Saturday, January 10, 2009

Paul Castiglia: Beyond Archie's (Weird) Mysteries ...

It's hard to believe it's been a decade since PAX-TV launched the "Archie's Weird Mysteries" animated series. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead in precarious and "weird" situations involving mysterious creatures and events ... my, my, my, how we miss it. We also miss the fun accompanying comic book title from Archie.

BRBTV had the pleasure of chatting via email with Paul Castiglia, who wrote for the Archie's Weird Mysteries comic, later retitled Archie's Mysteries. He had some interesting things to say about this unique direction for the timeless Archies characters, and he's got some great work going on these days, too ...

BRBTV: You had a couple things to juggle with the Archie's Weird Mysteries comic. You had to remain true to both the TV show and to these long-established, iconic characters. Did you find that difficult, in this supernatural-mystery-type setting?

PC: That was definitely the most challenging aspect – to stay faithful to the characters within the context of the TV series’ concept. What made this especially hard was the fact that some of the situations I came up with lent themselves to great jokes and one-liners, but I always had to self-edit first and ask myself, “Would Veronica actually say this; would Betty really do that?”

It’s not the easiest thing to do once you’re wrapped up in your plot, and many Archie writers (myself included) don’t always get it right. You just try your best to keep all the varying personalities in the back of your mind and not assign interchangeable dialogue to the characters.

One edge I’ve tried to fall back on in my writing is my exposure to the evolution of the Archie characters gained through my experiences as company archivist when I worked on Archie staff in the ‘90s, as well as my continuing duties researching and editing the “Archie Americana Series.”

You've said in interviews that when the TV show hit the airwaves, you campaigned to get the job doing the comic version. Why was that?

I have always been a fan of the “horror-comedy” genre from Hollywood’s golden age. This was a very popular genre from the 1930s through the 1950s in both shorts and feature films. So popular that several of the classic comedians tried the genre more than once - Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, the Little Rascals, the Bowery Boys and most famously Abbott & Costello each made several horror-comedies (and incidentally, I have a book on the topic in the works).

I also appreciated all the “legitimate” horror movies from the ‘30s through the 1980s that incorporated comedic elements. And I was a HUGE fan of the “Kolchak the Night Stalker” TV movies and short-lived series (about an intrepid reporter investigating the supernatural). When I heard what the concept for the animated “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” TV series was, I knew I had to write the comic book version of it – it would be my opportunity to write Archie meets “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” meets “Kolchak the Night Stalker” meets “Night of the Creeps” (a great 1980s movie which is practically an Archie comic book come to life … if Archie and Jughead ever had to fight zombies, that is)!

How did your comic version differ from the TV show? Were there any concessions you had to make for those fans who just love all the comics but had never seen the TV show?

Based on the original “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” format established in the TV series, Riverdale was a universe where anything could happen – Riverdale had become a “weirdness magnet” attracting all sorts of monsters, aliens and paranormal creatures and the story possibilities seemed limitless. But this actually became a limitation, because although anything could happen, it often happened without any explanation. That, plus the show tended to keep its “weird” focused in the realm of the “spooky.” To offer some thrills and chills the regular readers of Archie Comics could appreciate, I made an effort to incorporate some of the more familiar elements of the comics mythology – like the love triangle. This manifested itself in stories where Archie had duplicate clones to make his life easier (which of course it didn’t) as well as a story where Archie’s “perfect girl” was actually a robot. When I adopted the teenage vampire girl Scarlet from the TV series for a story, I tried to keep the dating complications intact even though the bigger picture of that story was heading toward cataclysmic circumstances. Beyond that, I tried to retain as much of the archetype personalities as possible – Jughead always hungry, Reggie always a pest, etc. Sometimes I just aimed for “silly” weird stories (like the intergalactic baseball saga) while the show’s tone was often more “serious,” with tense adventures. Maintaining these “Archieverse” elements in the comics helped make the comic accessible to those who had never seen the cartoon show.

The comic lasted longer than the show, which only ran about a year. In fact, the comic even survived a name change. Why the drop of "Weird" in the title?

The comic series was a moderate success. It was most successful as a subscription and mail order item. The publishers and editor wanted to keep it going, but felt that too much time had passed without the show being on the air. They suggested that I take a “Scooby Doo” approach where the mysteries all turned out to be hoaxes. Contrary to a popular misconception, “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” was NOT a “Scooby Doo” knockoff because the supernatural menaces Archie and his friends encountered were real in the stories. I pointed out to Archie management that because we had already been compared to Scooby Doo in this fashion, we should probably try something else. They were open to suggestions. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) Barbara Jarvie was big into forensics. She used to watch all the Bill Curtis-produced and other forensic documentaries on TV. It was also the time when "C.S.I." was starting to take off, as well. She suggested shifting the focus to forensics on a G-rated level – solving non-grisly crimes. I brought her on-board as co-writer to ensure that all the forensics information was accurate. Ironically, not long after the name and format change, the cartoon series returned to the airwaves in many cities via syndication!

