Josie And The Pussycats Are Back—And They’re More Real Than Ever
Throughout their many incarnations—the Archie Comics, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, the 2001 movie, the upcoming Riverdale series on the CW—Josie and the Pussycats have always been about one thing: friendship. It’s a story about three women who want nothing more than to make music and be best friends. Spirited front woman Josie and her band mates, Melody (the dim-witted, yet endearing drummer) and Valerie (the bad ass bassist and vocalist), celebrate grrrl power—so it’s about time they were given the reboot treatment.
Following in the footsteps of the recently rebooted Archie (#HotArchie) and Betty and Veronica, Archie Comics is launching a new Josie and the Pussycats comic series (on shelves September 28), featuring the rock and roll exploits of Riverdale’s most popular rock band. Written by Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio, with art by Audrey Mok, the series follows the band’s humble beginnings, as Josie, the titular punk-rock prom queen with big dreams, unites with Melody and Val to form the titular trio. However, Josie quickly learns that fame isn’t as glamorous as she thought, especially with her former best friend Alexandra Cabot trying to sabotage her every chance she gets. The struggle is so real.
Bennett and DeOrdio chatted with MTV News about Josie & the Pussycats #1, their plans for the series, rebooting Josie, Melody, and Val for a modern audience, and what the Pussycats’ legacy means for the next wave of comics.
As a kid, I was obsessed with the Josie and the Pussycats Hanna-Barbera cartoon, which fuelled my later obsession with the 2001 movie. Female friendships are such rich territory for fiction and my personal thematic catnip, but I’d love to know from you what makes Josie, Melody, and Val’s friendship so special?
Marguerite Bennett: I think each interpretation and incarnation—comic, cartoon, film, reinvention—brings something fresh and new, but mostly, I think it’s the fact of that female friendship that makes it special. So often media shows girls ripping each other apart over boys and clothes and social standing, being so petty and one-dimensional, when Josie and the Pussycats always made sure that their friendship was going to be the foundation of their journey, music, and story. They are prepared to go through hell for each other, prepared to forgive each other, prepared to genuinely repair what they screw up, prepared to share the limelight and face the world together.
The book is a lot of fun! How did you decide on the right tone?
Bennett: Archie was interested in a more realistic take on the Pussycats, something that focused on the genuine struggles of trying to make it in the music industry, and so we sought a way to combine the zaniness and over-the-top adventures of the classic stories with the glorious weirdness of the reinventions we’ve seen through the years with sincere emotional growth as the Pussycats learn to be better friends and better artists in the modern world.
Cameron DeOrdio: I would argue we are pretty weird, fun people, and I’d say that makes us pretty likeable. We figured it only made sense to write a weird, fun book and hope it was as likeable as us. Well, more likeable than me. Maybe not as likeable as Marguerite. But we’re trying.
Josie and the Pussycats have been around for a long time, and they’ve undergone a lot of different interpretations, but I particularly love the characterization here. For example, Melody is a lovable “ditz” but she’s also extremely self-aware how did you go about modernizing the Pussycats for today’s audience?
DeOrdio: Marguerite has said before that Melody is a fool like a court jester is a fool, and, well, I think that’s pretty perfect.
Bennett: Court jesters were the figures permitted to mock the rich and powerful, to speak the truth to power and get away with it, to say the uncomfortable truth that no one wants to acknowledge and live to see another day. We didn’t want to overhaul anyone’s personality, but we did want to thoughtfully finesse their strengths and flaws for a modern context and, where we could, stress their meaning—for example, Josie wants to start a band not out of a passing whim, or because it’s fun or cool that day, but because she’s dedicated her life to this dream. She’s a young woman with ambitions, and it can make her starry-eyed, just as it can make her ruthless. She’s navigating her own wants and needs as well as trying to learn to do right by the people she loves, and struggling to be a better person.
How would you describe each character’s personal style? I selfishly hope we get to see them rock the cat ears in the next book.
DeOrdio: Oh, Audrey is the entire genius here. Unless, Marguerite, you’ve been slipping her some style notes on the sly?
Bennett: Never! I was blessed to come across Audrey’s art after Mad Max: Fury Road came out—I’d been in a fever for fan art of Furiosa and the Brides, and I stumbled on Audrey’s Twitter account and her magnificent illustrations and redesigns and fell madly in love with her. I had been scouring the Earth for a project I could one day work on with her. Everything gorgeous is her. Everything cheesy is us.
I feel like you took characters who could have seemed very one-dimensional and added layers and more complexity. Even Alexandra! Josie admitting her faults to Val and Melody in Book 1 was great. These characters can be protagonists and sometimes antagonists, too. Do you think this makes their dynamic more authentic?
DeOrdio: Well, between us, Alexandra is my favourite character in the book. We try to give her motivations a fair shake, both because I’m biased and because, like you said, it makes for more authentic conflict and characters.
Bennett: We hope! We didn’t want to write aspirational characters. We didn’t want to write stock archetypes. We wanted to write real young women—characters who fight and fail and figure it out as they go. There’s such a danger in compensating for the sexist writings of, well, literally all of human history, in which women are portrayed as props and sex objects and handmaidens and fantasies, by then trying to make only female characters who are flawless and charitable and aspirational and perfect role models. We just wanted to write sincerely.
What were some of your influences for this book?
DeOrdio: I’ve been re watching a fair amount of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated since we got this project, and I’m telling myself it’s research.
Bennett: College… ?
Alternatively, who are some of Josie and the Pussycats’ musical inspirations?
DeOrdio: At the risk of sounding entirely uninteresting, I listen to a pretty wide variety of music, so I’m sure there are a lot of different genres stewing around when I’m working on it. But if I had to narrow it to three acts I’m listening to the most when I’m trying to come up with what the Pussycats are playing, it’d be Marina and the Diamonds, Hey Violet, and this band from my neighbourhood, The Hell Yeah Babies. And, of course, the 2001 movie’s soundtrack.
Bennett: At the risk of sounding utterly insane, I pretty much only listen to show tunes, Disney music, and Rammstein, and was happy to receive Cameron’s playlists.
How did you go about writing the songs? Do you think about the melodies as well, or just the lyrics?
DeOrdio: Oh, I just steal tunes a lot. No, but seriously, I listen for melodies and lyrical ideas I like and try to adjust them and create something new to suit what we’re doing in a given issue or scene.
With your book launching in September, and the new Riverdale series—starring Josie and the Pussycats—premiering next year, why do you think a franchise like Josie and the Pussycats has endured for so many decades?
DeOrdio: I think Josie and the Pussycats have endured because they’ve never been ashamed about what they are.
Bennett: There’s a double standard in entertainment that focuses on women. Two men solving a crime is a buddy cop movie. A father and son relationship is a family drama. A team of guys on an adventure is an action movie. Dudes getting into high jinks is a comedy. But two women solving a crime is a chick flick. A mother and daughter relationship is a chick flick. A team of women on an adventure is a chick flick. Girls getting into high jinks is a chick flick. And chick flicks are considered lesser, niche, without as much value, because as a society, we believe women and their stories have less value.
DeOrdio: Over the decades, Josie and the Pussycats have managed to appeal to all people and all demographics, under the artistry of all the writers and artists and performers and musicians who had a hand in their legacy, and that gives me hope for the next wave of comics and entertainment.