An Interview With Archie Americana Series Guru Paul Castiglia

paul-castigliaIt’s an exciting week in the Archie-nerd world bas we celebrate not only the release of the Archie Americana Series Best of the 90′s Vol.2, but also the completion a 20 year-long project for Archie Comics.

And who better to mark the occasion with us than Paul Castiglia?

(That’s Mr. Castiglia to the right, and it would appear that after all these years being submersed in the Archie world, he’s actually turning into a Riverdale-ite.)

Paul and the legendary Victor Gorelick (as Archie’s Managing Editor and ultimately as its Editor-in-Chief and Co-President) are the only people who were involved in all 12 volumes of the Americana series over it’s 20 year timeframe, so he’s in a unique position to offer some insights on the series.

Mr. Castiglia was assistant editor to Scott Fulop on the first volume in 1990-91, and he graduated to editor with the second volume. Paul’s credits on the series have included “Americana Series Editor,” “Compilation Editor” and “Contributing Editor.” In every case he’s been heavily involved in researching and choosing the stories, and also contributed text pieces, wrote the table of contents and back cover blurbs and performed various other editorial duties including assisting with art direction.

The man knows the Americana series inside and out, and we’re very lucky to have him answer some questions about this great project for us.

So what is the Archie Americana Series? The 12 volumes are all beautiful reprints of the stories from a certain decade from the 40′s through the 90′s, with two volumes being dedicated to each decade.

And the word ‘volume’ is very apt in this case, each of these books is 94 pages or more! Best of the 40′s Vol. 1 is 127 pages of amazing vintage greatness and is on sale through the online Archie Comic Shop for only $9.95! (part of the Spring Sale that includes all of the Americana books).

All week we’ll be talking about the Americana Series with Paul, and also just picking the brain of someone who has an amazing overview of Archie’s entire history and the evolution of the characters.

Without further ado, we’ll start off by finding out how stories were picked for the Americana Series!

First Comics News: What criteria were you looking for in a story, in order to consider it for an Americana book?

Paul Catiglia: The criteria fell into specific categories.

The first category was relevance to the decade being highlighted. Any fads, fashions, historical, societal and pop culture references were taken into consideration first – hence the hula hoops and bobby sox of the ’50s, the long hair and mini-skirts of the ’60s, the bubble gum pop and gas crisis of the ’70s, etc.

The next category was stories that either perpetuated or advanced the Archie Comics mythology in some way, be it in the relationships such as the Veronica-Archie-Betty love triangle or Archie’s explosive encounters with Mr. Weatherbee and Mr. Lodge, or stories revolving around the fabled town of Riverdale itself and its many notable landmarks such as Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shop.

The third category was simply funny stories. In “Best of the Forties” the story “No Body’s Dummy” couldn’t possibly be left out due to its outrageous and uproarious humor, typical of that decade. Likewise, “A Call to Arms” was a must-include story for “The Best of the Fifties.”

1st: When you were starting work on a new Americana volume, did you actually read all the Archie Comics from that decade?

Paul: In most cases I pored through bound volumes of every comic book featuring the Archie characters from each decade. I didn’t necessarily read every story word-for-word but I did have to browse each one, scanning for important elements that would make a story relevant for inclusion in an Americana retrospective.

For some of the volumes (such as BEST OF THE ’40s VOLUME 2), the process started with what reproducible materials were already at our disposal. Since most of the Americana volumes were worked on before the perfection of computer retouching techniques, it was much more efficient from both a scheduling and financial standpoint to work from original artwork and black and white proofs when those elements were available.

1st: Reading the proofs and looking at the original art for stories from the 40′s must have been very cool. Can you describe this process a bit? I imagine an impenetrable vault made of 4 foot thick adamantium; kind of like CONTROL headquarters, except it houses the complete history of Archie. Am I far off?

Paul: Yes and no. I’d say it was the “almost complete history of Archie” and it was housed in a variety of places – from offsite warehouse to in-house warehouses, cabinets, backroom closets and various unexpected nooks and crannies.

I got to look at original art, black & white proofs, silver prints, color guides and negatives. Best of all, I got to look through all those bound volumes – nearly every issue of every title Archie and its predecessor MLJ Comics published bound together in hardcover books. From what I understand even being incomplete, Archie had more of their history intact and available than DC and Marvel. Only Harvey Comics seemed to have had that much of their history catalogued.

1st: Were there specific themes you tried to highlight in the Americana volumes?

Paul: Per my answer about criteria, I tried to evoke the times in which the stories took place. What some folks (and reviewers) may miss is that “Americana” is right in the name of this series. It’s not just about presenting the best stories of a given decade; it’s also about presenting a time capsule, a visual and contextual snapshot of each era.

