SOUTH JORDAN - As a boy, Bill Galvan devoured comic books, cartoons and mystery stories.
Archie and the gang were favorites. So was Scooby Doo. And Encyclopedia Brown.
Galvan even began doodling his own cartoon characters at age 7.
Of course, today that all looks like career planning.
Galvan is the creator of The Scrapyard Detectives, a comic book series aimed at teaching children the value of diversity. He also is about to make his debut with Archie Comics as the cover and main story artist for "Mission Improbable" in Jughead & Friends #22, out in July.
"It's like a lifelong dream," said Galvan, 37, of joining Archie Comics as its newest artist.
Galvan seems to have vaulted to comic book stardom with surprising ease.
The northern California native came to Utah in 1992 after marrying his wife, Jennifer, who is from the Beehive state. He enrolled at Southern Utah University, finishing a bachelor's degree in illustration in 1994.
While in college, he was the editorial cartoonist for SUU's newspaper and also created a comic strip featuring a superhero called "Thunderbird," playing off the school's mascot.
In 2000, he took a job in the advertising department at Ultradent Products Inc., a South Jordan dental products company founded by Dan Fischer. The entrepreneur and dentist invented a wildly successful teeth whitening product.
Galvan worked on brochures and 3-D animations - which seemed about as far away from comic books as he could get.
Funny how life works out.
In 2003, Fischer refocused his nonprofit foundation, Smiles for Diversity, more directly on teaching children about the importance of diversity. In targeting children, Fischer hoped to encourage tolerance and acceptance of others and thus prevent attitudes that lead to hate crimes.
"He wanted to get this message to kids before they grow up and become set in their ways," Galvan said.
Galvan suggested a comic book as the perfect mechanism to reach children. The first edition of The Scrapyard Detectives appeared in June 2003; two more have followed.
The comic features a trio of youths - Jinn Lee, Raymond Garcia and Robert Reilly - who solve neighborhood mysteries with teamwork and ingenuity.
Jinn, who uses a wheelchair as she recovers from bone cancer surgery, is the intuitive researcher who puts the clues together. Raymond is the adventurous filmmaker. And Robert is an inventor who builds gizmos with parts from his dad's scrapyard, such as: the detectosled, a sports ball pitcher and a pressure sensitive pad that captures shoe prints.
The basic question underlying each comic: How would an appreciation of diversity help avoid a bad situation and move someone beyond preconceived notions about others?
Yes, it's a tricky subject, which is why Galvan said the comic series sticks to a general discussion of prejudice and discrimination.
"We just want kids to see kids from different cultural backgrounds working together and promoting teamwork," said Galvan, a father of four.
His young sleuths figured out who destroyed a rose bush planted by an Indian family after they moved to the neighborhood; found the arsonist who burned down a multi-cultural community center because he didn't like outsiders; and tracked down the thief who was stealing things from their clubhouse.
Smiles for Diversity printed 50,000 copies of the first edition, including 10,000 in Spanish; the foundation printed half that many copies of editions two and three. The comics, aimed at children ages 8 to 14, are given out free to teachers and dentists offices.
In response to requests from teachers, Galvan is currently working with an education professor in California to develop lesson plans that incorporate The Scrapyard Detectives comics.
Mimi Cruz, manager of Night Flight Comics stores, describes Galvan as a "natural."
"He is very talented," she said. "We've been a huge supporter of Scrapyard Detectives since day one. It was a perfect fit for what we were doing because we've supported child advocacy work for the last 12 or 13 years and a lot of that is focused on literacy."
It takes about two days to hand-pencil one page, Galvan said, and up to five months to get a book from concept to comic book.
Chad Denton wrote the script for the first comic, which Galvan penciled, inked and then colored on a computer.
The second book was written by Nathan Shumate, with Galvan again doing the artwork. The third storyline was written by Jesse Leon McCann, a best-selling children's author who has also written for DC Comics, The Simpsons Comics and Scooby Doo.
Galvan penciled the third comic but contracted out the inking and lettering - the latter done by Dave Lanphear of Marvel Comics.
"We were just really lucky to have him come on board," Galvan said. "He's one of these creators who really loves the message of the books and loves the characters."
Galvan met McCann while participating on a panel discussion on literacy at the 2005 Comic-Con, the comic artists annual convention, in San Diego. That's also where he lucked into a tryout with Archie Comics, which was reviewing portfolios in a search for new artists.
Since October, Galvan has provided drawings for seven Jughead stories and has begun writing for the comic series, too.
As for Scrapyard Detectives, Galvan is working on a collected volume, in a graphic novel format, to be released this summer. The volume will feature an 11-page origin story - written by Batton Lash, an Eisner Award winning artist and creator of the comic "Supernatural Law" - detailing how the detectives met. It will debut at the American Library Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in June.
* ON SATURDAY, comic artist Bill Galvan will sign comic books and coloring pages at the Night Flight Comics store in Cottonwood Mall from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. as part of National Free Comic Book Day.
* FOR MORE information or to order copies of The Scrapyard Detectives comic books, visit http://www.smilesfordiversity.org.