BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO

When you hear the term "Archie Comics," one's mind immediately races to Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica. Possibly images of Moose and Ethel might come to mind as well as their resident teenage witch, Sabrina, but not a lot of people immediately think of Chuck Clayton, even though he and his girlfriend Nancy were introduced to comic readers in the 1970s. Chuck's a huge comic book fan, struggling to break into the industry as a cartoonist, and he's getting the spotlight in a four-part Archie & Friends story from Fernando Ruiz and Alex Simmons. Both men think it's high time Chuck took center stage and are having a blast shedding light on a character both can relate to easily.


THE PULSE: I think almost every person who has ever heard of Archie knows Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica by heart. But, some of the supporting players aren't as well known -- even if they have been around for decades! Just who is Chuck Clayton, the star of a four-part Archie & Friends tale in the New Year?

FERNANDO RUIZ: Chuck Clayton is one of Archie's best friends. He's smart. He's an athlete. Like Archie, he's a very nice guy. His dad is Coach Clayton one of Riverdale High's key faculty members. Most notable of all though, Chuck is an artist and in particular, he's a comic book fan making him immediately easy for our fans to relate to.

ALEX SIMMONS: Speaking as one of the relatively new guys in the Riverdale Bullpen, Chuck is an African American teen friend of Archie and the gang. He and his girl friend Nancy were introduced into the series back in the 1970s. I certainly believe his introduction was a product of that era. Certainly the civil rights movement made it easier, if not in some cases expected, to have at least one Black character in a story, movie, or TV show.

THE PULSE: Out of all Archie's supporting players like Big Ethel, Dilton, Moose, Midge, etc.,. why did you want to give Chuck the spotlight?

ALEX SIMMONS: First, I have to say that I had already written seven full-length stories for Archie & Friends (#117-123), and Chuck was one of the supporting characters in several of them. Next, the idea to do a Chuck mini was presented to me by my editor, Mike Pellerito. We had often talked about my work as a Teaching Artists, doing creative arts workshops with kids. One of those workshops was on creating comics. So, one day Mike asked if I could write a fun series of tales for Chuck based on my own exploits and experiences. See, Chuck’s greatest love, after Nancy of course, is writing and drawing comics. I guess it seemed like a natural fit.

Why Chuck? Timing and opportunity.

FERNANDO RUIZ: When you think of Archie's supporting cast, many of those players are defined by a single attribute. Moose is the jock. Jughead likes food. Reggie is the jerk. Chuck, however, is among the most well-rounded of the cast. He can be anything! He can be in athletic situations. He can have girl problems. His love of comics and science fiction lets us get more adventurous and fantastic with the situations we can put him in. He's a marvelously flexible and adaptable character. As an added bonus, his richness is largely untapped. Even though Chuck has been around since the early seventies, he hasn't been explored as much more than Archie's occasional sidekick. He has had a solo story here and there but Chuck has deserved more of the spotlight. This is a great opportunity to see what a fun character he really is.

THE PULSE: How is Chuck different from Archie's other friends? What's his thing? Like you said, with Reggie we know he likes sports and himself. Juggie's comic relief with the appetite that's never sated. Dilton's a brain. Moose is the big football hero .... What's Chuck's bag?

FERNANDO RUIZ: Chuck's bag is art and comics. He's smart, creative, and passionate about his art. He likes to paint and draw and he dreams about becoming a great comic book artist. In this four-parter, we discover another passionate of Chuck's and that is his previously unknown love of teaching! This becomes the core of this four part story in which Chuck finds himself teaching a cartooning class for kids. It gives him the opportunity to combine his long-time love of cartooning with a newly discovered enjoyment of teaching!

ALEX SIMMONS: There are a number of ways to answer that question. Let’s state the obvious – he’s Black. That makes him different from the rest of the lead characters in the series. But there’s no bigotry in today’s Archie Comics, so Chuck’s race is not an issue. Another point – Where Archie can’t seem to choose between Betty and Veronica, Chuck and Nancy have been a solid couple since the early days. As I mentioned earlier, the previous stories with Chuck painted him as a nice guy, who loves to draw comics. He’s the go-to-guy for artwork, special presents, and a slew of other creative ideas, plans and items that could be part of the situation or joke. My stories will take that a lot farther.


THE PULSE: What do you think makes Chuck worthy of going from supporting player to star of a four-part tale? Why do you think comic readers would want to learn more about Chuck and his dreams/goals?

ALEX SIMMONS: Chuck has been around for a long time, so some readers will know him and be curious about him. For me, Chuck’s love of creating comics and the situation of him teaching kids opened the doors to all kinds of story telling opportunities. As someone who has done that in real life – for over 8 years – I knew there was plenty of great material to choose from. Chuck could learn so much about kids, comics and himself. The kids he encounters can come from so many different backgrounds and bring so much energy and variety to the series. Readers would find it easy to spot someone they know, or even themselves, in these wacky, comic-loving-just-trying-to-grow-up kids. So, basically it was a fertile field that I just had to run through. Some readers will pick up the books because they’re part of the Archie & Friends series. The rest is up to us to make the stories so much fun and so entertaining that the rest of world will lay siege to their local comic book store in order to buy them.

