Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1294 - Mark Waid (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist): Archie Volume One

A few years back the first Filipino restaurant opened in Yellowknife. I was so excited. Having had Filipino food before, I was so excited. It's also great when any new restaurant opens here, just to break from the monotony of limited options. Alas, it only survived a few months.

It was especially disappointing because we have a very sizable Filipino community here and I was afraid that the failure of this restaurant might suggest that there wasn't a local interest and discourage others from giving it a shot. However, it was clearly a management issue. My fingers are crossed that someone else will try.

I bring this up because Mark Waid and Fiona Staples attempt at revamping the look and feel of Archie comics is not the first. In 2007, for example, a "New Look" series was met with a very negative reaction.  But thankfully Archie Comics didn't give up. People may have thought they didn't want a new look, but then, they'd not experienced Archie as drawn by Fiona Staples, the Canadian artist behind the award winning Saga series. It's freaking good. It still has a stylish but friendly cartoonish look, but with mere subtle tweaks she gives the characters honest-to-god emotion.

Unfortunately, Staples backs out after the first 3 issues, replaced by Annie Wu for the 4th, and Veronica Fish for the 5th and 6th. Not that either artist are terrible, but they slip more towards the old familiar Archie style, a little too cartoony and without Staples' nuance. Fortunately, the colouring by Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn is consistent— and great— and saves these later issues by giving the characters more depth.

Speaking of depth, it was in these later issues that I really appreciated Mark Waid's writing. It's not that he hadn't been good in the first three issues, but I'd been mistakenly giving all of the credit to Staples. It took the removal of stunning art to make me realize Waid's strengths. It's still true to the  charm and feel of Archie comics (he says in in his afterword that he didn't want to do an easy ironic take— which I hope wasn't a dig at the fantastically ironic Afterlife with Archie series), but also provides the characters with depth, a little more background and plausibility to their otherwise familiar personalities. When you consider that for the past 70+ years Archie comics were treated like PopTarts, a treat but no nutritional value, it's no small feat that Waid and Staples were able to provide substance while remaining true to the source inspiration.

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