MAHWAH, N.J. -- Nancy Silberkleit, publisher and co-CEO of Pelham, N.Y.-based Archie Comics , credits her years as a Bergen County public schoolteacher, for helping her navigate the comic book world.
Hard as it is to believe (for those who grew up with the series), Archie is 75 this year. And many of his stories -- along with his gang of Veronica, Betty and Jughead -- are still relevant, such as dealing with bullying, jealousy and friendship. He's so relevant, in fact, a live TV series called "Riverdale" will premiere on the CW on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 9 p.m.
"Archie has always been about entertainment," said Silberkleit, "But entertainment that touches one's heart."
People relate to the characters, stressed the Mahwah native, and like the fact that these teenagers solve problems on their own, without adult intervention. Together, the gang represents compassion and support.
More than that, Silberkleit, who took over as Co-CEO in 2008 after the sudden death of her husband, Michael, fervently believes that comic books like the Archie series can be used to engage a variety of learners, while promoting literacy and a love of reading and that the graphic comic book format enriches and develops the creative mind.
Her personal motto is “Children + Comic Books = Reading, Knowledge, Confidence and Creativity.”
A former art teacher with 25 years of experience, much of it in Paramus, she's often seen the power of comics in action as they encourage literacy, storytelling and creativity in children. Additionally, she believes comics teach youngsters how to explore their artistic abilities through illustration, and that this is a natural progression—a bridge to reading from the picture books of their younger years.
It's a subject the Westchester resident speaks about often as she travels the world, as well as on how she transitioned from the classroom to the boardroom. She admits she wasn't an Archie reader when she had to step into her husband's shoes, and that being the first female executive to ever walk through Archie Comics door, was not an easy transition. (At the time the business was headquartered in Mamaroneck, N.Y.; it moved to Pelham in 2015.)
Her teaching background, she emphasized, helped her tremendously, as she realized she could help expand the brand -- Archie is not only available in print but has gone digital -- in more of a literacy and educational component.
Silberkleit has also established the Rise Above Social Issues Foundation, Inc., a non-profit that addresses challenging social issues through comic books, such as childhood obesity and other chronic medical conditions, as well as bullying, discrimination and environmental concerns.
She hopes, in the not-so-distant future, to work with educators to establish after-school tutoring programs, which would include the development of lesson plans and more comic book fairs to engage children in literacy.
"Do not underestimate the power of a comic book," she stressed. "People need down time and burying your nose in the pages of a comic book allows you to recharge your batteries and let your imagination build."