If someone had told you two years ago that Archie Comics would be leading the horror-comic industry, you would have condescendingly patted them on the head or rolled your eyes.
But here we are.
After the successful launch of “Afterlife With Archie” – one of the most shockingly chilling zombie universes in recent memory – Archie decided to double down with a reboot of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” But there”s no bright and peppy Good Witches™ in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Oh no. Only Satanic ritual and the need to consume the flesh of the dead to remain among the living.
How did this happen? I spoke with “Chilling Adventures” author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about bringing the darkest Sabrina timeline to life.
Image Credit: Archie Comics
HitFix: People are probably most familiar with the Melissa Joan Hart “Sabrina” television series in the 90s. But this reboot a far cry from a campy comedy, right?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: There are elements of camp to it-Sabrina”s aunts, for instance, feel like the could”ve stepped out of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”-but yes, it”s a horror book, a bit more psychological and more of a slow-burn than “Afterlife with Archie,” and certainly a lot darker than the show that was part of ABC”s Friday night line-up.
HF: This particular horror style has a 1950s pulp B-Movie vibe. What or who were your inspirations for this series?
RAS: All those occult horror movies that came out in the 60″s and 70″s. “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Rosemary”s Baby.” And now that you mention the 1950″s, there was one horror movie I love that absolutely influenced “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” and that”s Jacques Tourneur”s “Curse of the Demon,” which is about a warlock and demons and the occult. Very scary and very subtle and suggestive-much more suggestive than we”re being, by the way.
HF: What made you the this version of Sabrina in the 1960s instead of modern day?
RAS: A few things. The first is, I wanted to tap into that retro-horror vibe the way, for instance, Ti West did when he made his great Satanic horror movie “House of the Devil,” a few years ago. Secondly, I wanted to make it clear that “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” was happening in a different universe than “Afterlife with Archie,” which is set in the present. And finally, I thought it would be fun to set the series in (vaguely) the same time the original Sabrina made her debut-which was 1962.
Image Credit: Archie Comics
HF: Even with some new characterizations, a lot of Sabrina's family and friends made the jump, along with some unexpected faces! Will readers be seeing more Archie characters in new and surprising roles?
RAS: It”s funny, when I wrote Betty and Veronica into the first issue, Robert Hack, our genius artist on “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” was like, “Seriously? Is this a good idea?” And it did give me pause, because I thought, “People will either love this or hate it,” and luckily, it”s one of the things people have most responded to, since we”re going to be telling a big “Witches of Greendale” (where Sabrina lives) versus the “Witches of Riverdale” (where Betty and Veronica live) arc, and yes, you will be seeing more of the “Archie” gang in that storyline. Mostly because Robert draws them so beautifully.
HF: You are definitely getting back to the roots of witchcraft with this series. None of this fluffy “good witch” nonsense. Were you worried how people might react to the witches – and by association your heroine – being disciples of Satan, with all the ritualistic trappings that come with that?
RAS: You know, I think if I had pitched this series as “Sabrina and her aunts worship Satan,” no way would it have gotten approved-I mean, I wouldn”t have approved it, to be honest-but again, I applaud the fearlessness of CEO and publisher Jon Goldwater, who is truly that-fearless. But yes, it”s vaguely unsettling to image Sabrina as a “dark witch,” though that”s what she is in this series-or, at least, that”s what she”s wrestling with, in a visceral way with real, deadly consequences.
HF: How much research did you do about witchcraft? Any chance Satanists will be writing angry emails to condemn you for misrepresenting their religion?
RAS: Oh, for sure they will. I”ve done (and still am doing) a lot of research on witches-though I”ve always been interested in the occult, and I just did a lot of reading for a play about witches, which definitely deepened my knowledge of witchy business-but this specific series is as much about being in dialogue with how witches have been represented in popular culture as it is about being an accurate reflection of any specific religion.
Image Credit: Arche Comics
HF: Speaking of research, how far do you plan ahead when sketching out a new universe? Do you know exactly what all the “Witch Laws” are and the hierarchy to enforce them? Is there a chart somewhere with lineages and intra-coven politics on it? Do you know the ratio of witch to warlock birth rates?
RAS: I wish. I have a loose idea of what the first three story arcs are going to be-and I know who the major players are going to be-but things are always shifting around, to be honest. Sabrina”s cousin Ambrose, for instance, wasn”t going to appear for a few issues, but then I thought, “No, let”s get all the pieces on the chess board as quickly as possible and just see what happens.” As for “witch laws,” they are outlined in pretty specific detail in Issue 2-at the exact moment Sabrina starts breaking them, by the way.
HF: What is the nature of Hilda and Zelda's relationship? Are they just coven-mates and friends? Or something more?
RAS: Well, they”re sisters, of course, but they”ve lived together almost all their lives, and though one of them has been married-I”m not going to say which one, yet-the most important bond they have is with each other. They”re each other”s best friend-and worst enemy. In a way, they”re the female version of Cain and Abel. I wouldn”t cross either of them, is the truth.
HF: As the Archie multiverse fractures – there are now at least three separate versions of Sabrina alone – is there any chance of a cross-over event in the future?
RAS: Oh, yes, for sure. It has to be the right story, but absolutely. I can definitely see the more “wholesome” mainstream Sabrina going up against the “Dark Sabrina” that exists in “Chilling Adventures,” or both of them teaming-up to defeat the Sabrina of “Afterlife with Archie,” who is, of course, now the Bride of Cthulhu. That would need to happen in the perfect comic book, though, something like…perhaps…Archie # 666. Oh, wait-a-minute…
Image Credit: Archie Comics
HF: Pulling double duty as a writer and Chief Creative Officer, can you tell us if Archie's darker tone, first with Afterlife with Archie and now with Sabrina, is an indicator to expect more horror titles down the line? Or perhaps some other genres like westerns or cyberpunk or Victorian gothic?
RAS: That”s an excellent question. At this point, the most accurate thing I can say is that we”re not ruling out anything, any genre. The Dark Circle books that are going to start coming out in early 2015 are ultra-noir, very adult and intense. (I”d put “The Black Hood” up against “The Punisher,” in terms of hardcore crime action.) It”s all about matching the right creative team with the right property and the right take. I”d love for there to be a third “Archie Horror” book, but at this point, the focus is on “Afterlife” and “Sabrina.”