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Archie Comics CEOs accuse each other of funny business

The past three years have been upbeat ones for Archie, the everyteen hero of one of America's most enduring comics. He's gotten married -- twice, no less. His social circle has expanded to include his first gay friend. He's even appeared on a postage stamp.

But behind the scenes, a bitter and sometimes bizarre feud has brewed at the company that produces the more than 70-year-old comic. Its two CEOs, a son of one founder and the daughter-in-law of another, are accusing each other of all sorts of funny business.

He and some other staffers say she's a volatile, abrasive menace who has sexually harassed employees with vulgar remarks, made bad business moves and even paraded a former football player around the office to intimidate people.

She says he's a scheming chauvinist who has demeaned her, kept her in the dark about Archie Comic Publications' finances and invented allegations to try to force her out and seize control of the company.

He's asked a court to strip her of her role at the company. She's sued him for defamation and $100 million in damages. A judge has at least temporarily barred her from the company's suburban New York headquarters, fined her $500 over the ex-football player's visit and vowed to appoint a temporary receiver to protect the company's assets amid the fight if the two sides can't choose someone on their own by Wednesday.

Altogether, it's a far cry from the congenial environs of Riverdale, the fictional town where Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jug-head and friends have navigated dating quandaries and high school hijinks for generations.

The corporate tug of war has gotten tongues wagging in the comics world, where "it's pretty much the same as if two movie studio bosses fell out," said Rich Johnston, the founder of Bleeding Cool, a London-based comics news and gossip site.

The trouble began after the 2007 and 2008 deaths of former Archie Comic leaders Richard Goldwater and Michael Silberkleit, sons of two of the company's three founders. Silberkleit's widow, Nancy, and Goldwater's half brother, Jonathan, became co-CEOs in 2009.

Nancy Silberkleit, a former elementary school art teacher, was to oversee scholastic and live theatrical endeavors. Jon Goldwater, who'd been a rock and pop music manager, would have final say on everything else, according to the employment contract. Each controls 50 percent of the company.

Tensions inside the company boiled over into public view when it sued Silberkleit in July. Goldwater filed another suit against her in January.

The suits portray her as an erratic figure riding roughshod through Archie Comic's 25-person office in Mamaroneck, N.Y., launching into expensive and ill-advised business ventures while alienating and harassing the staff.

She said a female employee owed her job to her physical endowments, pressed for firing staffers she said were too old or too fat, repeatedly referred to men by an anatomical term for their sexual organs and asked some to pull down their pants in the office, according to sworn statements from Goldwater and other staffers.

Silberkleit denies the allegations. She says they're concoctions of a Goldwater campaign to drive her out of the company and sell it.

"I'm the one being harassed and abused there," she said at a Jan. 31 hearing.

Goldwater has thrown out her files and cut off her company email, gotten employees to reject her requests for information on the company's finances and activities, fired the company accountant without telling her and called her "stupid" and "despicable" in front of others, she said in sworn statements and in her slander suit, filed last month.

Kornreich has yet to rule on Goldwater's bid to boot Silberkleit as co-CEO, which courts can do under a state corporation law. But the judge ordered her this month to stay away from the Archie comic offices in the meantime, though Silberkleit can continue to work from home and draw her more than $125,000-a-year salary.

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