The rebooted Archie debuted its premiere issue to strongreviews Wednesday (7/8). The original Archie bowed on December 22,1941, just a couple of weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In other words, Archie is no spring chicken.
Making Archie cool. Archie Comics co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit calls herself an “accidental boss” since she never set out to run a comic book company. But the death of her husband changed her future — as well as the future of everyone at Riverdale High. Before long, the former art teacher found herself drawn toward melding her unexpected career path with her longtime passion for compassion and the dignity of the underdog.
JWK: I used to read Archie occasionally, among all the superhero comics I used to read as a kid. So, when I found out I was going to be interviewing you, I decided to education myself about what’s new with him and his friends. Turns out there’s been a lot.
NANCY SILBERKLEIT: Yes, there’s been a lot!
JWK: I did some research and found that you have the same name of Louis Silberkleit, one of the founders of Archie Comics. I take it you’re related.
NS: He was my father-in-law that I sadly never got to meet. Louis Silberkleit had Michael Silberkleit who was my husband who shockingly passed away about six years ago.
JWK: So, you took over from him after his passing?
NS: He had a business partner (named) Richard Goldwater who passed away (seven months earlier). So, Archie Comics was running rudderless. I was a school teacher in Paramus, New Jersey teaching art. What I have said many times over (is) I stepped out of the classroom and into the boardroom.
JWK: That’s quite a story.
NS: Well, the story I think was that I was asked to sell my stock. I didn’t want to. Then, I think after a year of that, the concept of me coming in as a businesswoman was presented to me…I became a businesswoman and I say I “heart” business opportunities, profit and nonprofit. I just love being a businesswoman. I take on Veronica Lodge’s CIA — her confidence, her intelligence and her allure. If you look at Veronica in the story, she’s always there with her father many times in those panels and giving him business tips. She’s a savvy businesswoman because Mr. Lodge will go with Veronica’s ideas. So, here I was without any formal business training but I look at the things I have done in my time at Archie Comics and, you know, I’m a good businesswoman. I love business.
JWK: That’s quite a transition from being a school teacher.
NS: People said “How do you go from a teacher to a businesswoman?” I said “You know, I don’t see (the two roles) differently because it was my job for 25 years to figure out how to present information in a way each individual child will be able to understand.” So, that’s a big task. That’s a huge task..So, here in a business seat, my job is trying to understand our fans and how to engage them to be lifelong Archie fans — and also to propel the business into another seven decades. So, I see a lot of correlation between being a teacher and running a business. I think…my time in the classroom has really been a huge help to me…You have to have a lot of patience. You have know how to react to situations in a proper way…(It’s) the same with business. You have a responsibility to your employees (and) you have a responsibility to your fans. Just sitting in a position of authority, one can experience the most unusual challenges.
JWK: I would think that have having a background as a teacher gave you a particularly useful preparation for leading a comic book company.
NS: Exactly — but I wouldn’t identify this as the “comic book” industry. I’d identify it as Riverdale High. I would say I’m one of Riverdale High’s teachers with Mr. Weatherby as my principal. So, being able to step into the comic book industry with the Archie rainbow over my head really made it work. It made sense. It gave me the initial confidence where I was then able to start my own comic book publishing company called Rise Above Social Issues.
I always say that my husband…was a publisher (but) we kept our careers very separate. I was a teacher and he was a publisher. I was his lady in overalls. I always wore my overalls into work as an art teacher. I never put much interest into what he was doing. He did his thing. I did my thing. I really never understood why I didn’t have an interest in his company because I didn’t read the comic books.
JWK: Did you read them as a child?
NS: Well, this is what I’m getting to. I started thinking about this whole thing and I started placing myself back…and there I was…going into second grade looking smart that day. (I) couldn’t wait for the first day of school…I was excited as any child is at the beginning of the year…but my mother stopped me from going to the playground just before I was to go in an announced to me that “You’re not going into second grade. You’re repeating first grade. You’ve been left back because you can’t read.” That was the moment that probably stole the love of reading from me because I had not been prepared for that. It was like the world was pulled from underneath my feet. It was a disappointment. I look at, I guess, reading as a punishment. So, I learned to read. I graduated from Boston College in 1976 with a teacher’s degree but I had no love of reading because it was never presented that way.
So, I never looked for reading as entertainment and that’s probably why an Archie comic book had never fallen into my hand. Just think, I grew up to be an art teacher.
JWK: What grades did you teach?
NS: Kindergarten through fifth grade and, for a time, kindergarten through high school.
JWK: It’s almost like you were being prepared for your current role.