1st: After all the time you’ve spent with the main characters, how would you sum each up in one sentence?

Paul: ARCHIE: Clumsy, girl-crazy, good-natured but trouble-prone, Archie is a teen who loves his parents, friends, teachers, school and town unconditionally.

JUGHEAD: The definition of marching to the beat of your own drummer and the ultimate “Greek Chorus” Jughead is actually the smartest of all Riverdale’s teens (with apologies to Dilton) – he’s not “book smart” but in the school of life Jughead is very wise, even though his advice to Archie is not often heeded.

BETTY: An impressive renaissance woman of many charms and interests, the multitude of Betty’s skills and talents is dwarfed by the sheer size and depth of her heart and her loyalty to her friends, particularly Archie.

VERONICA: Queen of her world, wealthy Veronica everything she could ever want but her true wealth lies in her friendship/rivalry with Betty and her friendship/romance with Archie.

REGGIE: A relentless drive to “get and stay ahead” whether financially or with the ladies makes Reggie among the most competitive teens around and his greatest weapon is his masterful facility for disarming pranks.

1st: When you were researching the volumes, did you also read through the stories that did not feature the Archie gang?

Paul: The Archie Americana series of books was intended to focus exclusively on the Archie cast of characters – the teens, parents, faculty members and other characters who make up the fabric of Riverdale, USA. To that end, I only researched stories that took place in the “Archie-verse.” I did have some opportunities to research stories for other paperback collections from Archie that focused on characters such as Josie & the Pussycats and heroes from the company’s MLJ/Mighty Comics/Red Circle imprints.

1st: Through all the decades of Archie, there has been an army of tertiary characters who have fallen by the wayside. Do you have any favorites?

Paul: I hesitate to go with the assertion that any Archie characters have truly “fallen by the wayside” as it seems even the most obscure has a shot of popping back up when you least expect it.

Having said that, I love Cricket O’Dell. She’s the one who can sniff out money. You would think she’s a renegade from Harvey Comics – they were always great for building characters around obsessions, like Little Dot. And Eyeda and Souphead – I have to cite them just for their sheer oddness.

1st: I’m not sure if he was in Riverdale yet, but did Adam Chisholm pop up in your research for the 90′s volumes? And if so, would you agree that he has more charisma and gravitas than your typical supporting character?

Paul: I can’t recall whether Adam showed up during my ’90s research but I’m guessing that has more to do with the fact that Adam is one of those characters that has evolved over his appearances. Which is a good thing. Sometimes a character comes on the scene “fully grown” and only goes through slight cosmetic alterations over the years (Jughead is a good example of such a character).

Other times characters develop gradually over time, their full personalities emerging as they grow through various situations in the stories. Adam is one of those characters who really livens things up by providing a challenge for Archie not just on the surface as a rival for Betty’s affections, but in challenging Archie’s perceptions of Betty. As a result, the addition of Adam has helped to shine a bright light on all that is wonderful about Betty (which the readers already know but Archie takes for granted) while bringing out the best in Archie.

(To recap: “…the addition of Adam has helped to shine a bright light on all that is wonderful about Betty…”

That’s right, if ever any Archie writer needed a reason to put Adam into a tale, there you have it!)

1st: After having examined each decade from the ’40s to the ’90s in-depth, would you say each decade has its own tone? For instance, my knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the 60′s were wackier than other decades, and the 90′s were a little more low-key.

Paul: As far as I’m concerned, no decade was wackier or more freewheeling than the 1940s. These were the days when the comic industry was still in its infancy. There were no restrictions, no Comics Code. The writers and artists approached the stories much like their animation counterparts at studios like Warner Brothers – they spun their tales to amuse themselves and other adults first, not thinking about children consuming their colorful trifles.

It’s no wonder that Archie Comics were among the most popular with our soldiers fighting the Axis powers. They knew they could enjoy Archie in one outrageous mess after another, driving his dad, teachers and Mr. Lodge bonkers. A special fringe benefit for those soldiers were Betty & Veronica, often displayed in all their pin-up splendor (their solo tales in the ’40s tended to depict them as young women rather than teens).

The ’50s and ’60s each had their own unique tones.

Something interesting happens in the late 1960s, and it’s an amalgamation of Dan DeCarlo’s rise to prominence as an Archie artist as well as the success of the Saturday morning Archie cartoon show. It is at this stage that both the look and personalities of the Archie characters became more streamlined. The “house style” is firmly established here and it remains in place throughout the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and first decade of the new Millennium, with minimal detours and most concessions made in deference to the prevailing times.

When I was on staff at Archie in the 1990s the stories indeed became more low key. This was a period where some of the stories even lost focus a bit – when Archie and Reggie’s dialogue becomes interchangeable you know it’s time to shake things up.

