First published on The Daily Beast, April 9, 2014. Read the original here.
Archie, that lovable doof, and his sweater set posse from Riverdale—Betty, Veronica, and Jughead—have long been bywords for the idealized adolescence of the Baby Boomers. What Norman Rockwell was to oil painting, Archie Andrews was to comic books. But with Archie himself slated to die this summer, and Lena Dunham (yes, that Lena Dunham) onboard as a new writer, Riverdale is undergoing a radical transformation.
“I’m always shocked when I hear some people think Archie the comic books are set in the ‘50s,” says Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was recently named chief creative officer of Archie Comics. Last year, he created the critically acclaimed zombie-apocalypse-in-Riverdale themed title Afterlife With Archie. As of last month, he is the first CCO in the company’s 75 years of existence.
On July 2, 2013, little-known singer-songwriter Steve Grand YouTubed the video for his indie single “All-American Boy”, which the now 24-year-old Illinois-native made for a little over $7,000. “I’d never used a credit card before,” he recalled with a laugh. The video featured a chiseled Grand serenading an oblivious (but ultimately understanding) straight male friend, asking him to be his “All-American boy tonight/Where every day’s the 4th of July.” Seven days later, the song had gone hyper-viral and Grand was being written about by every media outlet in the country (I covered him here). It even rocketed him to a spot on Good Morning America, where they proclaimed him a “gay country star.”
Amid all the recent kerfuffles at DC Comics—the Batwoman lesbian wedding that wasn’t, the brooding big screen reinvention of Superman, Ben Affleck’s controversial casting as Batman—it would be easy to overlook the most exciting reinvention in recent comic book history: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman. Her epic two-year inaugural story arc wrapped last September, and War, the final graphic novel collecting that arc, came out yesterday.
The statistics are upsetting and well known. Despite an encouraging recent drop in transmission rates, black women still represent two-thirds of all new HIV infections among women. In fact, they are 20 times more likely to seroconvert than white women—a greater level of disparity than ever before. The cavalcade of AIDS anniversaries over the last few years has spawned a corresponding interest in producing museum exhibits, documentaries, and feature films about the early years of the crisis. But with a few notable exceptions (Frontline’s “Endgame: AIDS In Black America;” Precious; Tyler Perry’s despicable Temptation), there has been no similar rush to tell the stories of the (black, female) face of the modern epidemic.
Sitting across from me in an immaculately tailored dark blue jacket, Melanie Gaydos is so petite she seems almost like a child dressed up as a model. She picks at the cuffs of her coat as we talk, the only sign of her anxiety. This is her first in-person interview.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but I’m actually quite nervous all the time,” the Connecticut-born, Brooklyn-based Gaydos tells me at one point. Then, as frequently happens during our sprawling, multi-hour conversation, a smile flits across her face. “But I’m a survivor.”
She needs to be. Although she has been modeling for nearly three years, was flown to Europe to star in a video for the band Rammstein, and has had (or has lined up) shoots in New York, Los Angeles, Madrid, and Berlin, Gaydos is still finding her place in the world of high fashion. As she’s quick to point out, this is in part the same struggle any young woman has when trying to break into that nearly impossible industry: the fight to get work, avoid being exploited, and make the fashion world take notice. For Gaydos, however, this already difficult task is complicated by a rare genetic disorder called ectodermal dysplasia, which “affects your hair, teeth, nails, pores, skin tissue, and sometimes even bone formation.”
This Dec. 1, as we mark yet another World AIDS Day without a cure, a vaccine, or an intelligently interdependent global response to the crisis, I’d like to propose a thought experiment based on a radical—yet commonsense—proposition: We can end AIDS without a cure for AIDS.