Promoting Ethnic Diversity Through Comics

Everyone wants to change the world. However, few of us do anything about it. Bill Galvan is trying; he joined the non-profit organization The Diversity Foundation to do just that. Bill has created his own group of teen adventures in the comics "The Scrapyard Detectives," a group who solve mysteries while demonstrating the value of accepting ethnic and cultural differences. But this isn't a comic you'll likely see in your local comic shop. Galvan's creation is given out free to schools and libraries and so far this effort has topped 70,000 copies. Along the way Jesse Leon McCann, J.M. DeMatteis and Batton Lash have joined Galvan to help make "Scrapyard Detectives" a success. Bill took some time away from the drawing board to answer a few questions for CBR News about his new "Scrapyard Detectives" graphic novel and his other current assignments.

Bill, thanks for joining us today. Tell us about the Diversity Foundation-what is it and what are the organization's goals?

The Diversity Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen and align global communities. The Foundation accomplishes this by empowering vulnerable and underprivileged children with access to quality education. Through educational tools like the "Scrapyard Detectives" comic books and graphic novels, the Foundation encourages mindful awareness of the value of diversity and a respect of our ethnic and cultural heritage.

Tell us more about "Scrapyard Detectives."

Galvan: The comic book is about three kids, Raymond, Robert and Jinn, who work together to solve mysteries in their community. The books are patterned after the mystery stories I liked as a kid such as "Encyclopedia Brown" and "Scooby Doo." The cast is multicultural, and their cases usually involve a lesson about an appreciation of diversity and the dangers of intolerance and prejudice.

CBR: Chad Denton was your co-creator and writer on the first issue. Why didn't he write all the stories and how did Nathan Shumate, Jesse Leon McCann, J.M. DeMatteis and Batton Lash become involved with this project?

Galvan: Chad was referred to me by my friend Nathan Shumate. He wrote a great first story that gave the detectives their name and set up initial personalities for each of the kids. I asked Nathan to write the second story, which was a little more serious in tone, dealing with arson and themes of patriotism. At the San Diego Comic Con in 2005, I was lucky enough to meet with Jesse McCann, who really liked the characters and agreed to write the third issue. He crafted a powerful and complex story that really pushed the characters and conflict. In 2007, for our graphic novel, I wanted to go back to the "secret origin" of the Scrapyard Detectives, how they met and solved their first case. Batton Lash is a writer that can do a great mixture of humor and suspense, and really captured the youthful spirit of the young "scrappers," as he calls them. And we were really lucky to have the introduction to our graphic novel written by J.M. DeMatteis, who loves the comic series as well.

CBR: You are not just an employee, you are the Creative Director. What does the job entail?

Galvan: As Creative Director, I oversee the creation of each issue of "The Scrapyard Detectives," the comic book series published yearly by the Foundation. I assemble each team of creators to work on each installment. Besides penciling the series, I also produce all the promotional materials and set up our booths at Comic Con and other trade shows.

CBR: Why does the Diversity Foundation want to produce comics?

Galvan: The Foundation was trying to figure out the best way to reach a young audience with our message of multicultural diversity and acceptance. I suggested a comic book series that would entertain children first, but also sneak in a subtle message about an appreciation of diversity. Whenever we start a new "Scrapyard Detectives" story, we always approach it with the theme "how would an appreciation of diversity have helped this situation?"

CBR: How is the Diversity Foundation paying for the 70,000 free comics they have given away, and how does this help them achieve their goals?

Galvan: The Foundation is funded through donations, and largely supported by its founder, Dr. Dan Fischer, who believes strongly in its message of multicultural acceptance.

CBR: This comic started out as a commission by Dr. Dan Fischer. What were his requests with this commission?

Galvan: Dr. Fischer wanted to teach children not to discriminate or hate each other because of race or other differences. I thought the best way to do that was to show by positive example, three kids who were role models, who cared for one another and their community. The kids are also very relatable in that they don't have super powers or anything.

CBR: These comics aren't sold in comics shops, but rather are given away to libraries and schools. If a library or school wants copies for their students, how do they get them?

Galvan: They can contact me at the Diversity Foundation or by visiting our website and downloading the application form for comic books at www.smilesfordiversity.org.

CBR: As I understand it, the Diversity Foundation also offers a free lesson plan to go with the comics. Tell us about that.