FERNANDO RUIZ: As I mentioned before, out of Archie's entire supporting cast, Chuck is one of the more well-rounded characters. He's not just a one-note character. Like Archie, anything can be done with him. Plus, he had that added point of interest which is the cartooning and the art. It's this imaginative side which should appeal to comic readers out there. After all, they like comics too. They immediately have something in common with our star character!

THE PULSE: How tough is it for you to relate to Chuck? I mean, with both of you working in the comics industry, I'd imagine it isn't too hard to think about his struggling artist days.

ALEX SIMMONS: Not that hard at all – in some ways. Our families tried to bring us up the same way, we’re both African American, and I loved and still love comics. As to struggling artists’ tales… In the second book in the series (issue #127 of Archie and Friends) I wrote a sub plot involving an artist who has turned his back on his art. What Chuck learns from that will affect them, both. But Chuck is not a professional so he doesn’t have any struggling artist experiences to look back on – at this point. He’s a high school student and just starting to go through some of his trials and tribulations. The more you see of him in the Archie books, the more you’ll learn about him and the more challenges he’ll face. But remember, it’s Archie, so there will always be fun and frolic in the mix.

FERNANDO RUIZ: Chuck is a blast to work with. Aside from immediately relating to his situation as a young artist who dreams of a career in comics, Chuck's stories lend themselves to being visually very interesting. After all, I have to draw whatever Chuck gets to draw. This means drawing super-heroes, monsters, aliens, and a lot of other fantastic stuff that Chuck dreams up!

THE PULSE: What do you think it is about the world of Archie Comics that has allowed it to live long and prosper while others of its kin ended their runs years ago?

ALEX SIMMONS: You mean beside stubbornness? The same thing that has kept other iconic characters flying, swinging, or transporting about for decades. They found their audience. They’ve told good stories, made people laugh or feel good, changed enough with the times to bring in new audiences, and continue to try to maintain a connection with their fans – one way or the other. Archie’s love of girls, and his confusions over which one to choose is universal. Jughead’s good-natured, medium cool, humor and goofiness is infectious. The girls are pretty and the town is friendly and relatively safe. Sounds like a good place to escape to from time to time.


FERNANDO RUIZ: Archie has a rock solid premise that never gets old or goes out of style. You've seen it emulated everywhere from Saved By The Bell to High School Musical. You have the nice guy with the goofy best friend and the arrogant rival. He's torn between two beautiful girls who are direct opposites. It's a classic formula! It's easy to digest. It's immediately recognizable, and its a situation that lends itself to many types of stories.

THE PULSE: What do you enjoy the most about working on these types of stories for the target audience of Archie?

FERNANDO RUIZ: These stories are fun and a lot more unpredictable in that Archie can have a wacky adventure in school. He can be traveling abroad with Veronica. He can be building robots with Dilton. He can do anything! Chuck is just as adaptable to a wide variety of situations. Plus these characters as long lived as they are, aren't bogged down with tons of heavy, intimidating continuity. Everyone knows their story right away. They're fascinating but remarkably uncomplicated at the same time. They're a lot of fun to work on.

ALEX SIMMONS: First off, the staff is a lot of fun to work with. There have been some serious business meetings and moves, but overall there’s been laughter, a sharing of ideas, and a kid like excitement when certain plans and projects came together. Second, Archie is one of the iconic characters I grew up reading and watching. He is the fifth one I’ve had the pleasure of writing stories to add to the canon. There is a hard-to-describe thrill that one experiences when you realize that you are part of a body of work that has lasted so long, and was such an important part of your own childhood. It’s wild! Last, I enjoy watching the kids read and react to my work. That’s a gift I take away from every workshop, signing, and event I do.

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?

FERNANDO RUIZ: I'm all over the Archie universe! I draw occasional issues of Archie & Friends, Jughead & Friends and Tales From Riverdale. Plus, I'll write and draw stories for the various digest books. I'm very busy and I'm loving it! This is a great job!

ALEX SIMMONS: Well, I’m already writing another mini series involving Jughead and the gang. The working story title is ARCHIE DRAMA CLUB. Fans will see Jughead in a new town, a new outfit, and a situation that is weird and dangerous, but always fun. Outside of Archie-ville – my friends and I are working on the next KIDS’ COMIC CON slated for April 25, 2009. Some of my work on Scooby do is out, and I hope to be doing more very soon. And last, for now – I’m developing a creative arts studio at a local college (Bronx Community College). The studio uses creative arts and technology to introduce educational and career opportunities to middle and high school students. We opened in September and have already worked with over 60 students. That and a few other projects and appearances will keep me busy – for little awhile at least.





Chuck gets the spotlight in Archie & Friends #s 126-129.