After nearly 75 years of chasing girls through the halls of Riverdale High and hanging out at Pop Tate’s soda shop, the teenage Everyman Archie Andrews is headed for a makeover.
Plans for the redheaded Romeo include a new look and an edgier tone, which will be introduced in 2015 when the Archie comic book is reset at No. 1 with a new creative team. The effort is timed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Archie, who was introduced in 1941, and coincides with plans for a television series on Fox and an apparel line from the fashion designer Marc Ecko.
The overhaul at Archie Comic Publications extends to other parts of the company as well, including Red Circle Comics, an imprint that will be rebranded Dark Circle Comics and will reintroduce vintage superheroes like the Fox and the Shield.
The updates build on changes that began about five years ago, after Jon Goldwater took over as chief executive and publisher of Archie Comics. Mr. Goldwater stepped in after the 1999 death of his father, John L. Goldwater, who helped found the company in 1939.
“I found Archie to be dusty, irrelevant and watered-down,” Mr. Goldwater said. “It has taken me a while to really wrap my hands around where we are as a brand.”
Reinvigorating the brand included introducing new titles like Life With Archie, which imagined the teenager’s life as an adult and ended with his much publicized death, and Afterlife With Archie, a darker comic book in which Riverdale is overrun by zombies. The success of those comic books led Mr. Goldwater to broaden his plans.
“These changes are crucial to keep the brand relevant and vibrant,” he said.
And they are already starting to pay off. Since 2008, bookstore sales have increased 736 percent, and direct-market sales, which include those in specialty stores like comic book shops, rose 226 percent, according to the publisher.
Albert Ching, managing editor of Comic Book Resources, a website that tracks the industry, sees the changes as a smart move. “They are doing bold new things,” he said. “They’ve given people a reason to check them out again.”
For readers who yearn for Archie’s wholesome nature, Mr. Goldwater has taken care to keep the teenager’s core characteristics intact. “We want to keep the lighthearted and family-friendly tone, but we have to do it in the present times, and that forces us to change,” he said.
To help strike a balance, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer for television and comic books and a lifelong Archie fan, joined the company as chief creative officer, a move that Mr. Goldwater described as a “game changer.”
“He’s brought a sensibility and a creative force that I didn’t really know existed,” Mr. Goldwater said of Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa. “He is fearless in his vision for Archie.”
Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa used his contacts in Los Angeles to introduce Archie to television producers, which led to a deal with the TV producer Greg Berlanti to make “Riverdale,” a surreal, one-hour drama for Fox. But part of Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa’s job is also to reimagine characters and develop new titles for Archie Comics, which led to more mature ones like Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
“The tension against that perceived innocence and the darker material, that’s the sweet spot,” he said, adding that it was important for Archie to change with the times. “The worst thing that could happen is that Archie could stop being relevant,” he said.
To keep Archie fresh, new talent was sought, including Lena Dunham, who will bring her feminist take to a four-part story in 2015. Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, two comic book veterans, will be the new creative team for the Archie comic.
Mr. Waid said his primary goal was to return Archie to a modern audience, which included restoring the contemporary attitudes that the teenagers of Riverdale had lost.
“Over the years, some of the sharp edges have been sanded off,” he said. “They are kids, and they should act as kids.”
Not content with a mere makeover, though, Mr. Goldwater has bigger ideas for Archie Comics, including a movie, an animated TV series and theme park rides.