Any chance of the title reviving? It seems the closest thing to it in the Archie line right now is Tales From Riverdale. And if you look around the web, fans still remember and like Archie's Weird Mysteries.

That would depend upon the publishers, and would be a decision based on several factors. Naturally, it would have to make good business sense for them. I certainly would love to do it again if given the opportunity.

Who's your favorite Archie character?

Wow, that’s a tough one – I like them all to varying degrees. If I have to key in on one from each gender, I’d say Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. Probably because of their individuality.

Who's the easiest Archie character to write?

I’m not sure. Archie stories are very situation-driven. You start with the situation, and then you have a core group of characters who would all react differently to that situation. But even within that, the characters can throw you curve balls and react in unexpected ways. That adds conflict to the story. I’d say the most difficult characters to write are probably Jughead and Reggie, because it’s difficult to maintain the integrity of those personalities – it’s very tempting to compromise their personalities in favor of moving the plot forward. It goes back to what I said about “interchangeable dialogue.” I’ve seen stories where Reggie’s word balloons might as well have come out of Archie’s mouth, and that’s just not staying true to Reggie’s character in my opinion.

Which character in Archie's Weird Mysteries are you most like?

If I take the time to figure that out, you’ll never have a complete interview to post!

What's the craziest thing you made an Archie character do in Archie's Weird Mysteries?

To adequately answer that, I’d have to go back and reread the comics, which I haven’t done in quite some time. But I think the craziest thing I ever made artist Fernando Ruiz draw were giant lobsters and Pokemon-like characters. I consider those two stories among the weakest I ever wrote. It goes back to what I said about the limitations. It wasn’t too much later we dropped the “Weird” and gave the series a new lease on life creatively.

I told myself, at the time the show was airing, that if they ever brought Cheryl Blossom into it I was going to just about have a glee-induced coronary. As far as I recall, she wasn't in the comic title, either? Was that ever a possibility?

Cheryl made it into at least one issue, in the story “Archie Squared” from AWM #4. That was the story where Archie had multiple clones wrecking havoc everywhere.

What was the fan mail like for this particular comic title?

Fan mail was pretty consistent on this. Readers really enjoyed it. And there were of course the two opposing camps: those who loved the “Weird” and those who preferred the forensic approach. The third camp appreciated both incarnations of the comic.

I very much appreciate the fact that you are a professional working in the comics industry who is a Christian. How do you think your Christian beliefs have translated -- either directly or indirectly -- into your comics writing?

It’s hard to pinpoint for me. It’s actually easier for me to spot some stories I wrote in the past when I was in a “backsliding phase” that show a lot of the confusion I went through when I wasn’t being active in my Christian life. But those stories written once I got back on track spiritually tend to have inherent moralistic and ethical underpinnings.

What did you picture yourself doing as an adult, when you were a little kid?

Oh, I knew I was going to be involved in animation and/or comic books. Originally I thought it would be as an artist and not as a writer/editor. As He so often does, God had other plans!

Tell us a little about Mecha Manga Bible Heroes.

Mecha Manga Bible Heroes is a new comic series that I co-created and edit for JMG Comics. We’re taking Old Testament Bible stories, leaving the characters, themes and plots intact, but transporting them to a future world of robots, aliens and advanced technology, with mech and manga-styled art. So far we’ve released issue #1, which recounts the tale of David vs. Goliath.

We’re currently working on the second issue, which will be the first installment of a three-part story arc called “The Rise of David.” It is scheduled for March release.

Mecha Manga Bible Heroes comics are available at Christian bookstores and some comic shops (check out our blog for details on both – and is most easily available to order directly from (

What's beyond Mecha Manga Bible Heroes for you?

I hope to continue conceiving, promoting and editing projects for JMG Comics, and there are several Archie projects in the works that I can’t reveal yet that I will be a part of.

Betty or Veronica??????? Or Cheryl????????!!!!!!!

Betty of course!

My brother and his wife named their daughter Veronica for (yes!) Veronica Lodge. Any advice for them, since Ronnie will be a teenager soon?!!?

If there’s an Archie in her high school, transfer her to another school!

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