Creating Kids’ Comics- Lessons from Paul Castiglia and Stephen Coughlin
I recently sat down with Paul Castiglia and Stephen Coughlin to talk about kids’ comics. Paul Castiglia is a writer and editor of Archie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog, and co-writer of all 34 issues of Archie’s Weird Mysteries. Stephen Coughlin is the creator of Sanctuary, a comic for kids about animals in a kind of zoo where the lead scientist is conducting experiments on them. The animals start panicking after the panda gets killed. I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s really good and you should really read it (you can download #1 for free on Comixology).
Here’s the interview. I hope you enjoy it!
Carl: I’m here at Garden State Comic Fest with Paul Castiglia, writer and editor of Archie, and Stephen Coughlin, creator of Sanctuary. I’d like to ask you a few questions about kids’ comics for my readers.
Carl: Did you want to become comic book creators when you were kids?
Paul Castiglia: Yeah, sure, I always wanted to be in comics as far back as I can remember, like being 4-5 years old. I would watch cartoons on tv and I would draw them. I would draw Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound which were the cartoons being run in the afternoon when I was a kid. And my parents still have those notebooks of my drawings. I always loved those characters. I got into superheroes early on, watching Spider-Man cartoons on tv. My local library had all these great books about comic books. There was a great book called The Great Comic Book Heroes It really inspired me, I got to learn about all these great stories and characters and I said, “This is what I want to do! I want to get into either animation or comic books or both.” So I probably knew, like, when I was 5 I wanted to be in this business. I just kept working at it (there’s a longer story to that), but here I am.
Stephen Coughlin: Yeah, when I was in second grade, my friend Dave, brought in this rectangular-shaped Garfield book, Garfield comic strip. I remember sitting and reading it and trying to draw Garfield. And the next thing I knew, all the other kids in the class wanted me to draw pictures for them, too. It just kind of steamrolled into that and I spent my whole day drawing and buying comics and trying to draw like the people who were in the comic books. And it just continued on and on like that.
Carl: What comic books did you read when you were a kid?
Paul: I read a lot of comics. I read Spider-Man, mostly. I read Justice League of America, Batman, Superman, some of the other Marvel characters, sporadically I would just pick up. I also read a lot of cartoon-based comic books. When I was growing up there was a publisher called Charlton and they had the license to do Hanna Barbera characters. So I used to pick up Yogi Bear, and I used to pick up Hong Kong Phooey and Top Cat – and so I loved all that type of stuff. I didn’t discriminate. I loved humor characters and I loved superheroes. It was great.
Stephen: Yeah, I think I bought some of those same things, like Scooby Doo and Dynomutt and stuff. And then I progressed into Detective Comics with Batman and Flash and Green Lantern.
Carl: Why did you choose to work on kids’ comics as a grown up?
Stephen: I just didn’t want to write scary stories or violent stories. I just enjoy drawing animals and characters and characters that are fun to draw and fun stories. I didn’t want to get too serious with the stories I was telling.
Paul: I think my answer is pretty much the same. I just really love to entertain. Every now and then I’ll put a message in one my stories. I’ve written a couple of stories that are maybe semi-serious, maybe. I like humor, I like comedy. In addition to being a huge comic book and animation fan, I’m also a big of old comedy movies: Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges. So that comes out in my work, too. I just love all that stuff. For me it’s just in my DNA. I’m sure there’s a really serious story in me somewhere that maybe someday I’ll get a chance to do, but for the most part I’m very happy keeping it light and entertaining.
Carl: What do you think makes a good kids’ comic?
Stephen: I think probably everything we just said in the last question: keeping the story light, fun characters, good jokes, comedy. But also, if you’re writing a kids’ comic about kids or that have kids as the main characters, you want to write things that are appealing to kids or social stories that kids can understand and identify with. You see there’s a big push right now with kids’ graphic novels that’s really exciting. And I hope that more kids read because of that.
Paul: I think kids, like Stephen said, want to read things that are of interest to kids. Also, they want to see the different personality types – so when you go to school, or playground or are involved in some sort of activity, like a sports team or whatever it is, there’s a lot of different personalities that you come across as a kid. So kids like to read stories that have these different personalities and how they interact. Like I was saying, when I was writing Archie comics, basically, the way you go about it is is you know the characters first. So you know that Archie is one way, Betty is another way, Jughead is another way, right? So Archie is clumsy, he’s girl-crazy, Jughead marches to the beat of his own drummer. Betty is very well-rounded, has a lot of interests and is a true-blue friend. So when you have a situation that you’re writing about, each of those characters is going to react differently to that situation. And that’s what makes it a story. You’re going to get conflicts out of that and different types of scenarios how it’s going to play out. And I think kids respond to that because it’s kind of a reflection of what’s going on in their lives in school or at the playground or what have you.
Carl: What makes a good kids’ comic different from a good grown-up comic?
Paul: I would venture to say that actually more about what makes it the same. Because it’s all about really the human experience, right? Like I said before, if you’re writing to kids about kids, you’re dealing with issues, problems and situations that they’re used to – and how do you solve these things? That’s the story of a hero – and a hero could be someone who studied hard so they could pass a test. That’s a hero like that. It’s having a problem and solving it. So that’s the same whether it’s story aimed at kids or a story aimed at adults. Just that the problems in the adult comics are adult problems, which hopefully you won’t have to deal with for many years to come! Cause I’ll tell you, kid problems, they may not seem like it at the time, but they’re more of a piece of cake than the adult problems.
Carl: Thank you for answering my questions. It was nice to see you again.
Stephen: Thank you!
Paul: You’re welcome, Carl. Keep up the great work! We love you what you’re doing!