Netflix will soon gift fans with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a horror-driven series starring the iconic Sabrina the Teenage Witch, albeit cast in a different light and tone than she’s classically known for – similar to how Riverdale reshuffles Sabrina’s Archie Comics’ peers into a more dramatic backdrop. The success of Riverdale (not to mention the success of the recent spate of more mature Archie Comics, including the Sabrina-centric Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) shows how these classic, all-American archetypes can work their magic in a multitude of settings beyond their comedic, feel-good roots. By recasting a known quantity such as Archie or Jughead into an unfamiliar role, you can inspire interest in hardcore fans, casual fans, or even those who never bothered to give the properties a look in he first place. Whether or not the new series pans out (though we are confident it will; casting Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka was genius), Sabrina: the character, has the bona fide goods to pull off genre-hopping, whether in the comics or on screen.
Below, we take a look at Sabrina’s origins and journey through the years that made her the dreamiest witch since Samantha Stevens.
The Classic Sabrina
Sabrina Spellman, the teen witch lived with her two aunts, Hilda and Zelda, as well as Salem, a former witch, living as a feline as punishment for some scheme or another. She usually is pining for or dating a human boy called Harvey Kinkle – but love was not always in the cards for Sabrina.
Sabrina’s first appearance came in comic book form, in Archie’s Madhouse #22, way back in July 1962. This five-pager drawn by prototypical Archie artist Dan DeCarlo and written by George Gladir, introduces both the teen witch and her cat Salem, along with some peculiar rules of witchery: as a witch, Sabrina is not able to cry, is unable to sink in water, and loses her witch powers should she ever fall in love. Which makes it dangerous for her to be in the same world as unlikely yet powerful chick-magnet Archie Andrews, yeah? Good for Sabrina that those rules are quickly abandoned in later appearances. Archie actually makes a cameo in this first appearance of Sabrina, as does Betty Cooper.
Gladir says that he named Sabrina after a girl he knew in school, only to subsequently recall that the girl’s name was actually “Sabra.” Happy accident that he forgot; while Sabra is a lovely name, Sabrina just has that magical ring that exemplifies mystery and witchiness. Maybe it’s the three syllables . . . evoking a similar feel to Samantha and Tabitha, America’s two other classic witch archetypes (not to mention Endora, American TV’s all-time classic pain in the rear witch/mother-in-law from Bewitched).
Sabrina continued to appear in Madhouse and make visits to other Archie comics, but got her own proper title, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, in 1971 – shortly after she headlined her very own television show. In 1970, CBS premiered a Saturday morning cartoon starring Sabrina; the show was alternately titled The Sabrina the Teenage Witch Show or The Sabrina Comedy Show, or even Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies. It spun out from The Archie Comedy Hour, another Saturday morning cartoon, and one in which Sabrina held a supporting role. The show ran for four seasons.
Now, for you young people in the audience with your YouTubes, DVRs and Rokus, it may be hard to understand, but back then, there was virtually zero kids’ animation aired except on Saturday mornings – and it was a BFD. Sundays were okay too – full of reruns of Popeye, George of the Jungle, Underdog and the like – but for anything new, it was Saturday. Sabrina getting her own show during what was the under-12 crowd’s prime time was huge, and probably did more to entrench Sabrina as America’s uber-witch than anything else in her history.
And if you are wondering what the heck a “Groovie Goolie” is, the Groovie Goolies were a pack of horror monster-inspired comedy characters who subsequently got their own short-lived spin-off show. That’s a rabbit hole we’ll save for another day, but this clip is worth 1,000 words:
Sabrina got another shot at a Saturday morning show with 1977’s The New Archie and Sabrina Hour, but it was very short-lived, initially canceled within months; re-edited into separate shows, one featuring the Archie gang and the other Sabrina – but even these reshuffled versions were gone by mid-1978. Even with no broadcast version of Sabrina, her comic book was still running, finally wrapping up its run in 1983 with Sabrina The Teenage Witch #77.
The Return of Sabrina
Sabrina’s next resurgence came in 1996. Now, if Saturday mornings were the time for cartoons to grab kids in the ’70s and ’80s, ABC television’s “TGIF” lineup on Friday nights occupied a similar spot for family-friendly sitcoms in the ’90s – and Sabrina was a beneficiary of this. Sabrina the Teenage Witch the sitcom launched on Sept. 27, 1996, to more than 17 million viewers. Part of the charm was in its star, Melissa Joan Hart, who’d already proved she had mass appeal with her star-turn in the early-’90s Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All. As Sabrina Spellman, Hart’s magic struck again, aided by comedian Caroline Rhea and actress Beth Broderick respectively portraying aunts Zelda and Hilda. The show was preceded by a made-for-TV movie with some differences in acting talent and world particulars (last names, locations), but that movie was essentially the pilot for what became a hit series. In 2000, the show moved from ABC to the WB, and was finally canceled due to flagging ratings after its seventh season. The show was known for cheerful, albeit cheesy, humor and an animatronic, sarcastic Salem.
The show inspired a complementary comics series that ran concurrently for a time, 32-issues running from 1997-1999. In 1999, another cartoon – known as Sabrina: The Animated Series that incorporated much of the sitcom’s canon began, though it featured a pre-teen Sabrina. It ran for 65 episodes – and, interestingly, Melissa Joan Hart voiced both aunts, while Hart’s real-life younger sister, Emily Hart, voiced the title character. This animated series also had its own spin-off comic, called Sabrina – and as of issue #38, it was retitled to the classic “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” title with elements of the animated series phased out in favor of putting Sabrina back into her classic high-school roots. Then, in issue #58, Sabrina received a manga-inspired makeover. This so kawaii version of Sabrina headlined the comic from 2004 until 2009, when the series ended with issue #104.
The Modern Sabrina
Sabrina had proven she could headline a multitude of differing genres, but what about horror? Perhaps less of a stretch than her Archie peers’ horrific turns, due to her magical origins, the success of Afterlife With Archie – an ongoing zombie horror story starring the Archie gang – paved the way for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which launched in 2014. The series takes place in the ’60s and initially concerns Sabrina’s status as a half-witch, and which direction the teen wants to take her life. The series was very well received and, along with the proven success of Riverdale, was undoubtedly part of the catalyst for the pending Netflix show.
What does the future hold for Sabrina? Well, the reception of this new horror Netflix series – which is supposed to be available this year – will be a large determinant of that. Regardless, we can surely count on more Sabrina, horror-inspired and otherwise, for time immemorial. She’s cast her spell, and it’s a strong one.
Images: AMC, Archie Comics, Netflix, ABC