Galvan: Yes, we were fortunate enough to have the contribution of Dr. Robyn Hill, an education professor who uses "The Scrapyard Detectives" in conjunction with her "Secret Origins of Good Readers" project. She wrote out lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with each of the comic books. The lesson plans involve vocabulary exercises, reading and comprehension. There are also sections for students to write their own dialogue for panels from the books and design their own covers.

CBR: If someone reading this interview was interested in getting a copy of "Scrapyard Detectives" and can't find them at their library, how can they go about getting a copy?

Galvan: Ask your local teacher, librarian or comic book retailer to order some for you! Also, you can order the graphic novel online for $5 at www.smilesfordiversity.org. It contains all three issues of the series, an origin story by Batton Lash and features guest artwork as well.

CBR: What type of reaction has there been to graphic novel been so far?

Galvan: The reaction has been great from teachers and librarians, who are very happy to have something that is all ages that they can put on their shelves. They also love the price, which is great for a 106 page full color graphic novel. We would love to have one in every public and school library.

CBR: When is the next issue planned for release?

Galvan: Every fall I start to put together a team for the next issue of "Scrapyard." I am in the process of doing that now. So the next issue hopefully will be out by next summer.

CBR: You were talking about "Secret Origins of Good Readers." What is that?

Galvan: The "Secret Origins of Good Readers" is a project started by Dr. Robyn Hill and Mimi Cruz of Night Flight Comics in Utah, which educates librarians and teachers about the benefits of using graphic novels to encourage literacy to their students. The "Secret Origins of Good Readers" panel is given at Comic-Con International in San Diego and attendance is growing every year. I have participated on the panel with other comic creators such as Mike Carlin (DC Comics), Bill Morrison (Bongo Comics) and Frank Beddor ("The Looking Glass Wars").

CBR: In addition to your work as Creative Director for the Diversity Foundation and artist on "Scrapyard Detectives," your name has started appearing in the pages of Archie Comics. How did you get involved with Archie Comics?

Galvan: At the 2006 Comic-Con in San Diego, I attended the Archie Comics panel, and showed my portfolio afterwards for their talent search. After doing some Archie samples, I received my first script in October and have been drawing and sometimes writing ever since.

CBR: How many stories have you done for them so far?

Galvan: I have probably penciled about 11 stories so far, and written two.

CBR: How is it different working on the Archie characters then working on your own characters?

Galvan: Working for Archie is a dream come true for me. I've always been a fan of the comics since I was a kid, especially of Jughead. These characters are known worldwide, and are icons of comic book history. They are similar to "Scrapyard" in that they are non-super powered kids that like to hang out together. But with Archie, there is a lot of history - everyone knows these characters, so I try to do my best to stay true to the characters looks and personalities, and what has come before.

CBR: What is it that you add to these classic characters that makes a Bill Galvan story unique?

Galvan: I've always been a fan, and when I draw or write a story, I try to think of what the fan in me wants to see. I also try to incorporate recent trends I see, such as in a recent "Jughead" story I wrote and drew called "Chick Magnet" in which Jug accidentally sprays himself with one of those "girl attracting" body sprays. He gets chased to school by fifty girls, which made a great cover idea. My oldest son is a teenager, and that also gives me lots of ideas to use in stories as well.

CBR: I understand you and Batton Lash have a new secret project coming from Archie next year. How did this come about?

Galvan: I had been sending Batton Archie ideas because after his great script for "Scrapyard Detectives," I really wanted to work with him on a Riverdale project. I sent him an idea that he liked a lot, and he was really interested in writing it.

CBR: What can you tell us about this project?

Galvan: I don't want to give away too much, but it's called "Archie: Freshman Year." It will in some ways redefine and reaffirm Archie's universe, without contradicting any of the stories or characters we all love. I will be penciling it in the traditional style, and Batton will be writing the stories, using his own mix of humor and drama.

CBR: Which comics will this story be featured in?

Galvan: There will be an introductory story in one of the regular comics to kick the whole thing off. This will be followed by four consecutive issues of "Tales from Riverdale Digest" and in total the story will run about 100 pages, which could be collected in a graphic novel format if the fans respond to it favorably.

We are just getting started now and are expecting to have the first part in comic shops by spring of 2008.

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