"Afterlife with Archie: Book One" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Archie Comics
Originally published as Afterlife with Archie #1 - #5
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Illustrated by Francesco Francavilla
2014, 160 Pages
Trade Paperback released on June 10th, 2014
Before today, the biggest problem that Archie Andrews' had in his life was choosing between two hot chicks. That was before his best friend Jughead's dog was hit by a car. In an act of desperation, Jughead brings Hot Dog to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who uses the Necronomicon to bring the pet back to life. Just as in Stephen King's Pet Semetary, the dog doesn't come back right. Unlike that book, Hot Dog starts a zombie epidemic that quickly spreads through Riverdale. This is how Afterlife with Archie begins and if you're not hooked by now, you're probably hungry for brains too.
While I've been aware of Archie forever, this was my first real exposure to the character. I had never read one of his comics before. I didn't know the back story or the relationships between the cast. This didn't matter when reading Afterlife with Archie. Author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does such a great job handling these characters that you're immediately invested in their wellbeing. They're not cannon fodder for some masked murderer in a slasher flick. They feel like people you've grown up with. I guess that's why they've been around so long.
Taking these characters that you quickly grow to love and putting them in a life-threatening situation raises the stakes quite a bit. Aguirre-Sacasa could have easily played this up in a very campy way. “I guess Jughead was just real hungry!” Instead, Afterlife with Archie is handled seriously. It's a legitimately scary zombie story.
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This connection to the characters also extends to non-humans. While the death and resurrection of Hot Dog is sad, it doesn't hold a candle to Archie's dog, Vegas. He first appears in issue #4 and will grab the heart of any pet owner reading this comic. You're given glimpses into his thoughts and feelings towards his master and he literally saves Archie's life. Aguirre-Sacasa manages to capture everything it means in having a pet in just a few words across one page.
All of this would be great on its own, but Afterlife with Archie really comes alive with Francesco Francavilla's artwork. He immediately sets the tone of every single page of this trade paperback. There's a clever use of color, with zombies always shaded in red, showing the danger that they are capable of. Several pages look like they have blood splatter on them, as if the comic was found at a crime scene. This is a nice effect that adds a slight unsettling feeling to some of the calmer scenes.
Francavilla's use of silhouettes throughout the book superb. These often come in action scenes, with a zombie attacking someone. Instead of zooming in to show you every gory detail, he pulls back, showing just the outlines of the characters with a dark background. Thus, the mind fills in the blanks with the most gruesome things imaginable.
Each chapter begins with a red and black page showing a location with a small piece of dialogue that will preview some of the upcoming content. For example, the second issue starts with an image of a window with the words “I didn't like Jughead when he was alive. Now that he's dead, well... The less said the better.” This coincides with Jughead's initial rampage through the Halloween dance.
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This first volume not only collects the first five issues of the series but all of the covers as well. Francavilla did most of these too, including second printings. Other artists include Tim Seeley, Andrew Pepoy, Tito Pena, and Robert Hack. All of them are stunning. Some are throwbacks to old-school horror comics, featuring images like Archie hiding behind a tombstone with Jughead shuffling towards him in the background. Others are pinups in a more classic style fans can expect from traditional Archie comics.
Also included are “Sketches of the Dead”, which is a breakdown of every single page that Francavilla puts together before the final inked and colored pages. Many of these are thumbnailed to conserve space. Anyone that's at all interested in an artist's process will be interested in checking these out and comparing them to the final product to see what, if anything, changed.
Afterlife with Archie has taken characters that I knew next to nothing about and made me feel like I've spent my whole life with them. Then it put them in mortal danger and there's no guarantee that they'll all make it out alive. Move over, Walking Dead, there’s a new top zombie comic in town.