Fernando Ruiz has been working at Archie Comics since he graduated form the Kubert School in 1994. He’s worked on a number of books, both as a writer and penciller, from “Archie” to “Sabrina the Tenage Witch” to “Archie’s Weird Mysteries.” Ruiz’ current project is drawing half of “Life with Archie.” In addition to various other projects at Archie, he also contributed artwork to the new Gogii Games release “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”, writing and drawing the comics that introduce and conclude each level.
In addition, Ruiz is an instructor at the Kubert School, where he returned to teach in 1995. He also regularly draws for “P.S. Magazine,” the Army publication launched by Will Eisner in 1951 and is a contributor to the anthology “Epics.” Ruiz recently spoke with Comic Book Resources about “Life with Archie,” “Betty or Veronica” and the many other projects that keep him occupied.
CBR News: How did you get involved with Gogii Games and end up working on the “Archie: Betty or Veronica” game?
Fernando Ruiz: Gogii came to Archie with the idea for the game. They had all sorts of ideas for extras that they wanted to add into the game and Archie was more than happy to provide them with anything they needed. Within the game there are levels and in between each level there’s a little story that introduces what that level is going to be about. They asked me to write that story and to draw it. I treated it as we used to treat the one-page gags that used to run in the books. I came up with fifteen, plus the whole introduction to the scenario of the game — which is that while Archie and the gang were on a concert tour Riverdale basically fell apart. The crooked mayor took all the money and instantly Riverdale became apocalyptic. [Laughs] So now the player is Archie and they have to go around and are constantly running into Betty and Veronica who offer the choice of fixing up either this place Betty wants to fix up or whatever Veronica wants to fix up.
When you made the comics for games, how much freedom did you have and how much was already established?
I had a list of the different locations that they wanted covered in the game and the different locations that you would have a choice to fix up. They gave me places like the High School, Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe, Betty’s house, Jughead’s house and then they gave me a list of characters that I can use at certain points of the game. You meet certain characters along the way, so as you play more and more you have a greater cast to interact with. That was really it. They gave me that and told me, do two pages per scenario because you get a page before the level and a page after.
Your current comics project is drawing half of “Life with Archie.” You took over the book from Norm Breyfogle almost two years ago. How did you end up coming onto book?
They asked me to jump in with issue #12. I think Norm was getting busy with other projects and falling a bit behind. I had a reputation for being fast and also for being able to adapt to different styles. They didn’t want the book to suddenly jump from Norm’s style to something totally different. They asked me if I could make it Norm-ish, so I tried my best and I guess they were happy because they kept me on the book. I’m penciling issue #33 now as we speak.
I take it since you’re only drawing half the book you don’t “>get as confused about the two universes like writer Paul Kupperberg or those of us reading it.
[Laughs] I’m able to keep it straight in my head. I only draw the “Veronica” half so that’s really the only half I have to be responsible for, but I do most of the covers and frontispieces in the book so I have to read what’s going on in both universes. Usually I’m able to keep them straight but every now and then — especially with some of the more minor characters — I find myself asking, is this the universe where Miss Grundy’s dead?
What do you enjoy about the book?
I like working on different things. As much as I love the classic teenage Archie where he’s in high school chasing Betty and Veronica, I also always love doing a little bit of the adventure stuff that Archie would get involved with now and then. I did “The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.” story a couple years ago and I used to do the “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” book. This isn’t as physically adventurous, but it’s a little more dramatic than most Archie stories, so that keeps it fun for me. And I’ve always been a fan of the characters.
You’ve been working at Archie for almost two decades. What was it like starting out at Archie back in the mid-’90s?
It was great. I was in my third year at the Kubert School and in our third year they bring all the comic companies to look at your portfolio. That’s how I met Victor [Gorelick, Archie Comics’ Editor-in-Chief]. Victor came down with Dan DeCarlo and they both were very nice about my portfolio and my Archie pages. Victor offered me a story, so as soon as I graduated I started working on my first story. Archie is only about an hour away from me so I’ve always just gone in to the office and handed in my work. That was really helpful at the start, going in in person because Archie always had one day a week when all the freelancers who lived nearby would all come in. In those days it was Fridays. So every Friday I’d go in and there would be Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg and Victor would ask these guys to sit down with me and go over my pages. They would sit down and tell me what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong, how to get the likenesses a little better. They were all very nice guys. Especially DeCarlo, who I probably sat with the most. That made a big difference to me. It’s one of the reasons I was able to get the Archie likenesses and the Archie house style down. I think it’s why I have been there twenty years.
Sitting down with DeCarlo, who’s one of the people responsible for developing their house style, I’m sure was a real education.
