Comic Book author Rafer Roberts is best known for his independent work on titles like Plastic Farm. Now, he is making his Valiant debut, partnering with the publisher’s exclusive artist David Lafuente to pen next installment to A&A, a brand new Archer & Armstrong ongoing series. He takes the reigns on the characters from Archer and Armstrong writer Fred Van Lente. In anticipation of Roberts’ first issue, The Comics Beat sat down with him to pick his brain about all things Valiant.
Jones: What was your first exposure to the Valiant Universe?
Roberts: I was working in a comic shop when the original Valiant first started putting comics out in the early 90s. I was probably most into X-O and Turok at the time, but eventually I read most of them. (I worked in the back, pricing back issues, and spent a lot of that time reading the comic and failing to do my job.) I quit the store in late 1994 and most of my budget went towards addictions other than comics, so I missed most of the later Acclaim stuff.
I had fond memories of those early Valiant books, so when Justin Jordan and I got hired to do backup stories for the current run of Valiant books, I immediately said yes…even though I hadn’t, at that point, read most of the new stuff. I read as much of the current Valiant as I could to prepare for the backup gig and discovered, to my great delight, that the new stuff was even better than the comics I read as a kid. I really should have been reading them all along.
Alex Jones: While we’ve seen comics with Archer and Armstrong in the Valiant Universe, this will be the first title to focus on the duo since last year’s conclusion to their first ongoing series. When A&A begins, where will we see the characters?
Rafer Roberts: We rejoin them a few months later. Armstrong has learned that an old friend, someone he did wrong, has died. Wracked with an unfamiliar feeling of guilt over his past behavior (Archer has been having a good influence on him, slowly breaking down Armstrong’s detachment from the rest of humanity), Armstrong sets out to make things right. Unfortunately, Armstrong is woefully out of practice at being a good person and his clumsy attempts to make amends causes strife with his best friend AND unleashes chaos and destruction upon the world. See, in order to make amends, Armstrong needs to recover a very important item from his magic satchel (the bottomless bag where Armstrong has been keeping centuries of weapons and important items). He climbs inside and finds a surreal landscape filled with worker goblins, lizard men, ten-million tons of garbage, and an old enemy who has been trapped inside the satchel plotting his revenge for three thousand years.
Jones: What kind of dynamic do Archer & Armstrong have in this series? Will you be going into some of the complexities of the relationship?
Roberts: Absolutely. My belief is that their relationship is the driving force of the entire series. At its core, A&A is really about the strange friendship that exists between a ten-thousand-year-old immortal drunken warrior-poet and an ex-fundamentalist teenage ninja assassin. All the strange adventures and weird happenings are fun and exciting, but they would be nothing without the emotional underpinnings between Archer and Armstrong.
I see Archer and Armstrong as the Yin to the other’s Yang. They joined forces due to a similar disdain for the strange and secret societies that control the world, but it is their differences that make them stronger. Archer has a strong morality that might hinder their ability to fight against an enemy that has infiltrated all aspects of society, but Armstrong’s vulgar disregard for polite conventions and the law allows them that freedom. Conversely, Armstrong might not even be in the fight if not for Archer’s moral imperative. Besides that, their differences make them a blast to write. Sometimes I look at the series as a Neil Simon play with secret societies, monsters, new-age mumbo-jumbo, and a crap-ton of booze. They are The Odd Couple if Oscar Madison was immortal and Felix Unger had ninja skills.
Jones: What is it like to tackle two of the biggest characters in the Valiant comics stable of heroes?
Roberts: It’s like a dream, to be honest. Even to this day I feel like I’m being catfished and this is all some sort of elaborate hoax being played on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m like 99.9% sure at this point that I really am writing A&A, but there is that small part of me that expects to one day wake up to discover that there never was any Valiant comics and that this entire thing was a put-on by my enemies. The fact that I’m currently doing an interview for The Beat to promote A&A is just a testament to how far my enemies are going to convince me that this is all real. Good job, enemies, whoever you are.
In the meantime, I’m having the time of my life. Archer and Armstrong, their weird adventures, their deep and strangely emotional journeys, are square in my wheelhouse as a writer. It’s important for me to remember to keep the emotional components central to the storytelling, and let the weirdness act as extra flavoring. A majority of my comics career has been spent in relative obscurity, so getting a chance to write characters as creatively fulfilling as Archer and Armstrong AND have the opportunity to do so on so large a stage is thrilling. I do feel a small amount of nervousness as this will be the biggest book I have worked on to date, but everyone at Valiant has been incredibly supportive which has helped put my stage fright to rest.
Jones: The solicitation hinted that Armstrong was going into his satchel to grab some alcohol. Does this allude to a darker context underneath the humor in the story?
Roberts: In a way, yes, but not in a horrifyingly depressing way. I prefer to look at it as an emotional resonance that adds meaning and depth to the humor. Sure, Armstrong has demons in his past and he’s got emotional baggage. It’s just that Armstrong’s demons include actual demons and his emotional baggage is also physical baggage that he’s been carrying around with him inside his magic satchel for the past few thousand years. This first story arc, and the entire series to an extent, is about Archer and Armstrong coming to terms with their own flaws and past mistakes. They are on the road to self-improvement, helping each other along the way, making the occasional pit stop to battle giant goat monsters, trash golems, and mobs of drunks in Santa suits.
