Archer and Armstrong are one of comic books' most iconic duos, and in a new Valiant series A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong they're exploring the one thing between they've always left unspoken: what the heck is inside Armstrong's crazy bag?
The immortal drunkard Armstrong is never far from a satchel that like Doctor Who's T.A.R.D.I.S. or Dungeon & Dragons' Bag of Holding is bigger on the inside than on the outside. So much in fact that it keeps people, places, and things including 10,000 years of Armstrong's trash. And some of those contents want out.
Newsarama talked with series writer Rafer Roberts about his and artist David Lafuente's new A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong series that debuts in March. Roberts makes many comparisons to modern and not-so-modern comparable duos, and talks about the odd couple he and Lafuente strike as they work together on this series.
Newsarama: Rafer, for people who are familiar with Archer and Armstrong, what is A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong all about?
Rafer Roberts: At its core, A&A is about the friendship between two very different men and how they influence each other for better or for worse. Usually for the worse.
In A&A, we’ll be exploring how Armstrong’s oafishness opens up Archer’s worldview, allowing the fundamentalist ninja to see the world in shades of grey rather than stark contrasts of right vs. wrong. We’ll also see how Archer’s inherent “goodness” is impacting Armstrong by forcing the immortal drunk who has been shutting himself off from the world to once again feel compassion and empathy towards his fellow man.
In the first arc, Armstrong has learned that an old friend, someone he did wrong, has died. Since he is once again feeling actual human emotions due to Archer’s positive influence, he mounts a well-intended, but ultimately clumsy attempt to correct his past misdeeds and sets off a chain reaction of chaos and destruction.
Over the course of the new series we’ll be seeing a lot of good intentions gone very wrong, often putting Archer and Armstrong’s friendship to the test. I think, however, that sometimes the best way to strengthen a friendship is to test it.
Nrama: And for people that are coming into this fresh with A&A #1, how would you describe the Archer and Armstrong duo?
Roberts: 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.
When Archer discovered that everything he had been taught by his adopted family was a lie, and that the Sect was the real evil plaguing the world, Archer switch allegiances and joined Armstrong. Now they fight against all the weird and strange forces that secretly control humanity and bicker like an old married couple the entire time.
Archer and Armstrong has been described as a surreal buddy cop movie, which I think is fairly accurate. Their relationship is part of not unlike Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey at the end of the first season of True Detective, or Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2. They know each other well enough to annoy the living crap out of each other and bicker quite often. They also know that they have each other’s back when it counts.
I’ve also been describing them as The Odd Couple if Oscar Madison was immortal and Felix Unger had ninja skills.
Nrama: I've read that A&A will delve more into that handy satchel Armstrong keeps with him. For the uninitiated, can you tell us what's going on -- and might go on -- there?
Roberts: Sure. Armstrong carries along with him a magic satchel. For those with Dungeons & Dragons knowledge, it’s similar to a Bag of Holding, much larger on the inside on the outside and capable of holding an near-infinite amount of Armstrong’s stuff.
When something very important goes missing, Armstrong has to climb inside the bag and seek it out. Inside the bag is a vast and surreal landscape filled with strange creatures and monsters, many of whom seem to be part of the ecosystem of organizing and cataloguing Armstrong’s stuff. I described it as a Home Depot designed by M.C. Escher. When Armstrong is captured by an old enemy lying in wait, Archer has to go in to rescue him. Our heroes will be visiting a few of the subsections including a booze cellar, a desert wasteland made up of ten thousand years of Armstrong’s garbage, and the living quarters where the strange creatures who inhabit and work in the satchel go for coffee breaks.
Nrama: You say there's people inside the satchel -- could we perhaps see some old characters return, or even some from the original 1990s Valiant books? Or maybe even Armstrong's old pants?
Roberts: Oh man, the pants! A lot of what’s inside the satchel fall under the category of “sins from Armstrong’s past” and those pants would certainly fit that description. I have a soft spot for the old Barry Windsor-Smith stuff, so I might try sneaking in some references down the road, but unfortunately not in this first arc.
I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see some other characters pop up from the original series though.
Nrama: Armstrong is known as the more debaucherous one out of the A&A duo, but he looks to be getting a run for his money as I'm told Bacchus will be in this series. Is this the actual Greek god, or someone who just shares his name?
Roberts: While Armstrong describes Bacchus as some dingus with powers and a penchant for cosplay, he does look and act a lot like what the actual Greek god would look and act like. He’s got booze-related powers and is apparently immortal, so his claim to be the “original Party God” has some merit. However, Bacchus is quite mad and Armstrong is biased against the very idea of deities, so neither’s viewpoint should fully be trusted. The truth probably falls somewhere in the middle.
