson, even if you don’t realize that’s what’s happening! Plus Archie, and all of Riverdale itself, represents the best of adolescence in the town we should all be lucky to live in. As a kid, you want to be like these characters when you’re older and as an adult, you hope to keep the lessons that they teach in mind. Archie truly is for everyone!

Archie's Holiday Magic Special

Art by Gretal Lusky. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: What are you most excited for fans to see from the anthology, be it a story, moment, or panel?

MN: I love the opening scene in my story: Archie standing alone in his old house surrounded by moving boxes. You so rarely see Archie alone, firmly anchored in his own life like that. Jughead is not going to pop out of one of those boxes. His phone is not ringing. It’s not even clear anyone knows he’s back. It’s just him, assessing his life, and that invites us to consider him, on his own, out of the context of the others. 

JT: Greta’s art is fantastic. Her take on Little Archie is so cute and expressive and fun. The entire art team did amazing work, really. I’m sure the fans will be all over it.  

MO: This is the most self-serving answer ever, I know, but I’m excited and horribly nervous about finally writing “classic” Archie rather than Riverdale. And I’m excited to be contributing a teeny-tiny drop of Hanukkah representation into the comic book holiday canon. All those years reading Archie comics, I never would have dreamed I’d one day be writing Jug and Archie into a latke-eating contest as an actual paid gig. Pinch me! 

JLR: The whole anthology! Ok, I know that’s not a fair answer, but I truly can’t choose just one moment. J and Gretel’s heartwarming Little Archie story is not just touching for kids, but the way the adults handle Little Archie’s dilemma is so spot-on for any older readers. Micol and Arielle’s story is not only a lot of fun but very important to us as a company, as it highlights Hanukkah traditions and shows that there are more holidays celebrated in Riverdale than just Christmas! And Michael and Dan’s story captures that perfect over-the-top Hallmark-movie feel deftly mixed with Michael’s brand of humor. It really is the whole package–a perfect gift for anyone during the holiday season! 

Archie's Holiday Magic Special

Art by Arielle Jovellanos. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: Do you have any holiday comics specials or stories that you think of as top-tier holiday comics?

MN: I mean, to me, Superman: Peace on Earth is the classic. It’s kind of the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” of comics, but that Alex Ross art is the gift that keeps on giving. And not a comic, but I also think that Rudolph is clearly a superhero story.

MO: Well, this is the “wrong” holiday, but anyone who knows me knows that I live for Halloween, and I think Archie Horror gets it right every time. Afterlife with Archie is perfection, and it’s what I direct friends who are into darker comics and graphic novels toward when they’re eyeing all the new directions Archie has taken. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a fantastic reinvention of a beloved character and Vampironica… I mean, I wish I’d thought of it myself. 

JT: I look forward to DC’s holiday special every year. Like this anthology, you get different creators’ takes on classic characters in a holiday setting. It’s always lots of fun. 

JLR: Not to come off all sales-pitchy here but, Archie JUST released a collection called Archie: 80 Years of Christmas, which spotlights some of the best holiday stories from each decade in Archie’s history. You can’t go wrong with any of the stories in that collection! 

Archie's Holiday Magic Special

Art by Arielle Jovellanos. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: With the story centering on the annual Snow Ball, I must ask, did you enjoy attending high school activities like that one? 

MN: I remember some seasonal decorations set up in the cafeteria of my high school, which is where we held the dances. Tinsel, posterboard snowmen, maybe a disco ball? I think I have successfully repressed most of those memories, though.

MO: Ugh, I was a terrible overachiever who drank way too much coffee (not much’s changed) and though I’m a horrible dancer I was definitely on the planning committee and all over it. 

JT: I used to love going to dances, especially themed ones. I enjoyed getting dressed up and going out on the floor to show off your, what do kids call it now, drip? And “bust some moves.” Do they still say that? I used to be cool. I don’t know what happened to me…

AIPT: Do high school memories help you write Archie stories?

MN: My story is set after high school, with Archie returning to Riverdale after things didn’t work out for him in the big city, so I was able to draw on my ample memories of broken hopes and shattered dreams. Also, a lot of Hallmark-style holiday movies.

JT: For me, yes, whether it’s this anthology or any of the other titles I’ve contributed to at Archie over the years, 9 times out of 10, I’m mining my high school experiences for story ideas and springboards. If not high school, then other life experiences, growing up, coming of age, or in this case, being a parent with a kid doubting the existence of Santa Claus! 

MO: High school memories with the volume set to eleven… like, what I wished my own high school experience could have been. I went to a small private high school that was as far as you could get from the life depicted in Archie comics (or teen soaps), which meant that I fantasized about those scenarios probably even harder than your average teen. Writing about teen dramas is basically my therapy and my wish-fulfillment all wrapped into one. 

JLR: Absolutely! That was a huge chunk of what helped me write both Betty & Veronica: Senior Year and Betty & Veronica: Bond of Friendship. It also helps in the editorial process, the writers handling the stories are so fantastic at really sticking to the time and setting and it comes across for a reader. These really feel like the kids—be it them as pre-teens, teens, and even adults, are speaking. That’s just a testament to the amazing group of writers on this anthology! 

Archie's Holiday Magic Special

Art by Dan Schoening. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: What comics are you reading right now?

MN: My pull list is out of control: Daredevil, Batman, Pennyworth, House of Slaughter, anything Archie. I won’t list them all, but Winter Guard hits me where I live, and I am starting to think Primordial might fill the Strange Adventures sized hole in my heart.

MO: Oh dear, I’m so basic… mostly OGNS lately and mostly middle grade and teen stories that my older daughter and I trade back and forth. Right now I’ve got Witches of Brooklyn, The OKay Witch, and Roller Girl on my TBR pile, and over the summer we read Sheets, The Lumberjanes, anything/everything by Raina Telgemeier, we also read the first two installments of Umbrella Academy after we discovered the show, and the original series of Marvel’s Runaways. Very mainstream. I’m owning it! 

JT: In the short stack on my desk are the graphic novels Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine, Displacement by Kiku Hughes, Sentient by Lemire and Walta, Mister Miracle by King and Gerads, and the last two volumes of Way of the Househusband by Oono waiting to be read. 

JLR: I’m so all over the place! My to-read pile is ever-growing and I’m hoping to start chipping away at it (in fact, those are my holiday break plans!). For series, I’m currently enjoying The Worst Dudes by Aubrey Sitterson and Tony Gregori, and I just picked up What’s the Furthest Place from Here by Tyler Boss and Matt Rosenberg as well as  For OGNs, I just read and loved Bubble by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, and Tony Cliff, and Sweeney Boo’s Eat and Love Yourself. I’ve also been getting more and more into manga, namely Junji Ito and Shuzo Oshimi’s work. Oh, and of course, I would be remiss not to mention Archie’s Chilling Adventures in Sorcery (though that may be a bit unfair!). I also can’t recommend enough, if you’re looking for more holiday comics, Archie & Friends: Christmas Calamity, Archie’s Christmas Spectacular, and Archie Showcase Digest: Christmas Stocking

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