Thankfully there have always been writers and artists at Archie providing alternatives to the status quo, and over the past couple of years in particular truly concerted efforts have been made to recapture what made the Archie cast not just classic archetypes but close to folks you might know in real life.

1st: Having worked on all of the Americana volumes, you have a better overview of Archie as a character than most people. How would you say Archie (the character) changed from 1941-1999?

Paul: I think the Archie of the 1940s had a special brand of ADD. He simply never made the right decision and never learned. He cheerfully stumbled through life like a bull in a china shop, blissfully unaware of the damage left in his wake.

The typical carefree illogic of the 1940s Archie can be seen in JACKPOT #9: Archie tells his employer Tony the fishmonger that his “Super-Xpress Service never fails a customer” in panel one… but by the second panel he decides it won’t make a difference if he postpones his final fish delivery until morning, leaving the fish to stink up the vehicle! This aspect of Archie softens a bit in the 1950s as he becomes a bit savvier.

By the time the ’60s roll around, Archie is a little bit more on the ball. When he does make bad decisions, it’s usually due to something specific that throws him off or flusters him – like a pretty girl walking by or some other distraction.

He also improves as an athlete over the years – in the 1940s stories when Archie excelled at sports it was usually by accident. In the ensuing decades Archie is usually portrayed as an able sportsman.

Last but not least, a lot of the modern-day Archie’s problems are circumstantial and confounded by how he reacts to those problems; while the Archie of the ’40s, ’50s and the first half of the ’60s seems more likely to cause the problems in the first place!

1st: There has always been a very strong sense of morality in Archie Comics; did you notice any shift in the moral themes from decade to decade?

Paul: Wow, good question. It’s hard for me to clearly define the answer as I think it’s mostly subtle in regards to the ways the characters behave in each decade.

In other words, the themes and any moral implications thereof are inherent to the times in which the stories were published. You of course see this more in the late 1960s/early 1970s stories that place a lot of emphasis on peace, the ecology, brotherhood and being kind to one another, but the messages have always been a mixed bag based on the fact that various writers tackled the tale.

The same decade that saw stories expounding peace also presented stories about the importance of our military. While this is a more common sentiment today, back in the volatile ’60s and ’70s people usually fell into one camp or the other.

The above examples are the “good” side of the moral coin. Whether intentional or not, some of the less attractive attributes of various decades – like the materialism and consumerism of 1980s’ youth – also made appearances in Archie stories.

Having said all that there is a basic “goodness” shown in each of the decades – Archie and his friends, including their parents, the school’s faculty and people in the town are generally good-natured people that have a tremendous loyalty to the town of Riverdale and to each other and a heart and sincere willingness to help others.

(I think Paul really hit the nail on the head here, it’s the heart behind the characters and Riverdale that have made Archie the enduring character he is.)

1st: If you had to pick a favorite volume from the series, which one would it be?

Paul: Best of the Forties Volume One.

It’s the one that began it all, not just for the Americana Series but for my career with Archie in general. It was a thrill to learn “on the job” with this project, and an even greater thrill playing “history detective,” figuring out the various first appearances and milestone moments (like “the first love triangle story”).

It has some wonderful Bob Montana stories (he was truly one of the greatest of all comics writers, and an excellent artist to boot) and others by Bill Vigoda that are off-the-chart funny (“Nobody’s Dummy” will always be screamingly hysterical to me). Icing on the cake: lifelong Archie fan Stephen King wrote the foreword!

1st: If you absolutely had to choose, which decade is your personal favorite and why?

Paul: Wow, that’s tough. I tend to favor the ’40s, ’50s and first half of the ’60s. If hard-pressed, it’s the ’40s for me, for all the reasons I mentioned above. If I can sum it up, I just find that decade’s stories bust-a-gut funny.

1st: Best of the 90′s Vol. 2 is now available, what stories do readers have to look forward to and do you have a personal favorite?

Paul: Naturally there are a lot of stories about the computer age – virtual reality, the internet, laptops – all make appearances here. There are the usual pop culture take-offs that Americana fans have come to love and expect – everything from movies to music and radio to TV gets skewered. And Betty even gets a nose ring!

But perhaps my favorite is the “character-driven” tale highlighting Chuck’s love for cartooning and caricatures… and Mr. Weatherbee’s commission of a “serious” portrait from Chuck!

1st: Are there any stories that you’re disappointed didn’t get included in the Americana Series?

Paul: There’s a terrific ’40s story called “Camera Bugs” that just missed the cut in Volume 1 of “Best of the Forties,” and missed it again in Volume 2 due to the decision to use black and white proofs from ’40s “Laugh” issues in that follow-up. It really plays up the characterizations of the lead characters and is quite funny. It also is a great example of the mastery of Archie’s writers and artists in creating truly “all ages” stories that both adults and children could enjoy.

