IMPERIAL VALLEY — While curiously rummaging through his grandmother’s garage, a curious 5-year-old stumbled across something new to him: brightly colored pages and dark text, a larger-than-life villain, and a hero. well-known based on an arachnid getting run over on the cover of what – he wouldn’t know for 30 years or more – would later become his life. A comic.
Ruben Najera Jr., owner of El Centro-based bookstore Metahumans Comics, not only opened his own comic book store and wrote an original children’s book – Chiquita the Vaquita – but now the pro skateboarder turned comic book guru is becoming a star in his own right in the comics world, having penned his first professionally published comic with longtime comics giant Archie Comics.
In “Best Archie comic ever! #1Najera is part of a small team of authors who have created a new a shot — or a single-issue standalone story — where Archie’s cast of characters are taken in completely different directions than the classic characters are known for, Najera said.
Best Archie comic ever! #1 has three stories contained in the single version, including Archie Andrews as a Superman-like superhero, jughead jones in a setting similar to Conan the Barbarianand the history of Najera Veronique Lodge and Betty Cooper as a duo of femme fatales, working together as super-spies rather than against each other in their usual rivalry. Best Archie comic ever! #1 hit the shelves June 15 worldwide.
For Najera, he is no longer that 5-year-old who discovered the first Spectacular Spiderman comic his grandmother gave him in her garage and begged his mother to buy his first Archie Digest comic book reprints. in a supermarket in the same year, from being a now established comic book writer, having already written other independent comics such as “illegal aliens” and a script for Dave Garcia The Panda Khan Chronicles series, which debuted at Yuma Con and (formerly known as) Imperial Valley Comic Con, respectively.
Currently publishing The Best Archie Comic Ever! #1 is, for Najera, the culmination of a journey of writing and submitting comics in hopes of being published by a comic giant; finally hitting the printing press after 10 long years of working and rejecting comic book scripts, he said.
Growing up in El Centro, Najera said he grew up in a low-income family where getting big toys like action figures was exclusive on his birthday and Christmas.
He said part of the reason he wanted his mum to buy him a collection of Archie comics on trips to the supermarket was because of their cheap price, with the reprint collections containing multiple stories, that he would read again and again, tracing and drawing his own versions of Archie’s iconic characters himself.
“The Spiderman book was like the bug that bit me – which is funny, instead of gaining powers, I gained a desire for comics,” Najera said, “(but) the first comics that I chose to buy were these little Archie Books that were my introduction to Archie and the comics.
“Archie has been around for 80 years…so coming full circle and writing for them is pretty crazy,” he said. “There really is nothing that has lasted longer…decades and generations.”
“It always trips me up,” he said. “My editor was the former screenwriter of Betty and Veronica, so it’s kind of like she passed the torch to me to write the story, and not only that, but I like to engrave my story in the pantheons of ‘Archie. That’s pretty wild.
Now in his thirties, it was that childhood love for comics that led Najera to open Metahumans in El Centro after saving money from his years of pro skateboarding in his twenties, he said. declared.
“I’ve always loved comics. I’ve always loved writing,” Najera said, “even when I was in the skateboarding industry, I was writing about action sports.”
“I’ve always written scripts but…people don’t know I’ve been scripting comic books for years,” he said. “I would put all that work and effort into writing these comic book scripts and they would get rejected, so I wasn’t doing it right.”
Najera said networking at San Diego Comic-Con as an adult led him to discover The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc., a school in Dover, New Jersey, dedicated to comics and graphic art that he says has produced some prestigious alumni of the comic world. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Najera said he discovered that the Kubert School had started hosting online classes, which he took advantage of as a California resident.
“I learned with my instructor, Amy Chu, who really showed me how to write comic book scripts properly, and it felt like… if I had known that before, I would have saved so much time,” he said. “I learned a lot from that, I passed the classes, I graduated, I continued to do what I learned there, and I got Archie Comics work from this way.”
“(My editor) gave me a direction derived from my first script based on what the cover artist was already doing, so I continued on this idea of Betty and Veronica being super spies, so I got some found the title as ‘Operatives’ because the story takes place in an opera and they are agents, you know, ‘agents,'” Najera said.
Najera said he was surprised the comic book giant allowed him, as a rookie comic book writer, to use Archie in his Betty and Veronica story. He also said he was proud to have been able to create a new villain for Archie Comics, mob boss “Big Carp”.
“It’s not a joke, it’s sold like every comic book store in the world…it’s crazy,” Najera said. “People were tagging me (on social media) in Texas, New Jersey and Bath, England, saying they bought copies there.”
Najera said now he has a foot in the door as the author of the same Archie comic with big names in the comics industry Fred Van Lente and Aubrey Sitterson he is getting offers and already working on new projects with other comic book giants, which he cannot name at this time as the projects are currently underway.
“All of a sudden I got all this work at once,” he said. “Once you’re in the door, you’re in the door and there’s no turning back.”
Najera declared The Best Archie Comic Ever! is one of his three favorite and most important achievements.
“It was a learning process and I never gave up…a full decade of throwing and I finally broke into this moment,” Najera said. “It was like with skateboarding: you fall, you eat [it]and you get up, and you realize that if you don’t get up, you’re not going to land.
While the Archie comic was originally meant to be a standalone one-shot, Najera said that if the company liked it and the issue worked out well, they might consider continuing Betty and Veronica as super spies in as a series.
“It works out eventually, but it takes work to get there,” Najera said. “I just understand that it’s not going to happen if I quit; I better go all-in and give it my all.
“Don’t stop and eventually you will become what you seek,” he said. “Quitting is not an option, it really is the right thing to do…just work.”
Najera said that while he won’t be carrying his own signed Archie comic in his store, Metahumans does offer signed copies of the comic at no additional cost. He said he will be hosting an in-person signing event this year at San Diego Comic-Con International once a booth schedule and location is finalized, which will be announced on his social media accounts.
Best Archie comic ever! #1 is available from Metahumans own Imperial Valley/Najera comics and all comic book stores worldwide. Metahuman comicswhich offers copies of the comics signed by Najera, is located at 444 North Imperial Avenue in El Centro.