For many, the words Sabrina the Teenage Witch conjure up memories of the popular 1990s TGIF series starring Melissa Joan Hart. Yet the Archie Horror title Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is about as far removed from that as The Muppet Movie is to Meet the Feebles.
Although the comic draws inspiration from a variety of horror sources — Rosemary’s Baby immediately jumps to mind — it remains a stunningly original reinvention of the Sabrina Spellman character. Set in the 1960s, the story chronicles the travails of a teen who is perfectly ordinary…with the exception that she is destined to practice the dark arts, lives with her two sinister witch aunts, a mysterious cousin, and a cat who is actually a warlock imprisoned in a feline body.
The narrative thrust of the four issues that have been released so far has chronicled Sabrina attempting to figure out whether or not she wants to go into the family business in the town of Greendale. Complicating matters are her growing romantic feelings for handsome classmate Harvey Kinkle and the evil machinations of Madam Satan, a mysterious foe with links to the Spellman family, who is determined to destroy them all.
Just in time for Halloween, we spoke with the book’s creative staff of writer/Archie Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Robert Hack to discuss the ongoing saga of Sabrina and some other Riverdale-related manners. Here’s what they had to say.
Every issue is getting darker and darker. At what point, if any, so far have you had to rein yourself in during the writing process, if at all?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: That’s a very good question. Issue four was the darkest yet because of what happens to Harvey, and I will say that I didn’t plan for that to happen. At least not so soon. As it was building towards him running in the woods and meeting up with the coven of witches, I said “either he dies or he doesn’t die and either this is a horror book or it isn’t.”
And Harvey dies. This drops a huge dilemma on Sabrina’s lap because she does have the power of resurrection…but as we know from Afterlife with Archie, that doesn’t ever work out well. One of my favorite horror stories is The Monkey’s Paw. I read it in sixth grade and it’s one of those things that has become one of my sacred texts. I always refer to it, it always inspires me. I can tell you that issue five, which I’m writing and Robert will start drawing, is very much my homage to The Monkey’s Paw. So that’s going to get pretty dark as well.
Robert, I wanted to talk about the actual splash panel showing Harvey’s death. How many iterations did that go through? What was your process for creating that panel, which is really up there with the best EC comic moments?
Robert Hack: The script had said that he had a wound from the neck to the chest. I wanted to show that he was definitely dead. And as I was drawing it, I thought “what if his jaw was missing?” And amazingly, no one said “you can’t have that in an Archie comic.” (To Roberto) Were there discussions behind the scenes about that?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Not really. My favorite panel actually from that issue is the one where Harvey is kissing the night hag. That to me is EC comic horror gold. But no, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a note from editorial. But that doesn’t mean we won’t at some point.
When you’re scripting, are you waiting until you have the script completed before you send it to Robert or are you collaborating all along the way?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: That’s a very good question. With Afterlife with Archie, Francesco Francavilla will not draw a single panel until the full issue is there because he draws out of sequence. The way he works is he sets up something on page 2 that will pay off on page 16. So he will not start drawing until the full script is there. Robert works very differently. I give him pages as I write them and that’s helpful for me because I will see the pages that Robert draws and I shape the story based on what he’s drawn, what looks amazing to me, and things like that.
Also, Sabrina is a little looser in terms of its plotting than Afterlife. For example, I thought that Sabrina issue one was going to end with Harvey’s death, Harvey stumbling upon the ritual in the woods. But that ended up being the end of issue three because we had to introduce Madam Satan and introduce her origin and stuff like that. So it’s a little bit more free-flowing than Afterlife.
In regards to the future of Archie horror. Earlier this year, it was hinted that Vampironica was going to return. Is there anything you can say at this point about that?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacaca: No. Only that, because the bar is so raised with what Francesco and Robert have done with the art, we really want Archie Horror to be an auteur imprint where real horror fanatics can make these characters and books their own. So part of it is finding the right artist to do the book with.
Obviously, there’s a lot of horror love going on behind the scenes here. The Creepshow and the Carrie variant covers were just stunning. Robert, do you come up with the variant ideas, or are they pitched to you?
Robert: The homage covers have all been Roberto’s ideas. Except for the one that keeps getting turned down, Hausu. (Laughs)
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: That’s right. That’s too dark. (Laughs) I’ve had a Creepshow poster hanging over my bed since I was 12. In every place that I live, I’ve always had a Creepshow poster. I have a place in New York and a place in Los Angeles and I have two Creepshow posters. It’s one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite posters. And Carrie, just because of [Sabrina’s] powers, it felt like a natural thing.
Shifting gears a bit, I wanted to talk the Archie musical and what Adam McKay is doing with it. Roberto, given your background with various theater projects, what, if any, input will you have with that?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: It’s really Adam’s show in terms of what the story’s going to be. Jon Goldwater and I are the Archie Comics representatives at that producers and creative table. But honestly, Adam is such a fan of these characters and he’s obviously hilarious, so we’re just along for the ride.
And finally, Robert, your Sabrina and Man Thing illustration has struck a chord with the internet…
Robert: It has? (Laughs)
Yes, so I’m wondering how you feel about the reaction to that and The X-Files variant.
Robert: I think it’s amazing that anything I do ever catches on with anyone. The internet, for the bad reputation it has, collectively has been very nice to me.