An Interview with Archie artist Bill Galvan

bill-galvinThe first thing I’d like you to know about Bill Galvan is that he’s an incredibly nice guy. And I don’t mean that in that hollow “I’m writing a piece about this guy so I’d better blow some smoke” kind of way. He literally is one of the nicest, most genuine people in comics today, and I can’t thank him enough for the time he took to answer some questions. Along with his (ever increasing) work for Archie, Bill also works with the Diversity Foundation, producing the “Scrapyard Detectives” comic that is used as both a literacy tool and a way to promote the simplest of ideals to children: That it’s OK to be different. (Incidentally, teachers and librarians can visit to order copies for their classes.) He also found time to contribute to a series of Archie sketch cards that were created to benefit the March of Dimes. See? Incredibly nice guy.

Bill started drawing for Archie Comics in 2006, and has quickly emerged as a fan favourite. His character designs and visual storytelling in the “Freshman Year” and “Freshman Year: The Missing Chapters” stories show an innate ability to fuse a Silver-Age sensibility with a contemporary look and feel. His work in the regular continuity (including the just concluded Archie/Valerie romance in Archie 608-609) demonstrate this same approach, making the characters instantly recognizable and warm, but with a clean, modern look.

In anticipation of “Archie and Friends” #144 (hitting stands tomorrow, June 9) I had a chance to ask Bill about the Freshman Year stories, minor characters, classic monsters and the mysteries of Mrs. Mantle.

First Comics News: When Jughead moved away in the first issue of “Freshman Year” it suddenly became clear that anything could happen in these stories and that readers shouldn’t take too much for granted. I thought you and Batton really followed through on this promise in the first issue of “Freshman Year: The Missing Chapters,” Archie & Friends #140, with the revelation that Jug had his heart broken in Montana. Any surprises in the upcoming Pencilneck G story you care to hint at? Can we expect to see Sadie again any time soon? What about Greger?

Bill: I’d love to see Sadie again in a future story. None of Jug’s friends know the real story, and she would definitely shake things up for him! As for the Pencilneck G story, I think he’s a great new character that Batton Lash has developed, and we tried to show him and his gang of friends as kind of a “bizarro-Archie” type of group. Pencilneck is also into skateboarding, and so are my two sons, and they provided a lot of help with reference—and also show up in the story as Pencilneck’s skateboarding buddies. Greger was an interesting character, and it would be fun to see him show up again as a drama coach or famous actor now.

(I’d love to see Greger end up being recruited by Chic Cooper for undercover work, and years down the line he would end up marrying Betty after having to deliver the news to her of Chic’s death in the line of duty only to leave her to be reunited with his true love from his days at RHS: Ethel Muggs.)

1st:With the Freshman Year stories you had to make the main characters noticeably, but subtly, younger. Was it a very involved process to design the way each of the characters would look?

Bill: When I designed the characters, I made a conscious effort to try and make them stand apart a bit. Jughead’s neck is a bit longer, his head a more circular shape. Archie’s eyes are a bit bigger, and there are fewer cross hatches on the sides of his head. Reggie has the biggest change, I made his hair a bit shaggier, which I think really made him look younger. He was still an obnoxious pest, but not as image conscious as he would later become. Veronica I made a bit shorter, and gave Betty pigtails instead of the single ponytail, to show her transition to her high school look. I remember sending in the character sketches to Archie, and getting the feedback that they liked them, and I knew I was on the right track.

1st:On the flip side of that question: Do you know what Pencilneck would look like in the regular Archie continuity?

Bill: I think he would look the same, but maybe with a different cap!

1st:Are there any plans to take the “Freshman Year” approach to other corners of Riverdale? Perhaps the formation of the Pussycats? Or how about “Samson Smythe and Herman Wilkin: Year One”?

Bill: I’d love to see a “Freshman Year” approach to other characters. Josie and The Pussycats would be interesting—how they got together as a band, and what their big break was. Sabrina’s first year in high school would be really fun to see as well!

(After reading the Archie/Valerie story in Archie 608-609, I can officially say that getting Bill to draw a “Freshman Year” style story about the Pussycats is the best idea ever. His designs for Josie, Valerie and Melody are fantastic and a story about the formation of the group (complete with a morality tale about the value of hard work, discipline and practice) would be an excellent “event” story. And you know, if Archie needs someone to write it who has an intimate knowledge of music and lived through the trials and tribulations of first bands and gigs, I would happily help out.)

1st:It was nice to see Chuck Clayton take the spotlight for an issue in Archie & Friends #143, and his story seems to have a lot of parallels to your own. Chuck won an art contest, which really seemed to help validate his dreams in the eyes of his peers, and you were awarded a summer scholarship to the Academy of Art in San Francisco when you were in high school. Aside from the benefit to you as a young artist, did this recognition help your parents and friends take your ambitions more seriously?

Bill: My parents were always supportive of my art career, and encouraged me whenever possible. The scholarship to the Academy of Art in San Francisco was a big turning point for me in my education as an artist, and taught me to draw what I see in a more realistic way. Drawing the scene where Chuck is going through his old drawings is something that is very familiar to me, and his parents’ advice is similar to what my parents told me at that age.

1st:A lot of the stories you draw for Archie are destined for digital distribution, as Archie is currently leading the pack in that realm. Does this in any way affect your approach to the layout or art? Is it a factor at all, or something that doesn’t impact you?

Bill: I still approach the artwork from the standpoint of what serves the story best. However, the traditional three-tier type of layout for the comics serves its presentation on a handheld device like an iPod pretty well. I was really pleased with the way Freshman Year looked on the iPod when it first came out.

1st:Do you know of any further plans for “Freshman Year” now that “The Missing Chapters” is wrapping up? There still seems to be quite a lot of room left to tell new stories, and personally, I’d love to have a Waldo Weatherbee missing chapter. The political trials of his first year in a new position are probably familiar to most of your adult readers.

Bill: I think the best thing about the Weatherbee story is that it shows that he had the same type of problems adjusting to school as Archie did. Just because he’s the principal, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his share of headaches!

1st:Will some of the new faces you’ve introduced us to, like Pencilneck, Connie and Penelope, be popping up in current Archie stories?

Bill: I like Pencilneck and his whole gang of friends; they add a great dimension to the cast of characters in Riverdale. We might see them show up in current stories now and again.

1st:You did series of sketches featuring the classic Universal monsters on your blog, and in Part 4 of “Freshman Year: The Missing Chapters” there is a scene featuring Dilton, Chuck and a Jacob’s ladder; clearly you and Batton are classic horror fans. Is there one movie or monster that you hold nearer and dearer than the rest? Any chance of a “Freshman Year: Halloween” special?

Bill: I would love to do a Halloween Special for Archie, especially one of those Halloween ashcans that Archie does every year! Batton and I are both classic monster fans, so it was a natural to have that kind of gadget in the story. Dilton is Riverdale’s own mad scientist! As for my favorite monster, I’d have to say that Frankenstein is probably the one I think is the most interesting, character-wise and visually.

1st:You have what many people would consider a dream job: you draw for Archie Comics. How did you get from point A: a high school kid with a passion, to point B: working for Archie?

Bill: I drew a lot on my own, studying drawing books and creating my own stories. The best way to learn how to do something is to find something about it that you love, and in this case, telling a story with my art is something I’ve always wanted to do. I had worked on my own comic book before, a superhero book called Thunderbird, and I had also started work on the Scrapyard Detectives, an all-ages book for a non-profit. When I had some samples that I thought were good enough, I showed my portfolio to the Archie guys at San Diego Comic Con in 2006, and received a story to draw a few months later. That pretty much kick-started my career.

1st:Any chance of the Archie gang showing up in Scrapyard Detectives?

Bill: They are both all-ages titles; I think a crossover issue would be a lot of fun.

1st:I don’t think I’ve ever seen Reggie’s parents featured as much as they have been in the “Freshman Year” stories. Specifically, Reggie’s mom has long been an enigma who haunted my dreams. Can you divulge a first name? There are also hints at a jet-set sort of career for Mrs. _____Mantle. Details?

Bill: Victoria Mantle travels a lot for the corporation she works for. Not sure what her occupation is, though; maybe we can show more details in future installments! The Mantle family is highly motivated and competitive, as evidenced by Reggie!

(This is me with my mind blown. Victoria. Vickie. Sounds like………victory.)

1st:Archie comics have always been gentle morality tales for teenagers. The “Freshman Year” stories seem to also have a subtle layer of this aimed at adults, told through the richer-than-usual amount of character time given to the grown-ups. Am I right, or is my Archie-obsessiveness getting the better of me?

Bill: I think that Batton wove a great tale that involves not just Archie’s troubles in his first year, but Weatherbee’s too. Both Archie and Waldo are bullied to a certain extent, but are able to rise above it by being themselves and letting their best character traits shine through.

1st:What’s next for you, both Archie and non-Archie?

Bill: I’m currently finishing up a Twilight-style story for Archie and Friends called “Twilit” that will take place in Archie & Friends #146-147, and revisiting Archie and Valerie’s romance in a two-part story due out soon in the digests. I’ll also be starting on the next issue of Scrapyard Detectives, written by Archie writer Alex Simmons who just won a 2010 Glyph Award for his work on Archie & Friends.

1st:As one sci-fi fan to another, I really have to congratulate you and Batton on creating prequel stories that are more in line with the look and feel of the most recent Star Trek and less with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Care to weigh in?

Bill: I think that Batton has really done a great job creating stories about the gang that fit within their history, and not just throwing in foreshadowing for the sake of it. “Freshman Year” shows Archie’s first steps into the larger world of high school and all that it entails, while bringing in a few mysteries and some really funny stuff too!

1st:There’s one untold tale of Riverdale that I’d love to see in print: the final destiny of Spotty. Any dream storyline you’d love to explore in the Archie Universe?

Bill: I’d like to do a story about the return of Joanie Jump, Jughead’s childhood sweetheart. There was a great story about that back in the early 90s, and I’d love to see her return. I’d also like to do a Captain Hero story too!

(Joanie Jump? Wow. It’s been a long time since I heard the name of an Archie character and could only say “who?”. Well played, sir. And if there’s one thing we need more of in these troubled times, it’s Captain Hero and Pureheart the Powerful. Hopefully next month’s Pureheart collection will lead to a Super Teens renaissance. Teeny weeny magic beanie, Pointing towards the sky; Give me muscle, power, vigor, Form a super guy!)

1st:If you could have a 5 course dinner with any cartoonist in history, who would you pick?

Bill: I really wish that I could have met Curt Swan. He’s been such a big influence on my style, I would’ve liked to have asked him about his storytelling techniques and his approach to drawing Superman. He’s a great example of a cartoonist who serves the story, and makes it so easily readable and understandable. That’s something I really aspire to with my art.

1st:In closing, when you were a child reading Archie, what were your favorite characters or stories?

Bill: One of the earliest stories I remember reading was a story about roller-skating, which was Archie #289 from 1979, I think. I thought Archie’s world was a pretty cool place to be. I also liked reading Little Archie, and can remember drawing Little Jughead quite a bit too.

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