The whole plot hinges on a comedy of errors brought on by photos shot at incorrect angles. As such, there is the type of innuendo present that one would see in a Marx Brothers movie or later on the sitcom “Three’s Company;” and yet the sheer silliness of it all keeps it from being inappropriate for children.

One thing we strived to do throughout the series was give readers as much “bang for their buck” as possible. As a result, certain defining stories had to be passed over simply due to those tales being too long.

A good example of this is the “Love Showdown” saga. When “The Best of the ’90s came out, one of the criticisms the book received was the exclusion of “The Love Showdown.” Now understand, “The Love Showdown” is a big part of my life, too – I conceived the basic concept and handled the publicity campaign for what would ultimately be considered a landmark tale not only of the decade but of Archie’s entire history. To include that tale, however would have required using up 44 pages of our 96-page template, almost half of the total Americana book. Plus, we had already collected the Love Showdown saga in a prestige format paperback edition.

1st: With 70 years of Archie stories, the Americana Series is just the tip of the iceberg as far as material available goes. Do you have any dream projects you’d love to get the green light for?

Paul: One dream project would be a book highlighting the “home front” stories that appeared throughout the 1940s, those stories revolving around rationing, war bonds and the like.

Another would be a collection of Jughead’s “dream” stories like the much sought-after “Jughead’s Folly” one shot and the “Jughead’s Fantasy” limited series.

I’m currently working on a book with a super Archie collector-fan named Jack Copley – he has compiled a collection spotlighting Archie’s 1st 100 appearances – utilizing his personal collection! That’s been something of a dream because I get to spend more time in the 1940s. I wouldn’t mind having a hand in future collections with the Archie heroes, and I’d also like to get back in the writing game, perhaps retooling some of the more obscure characters from Madhouse and other defunct Archie properties for today’s audiences.

Additionally, Archie has recently developed a relationship with Yoe! Books and many of the archival projects ahead will be released through IDW and Dark Horse. Craig Yoe and his team are doing an amazing job – when fans see the Yoe! Archie history book I guarantee you they will be floored.

1st: Obviously a massive project like this, especially one that spans 20 years, would involve many other people. Who are some of the other Archie people that helped to complete the Americana series?

Paul: First and foremost I have to cite Scott Fulop. Scott and I worked closely on the first volume, and I learned a whole lot from Scott about keeping true to the concept of the series.

Victor Gorelick was a guiding hand as well – ultimately it was up to him and the publishers, Michael Silberkleit and Richard Goldwater to give the final “yay” or “nay” to my various story selections. With the second edition I became the editor but still needed the blessing of Victor, Michael and Richard on the stories chosen. In later years, Mike Pellerito and Joe Morciglio took on editorial roles on the Americana books and they too weighed in on my story suggestions.

For many of the editions Archie’s in-house graphic designer Joe Pepitone acted as art director. Joe and I worked very closely on several of the editions to find the right tone and images. Of course, Joe also had many great, original ideas for the series on his own in addition to our collaborative efforts.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Rex Lindsey who came up with dynamite covers for the series, including some that were hand-painted with airbrush effects (before computer coloring became the norm).

Also, on the early editions we actually had to have some actual printed comics destroyed and bleached of their color in order to reproduce the stories! I know that sounds horrible, but it had to be done, and we have the likes of super-fan Andrew Golden (who sacrificed some comics) and Greg Theakston (master restoration artist) to thank for those efforts.

The Archie art and digest departments of course also took care of a variety of needs – it’s the “little touches” you don’t realize are there but are so vital. I’d name names but there have been too many great folks over the years that were involved that I’m afraid if I try to name them all I’ll end up accidentally leaving some out. And in general I’m sure after 20 years my memory is inadvertently forgetting several other folks that played a hand in this series – wish I could remember them all and cite them all by name – but I thank them just the same!

1st: Was it bitter-sweet working on the final volume, or was it nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Paul: Wow, what can I say other than I can work on Archie archival projects forever! Riverdale is just that sort of place – the kind of place you want to revisit over and over again.

Which is the whole point anyway, isn’t it? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the reason Archie Comics have endured uninterrupted for 70 years!

Thanks one more time to Paul Castiglia for his knowledge, insight, time and thoughtfulness.

The Archie Americana Series is an amazing time-capsule of the first 60 years of Archie, and it’s exciting to have it wrap up during Archie’s 70th Anniversary year. There are big things planned for this year, so stay tuned!

The Americana Series is available at your local comic store, or through the online Archie Comic Shop.

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