Interview And EXCLUSIVE Art Preview: Talking ‘Fear The Funhouse’ With Michael Northrop And Diana Camero
by Rachel Bellwoar
Wilbur Wilkin might not be the household name that Archie Andrews is today, but once upon a time he had his own comic series, too, and was in a love triangle just as messy as Archie’s. Now, thanks to writer, Michael Northrop, and artist, Diana Camero, Wilbur is back in “Suburban Legend,” one of the campfires stories that make up Archie’s anthology one-shot, Fear the Funhouse. With colors by Matt Herms and letters by Jack Morelli, find out what Northrop and Camero had to say about Wilbur [and also check out two lettered pages from their story below]:
Rachel Bellwoar: It wasn’t until reading Jamie [L. Rotante]’s editor’s note that I realized Wilbur Wilkins wasn’t a new character but had his own comic named after him in the ’40s. How much did you know about Wilbur Comics going into this issue?
Michael Northrop: It was like cramming for a test! Two days before, I knew nothing, but I was pretty confident walking into the exam room for this one. Jamie sent over some Wilbur comics for me to take a look at, and you can see immediately what’s going on. Wilbur, Laurie, and Linda are like the rough draft of Archie, Betty, and Veronica. The classic Archie formula is almost there, but not quite. It’s still taking shape. In horror terminology, it’s like that moment when a body snatcher has hatched and is beginning to resemble its prey. You know who it’s supposed to be, and you can see where it’s going, but it’s not quite there yet. So, Wilbur is like that for Archie, but more charming and at no point covered in slime.
Diana Camero: Zero; I didn’t know him at all until I got the references for the character design. I read some issues to learn more about him and thought, “Oh, this is like Archie, Betty and Veronica but in vintage!”
Bellwoar: The first scary movie I can remember ever watching is I Know What You Did Last Summer so, for me, the hook man will always be a memorable foe. Was he your first choice for the antagonist in “Suburban Legend”?
Northrop: He was definitely running around my brain as I was writing, but this really began with the original urban legend. At least the way I heard it, the teens are at Lover’s Lane, they hear the news report, get spooked, and drive off. They hear a strange tink-tink-tink all the way home, and when they get out, they find the hook hand hanging from the door handle. So, for me, the bad guy was always going to live off screen, or at the very edge of it. The hook was the hook!
Bellwoar: As much as convertible tops haven’t been known to stop dangerous killers in the past, there was still something immensely satisfying about watching Wilbur lock up the car after listening to the news on the radio. Did that scene have any influence on the type of car you chose for Wilbur, or did the car come first?
Northrop: Yeah, totally. Before I even started, I had an image in my head of the hook shredding the roof of the convertible like paper. I actually pictured three rows, with the hook just finishing the third. I love that idea of false comfort/foolish hope, like when Wile E. Coyote holds up the tiny umbrella right before the boulder lands.
The shredded roof scene never made it into the story. And looking back at those three rows, I may actually have been thinking about a velociraptor or something like that. Something with claws. It would have been a very different story: Jurassic Parking Lot?
Bellwoar: For a lot of the story Wilbur and Laurie aren’t on the same page, which is usually conveyed through their facial expressions. How fun was it to tell this whole other story visually that wasn’t always apparent from their conversation?
Northrop: It’s one of my favorite things about the story, but Diana gets all the credit. I wrote situations where those two weren’t quite on the same page. At most, I included some basic descriptions like “annoyed” or “baffled.” She took those situations and translated them physically and emotionally into this fantastic assortment of mismatched facial expressions. And then when Wilbur and Laurie are finally on the same page at the end—literally eye to eye—they are *both* completely wrong! Diana crushed it.
Side note: If I had to give one piece of advice to aspiring comic writers, it would be this: Work with artists who make you look smarter than you are!
Camero: One of the things I most enjoy about drawing comics is the characters’ expressions, and it’s all about learning their personalities and what would their faces be like in each situation. With Wilbur and Laurie, it was kind of easy because the script makes it clear about what Laurie wants. It seems like Wilbur is physically present but his mind is somewhere else (probably thinking about Linda).
Bellwoar: While the panels where Wilbur and Laurie are driving really hit home how out of place murderers ate in Riverdale, they’ve been showing up there a lot lately. Granted, “Suburban Legend” is a campfire story, but why do you think it’s become so appealing to set spooky stories in Riverdale?
Camero: Because in Riverdale… nobody will hear you scream.
Northrop: It’s the juxtaposition; that word is worth at least as much in comics as it is in Scrabble. It’s the safety and coziness of Riverdale, the suburban idyll of varsity sweaters and leaves raked as soon as they fall, that makes the place SO PERFECT FOR MURDER. Murder in a crime-ridden city is predictable and boring. Think about a comic like Daredevil. They don’t even bother to show the murders most of the time; they just allude to them. It’s background noise. The same goes for a haunting in an abandoned house or a monster in some remote, desolate forest. But set those same things in a clean, cozy, well-lit haven like Riverdale? Now you’re on to something. It’s the same formula that makes Cambridge, England, the murder capital of the world on the BBC (and PBS). Don’t try to outthink the Brits on murder. You’d have better luck out-acting them.
Bellwoar: In the frame story [by Micol Ostow and Lissette Carrera], Reggie is the one telling “Suburban Legend.” Were you aware of this before you started writing/drawing?
Northrop: I had no idea, but really: Who better?
Camero: Not really, but we all know he was the best choice!
Bellwoar: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Michael and Diana!
Fear the Funhouse goes on sale Wednesday October 19th from Archie Comics.