March 2016 sees the return of Valiant’s adventuring duo of the naive martial arts expert Obidiah Archer and the booze-hound immortal known as Armstrong. Just in time for the new year, we had a chat with the writer of “A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong”, Rafer Roberts.
Let’s get down to Brass Tacks: How much booze will be in this series?
Rafer Roberts: Rivers. There is probably more booze in the first four issues of “A&A” than Edina and Patsy drank during the entire run of Absolutely Fabulous. We make Leaving Las Vegas look like a movie about a well-adjusted, sober gentleman. There are rooms full of fine whiskeys, shelves packed with vodkas of many flavors, and before it’s over, someone will attempt to drink an entire water tower filled with hooch.
The next 50 issues will probably just be Archer and Armstrong laying on the couch with a massive hangover, binge-watching Golden Girls.
We have seen Archer and Armstrong from a variety of perspectives such as Van Lente, Asmus and Kot. How do you see Obadiah Archer and the Immortal Armstrong?
RR: First and foremost, they are friends. Armstrong is a ten thousand year old drunken, immortal, warrior-poet who ran afoul of a confederacy of secret organizations called The Sect a few millennia ago. Archer is a super-human teenage martial arts expert who was raised by a fundamentalist wing of The Sect and trained since birth to assassinate Armstrong. So sure, on the surface this seems like an unlikely friendship. They have been known to bicker like an old married couple, but they have each other’s back when it counts.
They are the Yin to the other’s Yang. It is in their differences that they become stronger. Armstrong’s oafishness has been expanding Archer’s worldview, allowing the teenage ninja with a strict morality to not see the world only as stark contrasts of right vs. wrong. Archer’s inherent “goodness” has been forcing the immortal Armstrong, who has been shutting himself off from the world, to once again feel compassion and empathy towards his fellow man. Of course, these otherwise good influences aren’t always in each other’s best interests and often will create more problems than they solve.
The first arc sees the duo literally going into Armstrong’s bag, full of all sorts of nastiness. Being an artist as well as a writer, what kind of aesthetic are you and your collaborator David Lafuente going for?
RR: Insane and weird and trippy. When David came aboard, not only did he draw all the madness I had written, but he added to it. There’s a splash page where we see an overview of the world inside the bag that I described as a Home Depot designed by MC Escher and stretching into infinity. He exceeded my expectations by a mile. Every strange creature, whether it be the goblins who keep everything organized inside the bag, or the trash golems made up of thousands of years worth of Armstrong’s garbage, looks amazing and way crazier than I ever imagined.
This arc will see the introduction of a new villain, Bacchus. That name definitely comes with certain implications. Did Armstrong trap a deity in his Bag?
RR: Bacchus does claim to be “the Original Party God” and he does have some booze related abilities, but Armstrong refers to Bacchus as a dingus who got some powers and likes to play dress-up. As Bacchus as gone quite mad after all of his years of imprisonment, and since Armstrong is biased against the very idea of there being any sort of god, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The answer to that question (which I do actually know) has larger implications and is something we’ll be exploring as the series progresses.
Bacchus is quite a lot of fun to write. He’s this gnarly old goat man with super-villain leanings but the affectations of Paul Lynde. Add in David’s killer design of this monster and Bacchus just exudes this filthy aura of menace.Continued below
We also see that Archer’s foster sister, Mary Maria, is going to play a part as well. She’s had a history of being sorta-friends sorta-enemies of the duo. Where is she going to stand on this venture?
RR: “Sorta-friends sorta-enemies” nails it. Mary-Maria’s relationship with Archer and Armstrong is…complicated, to say the least. She loves her foster brother and wants the best for him but she also has responsibilities as leader of The Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, her league of assassins in nun habits, and those two motivating forces don’t always align. In this first arc, Archer puts Mary-Maria in charge of guarding the satchel while he goes in to find Armstrong and to come in to rescue them both if something goes wrong. Mary-Maria is left to decide between stealing the satchel for herself and abandoning Archer to whatever horrible fate might be awaiting him inside the bag, or doing as her foster brother asked and denying The Sisters of a treasure of great power and importance.
