Archie Comics, co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit, a former art educator took over the reins at the legendary comic book company in 2009, after her husband Michael Silberkleit (son of Archie Comics founder Louis Silberkleit) died. While the Archie brand is what she’s well-known for, she dons another hat of being the founder of Rise Above Social Issues Foundation, a non-profit that addresses challenging social issues like childhood obesity, bullying, discrimination and environmental concerns through comic books. She was also instrumental in creating the Comic Book Fairs at schools across America and Canada, which helps school students gain access to comic books and thereby generate an interest in reading. In a couple of interactions (phone and email) with SocialStory’s Nelson Vinod Moses (NVM), Silberkleit spoke about her inspiration to start Rise Above, how she was bullied as a child, comics for social change, and her plans for 2014. (This is Part 2 of a two part interview series, Part 1 is here)
NVM: Explain how a powerful narrative combined with persuasive graphics bring about positive social change in children
Silberkleit: Comic books have a visual appeal that resonates well with children of all age groups making reading all the more pleasurable an experience. The visual language allows one to be interactive. The limited word and the rich graphics create what I call the grey area, where the reader expands on the story, giving scope to critical thinking which comes into play. The reader would find satisfaction in being allowed to become part of expanding the story, the visuals play a huge part in pushing him or her to elaborate further on the plot and personally internalizing information provided. Presenting a social or ecological issue in a graphical format is not just a means of creating awareness, but also helps shape critical thinking towards the issues on hand. Young readers are induced to weigh the pros and cons and can formulate for themselves where they stand on the issue based on their own value systems.
NVM: How many titles of Rise Above! do you plan to release in 2014? Do they feature Archie characters? How many comics have featured Archie characters?
Silberkleit: Only two. I am looking for funding to do one on suicide and another one on diabetes. The second comic book was done on healthy eating called ‘Discovery Kidz’ where children learn about wellness. This is what Rise Above foundation is about – taking the most pertinent issues faced by us, creating awareness and pondering about solutions through the comic book format.
The penciling does not feature Archie characters due to intellectual property (IP) being very strong. I am working towards the freedom to get information across in an entertaining format. There are certain things you just cannot do when you have a strong IP. The IP of the Archie characters is enormous globally. There is another book called JD Shapes UP that I worked on with Boston Children’s Hospital that was published and distributed to hospitals a few months ago. I am now working with a pharmaceutical company that has an interest in publishing in this format creating awareness about epilepsy .
NVM: Do schools recognize that comics for social good could be a important part of educating children?
Silberkleit: Absolutely. The US and Canada have provided requirements in their educational standards that graphic literacy be introduced, explored and utilized in the classroom. I urge your readers to embrace and harness the visual and comic books as an academic recourse for communication in today’s world
NVM: How do the Rise Above! series perform commercially? Do the Rise Above! series resonate with kids in India?
Silberkleit: There are no commercial parameters of measuring the success of this series as the books are given out free when I do a presentation. As long as I am able to sow the seed of awareness and playing my part of bringing about a change in mindsets and behavior, I’d have the future generations reap the benefits of it. Now I am Skyping into classrooms around the world, I look forward to an India school contacting me and enabling Indian children to read the series online. The response I get is fabulous with children gleaming with intelligence and being extremely proactive.
NVM: How important a market is India for the Archie franchise?
Silberkleit: India is a huge market for Archie Comics and has been on board with our brand for decades. Om Arora from Variety Books in New Deli was the key for Archie being available to your country. In addition to increasing our readers around the world, our goal is to make Archie part of a child’s development. A month ago we released the news about a film of Archie and friends in India. We are endeavoring to keep connecting with Indian hearts via different mediums for all to enjoy.
NVM: Could you tell about Rise Above Social Issues foundation and the sectors it works in?
Silberkleit: The foundation is to provide informational content in comic book format on various issues that society deals with. The foundation’s focus is to provide information in a welcoming format and believes the language of graphics is a powerful medium to communicate information in a manner that one can internalize the topic in a personal way. Once the information is grasped, we feel action and change can occur. The foundation works in the educational sector.