Talking With Your Pal Dan Parent About Creator-Own Projects, Archie Comics, Riverdale, And More

by Staff

 

Dan Parent, classic Archie Comics artist for over 20 years, seems like he is always the tenant of a brightly-colored booth at comic conventions, tirelessly on the road and tirelessly creating fun and inventive art. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s an inspiration to comic artists, and to young and older fans alike with his work ethic, positivity, and enthusiasm for the art form.

[Dan Parent at C2E2]

I asked Dan to fill me on the various projects that he works on, since he’s clearly one of the busiest people working in comics with both work for hire and creator-owned projects as well as cover work going on at any one time.

He explained that he’s working for Archie Comics on various projects, but his major personal project is Die, Kitty, Die, with Fernando Ruiz. The first series launched in 2015, and a second Kickstarter last October launched Part 2 of the series. The first series was four issues published digitally, then produced in a trade. Then they were picked up by Chapterhouse, in Canada, for the print editions of individual issues. Parent and Ruiz are following the same pattern on the second series.

That has been working out well for he and Ruiz, since they are able to fulfill their Kickstarter rewards first, then afterwards, Chapterhouse helps them distribute the comic to comic shops.

That explains why you’ll see Die, Kitty, Die pop up in the Previews Catalogue occasionally, since Chapterhouse even distributes a trade edition later on in the process, too.

I observed that since there’s always at least one stage of the process going at any one time on Die, Kitty, Die, it always gives Parent and Ruiz something new to talk about. I asked how he feels about being able to see his comic distributed in literally every single possible format, from digital, to print issues, to trade edition in print. He said it was a great feeling to cover all the bases.

Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz handle the entire comic themselves as project managers, and provide all the writing and line art. They also hire an inker, colorist and letterer, who are paid with the funding that the Kickstarter generates. Parent feeds chapters to Chapterhouse, for instance, for publication. This is their “baby”, so they do more managerial work on this creator-owned project than they have on previous projects, Parent said.

I asked if this is the first time he and Ruiz have done such a totally creator-owned project, and therefore have to manage the project fully. He said that yes, Die, Kitty, Die, is their first venture into that world. Though Parent had worked in the 90’s on a series with Archie that was creator-owned, called The Carneys. Back then there wasn’t really a venue for digital publishing, but actually, since Parent owns the rights to that comic, the characters from The Carneys are making cameos in Die, Kitty, Die.

I asked whether Parent uses digital tools in all of his work, and so was prepared to operate as a digital project manager on Die, Kitty, Die. He explained that he uses a mixture of tools. He’s used to drawing by hand on paper, but he does scan things, even after inking, to touch up in photoshop. On Die, Kitty, Die, he does pencils, scans them, and sends them to their inker digitally, as well as to Janice Chiang, their letterer. Using “old school drawing” and digital technology to “finish it up” is typical for him.

That does leave you with original artwork that you can hold in your hand, and sell at conventions, Parent reflected. I agreed that it’s important as a revenue stream for a lot of artists, but it also keeps people talking about the art, being able to look at it at conventions, and it leaves a specific footprint in comic history.

I asked what originally prompted he and Ruiz to create Die, Kitty, Die, and what he and Ruiz most want to accomplish with it. He said they wanted to create something that catered to their own tastes. They love Archie, of course, and that style, but they also love Harvey Comics, and be able to draw similar characters, so they combined those elements while creating a comic that was a little more adult with a satirical approach, Parent said.

The premise behind the comic is that a publisher is hosting all kinds of events to drum up interest and press for the comic characters they publish, otherwise they are going to kill them off. The main character, Kitty, has been around for decades, and has slumping sales, so they threaten to kill her off too. In the world of the comic, the characters are also “real”, so they have to be literally killed off to get rid of them. A price has been put on her head, with bounty-hunters coming out of the wood-work in the way of second-tier comic characters who want to come back into the limelight as their reward for killing her. “Then there’s also the fact that she’s a witch, which makes her harder to kill”, Parent reminded.

[Fernando Ruiz at C2E2]

This new series focuses on a Kitty movie that’s being made in Hollywood. In the first series, we know the publisher is trying to kill her. In this series, someone is trying to kill her, but it’s a mystery who the killer is. I asked Parent if detective stories played a part in influencing this series. He said the series draws on a “little of everything”. A lot of it is based on cop shows, crime narratives, and it’s also satire, so plenty of parody of comic books is involved. There are parodies of superheroes, though most of the characters are based on humor properties like “Little Satan”, for instance, and there’s a Caspar-like character called “Dippy”. Parent and Ruiz are trying to do a funny project, without getting too serious, while being satirical and “just a little sexy”, Parent said. The comic doesn’t have nudity, but it is “skewed slightly older” than classic Archie, Parent explained.

Parent and Ruiz are still experimenting and finding what characters work and what doesn’t, since the first arc was only 4 issues in length. This arc will also be 4 issues, but also include a Summer and a Christmas Special. They are planning to do a new series next year, too, which will feature a Halloween Special.

Parent said that he and Ruiz share duties, on both writing and drawing. They plot the series out together, then divide up the issues. By using the same inker, it blends things together a little more seamlessly. Each issue starts with a “retro” story set in the past, like a “Little Kitty” story about her as a kid, and then the “retro” introduction story will build into the main storyline. It’s a process of building a “fake universe” for the characters, Parent said.

I observed that it seems like the perfect time for them to create a comic like this, because we’re at a point when we are looking back at the mid-20th century and assessing its part in the history of comics. And the characters and properties their comic refers to hail from that period. Parent has been alive since the 60’s and he sees the “rich history of comics” coming “full circle”, he observed.