Absolutely. All of us, Dan Parent, myself and all of us who come after Dan DeCarlo owe him. Bob Montana was there first drawing the characters, but Dan DeCarlo really solidified the visual formula that we all work with to this day.
One thing that I think makes Archie stand out is you were hired as an artist but they’ve given you a lot of opportunities to write over the years.
Almost from the beginning Victor was very encouraging in that regard. If you’ve got any ideas for stories and you want to take a shot at writing one, just let me know. They were always very encouraging about that sort of thing.
Outside of Archie, you’re one of the people who made the “Epics” anthology comic that came out last year which was you and three other instructors at the Kubert School.
That was a lot of fun. It was myself, Bob Hardin, who is an instructor at the school, Antony Marques, who was another instructor and a student of mine, and Fabio Redivo, who was another instructor and another student of mine. It was Anthony who had the idea initially that we should do something independently. We were four different guys so the idea of an anthology just seemed like a natural concept. We’d have one singular theme that we would incorporate into all of our stories. We would each do a six-page story which was really what made it possible because six pages is doable. Our theme for that issue was the 1950s. We could do whatever we want, as long as it took place in the ’50s. I wanted a real science fiction story, the kind you might have seen in EC Comics or the old Atlas Comics. It was a story called “The Iron Ghost” about a guy whose mind becomes locked into a robot he invented. I got to write it, I got to draw it. It was really the first time in my career I was ever responsible for every stage of a comic. I wasn’t just writing it or just drawing it; I was doing everything. It was a lot of fun. Really a highlight of my career.
You’re planning a second issue of “Epics,” is that right?
We’re doing a second issue. The theme for this one is war. Since doing the first issue a lot of the guys have gone on to do other things. Anthony Marques, for example, is an editor now at DC so we’ve all gotten a little busier than we were last year when we were doing the first issue. We’re shooting for it to be out for New York Comic-Con.
You mentioned you worked on every step of the process, and you also inked yourself in “Epics,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do.
I’ve inked myself professionally maybe three times for Archie. Those were usually instances where the deadline was tight on the project. Most of the time my inking is demonstrations for my students at the Kubert School, but since doing “Epics” I really jumped into the inking pool a lot more. I’m enjoying it too. It certainly makes me loosen up as a penciller because there’s a little more I can resolve as the inker. It’s interesting.
Are you not inking mostly because of time?
For the most part Archie prefers me as a penciller and they know that if they tied me down with inking myself that would just slow me down. We have inkers who certainly ink much better than I do and they do a great job. Bob Smith who’s inking me on “Life with Archie” is up for a Harvey Award this year and I can’t ask for a better guy.
You have worked with some fabulous inkers over the years.
I’ve been very lucky. Rich Koslowski is inking me now. I just did a story for “Archie” where Archie becomes Thor, the god of thunder, though in our case it’s the clod of thunder. Rich is inking me on that and I really love what he does.
Are we going to see more of the “Iron Ghost?”
I’m writing another script for the character. I’d really love to do a couple of one shots or possibly do a graphic novel. It’s just a question of time.
You’re also working on “P.S. Magazine.” What has that been like?
It’s interesting. Like I mentioned before, I love drawing different things and the army is always requesting different scenarios. Every month I’m drawing soldiers keeping their machine guns clean and their tank treads clean and how to work gas masks or telescopic sights. I’m learning a lot as I’m drawing this stuff. It’s really a fun gig.
What brought you back to the Kubert School to teach?
I graduated in 1994 and like I mentioned before as soon as I graduated I went right into freelancing for Archie. I was fortunate enough to freelance very steadily at Archie. I had work every single week. Initially I jumped in because teaching is always a nice side gig for an artist, but I really do enjoy it. Artistically speaking I think artists should pass on what they’ve learned, especially in our industry. I think this is a very unique industry because we’re creators but also forced to be businessmen, especially if you’re a freelancer. I think young people who want to go into this industry really need to hear about it from people who are in it. I really think that even if I were a millionaire and never had to work, I would still want to teach just to share my experiences with the next generation. Honestly I learn as much if not more than what I teach.
You said that the new “Epics” theme is war and you of course studied under the late, great Joe Kubert. Is there something he taught or that you picked up on in doing this story?
Absolutely. With Joe there’s always little lessons that come back to me when I’m at the drawing table — the basic drawing, the figure, the storytelling. Things that he said, things things that he showed us. My particular story in this is a space war. Mine’s futuristic so it’s not Sgt. Rock in World War II, but anytime I’m drawing anything Joe’s lessons are always ringing in my ear.
You hear his voice like the English teacher reciting, “i before e…”
All the time. And sometimes I’ll feel that phantom clap on the back that Joe was famous for. [Laughs]
“Life with Archie” is on sale monthly from Archie Comics, and “Archie: Betty or Veronica” is available for download now for iOS.