Michael I. Silberkleit, the chairman of Archie Comic Publications, died August 5th in New York City at the age of 76, after a short battle with cancer.
For much of the 60 years he worked at Archie Comics, Silberkleit shared the leadership of the company with Richard Goldwater, whose father, John Goldwater, and his partner, Louis Silberkleit, Michael’s father, founded the company.
The sons, who began working at the company as boys, later steered Archie Comics into the modern era of publishing as electronic production techniques and brand licensing became important. They encouraged the development of new characters, such as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats, and successfully licensed these and other characters through Archie Comics Entertainment. Silberkleit was also Executive consultant to the TV program, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, a long running series starring Melissa Joan Hart. The company also published comic books as a licensee, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog. At various times Silberkleit was chairman of the Comics Association of America.
The centerpiece identity of the company, which is based in Mamaroneck, New York, remains the brightly innocent presence of Archie and his girlfriends, Betty and Veronica, who made their comic debut in 1941.
Over the decades Michael Silberkleit and Richard Goldwater steadfastly refused to introduce the worldlier and darker elements of teenage life, like sex and drugs and violence, into the Archie storylines. In doing so they preserved an image of adolescence for the target audience of 7-to-14 year olds.
Silberkleit was determined to keep Archie an American institution, pure as childhood, yet up-to-date with the latest technology used by children today. For generations of readers, Archie and the Gang have represented the wonder and magic of childhood and Silberkleit fought successfully to keep this vision alive.
Unlike some competitors who use longer formats, Archie Comics continues its tradition of telling accessible, short stories. In one of the many interviews Silberkleit gave, he said, “The fact that our stories are funny, are non-violent, believable, clean and appropriate for youngsters makes us so appealing to the younger reader. This philosophy hasn’t changed for more than 60 years. Many parents grew up reading Archie Comics and feel that our comics are appropriate for their kids.”
After an initial public offering in the early 1970s, when Silberkleit served as Treasurer, Archie Comics shares were traded publicly. But after ten years Silberkleit and his partner Goldwater bought the company back from shareholders and held it as a private, family-owned business thereafter. Currently, the company publishes over 10 million comics per year in a dozen languages worldwide.
Born in New York City in 1932, Silberkleit attended the Fieldston School before going to Albright College as an undergraduate. He studied law after his graduation.
Silberkleit was also active in the community, volunteering as an auxiliary policeman for the Scarsdale Police force.
A resident of Rye and East Hampton, N.Y., Silberkleit indulged his mechanical aptitude with vintage sports cars, spending several years restoring a 1966 Austin Healey 3000 MKIII.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy Lind Silberkleit, and their daughter, Alexandria, and by three adult children from a prior marriage to Karen Silberkleit: Susan Berkley, David Silberkleit and Amy Silberkleit, as well as grandchildren Isis and Elijah Shiffer.
A private funeral and memorial service is planned for Sunday, August 10th. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers or other memorials, donations should be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Research.