Jones: Can you speak to Bacchus’ feelings towards Armstrong? I have to imagine that there’s some pent up frustration there, since he’s been trapped in Armstrong’s satchel for so long.
Roberts: There’s initially a sense of betrayal and abandonment on Bacchus’s part. Though they were good friends at one point, Armstrong is the reason that Bacchus ended up trapped in the bag for a few millennia. This seems to be a pattern in Armstrong’s life; his drunken antics leading to him screwing over his friends. Over time, Bacchus goes slightly mad while trapped in the nonsensical world inside the bag, and his thoughts turn towards revenge. Bacchus wants to put Armstrong through the same hell that Bacchus went through, and he wants to watch.
Jones: What was Bacchus’ first encounter with Armstrong like?
Roberts: They were good friends back in the day, which makes sense: Armstrong, the immortal drunken warrior-poet and Bacchus, a goat-like monster who claims to be the god of wine and revelry. But that was a long time ago, and both Bacchus and Armstrong are far more worse for the wear. I don’t want to give too much away, but Bacchus has had a few thousand years to rehearse what he would say if he ever got his hands on Armstrong again and Armstrong, as he will do, ruins everything.
Jones: How does Valiant Exclusive artist David Lafuente fit into the series — what does his expressive pencil set add to the tone of the comic?
Roberts: David’s certainly making me look like a better writer, that’s for damn sure. His style, I think, is a perfect compliment to my writing on A&A. David’s art could be described as cartoony, but that deceptively cartoony nature of his art sucks you in and helps deliver unexpected emotional punches when you least expect it. David’s art attracts you with its surface qualities but is emotionally rewarding once you really get into it. I think the same could be said about the book as a whole.
Also, and I make no secret about this, once I learned that he was going to be the artist I immediately starting finding more things for Mary-Maria and the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness to do. I love the way he draws them and I’ve since come up with a much larger story arc for them.
Jones: Can you tease any of the wacky items hidden in Armstrong’s satchel?
Roberts: We don’t get to see it, but it’s implied (to Archer’s horror) that Armstrong has a collection of those little porcelain figures of the angel babies with the dead painted-on eyes. David is an amazing artist who has gone to amazing lengths to fill the inside of this satchel that I described as a Home Depot designed by M.C. Escher and I expect that readers will spend a lot of time examining and admiring the amount of work he put into those backgrounds.
Jones: In the press release for the series, Valiant teased a brawl with ‘the embodiment of intoxication itself.’ Can we shine the A&A spotlight on the vague phrasing without spoilers?
Roberts: Yup, that’s Bacchus. He’s fashioned himself as the original Party God and it turns out that he takes that job very seriously. Without too many spoilers, Archer, Armstrong, and Mary-Maria will have to fight against the combined might of a fully armed and operational party god and his army of the worst drunks in the world. Think about all the people you hate to be around when they are drunk. Those are Bacchus’s party people.
Jones: Do you have any plans for the series after the first arc ‘IN THE BAG’ concludes?
Roberts: Oh, I’ve got plans. Big, mad plans. Something happens at the end of this first arc that sends Archer and Armstrong (spoiler, they both survive) in search of…someone or something from Armstrong’s past. Old enemies will resurface and old friends will also be back. I’ve got enough plans right now for a good long run. I hope that folks will pick up the comic and join us on this long, strange trip. I’ve got enough plans right now for a good long run. I hope that folks will pick up the comic and join us on this long, strange trip.
Jones: Final thoughts?
Roberts: You have to admit, hiring a guy whose publishing credits are primarily based in the DIY underground to write a mainstream superhero comic is a pretty gutsy move by Valiant. What we are creating here is something very special and unlike anything else on the stands today. I think we’re going to do right by the current fans, but my hope is that this unexpected creative team encourages folks who normally steer clear of the super-hero section to pick up A&A #1 in March. I want to write A&A for a long time, and I’m fairly certain that David feels the same way about drawing it…assuming I lay off these full splash pages of Escher-esque warehouses that stretch to infinity.
Take two aspirin and call us in the morning…because Archer & Armstrong’s all-new adventure is about to give the rest of the Valiant Universe a splitting hangover headache! It all starts here on March 16th when “IN THE BAG” kicks off with a bang in A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #1 – featuring covers by David Lafuente, Kano (QUANTUM AND WOODY), Trevor Hairsine (DIVINITY), Clayton Henry (HARBINGER WARS), Rafer Roberts (Carpool Buddies of Doom), and Phil Jimenez (Infinite Crisis)!
A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #1
Written by RAFER ROBERTS
Art by DAVID LAFUENTE
Cover A by DAVID LAFUENTE
Cover B by KANO
Cover C by TREVOR HAIRSINE
Valiant x CGC Replica Variant by CLAYTON HENRY
Variant Cover by RAFER ROBERTS
Variant Cover by PHIL JIMENEZ
B&W Sketch Variant by DAVID LAFUENTE
Blank Cover also available
$3.99 | 32 pgs. | T+ | On sale MARCH 16th (FOC 2/22/16)
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics