First Comics News’, Superheronews guru, Rik Offenberger caught up with Archie Comics’ Paul Castiglia and Fernando Ruiz. Paul is the writer of Archie’s Mysteries, formerly Archie’s Weird Mysteries; a title aimed a slightly older then average Archie reader. He is also a freelance editor at Archie, in charges of the Trade Paperback reprint program, including the historic Archie Americana Series. Fernando Ruiz is the artist on Archie’s Mysteries, and Archie Digest. Fernando is also an instructor at Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. Paul and Fernando chatted with us about their history at Archie and their plans for 2003.
First Comics News: When did you first become familiar with the Archie character?
Paul Castiglia: I grew up in the early 1970s, where the Saturday morning cartoon line-ups were anchored by one of the many Filmation Archie animated TV series of the decade. I was definitely exposed to Archie on TV before I had ever seen an Archie comic. The first Archie comics I read were the Spire Christian Archie comics that were given away at church. The great thing about those was, I had an allowance which I used to buy other comics, and my Mom would buy me the Archie Christian comics as gifts because she looked at them differently than regular comics because of the content. So I was exposed to a lot of comics growing up.
Fernando Ruiz: I first discovered Archie when I was a kid reading my older brother’s Archie comic books. I started out reading Harvey comics like Richie Rich,Casper the Friendly Ghost, etc. This is back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was about nine to ten years old. In those days, if you can believe it, the four biggest presences on the comic racks were DC, Marvel, Harvey, and Archie. I started out with Harvey, moved onto Archie, and then graduated onto superhero books.
1st: What do you find the most challenging about working on Archie?
Paul: The most challenging aspect is staying faithful to the characters. This is especially hard because sometimes the situations you concoct lend themselves to great jokes and one-liners, but you have to ask yourself, “would Dilton actually say that.” It’s harder than it sounds, and I (and many of the other writers) don’t always get it right, but I do my best to keep it in mind. It’s especially important to me since I’ve been exposed to the evolution of these characters through my archiving duties at Archie and editing the “Archie Americana” paperback series of classic reprints.
Fernando: At first, the biggest obstacle, as with most established licensed characters, is getting that likeness down. The characters HAVE to look just like who they’re supposed to be and Archie, the company, has what’s called, a “house style”, which means that all artwork has to have a certain uniformity in terms of style. Archie has to look like the Archie everyone recognizes. I couldn’t for example go in and redesign the look and style the character is drawn in. Adapting to this house style is something I had to get used to.
1st: Was Archie your first job in comics, and how did you get the job at Archie?
Fernando: Archie was my first job right out of art school. I was in my third and final year as a student at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon And Graphic Art. Every year, the school invites different comic book companies to the school to review their graduating students’ portfolios. One of my teachers at the school was Hy Eisman, who had worked for Archie before and had given us an assignment where we had to draw an Archie story. He liked my pages and encouraged me to show them to Archie editor, Victor Gorelick, when he came to the school. I did and Victor liked what I could do so he hired me right out of the school. I was very lucky. I graduated from school and the next week I was working on my first Archie story.
Paul: I graduated from The School of Visual Arts (SVA), hoping for a career in comics or animation. Taking stock of my abilities, I realized I was lacking in the essentials—I really didn’t have a good handle on perspective, anatomy or composition. However, I was good at drawing thumbnail sketches and could put them together to tell a story, so I decided to create a portfolio of “picture scripts.” Since humor was my strength, I concentrated on writing stories with funny characters. My goal was to get either storyboard work in animation or kids comic writing assignments. I caught wind of the fact that one of my teachers at SVA, the late, great Joe Orlando, was going to be editing a magazine featuring Looney Tunes characters for DC Comics. I dropped off my sample picture scripts and soon after Joe gave me an assignment. Writing those first scripts was exciting, but certainly not enough to live on—after all, these were 1 and 2-page puzzle and craft pages. So I called the local comic companies each week to see if they had any editorial openings. After an interview at Harvey and two at Marvel, I had a fateful interview at Archie. They were looking for an editorial assistant and archivist. They hired me on the spot, and the rest is history.
1st: Fernando, how did you go from student to instructor at the Joe Kubert School?
Fernando: A year after I graduated, I was asked to take over the school’s Saturday morning class. A year after that, I was asked to join the faculty full time. I was a graduate of the school. I still lived close to the school and I was working in the field so that made me a qualified candidate to teach there!
1st: What is it like to work at Archie?
Fernando: It’s a great gig. It’s always good to be able to make a living at something you enjoy and I’m doing that now. The work is fun, and even better, it’s steady. A lot of freelancers tend to drift in between assignments but with Archie, every week they give me something to do and luckily, it’s been like that for going on nine years this year.
1st: How do you approach storytelling?
Paul: I generally provide a full script. For the latest, “un-weird” incarnation of this series, I have a collaborator, Barbara Jarvie, and we start with a plot idea and then flesh out the “steps” that go into solving the mystery. We then do tons of research to back up the investigative techniques and write the full script including dialogue. It then goes to Fernando Ruiz. Fernando is great, because he is able to expand upon our descriptions—if there is a better way visually to depict what we want, he goes for it! He also peppers his art with great minutia in the backgrounds—little nods to pop culture, fads, previous issues, etc.
Fernando: I like working with Paul. We know each other and get along well so if there’s ever any changes that need to be made or any questions we can just call or e-mail each other. Usually, I draw the chapters of an Archie’s Mysteries story as he writes them so I may be drawing chapter one as he’s writing chapters two and three.
1st: You started with Archie’s Weird Mysteries, did the tie-in with the cartoon limit the stories you could tell?
Paul: The original “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” format was the result of an animated TV series from DIC which ran on the PAX network in 1999 and 2000. The best thing about it was this was a universe where anything could happen—Riverdale had become a “weirdness magnet” and story possibilities seemed limitless. The worst thing about was that anything could happen—but it often happened inexplicably, without due explanation. Many of the comic stories I wrote reflected this—some for the better, some to their detriment. Ultimately, it became played out, which is one of the reasons I often deviated from the show with goofier stories revolving around clones of Archie or a robot girlfriend that were more comical than menacing.
Fernando: Actually, I thought it was less limited when we were doing the Weird Mysteries book. The stories could be about anything from UFO’s to giant lobsters. Maybe it was just TOO unlimited as you might guess from giant lobsters.
1st: Was Archie’s Weird Mysteries treated like a regular Archie title?
Fernando: At first, it seemed a bit different because we were working with a different editor and he was more interested in keeping the book closer to the Weird Mysteries cartoon and in keeping the book consistent with the rest of the Archie line. Through it all though I never got the feeling that it was any less legitimate than the other titles.
Paul: The publishers hope they all will do well!
1st: Is the Archie in your comic the same Archie that appears in all the other Archie titles?
Paul: “Archie’s Mysteries” works because, even though it applies serious investigative techniques from the adult world, it marries those techniques to the long-established Archie characters. For example, Chuck is the forensic artist, Dilton a forensic scientist and Veronica is the financial investigator. The characters readers have come to know and love haven’t been changed; if anything, we’re playing up their strengths by having the kids put them to best use.
Fernando: I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any cross-overs or any references being made, but given the amount of respect Paul has for Archie history and tradition, I ‘m sure the Archie he writes is the Archie we’re reading in all the other books. This isn’t Ultimate Archie or anything like that.
1st: Why have you dropped the “weird” from Archie’s Mysteries?
Fernando: AWM was getting a little TOO weird. Once the faux-Pokemon creatures started showing up, our editor, Victor, knew it was time to restore a little focus to the book. Then Paul had this cool idea for Archie and his Teen Scene Investigators and he ran with it!
Paul: The comic was published in support of the “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” TV show and conversely, we looked upon the TV show as something that would drive the comic’s sales. Since the show was no longer in first-run and we were starting to stretch the “paranormal” theme thin in the comics, it was decided we’d “un-weird” it and try our hands at more believable mysteries. At first, this meant a standard Scooby Doo approach where the supernatural was revealed to be nothing more than a con game. I didn’t really want to do a Scooby knock-off, however (one of my pet peeves in the first year of the series was people calling it a Scooby rip-off—when interviewed, I’d often point out that Archie and the gang were facing off against real ghosts, aliens and vampires, unlike the Scooby crew), so inspired by all the real-life forensics shows on cable as well as “C.S.I.,” I suggested we make Archie and friends into G-rated forensic detectives! Granted, the series is more “Monk” in tone than the grislier true crime-based shows and movies, but it works. Early response is quite
1st: What do you think the readers are going to appreciate the most about the change from Archie’s Weird Mysteries to Archie’s Mysteries and why should people who maybe haven’t been reading Archie comics check out Archie’s Mysteries?
Paul: It’s actually a great “tween” comic for kids who are ready to move on from typical Archie fare but not quite ready to dive into DC and Marvel superheroes. It bridges the gap in between, and in an industry where “tweens” are barely addressed—well, I think it’s a benefit that I’m more than happy to spread the word about. It’s my hope that people beyond the usual Archie demographics will take to this series, as I believe it really has something to offer everyone. I’m hoping this is the Archie comic even die-hard superhero fans won’t mind being caught reading. Conversely, I’m hoping the factoids inspire kids to want to explore and learn more about their world. We do a ton of research for this series—we pore through forensic books and surf forensic websites—hopefully it shows. Perhaps that fact will rub off on the youth and they’ll become great researchers, too! Not to mention enthralled with reading…
Fernando: The stories are a little more cerebral and rely less on the slapstick humor. It’s still funny but also more intriguing and challenging.
1st: What type of freedom does it give you to separate yourself from the cartoon?
Paul: As previously mentioned, we’re no longer tied in to the “anything goes” concept of the cartoon, and we can break away from the investigating-spooky-doings motif that has been overdone. We’re charting new territory by having teens this involved in forensics. One of the things I’m most proud of is our first issue in the new format, ARCHIE’S MYSTERIES #25, actually hit the stands before the C.S.I. comic!
Fernando: Artistically speaking, I’m not held to the style guides of the cartoon anymore. AWM, the cartoon, had modified the looks of the characters and early on, we tried to carry that look into the book. Now I’m free to draw Archie as I’m used to.
1st: What are you looking forward to exploring with the new title, how will these ideals and dynamics make the material interesting for you and what’s coming up for Archie in Archie’s Mysteries?
Paul: Well, the title is for all intents and purposes in its infancy, since the first “forensic” issue just came out and the next won’t hit stands until 2003. This is basically “season one!” Fans can expect Archie and his friends to hone their investigative skills and occasionally a guest-star from the Archie universe with a specialty of their own may show up to aid the investigations. For me personally, the challenge is to see how many G-rated mysteries we can concoct for Archie and his friends to apply forensic techniques to! That’s what makes it exciting. That and the fact that I think this is a pioneering effort for Archie comics in general and all-ages comics specifically. Forensics is usually a grisly affair, and yet we’re showing that the principles of that discipline can even be applied to mysteries in a wholesome, parent-friendly comic series.
Fernando: I’m hoping for a little more adventure in the series without going too over the top. One of the things I like about the series is that it’s very reminiscent of the Little Archie stories I read as a kid and those smacked of Johnny Quest or Tintin adventures.
1st: Are readers who have been with Archie’s Weird Mysteries since the beginning going to be happy with the change to Archie’s Mysteries?
Paul: Like anything else, there are going to be diehard fans unhappy with the change. Whenever a drastic change is made to a comic, TV series or the like, there are always those who cry “blasphemy!” But there are also faithful who stick around to see how things progress and are often pleasantly surprised. And of course, you pick up new fans along the way. The hope is that the number of new readers exceeds those you lost!
Fernando: It’s an intelligently written comic book where each issue is very accessible to new readers and doesn’t enslave you into buying a hundred other books or titles. It’s fun without preaching, pandering, or insulting anyone’s intelligence. This is the thinking man’s Archie!
1st: What do you like the best about Archie?
Fernando: I love the accessibility of the character. Everyone, whether they read Archie twenty years ago or they’ve NEVER read him, know what his books are about. It’s a classic premise and as long as there are teen-agers who fall in love, hang out with their friends, and drive their high school principals crazy, there’s going to be material for endless Archie stories.
Paul: Archie has hit upon a magic formula: the characters and stories depict the timeless trials and triumphs of growing up while simultaneously reflecting the fads and fashions of the times they are printed in. I call them retro-modern comics! Archie is timeless because the themes of being a teenager are universal despite the fact that times, styles and mores change. Teenagers in the 1950s experienced anxiety over tests, dating, getting a driver’s license, etc.; just as teenagers today do. The type of car your dad drives may change, but the fear of denting it is a constant no matter when you grow up! These universal themes have certainly struck a chord. After all, Archie is one of only a few comic book titles that has been published uninterrupted since its golden age debut! That enduring quality that really attracts me, but it’s not the only reason Archie has been successful for so many years. Consider these other reasons: Archie is about wish-fulfillment: Riverdale is the type of town most kids would love to live in; and our 6 to 12-year old readers can’t wait to be teenagers, so they live vicariously through Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest. Archie is a 60 plus year old brand name: parents know and trust Archie from their youth. They know the tales are wholesome and safe and they freely pass on their love for reading Archie comics to their children. Archie digests are an amazing value and a staple at supermarket checkout aisles as well as in Wal-Mart, where they are among the most successful of all magazines sold there. It truly is an amazing property.