NS: Right. So, if comic books had been given to me at that young age…I probably would have loved reading…So, when I discovered that at 54 years of age and after many, many decades passing me by…I thought I would like to tackle many difficult subjects that are hard to talk about (by) utilizing graphic literacy.
So, I started creating comic books. The first one was about bullying. Bullying has been a very big topic in the past decade. I myself have been terribly bullied. It was just around when it was very publicized how children were taking their lives. (There was) a young man in New Jersey who had jumped off the George Washington Bridge. There was (also) a girl in the Midwest…Nobody understands the pain of a human being that is being targeted…My mantra, what gets me through the day, is “Never let anyone define who they want you to be. You know who you are!” You’ve got to get busy in your life…because once you get busy in things that you’re involved in — that you like and you’re good at — you don’t have to give much thought to the outside world that is subjecting you to things that are hurtful to you.
So, I started this foundation (with comics) about social issues. I did another one on healthy eating…I had one on obesity. I’m looking to do more. I want to do one on Type 2 diabetes. I want to do one on how to have a successful play date with an autistic child.
JWK: Are Archie characters utilized these comics?
NS: No. If I did that it would be using intellectual property wrongly. Intellectual property is a very important aspect of publishing and entertainment. Those (Archie) characters, they have built their profile with visual images and internal characterization. So, I could never make Jughead eat properly. I could never ask Reggie to be as polite as I would like him to be. Reggie sometimes is mean…I mean if we were doing this topics under Archie fine but I thought it would limit where I would want to go. As I said, I could not change the IP of these characters because its embedded over the decades as to who they are (and) how they behave.
JWK: At the same time though, Archie has just been updated to reflect the new generation.
NS: Archie has a new look that is being launched as we speak…It’s not so new in terms of the internal characters…If you look back over the decades you can see how Archie was initially drawn and then later on changed. This change is a very big, big change and very different from the others.
JWK: What inspired the new look?
NS: I think it’s just becoming always more relevant with our fans…We have our (traditional) fans, we have our beginner readers, we have our teens. Our company’s very unusual because we have many different fan sets that “heart” Archie. So, it was just (about) becoming more relevant and more with the times.
JWK: So, I suppose the classic Archie look will still be available in collections and the like.
NS: Always in our digest. You’ll always find (the traditional Archie) in our digest with stories that you were familiar with…This is just the Archie 32-page comic book where you’re going to be seeing the current look.
JWK: And, I guess, in those books the stories will be more relevant too.
NS: Yes, the stories will be more relevant…
…In Rise Above! and Archie Comics, you will find stories that touch upon (things like) environmental issues. Because when we talk about (comics) and attaching education to it, we want to get kids to have that love for learning. I say give them more of what’s appealing — and this format is so appealing. When you go to the Javits Center for the car convention (or) the boat convention, it’s busy. When you go to the Comic-Con, you can barely move…So, the vein of graphic literacy from comic books runs in so many people. I think it’s a great way to present topics that may be a little stale and dry.
There’s a story in Archie where we talk about the country Rwanda — how Rwanda banned plastic bags as a country. So, we did that wonderful story. And then I did teacher’s study guide to take that comic book to the classroom and use it in science or literacy. I did that and I also able to cite the Common Core standards which public educational forums have to abide by. So, I was helping out the teacher in citing the parts in the lesson that adhered to the Common Core standards.
JWK: How did it adhere to the Common Core standards?
NS: When the teacher is teaching a lesson, she has to prepare with what is known as the lesson plan. As I know it, school districts require their teachers to cite the area that is relevant and what points of the Common Core will be taught in that lesson. So, it’s highlighting the points that are kind of mandated of public schools to teach specific things at a certain grade level. So, I was pointing that out — and it’s another plus for the teacher to not hesitate using a comic book in the classroom to teach an academic subject.
JWK: So, as a teacher you obviously believe that comic books can be an effective tool for educating.
NS: Totally! Because it’s presenting information in an entertaining format. We have to be very creative with how we present information to capture a child’s interest. Look at what’s available to them. They all have a smart device in their pocket (or) in their backpack. They can click on at any moment and see what is happening around the world. So, information can come to them instantaneously and what they’re looking it is appealing to them. We have to be superstar teachers (regarding) how we’re going to present information to them in this century.
JWK: Talking about thinking out of the box, I understand that a special Sharknado edition of Archie (featuring the traditionally-drawn characters) is planned to debut on July 22nd to coincide the film franchise’s latest sequel on Syfy.
NS: Yes. You know, it’s taking what people today are watching and we are putting it into a different format…Why not explore how Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead will do with a Sharknado experience?