Ilove Bacchus, by the way. David’s design of the character is gnarly and awesome. He looks like Baphomet, though he’s got the personality of a sad Paul Lynde.
Nrama: This follows up on the previous Archer & Armstrong series by Fred Van Lente, but also of course the original 1990s series of the same name. Although the Valiant universe was rebooted a couple years ago, does that original series influence or inspire you at all here?
Roberts: The biggest influence, I think, is in the tone. Both Fred's previous series and the original by BWS had a sense of manic lunacy to them but with an undercurrent of heart and emotion. With A&A, we're trying to stay true to that tone. Archer and Armstrong will often find themselves in situations straight out of a Sid and Marty Krofft show that's been guest directed by David Lynch, but it's through these surreal conflicts that we’ll delve into the soul of their characters.
Nrama: Rafer, you're coming onto this as a relatively unknown name compared to artist David Lafuente. How are you acclimating to the pace of doing a monthly book like A&A?
Roberts: It's not so bad, actually. I still have a dayjob but, since I’ve been putting out my own comics for years, I already have a pretty good routine in place. It’s just a matter of switching which projects get higher priority at a given time. Honestly, with the dayjob, the hardest part isn’t finding time to write the comics but rather coordinating with your editor to find mutual free moments to talk on the phone.
There is a greater percentage of my comic time spent writing than I’m accustomed to though. Since I write and draw my own stuff, I had been spending about 90% of my time at my drawing desk. Since taking on A&A, I find that a good 75% of my time is now spent in front of my computer instead. I’m discovering that my writing set-up isn’t as optimal as I would like and I’ll probably be making an upgrade to my office in the near future. (I definitely need a new chair or better cushioning. My ass is killing me.)
Nrama: This is your first ongoing book, it's with a major publisher, and David Lafuente is drawing it. How does that last part there affect the script and scope you plan?
Roberts: I’m crazy excited that David agreed to draw the book. It is amazing to watch as someone with his skills breathes life into my words.
I get emails a few times a week with his pencils and it’s like Christmas morning every time. He’s making me look like a better writer. Ryan Winn’s inks look great on top of David’s pencils. I can’t wait to see it all colored and lettered, though at the time of this interview, I’m not entirely sure who is handling those parts.
I didn’t know that David was going to be the artist until after I had written the first issue, though looking at A&A #1 it looks like I wrote it with him clearly in mind. I love the way he draws Mary-Maria, Archer’s adopted sister and leader of the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, so she and her band of murder nuns will be playing a much larger part in the story than I had originally planned.
David’s got amazing instincts and a great confidence in his abilities. There has been a few times already where he has combined or added panels in order to better present the story. As a writer, I tend to defer to the artist when it comes to page and panel layouts and I do my best not to handcuff the artist from being able to do their job the best they can. I basically try to write the type of script that I would want to get if I were the one drawing it, which seems to be working out.
I’m sure if you interviewed David he might have some choice words about the many “inside the satchel” pages of warehouses and shelving that stretch to infinity, but he hasn’t murdered me quite yet. (Sorry, David!)
Nrama: Although you're just writing this, you're also a comic book artist yourself. Any chance you could draw some here, be it covers or interiors, like Jeff Lemire has done?
Roberts: I don’t have any plans to do any interior stuff, though I’m hoping that people like the series enough that we reach an “anniversary issue” so Justin Jordan and I can do another one of our backup stories where we make fun of the comic I’m pouring my heart and soul into.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to stay on the writer side of things and let David and the team handle the art chores for as long as they want.
That said, I did draw a cover for issue #1 and may try to draw a few more down the line.
Nrama: You're known for your comedic work on Thanos & Darkseid: Carpool Buddies of Doom and Plastic Farm. Archer and Armstrong are full of comedy, but with more action. How are you looking to keep the comedy authentic without it becoming just a comedy series?
Roberts: I think it’s important for me writing A&A to remember that under all the humor and surrealness, that there is a great deal of heart. A&A, and Archer and Armstrong before it, is a comic about two very unlikely friends who know that their differences are what makes them stronger. Archer and Armstrong, despite their constant bickering, have each other’s’ backs in their fight against the strange and unusual. A&A isn’t a book about strange stuff and the two men who deal with it. It’s a book about two friends who happen to fight weird stuff.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are going to be some very strange events occurring in A&A. For example, we introduce a 3-foot tall fish man who talks like a sad 1940’s gangster in the first issue and our heroes fight against an army of monsters made out of a few thousand years’ worth of Armstrong’s garbage. So, yeah, there’s weird and (hopefully) funny stuff. It’s just that this stuff comes from the story rather than imposed upon it. A&A is like if Neil Simon wrote an action movie while tripping his balls off.