In what some comic historians who harbor a cynical side may view as ironic "just desserts", the venerable Archie Comics industry is reeling from a spat between two parties that, in some ways, make the Hatfields and McCoys look like Abbott and Costello.
What's at stake? Only the multi-million dollar business, for one thing. And even that may be going down the tubes according to one of the plaintiffs, which is kind've how the whole thing got started in the first place.
The name "Goldwater" may mean a little more to older comic geeks than just another run-of-the-mill politician stumping for Governor in my native state of California. You see, it was John L. Goldwater, who, along with two of his buddies each threw in 8 grand to start what was known then as MLJ Comics. It was this selfsame Goldwater who was the first Grand Master of the Comics Code Authority, an evil empire that sounded the death knell for the hundreds of "pre-code" horror titles that were summarily denounced like a witch in Salem, Mass.
And what did he care? MLJ, later known as Archie Comics published some superhero and other "wholesome" titles. Some people believe (and I among them) that, while maybe not the raison d' etre, he certainly saw it as a convenient way to neutralize -- by title and content neutering, as it were -- the competition.
Occasionally, Archie Comics tip-toed into the realms of the supernatural. One memorable humor title was TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS (1961) which has since become something of a mini-cult comic. In the early 1970's Archie Comics launched another "horror" title, this time it was CHILLING ADVENTURES IN SORCERY AS TOLD BY SABRINA (of later Teenage Witch TV fame), then after a couple issues, pared down to CHILLING ADVENTURES IN SORCERY, this time a predominantly mystery rather than all-out horror title that had supernatural elements. TheRed Circle Comics imprint was used, presumably to differentiate it from the more wholesome, non-superhero and other humor books. The memorable moments in this short-run was the always top-notch draughtmanship of the late, great Gray Morrow.
Following are the details of the current rift between families and the legal struggle for the rights to the Archie Comics line. Each has some merit, in my opinion. Read on and judge for yourself . . .
The Battle for a Comic-Book Empire That Archie Built
The New York Times
By ROBIN FINN
Apr 13, 2012
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — The entry vestibule at Archie Comic Publications here is a glass portal to childhood innocence, sunny summer days and endless nostalgia: The back end of a vintage white Cadillac, with its killer shark-fin fenders and leather interior intact, has been retrofitted to function as a sofa. Two salvaged audio hookups from an extinct drive-in movie theater complete the Memory Lane montage. Framed posters of Archie, the gullible Riverdale High School redhead, and his equally colorful entourage invigorate the walls.
But to gain access to the company’s administrative offices, you must pass through a reminder of its troubled present: double-locked doors and security cameras primarily installed to keep out a designated intruder, the company’s co-chief executive, Nancy Silberkleit, who since January has been under court order to stay away from Archie.
At this, the last of the privately run Mom-and-Pop comic book dynasties, Ms. Silberkleit, 59, the daughter-in-law of a company founder, Louis H. Silberkleit, is deadlocked in a court battle for control of the company with Jonathan Goldwater, 52, a son of another founder, John L. Goldwater. Like Betty and Veronica, the two are feuding over Archie’s future, but there is nothing comic — or friendly — about their rivalry. Each accuses the other of endangering the family legacy, Mr. Goldwater by wanting to expand Archie into a megabrand with help from outside investors and the Hollywood uber-agent Ari Emanuel, Ms. Silberkleit by vowing to keep the company’s traditions intact and preserve family ownership, ostensibly leading to stagnation.
The hostilities are withering. She says he defamed her and conspired with their employees against her in order to steal control of the company. He says she poisoned the workplace by threatening longtime employees with termination and spewing sexual insults. Meanwhile, they both claim to love Archie dearly, almost like a son — a son who is pushing 71 yet retains a head of lush red hair, abundant freckles and the top spot in a famous love triangle.
Competing lawsuits filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and State Supreme Court in Westchester County lay out a litany of bitter allegations. He punctured her car tires, destroyed her Web site and claimed that she sexually harassed employees. She ordered him to fire several longtime employees because they were too old, too fat or too buxom, and let her dog, Willow, roam the offices and defecate in the art department.
In a suit where Archie Comic Publications was co-plaintiff, Mr. Goldwater sought and obtained a restraining order against Ms. Silberkleit in fall 2011 that limited her contact with Archie employees. When she failed to comply with its terms, the plaintiffs sought and obtained a preliminary injunction, and in January she was banned outright from her own memorabilia-filled office by Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of State Supreme Court.
