Chip Zdarsky Gives America’s Greatest Burger-Munching BF the Spotlight in Jughead

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A Chip Zdarsky-written Jughead comic sounds like overly optimistic fan-casting: the comic industry’s most impish prankster scripting the lackadaisical adventures of Archie Andrews’ archetypal Funny Best Friend? Too perfect to be true. And yet—it’s happening, with breakout Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson as Zdarsky’s collaborator.

On stands tomorrow, Jughead #1 is the ambitious next step in Archie Comics’ “Riverdale Reborn” reboot, following the massively successful launch of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ Archie flagship book. The Jughead seen in Waid and Staples’ first issue is perhaps more downbeat than the burger-munching best pal familiar to longtime fans, a nuance Zdarsky plans to explore in the character’s solo outing.

Paste spoke with the busy former Applebee’s agitator over e-mail to discuss his vision for the crown-capped charmer, the responsibility of taking part in Archie history and his plans to make us all proud of him.

Paste: Chip, Jughead is the longest-running property you’ve taken over, with decades of stories and fans out there. How does it feel to adopt that responsibility, versus more of a cult character like Howard the Duck?
Chip Zdarsky: I think I actually feel LESS pressure with Jughead! Howard is very linked to his first issues and creator, Steve Gerber, which gives that project a specific type of pressure. Jughead spans generations and so many creators that I feel more like I’m joining a family by writing his adventures for a while. This is aided by the fact that the staff at Archie treats me like family by asking me when I’m going to have kids and how come I never call.

Jughead #1 Interior Art by Erica Henderson

Paste: Archie and his pals are often called America’s Favorite Teenagers. How well did their experiences reflect your own Canadian upbringing?
Zdarsky: I think they’re pretty similar! I haven’t done a ton of research into it, but I’m assuming American high schools were super similar to Canadian ones. Though it took me a while to get used to the fact that Moose was a human being and not an actual moose, as you’d find roaming the halls of my old high school.

Paste: I know the first issue is a few months out, but what’s it been like working with Erica so far? Given your art background, are you communicating on layout and design, or are you taking a step back to let her lead the visual side of things?
Zdarsky: She’s stellar. Sometimes when I’m scripting I think to myself, Oh, man, I have no idea how Erica’s going to pull this off, and then the pages come in and are 1000% better than anything I would’ve done. Her work looks so fluid and effortless and still manages to be perfect.

Paste: Erica and Howard the Duck artist Joe Quinones are IRL friends. What are the odds they’re conspiring against you and what sort of vengeance do you deserve?
Zdarsky: I feel like I’m safe. Joe and Erica are total professionals and my only goal is to turn them against each other for my affection.

Paste: Reading Mark and Fiona’s first issue, Jughead really strikes me as someone who is habitually underestimated. He’s a prototypical goof, but when no one’s looking, he’s really thoughtful and goes to great lengths to take care of his friends. Is that part of what makes the character so relatable to you?
Zdarsky: Yeah, my entire school career was marked with low grades and a lot of “does not live up to his potential” on report cards. But when it came to group assignments I would totally step up, to make sure that my friends and classmates got the highest marks. I feel like that’s Jughead as well. He doesn’t see the point in proving himself to anyone, but he’ll never let a friend down either.
I love how Zen Mark and Fiona have made him, and I’m trying to be totally in synch with their take.

Jughead #1 Interior Art by Erica Henderson

Paste: Archie will of course play a role in the series, but you’ve mentioned that you’ll be exploring Jughead’s friendship with Betty. I’m not sure their relationship is something many Archie fans consider. Could you expand on what makes them a compelling pair?
Zdarsky: I think they both feel the sting of being third wheels during periods when Veronica and Archie are an item. That feels like an opportunity to have them bond some more. Right off the bat I play Betty as smart and charitable, while Jughead is smart and cynical. So they have kind of the same view of the world but opposing ways of dealing with it. I think there’s a lot to mine there! I have thought about these Archie characters wayyyyy too much.

Paste: You’ve also promised to include dream sequences that touch on some of the…odder parts of Archie Comics history. Is that a recurring aspect of the series beyond the first arc? Are we going to see Archie Babies interludes?
Zdarsky: Yeah! I love all of the weirder Archie stuff, like Superteens and Agents of P.O.P.
Mark and Fiona have a lock on relatable high school stories, so I wanted to have a focus on the stranger stuff while still setting it in the world they’ve constructed. So, my idea is to have these scenarios play out as Jughead’s dreams and fantasies. That way I can have my cake and eat it too.

Jughead #1 Interior Art by Erica Henderson

Paste: Humor is notoriously difficult to pull off. Have you considered writing the same script for Jughead, Howard, and Kaptara and just changing names? Have you accidentally written naked wizards into Jughead yet?
Zdarsky: Writing Howard and Jughead are a bit similar in that I’m always thinking about previous iterations of the characters. Also, the versions I’m doing of both are pretty close in terms of age accessibility! So sometimes I find myself slipping into a Howard voice for Jughead and vice-versa. But Kaptara? Man, that is it’s own thing, 100%. There is no confusing Kaptara for anything else I’ve done or will ever do.

Paste: You’ve made it clear that Jughead is a bit of a dream project for you. Is there anything else you want to say to fans as you kick off your portion of the New Riverdale era?
Zdarsky: Oh! Uh … hey. It’s me, Chip. No! Don’t run away! I’m just here to tell you that I love Jughead and I just want to make you proud. I’ve never made anyone proud before so it makes this an even stronger goal.