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Exclusive: Butch Mapa uncovers nightmare designs behind Archie's 'Strange Science'

Comic Books

Exclusive: Butch Mapa uncovers nightmare designs behind Archie’s ‘Strange Science’

A sneak peek at the process behind the new one-shot’s frightfully good art.

By now you probably know that the Archieverse is quite extensive. Over the past 80-plus years, the Riverdale gang has seen it all: witches, aliens, and even a Sharknado that one time.

But it’s not all brand crossovers and wacky storylines – the industry stalwart has consistently evolved to reflect the increased diversity of the comics audience at-large. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the new one-shot, Chilling Adventures Presents: Strange Science,  which introduces Archie Comics’ first canonically trans character.

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In Strange Science (available now via Archie Comics.), writer Magdalene Visaggio spins a supernatural story about Danni Molloy, best friend of Jinx Holiday (you may remember her as Li’l Jinx) getting unstuck in time. Molloy, Riverdale’s girl genius and erstwhile dating companion to boy genius Dilton Doiley, has received some mysterious messages from her ex. Danni and Jinx follow the clues and find that something darker, yet strangely familiar, has ultimately caused the disruption.

Despite being a single-shot comic, Strange Science covers a lot of ground – canonizing Danni Molloy as a trans woman without falling into hamfisted transphobic cliches or lazy humor. Visaggio, along with line artist Butch Mapa and colorist Ellie Wright, creates an immersive world that allows the story to really shine through.

We spoke with Mapa about the creative process and living up to Archie’s legacy. Mapa even shared exclusive design development sketches.

Chilling Adventures Presents: Strange Science is available now at your local comic shop.

Archie

Main cover by Butch Mapa. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

AIPT: Archie Comics has a legacy that dates back to the ’30s. How does it feel to know that you’ve forever left a mark on Archie canon with the company’s first trans character?

Butch Mapa: My uncles grew up reading Archie. I learned to read on Archie. My five-year old niece just brought an Archie digest that a relative gave her. These are characters that have had an impactful history, worldwide, and to think that Danni might have the same future is exciting. The editors and Mags had the really smart idea to take an existing (though minor) character and elevate her to being a representative for a group of people to identify with. Hopefully, we came through with the execution of the moment deserved.

AIPT: Whose idea was it to use wavy lines on the panel borders?

BM: That would be me. It was a simple way to slightly knock things off-kilter for the reader. But mainly, I thought it would help sell the warping of Riverdale if whatever force was doing it was also affecting the panel borders. This is one of those wonderful things that could only be possible in the comics medium, and it was fun to make use of it!

AIPT: Without spoiling too much, there is a quiet moment late in the book where the art has to carry a lot of the emotional grounding of the story. What was on your mind when you were designing those panels?

BM: It was so important to nail this emotional payoff for the issue. The scene right before was our action climax, so I went with a grid layout — adding some panels — to slow the pace and give an even, introspective flow to the scene. I had the idea of including a little drum set, which hopefully added a bit more pathos for the reader. Finally, it was important for me to have Danni, like, really UGLY cry in panel 7. She just starts losing it, remembering her past but also knowing where it will lead.

And how great were Ellie Wright’s colors on this scene?

AIPT: Can you share a “behind the curtain” peek into the development of “The Echo”?

Exclusive: Butch Mapa uncovers nightmare designs behind Archie's 'Strange Science'

“Strange Science” development art by Butch Mapa. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

BM: The first step in drawing a comic is always looking over at the script and kind of letting it wash over you, absorbing whatever details are necessary for the story. It was while doing this that I picked up on some key words from writer Magdalene Visaggio, about Echo, our “monster” for this issue. Body horror. Scraggly hair. Animalistic. Sad. Deeply sad.

Given those cues, I went about researching online for body horror inspirations. I’m basically a giant wuss, so this was absolutely horrifying—but if I could transfer that energy to the reader, then great!

The starting concept I wanted to play with, given our issue’s subject matter, was a sense of inversion, of a body being the reverse of what the mind wanted. My initial attempts were more silly than scary (note: butts at eye level? Not scary), I had a very specific thought of how shoulder blades, on an emaciated body, could almost look like pseudo-breasts. This image was my starting point, and then built the rest from there.

Exclusive: Butch Mapa uncovers nightmare designs behind Archie's 'Strange Science'

BM (continued): For Echo’s head, I wasn’t sure if I wanted his neck to be twisted all the way around, or pushed up so much that it was upside-down. The former looked creepier, but the latter was a bit more monstrous. Both looked exceedingly painful! We ended up going with the upside-down head, and then switching to the twisted neck look when Echo becomes more “normal” as the story progresses.

I wanted to hide the nature of his face as much as I could, so I tried to draw it in a way that it might still look right-side-up, albeit with a large monster mouth above the eyes. Echo’s hair would look like a beard, and his eyes would look quite angry, but viewed upside-down, are actually quite sad.

Exclusive: Butch Mapa uncovers nightmare designs behind Archie's 'Strange Science'

“Strange Science” development art by Butch Mapa. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

BM (continued): The reversed, twisted forearms and legs not only gave an animalistic look to Echo, but also enforced the pain that he was in. The bones popping out from the twist added to that feeling, while giving more menace to the design.

Development art for Archie Comic's Strange Science

“Strange Science” development art by Butch Mapa. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

BM (continued): The script called for Echo to go on all fours for a chase sequence, and the design lent itself to that, we just had to nail the head type.

Working on Echo was a blast. I creeped myself out a few times, which isn’t difficult, but was still a good sign. I wanted to come up with a concept that was meaningful and thought out, but also actually scary.

Development art for Strange Science.

“Strange Science” development art by Butch Mapa. Courtesy of Archie Comics.

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