He's drawn two of the Big Two's most prominent teen heroes with Ultimate Spider-Man and Batgirl, but now artist David Lafuente is taking on a wacky duo which he says is like an Edgar Wright film. Lafuente is illustrating the new Valiant series A&A -- short for Archer and Armstrong, of course -- with writer Rafer Roberts.
The former Marvel exclusive artist is now calling Valiant his home (with a new exclusive agreement to seal the deal), and Newsarama spoke with the dynamic young artist about A&A, how the Archer and Armstrong characters won him over, and his influences on this new project from Wright to M.C. Escher.
Newsarama: David, you're joining Valiant as an exclusive creator and launching a new book titled A&A. A lot to talk about, but first off -- what made you want to return to a regular series and doing it exclusively with Valiant?
David Lafuente: Valiant has been doing incredibly exciting stuff and I’m very happy to be a part of that now, collaborating exclusively with them. It’s been a long while since I’ve dedicated all my efforts to one book and I was eager to go do another ongoing book. I wanted to start something, let it be as visually arresting as I can make it, and give it my all. And this is it. New issue one, new creative team and a brand new story for these characters. Everything aligned perfectly.
Newsarama: You had an exclusive with Marvel for some time, but then after that went full freelance doing work all over the place. What prompted you to come back and go all in with Valiant?
Lafuente: After such a long period of time working exclusively for Marvel, I looked forward to collaborating with different publishers. It was a blast. One month I was doing a Batman issue for DC and the next I was helping to launch a couple of Boom! Studios series. However, after months of short assignments, I realized that I missed committing to a book. I left Ultimate Spider-Man in 2010 and I felt I was ready to go back to something like that.
There were a couple of projects that didn’t materialize, so I got in touch with several people to see what ongoing options were out there. I happened to be talking to colorist Brian Reber and he casually suggested to Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons that we should do something all together. Warren thought it was a good idea and we began discussing. And since Brian is a colorist I’ve admired since I first saw his work at Marvel and Warren edited some of my very favorite books, like Immortal Iron Fist, I jumped at the chance.
Once we were working on Valiant things, one thing led to another. I had a fantastic time drawing all these characters, plus they loved what I was coming up with. The working dynamic was very smooth, even though we didn’t have a previously established relationship. We discussed availability and interests, and fortunately we were on the same page. It was a no-brainer.
Newsarama: So we've talked big picture, but let's get to the book. What do you like about A&A?
Lafuente: The leads, hands down. Their personalities and the way they clash is brilliant. I recognized the relationship between Archer and Armstrong as something akin to Edgar Wright’s cinema. One character a bit too relaxed, the other a bit too serious at times. Having a core dynamic that is so open to dramedy is priceless.
In terms of visual appeal, all the historic background, the martial arts action, etc. gives me an enormous amount of freedom and possibilities. Just as in the previous book, you have science fiction, period pieces, and loads upon loads of supporting cast members. Imagine what’s ahead.
Also, A&A has Mary-Maria – my absolute favorite character in the series.
Newsarama: Have you read the previous Archer & Armstrong books?
Lafuente: I’ve taken the same approach that I took with Ultimate Spider-Man. The second I was assigned to the ongoing I bought and read the entire previous series. It’s at an arm’s length for reference. I knew most the creative team’s other work, but they really sang together on A&A, loved it.
I’ve always believed that to do your job properly, as an artist, you need to research what came before you on a book. With Marvel or DC, because of their film/TV incarnations or their own long series, you end up knowing a bit almost by osmosis, so you have something of a base. Since Valiant is perhaps not as well-known in Europe as it is in the States, I’m discovering this universe as I work on it and I am loving every minute of it. Harbinger was excellent and I am eagerly awaiting Faith. Bloodshot was fantastic and I have to catch up on the new one because I love Raul Allen’s work. The Valiant is an instant classic.
Newsarama: What's your source for research on this project?
Lafuente: Besides the other series, I am looking inwards for research and inspiration. I don’t want to spoil any surprises that Rafer and I are preparing, but the entire landscape where our first story takes place is a fabrication of ours. Archer has to go inside Armstrong's mysterious, infinite satchel to rescue him. The plot relates very heavily to Armstrong’s backstory and old friends of his, so there will be period stuff I’ve researched. And I have peppered the place with hidden jokes, both callbacks and off-shoots, as I just can’t help myself.
Newsarama: For this, you're working with a relatively new writer -- Rafer Roberts. This book is six months out from release, but what can you tell us about working with Rafer?
Lafuente: I’m having a very good time. I worked with a writer-artist, Brian Michael Bendis, before and the idea of repeating that experience was exciting from day one. His personal work is most interesting. The rough line, the out-there expressions… I like it as a reader already.
In terms of scripts, he’s writing very visually. He includes loads of detail and background information. This may seem intimidating at first, but he’s not specific as to how to present said visual info (angles, compositions) because that would tie me down, and you don’t want to tie down your artist when you are looking for a book with lots of imagery. My custom of tiny panels is right at home on this project. Rafer is one smart dude.
He also has an eye for contributing to a mythos while respecting it. Archer and Armstrong remain Archer and Armstrong. But we're sending them on new, bizarre, M.C. Escher-esque adventures.
Newsarama: I'm told that for A&A you're not only drawing the book, but also designing numerous new characters and monsters. Tell us about the character creation and designs you're doing.
Lafuente: Ah, this is so great. Unlike on older fictional universes, the design opportunities are countless. Here I’ve been given carte blanche to create all these supporting characters and foes. There are a few that come from Armstrong’s past. Then a lot of new enemies on this world we are throwing these two into. Ten to twenty in the first issue alone – that can give you an idea of how much stuff we are packing into each book.
And we have the new Big Bad: Bacchus. Not the funny god, not Eddie Campbell’s, but a brand new character, insane and cruel. There is an Edmond Dantes element to this character that pleases me to no end, only he’s evil right to the core. Without entering planet spoiler, his origins relate to Armstrong’s life and there is an unexpected element of fantasy.
Newsarama: For those who have followed your work from Hellcat to New Mutants from Ultimate Spider-Man to Batgirl -- what should they be excited about for A&A?
Lafuente: This is my comeback to ongoing comics. I’ve never stopped working, but sometimes it’s difficult to follow a creator that is doing short projects. There are just so many books out there. This way I’m definitely going to be easier to track down. I definitely wish to bring some of the readers that liked my Ultimate Spider-Man and Batgirl over, since this has a somewhat similar lively, young character in Archer they might enjoy. And some of the people who liked Hellcat because this is going to have a weird yet entertaining world too.
I’m going to be attached to this book for some time, and I believe I am doing my best work to date. The characters are great, the tone is perfect, and I’m having a great experience.
All of the team – from editorial to coloring and lettering – are giving it their absolute maximum. I’m very excited and I hope that the readers will be to.