Spotlight On: Sabrina Spellman
I know what you’re thinking after seeing the title:
“Sabrina Spellman? Of Sabrina The Teenage Witch fame? I thought this was a column about comic book HORROR HOSTS!?”
…You are correct. But believe me, she has every right to be here, and I’ll prove it. Let’s just start at the beginning…
In October of 1962, a new character made an appearance in issue number twenty-two of an anthology humor comic book called Archie’s Madhouse, published by Archie Comics. She was a spunky, freckled; teenage girl with platinum blonde hair in a bob hairdo, who was not too dissimilar to many of the titular redhead’s other teenage friends, except for in the fact that this girl had a spooky secret: she was a witch! Her name was Sabrina, and she was initially supposed to be no more than a one-off character according to her creator, George Gladir. She proved to be so popular with readers, however, that she soon made further appearances in the pages of Archie’s Madhouse and was shortly thereafter given her own self titled comic book, Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
The plot of this comic was that Sabrina lived in the town of Greendale (bordering Archie’s hometown of Riverdale) with her aunt’s Hilda and Zelda, who were also witches themselves, as well as her pet cat familiar, Salem.
Most of the humor in the book came from the fact that Sabrina‘s aunts were very old school, traditional type witches (Hilda being a long nosed, scraggly haired crone, and Zelda being a plump, green haired, fairy godmother type) while Sabrina just wanted to do the same things any groovy teen girl in the sixties would want to do, like go to sock hops, or malt shops, or… whatever with her mortal boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle. She wasn’t ashamed of being a witch or anything, she used her powers all the time to do things like help her friends and do her homework (things her aunts very much frowned upon, since they thought a witch should be causing mischief and mayhem with their powers), she just wanted to bring witchcraft into the twentieth century, whereas her aunts, who were her mentors, wanted to keep it firmly in the dark ages with their pointy hats and cauldrons. They saw Sabrina’s cheerful attitude and beautiful appearance as being completely antithetical to what a witch should be like, so Sabrina was the weirdo of the family. Even though her aunts saw her behavior as disgustingly normal, Sabrina actually was a monster at heart, and she loved hanging out around her family’s freaky friends. Vampires, Frankensteins, mummies, etc, were regular guests at the house and almost all the jokes came from Sabrina trying to keep the scary side of her life separate from her life with her normal, mortal friends.
Keep in mind; this was two years before The Munsters would be doing the same shtick with their oddly normal family member, Marilyn. And also two years before the show Bewitched brought witchcraft to the suburbs and into the homes of middle class America via their television sets. Sabrina was a pioneer of creepy weirdness at a time that demanded conformity from everyone, especially teenage girls.
Of course the counter culture kids of the time ate it up, and soon Sabrina‘s popularity had her starring in her very own animated series produced by the Filmation company in 1971. This was after she had already made several guest appearances on their Archie show, which aired first.
Then in October of 1973 came the moment that took Sabrina from mere magic girl prototype into the glamorous spotlight of horror hostess. Chilling Adventures In Sorcery As Told By Sabrina was Archie Comics’ way of jumping on the horror anthology comics bandwagon, and who better to host the tales of terror within it than their very own spooky sorceress? Many of you may be thinking, how scary could an Archie comic actually be? And it is true that the stories that filled this tome were tame compared to, say, anything by EC Comics or Warren Publishing, but for Archie it was actually some pretty dark stuff. Demonic jewelry, freaks, and standard fare like vampires and giant bugs actually killed people and many stories had unhappy endings. This was in sharp contrast to the cartoony style of its artwork by famous Archie artist, Dan DeCarlo. Unfortunately, Sabrina only lasted as hostess of the book for a mere two issues. After that the title was shortened to just, Chilling Adventures In Sorcery, and then it was changed again later after issue six to simply, Red Circle Sorcery. This was due to it being published by Red Circle Comics (Archie’s edgier imprint) by that point.