At stake is the future of a company that was established in 1939 and became renowned for emphasizing family values and enduring friendships. Archie’s fan club was a parent-endorsed bastion for children: even a 9-year-old Amy Carter, then the first daughter, sent in her quarter to join, listing the White House as her address. Over the decades Archie expanded into an international teenage symbol: in 2008, the company published 10 million Archie-related comics in 12 languages. Its app has been downloaded four million times, suggesting that Archie, besides inspiring nostalgia, has 21st-century cred.
Last week, the two sides began court-approved mediation, but it seems unlikely they will resolve their differences quickly or easily — if at all. If mediation fails, Mr. Goldwater will resume his quest to make Ms. Silberkleit’s absence permanent; she will presumably continue to pursue a $100 million defamation lawsuit against him and the company.
“I have to wonder how much of a succession plan was in place,” said Johanna Draper Carlson, a comic book critic and blogger. “Two C.E.O.’s can be a recipe for disaster. There are rumors circulating: everybody’s talking about it, especially since it’s happening at Archie, which is supposed to be so good and wholesome. Suddenly we’re hearing talk of liquidation coming out of the courtroom. It’s unfortunate because Archie really is a unique company.”
Indeed, its historical peers, DC and Marvel, are now corporately owned: Warner Brothers Entertainment is the parent of DC and Marvel was acquired by Disney for $4 billion in 2008.
Ms. Silberkleit’s lawyer, Howard Simmons, said the restraining order and injunction prohibited her from speaking publicly about Archie-related matters, but he emphasized that restoration of her reputation and preservation of the company was her only goal, not counting an apology from her co-chief.
“I have to be her mouthpiece,” he said in a phone interview. “For the past three years, her co-C.E.O., Jon Goldwater, has done everything in his power to undermine her work. Slowly but surely she has been pushed out of the company: the bottom line is they want her out. She loves Archie Comic Publications, and she’s worried about Archie being forced to be sold if this dispute is not resolved. I’m glad it’s gone to mediation. She is in a desperate condition right now.”
Mr. Goldwater had a different take. “I know she is trying to frame this as a power grab by Jon,” he said, as if distancing himself from an emotionally fraught situation by speaking of himself in the third person. “But for goodness sake, I didn’t go to this. This came to me.”
In 1939, when John L. Goldwater, Louis H. Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne, Mr. Silberkleit’s accountant and partner in his pulp publishing business, Columbia Productions, decided to expand into comic books, their investment was $8,000 apiece. The company, called MLJ, was based in Lower Manhattan.
Mr. Goldwater was the visionary who dreamed up superheroes like The Shield and The Wizard and decided, after a few years, that their Pep Comics series could use a few characters who were not superpowered or monsters. In 1941, he sketched the face of a childhood friend: it was Archie, a girl-crazy, pratfall-prone, boy-next-door type.
The cartoonist Bob Montana inked the original likenesses of Archie and his pals and plopped them in an idyllic Midwestern community named Riverdale because Mr. Goldwater, a New Yorker, had fond memories of time spent in Hiawatha, Kan. The Archie love triangle was another novelty Mr. Goldwater borrowed from his own past. The brand took a few years to catch on, but by 1943 there was an Archie radio program and, by 1946, an Archie comic strip. That year, with Archie selling a million copies an issue, the partners changed the company’s name to Archie Comics in honor of their most popular creation, the gaptoothed teenager who made them all multimillionaires.
After Mr. Coyne retired in 1967, Archie was in its heyday with a television cartoon and a No. 1 pop hit, “Sugar, Sugar,” by the Archies (the record has sold 15 million copies since its release in 1969; alas, Mr. Goldwater notes, the copyright is Sony’s).
The elder Mr. Goldwater and Mr. Silberkleit led the company until 1983, when they were succeeded by their oldest sons, Richard and Michael, both from first marriages. The two heirs apparent had been friends since childhood, working their way up the ladder at Archie. One of their first decisions, besides moving the company, now known as Archie Comic Publications, to Westchester County, where both lived, was to regain control of its stock, made available to investors with an initial public offering in the 1970s. They bought it all back, each controlling 50 percent. Richard H. Goldwater was president, Michael I. Silberkleit was chairman, and they shared the title of publisher.