Mary-Maria really is one of my favorite characters which, selfishly, is why I wanted to put her in A&A right away. And, to heap a bit more praise on David, I love the way David draws her. Once I learned he was on the book, I figured out a way that we’d be seeing a lot more of her as the series goes on.
Valiant boasts probably the most well-constructed shared universe in comics right now. What are some of the challenges or inspirations when working with someone else’s creations? How mindful do you have to be when considering other creators working in the universe?
RR: With a shared universe, and this is my first time working inside of one so I might just be talking out of my ass on this, you do have to at least stay abreast with what else might be going on in the other books. Luckily with Valiant, there are only about eight different titles a month to keep track of and some of those take place in a completely separate section of the Valiant Universe, so there isn’t that much you need to keep track of. (I think that’s as much a draw for the readers as it as for the writers.)
I know a lot of creators balk at the idea of working around crossovers and events and want to just tell their story with as little interruption as possible, but I’ve got my self-published comics for that. I like the idea of writing a story with another writer, which isn’t something I’ve done much of at all. To me, the idea of a team-up or crossover isn’t only about bringing the two (or twenty) characters together, but also the bringing together of creative minds to make something cool.
There has been an ongoing debate in comics Twitter about what is more important to the creation: writers or artists. As someone who works on both fronts, how do you feel they influence each other?
RR: The best comics are the ones where everyone is able to do their job to the best of their ability, with as much freedom allowed to do so. The writer/artist thing (and inker and colorist and letterer and everyone down the line) is a symbiotic relationship, a Voltron-like comics making organism.
I have been told a few times that I write like an artist. What I try to do is to write the type of script that I would like to get if I were the one who had to draw the thing. I do my best not to handcuff any artist I write with by not bogging them down with camera angles or page layout instructions. Hell, I consider a lot of what I write as suggestions. I try to focus on emotion, location, and action and let the artist take it from there.
David has been amazing at that. There are a few instances in A&A #1 where he combined some panels or moved a panel ending a page to start the following page, and it’s always for the better. There is one spot where he took a page that was four pages in the script and turned it into a killer 24-panel action sequence. I love that stuff. (Of course, I’m not the guy inking or coloring that! You’d have to ask Brian Reber about that)Continued below
The two goals of everyone involved with making a comic should be to do the best job that you can do and to make everyone else look better. David and the entire creative team are making me look like a better writer. My hope is that my writing gives the art team the opportunity to shine as well.
Your art has graced Valiant several times over the last year or so. Any other illustrated segments planned in the near future, or will you be focused on writing?
RR: I’ll be focused on writing, but I do intend to continue shoving my art in people’s faces on occasion. I did a variant cover for “A&A” #1 featuring Davey the Mackerel, a new character who is a 3-foot tall sad sack of a fish man who escapes from Armstrong’s satchel. Perhaps I’ll do another cover down the road. WHEN we get to issue #25, I hope that Justin Jordan and I can do another one of our anniversary issue back-up stories where we make fun of the comic I’ll have spent the previous two years pouring my heart and soul into.
To bring this back around full-circle, say you went to the pub with Armstrong: What would you order?
RR: I don’t (and physically can’t) drink the way I used to, but I do still occasionally enjoy a nice dark stout. Old Rasputin, an Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing, is delicious and I’ll order that whenever I see it on tap. Sammy Smith Oatmeal Stout is a nice chewy standby. Wine-wise I’ll go for a good Pinot Noir, preferably from Oregon, or something light and crisp in the summer. The fact that I can’t drink a lot has turned me into a very selective snob whenever I do drink.
No matter what though, Armstrong would be drinking off his own tab, that’s for damn sure. I’d have to take out a second mortgage to cover that lush’s bill.