Sabrina still had her own title to star in, though, and her book ran for many decades as one of the company’s most popular comics. It was only natural, then, that in 1996 the ABC TV network decided to create a live action sitcom about the character and her bewitching family, starring Melissa Joan Hart in the title role. All of Sabrina‘s supporting cast was there: her clueless boyfriend, Harvey, her two aunts (who now looked like average, contemporary women instead of Halloween decorations), and her cat, Salem. Unfortunately the series did not have the rights to any other Archie characters, so all connections to those guys were gone. They even changed Sabrina‘s hometown from Greendale to Westbridge, no doubt so they wouldn’t have to explain why she never ran into fellow Greendale residents like Josie and The Pussycats. The show was a huge hit that ran for many seasons, first on ABC and then later on the WB, and it did a good job of capturing the character’s struggle to reconcile her magical world with her normal teenage world, although much of the Munster style humor regarding her aunts wasn’t present, since they also looked as normal as Sabrina did now. This series added a lot of things to the Sabrina mythos that were later incorporated into the comics, like giving her the last name of Spellman, and explaining where her parents were (Father was a busy warlock, Mother was a mortal and not allowed to see her daughter while she learned to use her magic from the aunts), but the biggest and most popular addition was giving her cat, Salem, the ability to speak, which he never had had in the comics before. They also gave him the back-story that he was a power hungry warlock who tried to take over the world once and was punished for it by being turned into a cat and forced to live with Hilda (one of his supporters) for a thousand years. I think Harry Potter would have been a very different series if they had done the same to Voldemort and forced Lucius Malfoy to take care of him.
Anyway, this live action series led to an animated spinoff in the year 2000, chronicling the character’s younger days before she was in high school. During this period in time there was also a new Sabrina The Teenage Witch comic book being published by Archie, but, no doubt trying to appeal to the predominantly tween girls who watched the show, it was much more heavy on romance, drama, and outfits than the original comic ever was. It also featured a very “manga” style of artwork, which was big at the time, and personally, I just never felt that that gelled good with the Archie brand.
Eventually, the live action show, the animated series, and the comic book all fizzled away, as people started to become Sabrina‘d out. Occasionally she would make an appearance in other Archie comics, but those guest spots were few and far between. Then last year in 2013 it was announced that a new animated series would be premiering on the HUB network. It was called, Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch, and it was done in the 3D animation style that’s all the rage with the kids these days. It stunk. Sorry, but it did. Does, actually, it’s still airing. Maybe it’s the cheap looking, cheesy animation, maybe it’s just geared to a very young audience, I don’t know, but it’s not Sabrina as I’ve come to know her over the years. So it seemed like all was lost if that was the only Teenage Witch we’d be getting any time soon.
Thankfully, in the fall of 2013, there came a game changer that set in motion events that would change the face of Sabrina completely; the first issue of Afterlife With Archie was published. Having finally been the last company to drop the stale, old comics code, Archie Comics decided to take a shot at something a little bit different from their norm. Based on a variant “what if” cover that artist Francesco Francavilla did for one of their ongoing titles, Life With Archie, Afterlife With Archie was a full on, teen rated, horror comic about the residents of Riverdale being slowly turned into zombies ala Night of The Living Dead.
It was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa, a man who clearly knows his horror genre stuff, because Afterlife features numerous tropes and references to everything from H.P Lovecraft to A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Naturally Sabrina, the Archieverses resident monster expert is involved in the plot, and the people behind the book must have loved seeing her return to her horror roots so much that they decided (in a case of history repeating itself) to spin off Sabrina once again from an Archie book and give her her own title again.
The book was released this month (seeing a pattern here with October?), and it’s called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, no doubt as a nod to the old anthology title she hosted, and it is said to be a dark, supernatural book like Afterlife With Archie, but with shades of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Cool. So things have finally come full circle (Red circle, ya might say); Sabrina has finally returned to her creepy roots at long last, and I have a very good feeling about this upcoming title since it is also being written by Afterlife’s Aguirre-Sarcassa with art by Robert Hack. Plus, checkout some of these variant covers…
This is definitely in good hands.
As Winifred Sanderson once so famously said,
“The witch is back, and there’s Hell to pay.”
Which is why I was the first in line for the premiere issue when Chilling Adventures came out, and I suggest you all give it a chance as well.
So you see, Sabrina is a great character with a long and interesting history related to horror, hosting, and being a monster kid and that is why she deserves a write up here at Horror Hosts & Creature Features and also why Sabrina Spellman is an important part of our horror comic scareitage.
Stay weird, my friends.