What made me really appreciate Archie Comics was my stint as assistant editor on the first ARCHIE AMERICANA trade paperback. I was assigned to research the original 1940s adventures to not only find the first appearances of all the major characters, but also to uncover stories exemplary of both the decade and the Archie mythology. It was then that I really began to appreciate the artistry…. the genius… of Archie Comics. When you survey the history of the strip from its origins through its evolution into the Archie we know and love today, you begin to realize the skill involved in crafting these personalities and putting them through their paces, in terms of both the writing and the art. When I was in art school majoring in comics and animation, many of my peers looked down on Archie. When I started working at Archie, I can’t tell you how many well-known writers and artists tried their hands at Archie and just couldn’t get it right! That’s when I realized Archie is the real deal– a major accomplishment in the history of comics, in my opinion. There is a misperception that writing and drawing Archie is easy. That just isn’t the case—Archie is deceptively simple looking, but in execution is anything but.
Archie Comics as a company also works hard to make new fans and foster their interest through their website. www.archiecomics.com receives approximately 15 million hits and thousands of emails a month. Archie management personally answers each email to the website’s “Talk Back” section. The website also sells a tremendous amount of Archie-related merchandise each month. These are the facts that aren’t often published in direct-market comic shop circles—Archie is way more popular than the average comics fan might suspect.
1st: Are there any other comics are you are dying to work on?
Paul: As far as Archie goes, I’ve had the pleasure of writing a few stories featuring their superheroes, The Mighty Crusaders, as guest-stars in “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” as well as in this year’s Halloween ashcan from Diamond. I’d love to do something on a more consistent basis with these characters. Beyond that, my favorite heroes are Plastic Man, the original (Shazam!) Captain Marvel and The Phantom. I’d love to try my hand writing any of these, especially since Plas and Cap lend themselves to my humorous approach and The Phantom is open to many interpretations. Of course, I wouldn’t rule out a serious superhero story (which would be my approach on The Mighty Crusaders). Other dream projects would be writing new Archie Christian comics and doing what I consider the ultimate team-up: Batman, Daredevil and The Phantom. The jungle would never be the same! J
Fernando: I’ve always loved super-heroes, action books, and sci-fi, so I’d love the opportunity to do anything along those lines. Within Archie, I’d love to be able to do more with the Mighty Crusaders. I’d also love it if Reggie got his own book!
1st: What other projects are you working on?
Paul: Archie keeps me very busy with the “Archie’s Mysteries” series, trade paperback projects, and the monthly solicitation and press release copy I write for them. Since ARCHIE AMERICANA SERIES: BEST OF THE FIFTIES, I’ve been editing the Archie line of trade paperback reprints which includes a whole series of AMERICANA reprints by decade as well as THE BEST OF JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS, THE SHIELD: AMERICA’S 1st PATRIOTIC COMIC BOOK HERO and ARCHIE’S CLASSIC CHRISTMAS STORIES. On tap for 2003 are more paperbacks including reprints of early Sonic stories, silver ageBetty and Veronica beach stories and last but not least, the stories that introduced the original Mighty Crusaders superhero team in 1962. This will hopefully be only the first of a few Mighty Crusaders paperbacks. Loving what I do, I’d of course entertain other projects—only time will tell. I do have some ideas for a Mighty Crusaders re-launch. Perhaps the success of the Crusaders-themed paperback reprints we’re planning will make that viable. We’ll see…
Fernando: Aside from Archie’s Mysteries and various Archie Digest stories, I’ve just drawn a story for Felix the Cat and I write and illustrate an on-going serialized sci-fi comic strip called The Scavengers. It’s available on the on-line sci-fi magazine, www.apocalypsefiction.com. Check it out!
To visit Archie Comics on the web go to www.archiecomics.com