Archie Andrews, the freckled star of the Archie Comics series, is set to die a “heroic” death soon, as its publishers and creative team announced last week. The comic series, which is based in the fictional town of Riverdale and features Archie, and his friends — Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge and Jughead Jones, first appeared in 1941 and has remained hugely popular over decades. As readers await the final edition of the comic, Indian authors and graphic novelists came up with rather interesting takes on what it entails to kill off a character in a book.
Anuja Chauhan, author of The Zoya Factor and Those Pricey Thakur Girls, opines that in this case, it is just an attention-seeking ploy. “This move is aimed at milking the comic dry. The publishers probably wanted to stop publishing it and wanted readers to buy the last episode.” That said, she admits that it can be traumatic for a writer to kill off a character in a comic/novel.
The Riverdale gang
Echoing her belief is graphic novelist and artist Vishwajyoti Ghosh, who has curated the anthology, This Side That Side. He maintains that in successful works, killing a popular character is never easy. Bangalore-based Appupen, comic creator and artist, and author of Moonward and Legends of Valhalla, admits the same, “I hope I have the courage to end a character when the time comes. After all, a story has to close somewhere.”
When to pull the plug?
But when should you do the deed? Samrat, author of The Urban Jungle, emphasises that if the plot or narrative requires a character to die, then it is okay to do so. “After all, a writer is trying to create a compelling, dramatic story and it might be necessary. At the same time, fiction is a reflection of real life, and in real life, people do die. Authors might worry about killing a character, though, if they intend to keep using the same character,” he states, admitting that he would love to be in a position where people want him to bring a character back to life.
Ghosh recalls the Sherlock Holmes example: “Though when he (Holmes) was brought back due to popular pressure, it was never the same. The people who wanted him back must have been the same who rejected him. Or else the work was never the same. This has happened over and over again. Archie’s fate remains to be seen.”
Chauhan adds that it’s especially tough to kill if the character is young. “That’s why many authors kill off older characters. You assume that they led a good life and audiences won’t react to it badly.”
At the other end, Appupen, jokes that Archie should have been killed years ago, “especially considering the years of fluff he fed readers.” He seconds Samrat in the view that if the work is a commercial success, killing off the character might lead to readers losing interest in the series.
Ghosh emphasises that a character must be killed only if it takes the story forward or adds a layer of complexity to the plot. “The problem is compounded in a form like the graphic novel as it is a plastic form where one can move across time and space more easily than others. So, even if the character is reincarnated, no one will bat an eyelid. Hence, the kill has to be absolutely convincing,” explains the Delhi-based creator.