Right now, he’s been asked to work on Harvey Comics, which he never thought would happen, because they have been absent from comics for so long. But yes, Harvey Comic characters are coming back for new comics, and Parent is working on them. He said that he just drew a Richie Rich story. Joe Books in Canada has the whole Harvey license, Parent added.

We had both read a trade of Hot Stuff comics a few years ago, published by Dark Horse, and commented on how much we liked the character. “They are great characters. I’m always shocked that more of them have not been in animation [more recently], because they lend themselves to animation so well.”, Parent said.

Hot Stuff has never had a cartoon, which is shocking, but it turns out, as Parent explained, that he was going to have a cartoon on Saturday morning in the 1960’s, but the audience in conservative areas of the country reacted badly to the idea of a cartoon devil, and so it never got made. These days, there’s enough interest and enthusiasm for these older properties that maybe we’ll see a return to animation for Harvey characters, Parent commented.

The mainstay of Parent’s artistic life, however, is still Archie Comics work. I asked if doing Die, Kitty, Die is a good side-project for him since it gives him quite different characters to draw, and enables him to stretch different creative muscles. He agreed that it was a good mix, bringing in different thought processes. “One compliments the other”, he said.

“Do I dare ask you about your thoughts on the CW show Riverdale, or shall I stay away?”, I joked. “You can ask.”, he said, “Fire away”.

He likes Riverdale. If he didn’t, he’d say, “No comment”, he laughed. He had some initial concerns, knowing it could go either way. Knowing it was going to be racy made him feel on the fence initially. But he thinks the casting is really good, and “that’s most of the battle right there”. “I’m enjoying it”, Parent said.

I said that I hadn’t been sure I’d like the show, but I watch a lot of comic-related shows to keep myself informed as a journalist. Probably by the third episode, I was pulled in and knew I’d watch the rest. Parent agreed that the season has gotten better as it’s gone along, and that it has appealed to people, in fact being renewed for a second season.

I agreed that young people, especially, are really responding to it. And that the murder-mystery aspects had been good for the structure and pacing of the show to keep the season active. He personally finds the murder aspect the least interesting aspect of the show, but is really interested in the dramatic lives of the parents. Since the parents are all his age, it appeals to him, Parent said. Luke Perry, and now Molly Ringwald, are his generation, and he can relate to them.

I agreed that there is some serious drama surrounding the parental generation, and clearly the writers are going for the importance of both generation to the dynamics of the show.

I asked if Parent would like to comment on Kevin Keller at all, as the creator of the character, and how Kevin represented in Riverdale. I remarked that I’d seen occasional criticism online that he wasn’t being presented flamboyantly enough or making his presence felt enough among his straight peers.

Parent feels that the TV casting is good, and the actor resembles Kevin, in his opinion. Parent is waiting for Kevin to have more of his own storyline, but has hopes that’s going to happen next season. This year had 13 episodes, but next season will have 24, he said, which gives lots of room for expansion and ground to cover. But the way Parent created Kevin, he said, was to see him as “the boy next door, kind of like Archie, but he just happened to be gay”. So he can be interpreted in different ways, also based on the age at which he’s being presented.

Right now, Parent is working on the digital series, Life with Kevin, where Kevin is in his 20’s, and being a little older and out of high school means that you can tell different stories and bring out different aspects of his personality. He’s still basically the “boy next door”, though, Parent said.

We also have to remember that the show does differ from the comic books, Parent said, however, he doesn’t see any characters who are “really off the mark”, or he’d have something to complain about.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who’s the creative officer at Archie and also the show-runner for Riverdale, “knows the characters”, Parent said. He cast the characters well, Parent said, “Archie, Betty, and Veronica are perfect”.

I explained to Parent that I had recently read the new Riverdale #1 comic in the ongoing series and found that the comic brought in elements of the world from the TV show that readers could use to expand their understanding of the world of the show. Which, in my opinion, makes the comic worthwhile and interesting. Parent said that having the same writers as the show helped out with that development.

I asked Parent more about Life with Kevin, and he explained that it’s a five issue digital first series, three of which are up on ComiXology, the fourth of which he’s just finished, and the fifth will be published during the summer. It will be collected in a print trade edition.

He has a new Archie title coming up, Parent said, but it’s under wraps to be announced “soon”. He couldn’t talk about it yet, but a few days later, before the publication of this interview, Parent was announced as the artist on a new series, Your Pal Archie. This series is unique because even though it’s “classic” Archie, Parent has been allowed to update the clothing and style of the comic a little, giving it a “fashion makeover” that’s been inspired by the art direction on Riverdale. He’s excited about that development, and the ability to update the fashion, he later said at C2E2.

I asked Parent about his work on covers, which he seems prolific in. He’s doing Harvey covers, and some for Valiant Comics, but always plenty of Archie covers. If you follow Parent on social media, you can see his posts about his covers as they are announced and released.

I observed that Parent works very hard, but also on a number of different things, and he said that because of the increased work on Die, Kitty, Die, he’s had to cut back on conventions compared to previous years. By that, Parent still means that he travels a lot, since previously he did a rather impressive round of conventions. The first part of the year has been hardest, with all the writing and drawing of Die, Kitty, Die, whereas summer is a little easier, working on the “Specials” they have coming up.

Big thanks to Dan Parent for taking part in this lengthy interview with Hannah Means-Shannon for Comicon.com.