NS: Yes, we have had a few of those that have been published where it’s the zombies and all of that…You know, people go to amusement parks, they go on these rides and scream. It seems like that is another edge that captures one’s attention. We’re looking at what sparks people. My strong interest is getting people to find that love of reading. I strongly believe it is the comic book that can start one on the path to reading. It’s just getting to turning those pages and then once you start turning those pages, you want to have more.
JWK:I remember I didn’t take to reading too early and then my mother got me comic books. That’s what started me reading.
NS: Yeah, see?
I want to say why I think it’s comic books that draws one’s eyes and noses into those pages. It’s a language mostly of pictures. When you have that language of pictures, it’s calling on you to expand on that story. Once you can expand on the story, just think how cool that is. You know, you have a story in your head and you’re internalizing this because it’s all coming from you. I think it’s that unique connection of one’s personal interpretation of those graphics that really hooks people to find that love of the comic book.
JWK:Have you gotten any backlash from parents about updating the Archie they grew up with?
NS: I can’t think of anything. All I know is I travel around the world — I just came back from Nairobi — and old and young “heart” Archie. I stopped in Dubai and India…I was in Brownsville, Texas in the United States. Across the board, everyone has an immense love for Archie.
JWK:The gay character Kevin Keller was introduced in 2010 and got married in one of the issues.
NS: Yes, he got married in one of the issues.
JWK:That’s relevant in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling.
NS: Yes. It’s just reflecting of who we are today and not excluding anyone. It’s Riverdale High and to be relevant, it would be wrong not to (include) all people, all groups. I’m proud that Archie Comics is global…We’re popular in India.
…I have a new story coming out (through Rise Above Social Issues). It’s there for the purpose of sparking conversation on gun safety.
JWK:That’s a hot political issue. Will you take a position on gun control in the comic?
NS: Rise Above Social Issues doesn’t really take a stand. It’s there to spark healthy conversation. It’s there to get the conversation going…Right now we’re calling it See Something, Say Something. I’m hoping that this story will also have a teacher’s study guide that will be utilized in the classroom to talk about tolerance. When on sees someone is alienating or targeting because of one’s background or belief, we need to talk about this because we all have to be tolerant. We don’t have to like everybody but we have to have an empathy and respect for humanity…That hopefully will be out in September.
Again, it’s not taking a stand. It’s there for the teacher, for the parent to start the conversation, to talk about it…A big point in that story is the bystander. That was (also a theme) in the anti-bullying comic book. It’s really the bystander that I put a lot of emphasis on because that one person who creates havoc, who does bullying or utilizes a gun and just creates havoc and chaos, it’s very hard to get into their minds. But the people around them — that see this going on — they have to stand up and say something.
In the bullying situation, that one that looks like they don’t have a friend in the world, reach out to that person because people need to know that people care for them…It’s the bystander that needs to reach out to the person who needs help, to the person that is making a wrong decision. We just had that gun shooting down in South Carolina. I think there had been some warning signs. So, you have to look into things and step up and speak out and see what we can do to stop something before it hurts another person.
JWK:Are there continuing characters in the Rise Above! books?
NS: No. This has different characters but now that you bring that up (there’s) no reason that some of my characters can’t appear again. I’m working on another project where Erika in Rise Above will appear in another type of story.
JWK:Who is Erika?
NS: She is a girl in Rise Above who was able to finally block out the noise of negative comments and have the guts to believe in herself and “rise above.” For your readers, again, reach out to that someone that really looks like they need help. They need a friend. Don’t be afraid to speak out. When you speak out for someone not being treated right, you just let (people) know we don’t do that anymore.
JWK:Besides Archie, you actually have other titles more in the superhero vein. There’s one called The Black Hood.
NS: Yes. We also have Josie and the Pussycats. We have a huge library of other characters that are not Archie.
JWK:Any movie or TV deals in the works, a la Marvel?
NS: We’re always exploring those different mediums. So, be prepared to hear announcements coming up. I’m sure you’ll be seeing Archie or some of our other properties in those types of mediums.
JWK:Who’s your favorite Archie character?
NS: I love that! Everybody always asks me that! Mr. Lodge! I just love how he interacts with Archie! He’s a businessman. I just like seeing when he’s talking business.
As I said, I became a businesswoman overnight. I had no idea! When I though the word “business” decades ago, it was something I would run from…I had no desire for business. I tumbled into it and…I find that I love it! I think business 24/7, seven days a week…I enjoy it so much! I was cut out to be a businesswoman!
NOTE: You can read more about Archie’s new look here.
FYI, I’m dating here’s the Archie I grew up on.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11