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DF Interview: The buddies are back in Rafer Roberts’ new Adventures of Archer & Armstrong
By Byron Brewer
The boys are back in town!
In March, A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong, from Valiant via the creative minds of writer Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) and artist David Lafuente (Ultimate Spider-Man), kicks off with a storyline called “In The Bag” where Archer has to descend into his partner’s bottomless satchel to rescue Armstrong from an old enemy who has been imprisoned in the bag for centuries. Think he might be a wee bit angry?
To get the complete 411, Dynamic Forces sat down with scribe Roberts to find out more.
Dynamic Forces: Rafer, tell us how this new iteration of Archer and Armstrong’s long-running adventures came about.
Rafer Roberts: I had been working with Justin Jordan, drawing a bunch of backup stories for the various Valiant anniversary issues. I found that I really enjoyed doing work for Valiant and wanted to do more. I figured that my art style probably wouldn’t fit an actual book, and I can’t draw that fast anyway, so I sent Warren Simons a package of comics that I had written and a few months later he asked me to write up a few pitches.
I never thought that I’d be handed the keys to one of their Cadillacs, but I guess Warren liked my pitches enough or maybe there was a gas leak in their offices or something, so here we are. It’s been a lot of hard work and everyone involved with A&A has been busting their asses to make the best damn comic we possibly can, and I think that readers will recognize that and enjoy A&A when they get a chance to read it.
DF: I know they are long-running characters, but for the uninitiated (such as the vaunted “new reader”) tell us about our two main adventurers.
Rafer 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 switched allegiances and joined Armstrong. Now they fight against all the weird and strange forces who secretly control humanity and bicker like an old married couple the entire time.
DF: Will there be differences in the partners this go-round? If so, what?
Rafer Roberts: When A&A starts up, Archer and Armstrong have already been through many adventures together and have become closer friends because of it. I mean, they still annoy the crap out of each other from time to time, but even in the best friendship that happens quite often. No one can quite get on your nerves like good friends and family, right? Archer & Armstrong has been described as a surreal buddy cop movie, which I think is fairly accurate. Their relationship at the beginning of A&A is more like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey at the end of the first season of True Detective, flipping each other off but smiling while they do so. Or, and I use this example quite often, Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2. They annoy the living crap out of each other and bicker quite often, but they each know that they have each others’ back when it counts.
There’s also the fact that they have been together for so long that they are beginning to have an influence on each other, and each is changing for better or for worse. Over the past few thousand years, Armstrong has watched everyone he has ever loved grow old and die. This tends to have an effect on someone, and in Armstrong’s case he’s repressed all of his feelings of compassion and empathy and shut himself off from caring about anyone other than himself. Archer’s been able to bring him back, to an extent, and Armstrong is now taking the first steps back to being a real person again with real human emotions. (Of course, Armstrong is so out of practice at being a good person that his attempts are clumsy and cause more problems than they solve.) Archer, or the other hand, is beginning to see the world less in stark difference of black and white or right and wrong. His entire worldview and strict morality is cracking and, after an entire lifetime of someone else dictating his behavior, he’s beginning a journey to figure out who he really is.
So, in other words, Archer and Armstrong are going a journey of self-discovery and personal improvement. It’ll be just like Eat, Pray, Love but with giant goat monsters, ninja assassins, and the Illuminati. (I’ve never actually read Eat, Pray, Love and have only ever seen the movie poster, so I am just assuming that it does not contain those things.)
DF: Tell us about the world within Armstrong’s satchel … or at least what you can, non-spoilery.
Rafer Roberts: I described it as a Home Depot designed by M.C. Escher. It’s an entire world with an infinite, multi-planed warehouse at its heart, filled with thousands of years’ worth of Armstrong’s trash and treasure. Archer and Armstrong 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. Armstrong goes inside in order to find something very valuable that has gone missing, something that he needs in order to make amends with an old friend who he did wrong by in the past, and Archer follows him after things almost immediately go awry. In order to retrieve the item and escape the bag alive, they’ll have to fight their way through an old enemy who has been trapped inside the satchel for three thousand years and now commands an army of lizard men, goblins, fish monsters and trash golems.
DF: What hints can you give us about the “old enemy” the duo will encounter in the bag?
Rafer Roberts: I can do more than give you hints. The old enemy is Bacchus, or at least someone claiming to be the Greek God of wine and revelry. Bacchus and Armstrong were friends back in the day and he considers his imprisonment to be the ultimate betrayal. He’s a large goat-like man who has gone slightly mad having been trapped inside the satchel for so long. He looks like Baphomet but acts like a manic-depressive Paul Lynde.
DF: Have you been a fan of these characters? Any particular comic book run from which you are drawing your inspiration?
Rafer Roberts: This is my first time writing a mainstream super-hero comic, so I’ve also been looking at a lot of older super-hero books (particularly the strange and psychedelic output of the mid-1970s) and making note of some of the stuff of guys like Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin were experimenting with at the time. I really dig their willingness to inject some unfettered strangeness into otherwise “serious” super-hero comics. There’s that saying, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” I don’t intend to imitate them, that would be foolish, but I do aim to filter some of their mental freedom through modern story-telling sensibilities and see what comes out the other side.
DF: You just named my three top favorites from my beginning days of comics reading! Good taste, lol. Now … How closely did you work with artist David Lafuente on this? Why is David right for this book?
Rafer Roberts: I didn’t know that David was going to be the artist until after I had already written the script for issue #1, but he’s such an incredible and talented artist that anyone who looks at that issue might think that it was written with him in mind. He’s frigging amazing and I feel that our aesthetics mesh quite well. We’ve messaged each other a few times since I learned he came on board and I have tweaked the subsequent scripts with him in mind. I really like the way he draws Mary-Maria, Archer’s step-sister, so I’ve already come up with a bunch of other stuff for her to do so that she might be in the comic more.
Beyond just the beauty of his line work, and the amount of detail he can put into a panel without ever making it feel too crowded, David’s art amplifies the emotional underpinnings of the story. David’s style is deceptively cartoony, but it sucks you in and delivers unexpected emotional punches. His art can be described in much the same way as A&A itself; happy and weird on the surface but emotionally rewarding once you really get into it. I’m constantly being blown away by what he’s doing.
DF: Rafer, are there any other projects current or upcoming you’d care to discuss?
Rafer Roberts: Between writing A&A and drawing a few other things, I’ve been pretty busy working on Valiant stuff lately. However, my self-published comics are never far from my mind and I have been picking away at them. I’ve written a bizarre sci-fi one-shot comic about a dick-headed immortal time traveler with artist Giles Crawford that should be out sometime in 2016. I’m still working on my Nightmare the Rat strips and am inching closer to finishing that, and once that’s done I’ll go back to writing and drawing Plastic Farm. Issue #26 of that beast is partially done and I intend to put a few issues of that out in 2016 as well. There are a few other things on the horizon, but none of those are anywhere close to being able to be talked about.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rafer Roberts for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 hits stores in March!
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