They presented a united front, and their 25-year grip on the company was well documented. When their chief artist, Dan DeCarlo, sued over the rights to Josie and the Pussycats royalties in 2001, he was fired. When Warner Music Group introduced an Australian girl band called the Veronicas in 2005 without obtaining licensing permission, Archie sued for $200 million. Michael Silberkleit was clear about his reasons for protecting the clean-cut Archie aura: “Without that image, we’re nothing.”
Then, in an odd twist, both men died of cancer within months of each other: Mr. Goldwater in October 2007 and Mr. Silberkleit in August 2008. Victor Gorelick, who joined Archie in 1958 and is still the editor in chief, took over on an emergency basis.
Jonathan Goldwater, a son of John Goldwater and his second wife, Gloria, acknowledged that he was not predestined to inherit an executive role, or stock, in Archie. “In a family business there are a lot of dynamics that aren’t on the surface,” he explained. He recalls working in the mailroom with “Uncle Louie” during summer vacations, but his involvement ended there.
Instead, he worked as a concert promoter and music manager, and by 2007 was the chief executive of AFA Music Group, a talent development and management agency based in New York City. Shortly before his half-brother’s death, they had a reunion lunch: Richard revealed that his illness was terminal and told Jonathan the day might come when he would have an opportunity to buy into the company. Mr. Goldwater was unaware of Michael Silberkleit’s death until he received a call from his mother several weeks afterward; he then phoned Mr. Gorelick to find out how the company was faring without the families in charge. “It turned out Victor was running the show at that point,” he said.
In 2009, after buying half of the stock held by his half-brother’s estate for $2.5 million, Mr. Goldwater left the music business for the family business. “Unintentionally, I wound up following in my dad’s footsteps,” he said. “But I have to admit I felt at first that Archie had become a little irrelevant and fallen off the radar of the national consciousness.”
Mr. Goldwater and Ms. Silberkleit, Michael’s widow, had never met until, in a move intended to preserve family control, they became co-chief executives. They both signed contracts that would run through 2013, with Ms. Silberkleit, who at the time was a third-grade art teacher in New Jersey, responsible for scholastic and theatrical ventures and Mr. Goldwater in control of everything else. They were supposed to consult on major decisions. But in an affidavit filed in support of the preliminary injunction, Mr. Goldwater testified that their working relationship had soon atrophied: “All too often her reaction to any discussion at all which she does not understand or does not like is to become threatening and abusive.”
New Directions, and Discord
The company reported $40 million in sales for 2009 but was, according to Mr. Goldwater, floundering financially and operationally. The overhead was too high, the morale was too low. By 2010, Ms. Silberkleit was, he said, exerting an increasingly “toxic” influence on the employees and refusing to hold meaningful discussions with him about crucial upgrades like digitization.
Nor was she receptive to two creative diversifications of the Archie story line: adding a gay character, Kevin Keller, and moving forward with plans for a spinoff series that projected Archie into fantasy marriages with both of his long-term love interests, Betty and Veronica, according to affidavits filed by Mr. Goldwater and Mr. Gorelick in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The hugely enthusiastic response to Kevin Keller’s September 2010 debut in Veronica No. 202 (Veronica’s crush is unrequited because of his being gay) necessitated a second printing, unprecedented in Archie history, and the Keller mini-series for 2011 sold out. So did the “Just Married” edition in the Life With Archie magazine series that chronicled Archie’s two possible marital futures. Suddenly Archie was generating buzz and celebrity blurbs again, the subject of segments on “The Colbert Report” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” and the recipient of Glaad Media Awards nominations.
In 2010, Ms. Silberkleit decided to leave teaching and join Archie full time. According to Mr. Goldwater, the complaints from the staff escalated; he said his attempts to mediate were futile and often ended up with them yelling at one another behind closed doors.
Mr. Gorelick, 70, said the staff “walked on eggshells” when Ms. Silberkleit was around, fearful of being insulted or castigated. She testified in January that she felt ostracized and disrespected by Mr. Goldwater and the staff; she denied the allegations of directing sexual slurs at employees, though Mr. Gorelick and Mr. Goldwater both described an episode in 2011 where she walked into a meeting, pointed in turn at each of the male editors present and said, “Penis, penis, penis.”
What Mr. Goldwater refers to as “the boiling point” was reached in May 2011 when a female employee threatened to file a harassment complaint against Ms. Silberkleit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Goldwater hired a lawyer and commissioned a human resources consultant to investigate the accusations of workplace abuses; Ms. Silberkleit was the only member of the company who declined to be interviewed. The report, released in June 2011, concluded her absence or removal was advisable, and in July, Mr. Goldwater began legal action against her. According to Mr. Goldwater, all two dozen employees volunteered to supply affidavits bemoaning Ms. Silberkleit’s conduct; Ms. Silberkleit termed that proof of a Machiavellian palace coup engineered by Mr. Goldwater.
After a series of court rulings against Ms. Silberkleit that included a $500 fine — for violating the temporary restraining order by twice showing up at the office in mid-December with a former football player in tow — and responsibility for $59,000 in legal expenses accrued by the company, last month the hostile parties agreed to take their problems to mediation. Ms. Silberkleit’s 50 percent share of the company is not in jeopardy, but her job may be.
“The judge was very much against Nancy’s case,” Mr. Simmons, Ms. Silberkleit’s lawyer, said. “Mr. Goldwater defamed her, and Judge Kornreich has gone along with it. But the judge didn’t go to the length of removing Nancy as C.E.O., although that’s basically what Goldwater and his lawyer have been asking for.”
Although Ms. Silberkleit testified that she brought the former football player, Howard Jordan, to the office to help her with an antibullying-themed comic book, the employees testified that he intimidated the accounting and art departments merely by his unsanctioned presence. It was the company’s position that Ms. Silberkleit was using the unsuspecting Mr. Jordan as “muscle.”
In her testimony, Ms. Silberkleit denied ever mistreating her fellow Archie employees: “I’m the one being harassed and abused there.”
Besides becoming what Mr. Simmons called “a persona non grata” in the industry, where she no longer speaks at conventions, schools and libraries, Ms. Silberkleit is enjoined from having contact with any of the company’s employees except Mr. Goldwater. Their exchanges are mostly conducted by e-mail and are, he said, “strictly formal.”
Her $100 million defamation suit filed in Westchester in January by Mr. Simmons accuses Mr. Goldwater and the company of ruining her credibility and preventing her from doing the job she was hired for. She claims Mr. Goldwater not only pulled the plug on her comic book fair programs, but also destroyed her Web site and excised her files.
Each side dismisses the complaints filed by the other as “frivolous.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Goldwater, a married father of two, is running Archie solo. An “Occupy Riverdale” comic and an animated “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” series are imminent.
“In spite of all this litigation, Archie, for fiscal 2011, is going to turn a profit,” Mr. Goldwater said last month in an interview at his office. “There is no financial jeopardy. We’re leaders in everything digital. I think we’re feeling unchained creatively. Nancy was very resistant to change, but I am fearless. That’s how confident I am in this brand.”
As the court hearings leading to Ms. Silberkleit’s banishment were winding down this winter, Mr. Gorelick was cross-examined by Mr. Simmons. Just before releasing him from the witness stand, Justice Kornreich posed a question of her own. “O.K., another question,” she asked. “Why did Archie marry Veronica?”
Mr. Gorelick’s response was swift and succinct: “It made better news than this.”
- 30 -
UPDATE: While researching and drafting the text of this post, an agreement seems to have been met in the Goldwater vs. Silberkleit case. While details have yet to be revealed, politics and intrigue seemed to have saved the day again.
Here's the wrapup from the HUFFINGTON POST:
Archie comics' 2 CEOs end their NY court fight
June 6, 2012
NEW YORK — The two CEOs of the company that publishes Archie comics on Wednesday ended their court feud over control of the comics kingdom, but now some relatives are accusing both sides of funny business.
A judge on Wednesday signed off on a settlement between Nancy Silberkleit and Jon Goldwater, the co-CEOs of Archie Comic Publications, even as Goldwater's nieces told the judge in court papers that they think both chief executives' "hands are dirty."
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich said the nieces weren't in a legal position to weigh in on the settlement, but she noted that they could file a suit of their own. A lawyer for the nieces' trust, Charles W. Grimes, said it "will be pursuing the requisite steps to protect the interests of the trust and its beneficiaries."
The settlement ends – at least for now_ a bitter and sometimes bizarre fight at the company that produces the congenial, more than 70-year-old comic that follows Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and others through dating and other teenage adventures.
The settlement details are confidential, but Silberkleit lawyer Howard D. Simmons said the pact restored her reputation and her post at Archie. Silberkleit has been banned from the company's headquarters in Mamaroneck since the litigation reached a heated point this winter.
"Nancy Silberkleit and Jon Goldwater are no longer in an adversarial position, and they are beginning their working relationship anew," Simmons said. "She's thrilled to have settled this extremely upsetting matter."
An Archie spokesman and a lawyer representing both the company and Goldwater didn't immediately return calls on the settlement, reached after mediation.
Debuted in 1941, carrot-topped Archie Andrews has percolated into pop culture from comics pages to airwaves. The fictional characters' band, the Archies, had a 1969 hit with "Sugar, Sugar"; the Archie-related "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" TV series had a popular run in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Goldwater is a son of one of the company's founders; Silberkleit is another founder's daughter-in-law. They became co-CEOs in 2009.
Silberkleit, a former elementary school art teacher, was to oversee scholastic and live theatrical endeavors; she will continue to do so under the settlement, her lawyer said. Goldwater, who had been a rock and pop music manager, would have the final say on everything else, according to her employment contract.
Silberkleit controls 50 percent of the company. Goldwater owns 25 percent; a trust set up by his late half brother, Richard, owns the rest. The nieces are the trust's beneficiaries.
Archie has made some attention-getting strides under Jon Goldwater and Silberkleit. The perennially dating Archie got married – to both his competing sweethearts, Betty and Veronica, in separate storylines that extended into the future. The comic also introduced its first openly gay character, Kevin Keller.
But friction brewed behind the scenes and spilled over into court last summer.
Goldwater and some staffers said Silberkleit was an erratic troublemaker who sexually harassed employees with off-color remarks, made bad business moves and even paraded a former football player around the office to intimidate people. He asked a court to strip her of her role at the company.
She said Goldwater was a chauvinist who demeaned her, kept her in the dark about Archie Comic Publications' finances and invented allegations to try to force her out and seize control of the company. She claimed defamation and sought $100 million in damages.
Both CEOs denied the others' allegations.
Jon Goldwater's three nieces, Lisa, Taylor and Summer Goldwater, initially stood on the sidelines of the court fight. They thought their uncle was acting in their best interest, though their trust hadn't gotten a penny from the company since he became a CEO, another of their lawyers, Jessica S. Rutherford, wrote in court papers filed Wednesday.
But the women decided to involve themselves this winter after becoming suspicious that their uncle was misusing the company's assets – and trying to keep them unaware of it, the papers said.
The nieces also are taking aim at Silberkleit, pointing to their uncle's allegations and saying that she wrongly drew a salary from the company while still working as a teacher.
The settlement, Rutherford wrote, amounts to back-scratching among "two directors who have been stealing from the company, or aiding and abetting each other's theft."
Simmons declined to comment on the nieces' allegations.
The nieces' court papers urged the court not to accept the deal unless they got access to the details, among other conditions.
The judge turned them down but said, "If the Goldwater estate wants to go forward with its own lawsuit ... it can get relief that way."
Grimes said the trust was pleased to see the co-CEOs' legal fight over, calling it "a debacle from the start that should never have taken place.
"Archie Comic Publications Inc. is a venerable company and the Archie characters are well loved by generations of readers around the world," he added. "This dispute is about current management. The Archie characters deserve better."
- 30 -
To give you an idea of what the Archie Comics line considered "horror", I've included here two examples.
The first is from TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS. It was published in November, 1961 by Close-up, Inc. and used the Archie Adventure Series imprint. With artwork by National Cartoonist Society Gag Award winner Orlando Busino, who had a long time cartoon strip, "Gus", in BOY'S LIFE, the book lampooned monster movies in the style of CRACKED'S FOR MONSTERS ONLY, as well as containing ubiquitous jokes like those found in many of the other monster 'zines of the day. Notice the use of Lon Chaney Jr.'s image of The Wolf Man and the Frankenstein monster in these pages.
Next is a sample from ADVENTURES IN SORCERY AS TOLD BY SABRINA, published in September 1972 by Archie Music Inc. and with the "Archie Series" imprint. The stories were pale in comparison to the gore and blood-soaked pages from the horror comics of 20 years earlier, and were obviously tailored for readers who were used to the harmless fun of Archie, Jughead and the rest of the gang.
The story included here, while not credited in the COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE, looks suspiciously rendered -- or perhaps inked or assisted by -- the great reclusive comic artist Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man.