Interview: Rafer Roberts Digs Into the Hilarious Duo of Archer & Armstrong

A&A #2 Lafuente Cover

This March Archer and Armstrong, the greatest comedic odd couple of Valiant Entertainment (sorry Quantum and Woody) will return in a new series: A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong. A new creative team will be coming on board with this new launch as well. Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) will be writing the series and joined by David Lafuente (Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) who will be drawing it.

ComicBook.Com critic Chase Magnett was able to discuss the relaunch with the very funny Mr. Roberts, covering the past works he’s building upon, the look of the series, and where the alliterative best buddies will do next.

You're best known for comedic comics like Plastic Farm and Darkseid & Thanos: Carpool Buddies of Doom. Archer & Armstrong shares some of the humorous underpinnings, but also includes a lot more genre elements and action. What initially attracted you to the concept?

Roberts: Pretty much every comic I have ever worked on, both as a writer or as the artist, has come from a desire to read that specific comic. Plastic Farm is a comic that I wanted to read but could not find on the shelf. When Justin Jordan told me about his idea for Carpool Buddies, I wanted to read it badly enough that I declared myself to be the artist. A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong is no different.

Take a look at the basic premise. 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. After 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.  

I love this comic and found both previous versions to be that perfect blend of weird action and surreal humor (and societal subversion) that I couldn’t find anywhere else. That I now get to be the guy to write these adventures is a thrill.

Looking back at what has been done with the characters before, both in the original Valiant universe and the relaunch by writers like Barry Windsor-Smith and Fred Van Lente, what are you hoping to bring to them that will be unique?

Roberts: Both of those previous versions (which are both great, by the way) focused on Archer and Armstrong’s early friendship and how they learned to get along with each other. In A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong, we’ll be starting from a place where Archer and Armstrong have already had many adventures together and are closer friends because of it. However, no one can quite get on your nerves like good friends and family, so they’ll still annoy the crap out of each other from time to time. I keep coming back to this, but Archer and Armstrong has been described as a surreal buddy cop movie. They’re more like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour 2, or Luke and Han in Star Wars. They know each other pretty well—well enough to annoy each other with more precision—but they know that they have each others’ back when it counts.

One of the most satisfying things I get to play with in A&A is the fluid dynamic of a strong friendship under the guise of a manic action series. Like in any relationship there will be ups and downs. There will be good times spent fighting an army of lizard-men and trash golems, and bad times where they are getting their asses kicked by an 80-foot tall goat monster that they unleashed upon the Earth.

Are you worried at all about not having a three part name?

Roberts: I hadn’t even noticed that…but yeah, now I am. I don’t even have a real middle name that I can use. Crap. Hopefully my alliterative comic book name will serve as an acceptable substitution.

A&A #2 Jiminez Cover

When the last series concluded, this very odd couple had reached a solid understanding of one another, without losing that very interesting dynamic. What about this relationship do you think is most interesting now that both Archer and Armstrong understand and appreciate the guy by their side?

Roberts: Even in the best of friendships, or even in the greatest of marriages, there is always room to get on the other person’s nerves. My wife and I love each other very much but I can say without a doubt that she has wanted to murder me on multiple occasions. Understanding and appreciating someone does not mean that you don’t get annoyed if they stay out too late drinking, if their personal morality gets in the way of having a good time, or if they open a portal to a pocket dimension and allow monsters to invade and destroy a small town.

What is most interesting about these guys is their willingness to overlook their differences in order to achieve a common goal. I look at Archer as Yin to Armstrong’s Yang. Although they may argue and bicker over small things, I think that they both know that it is their differences that make them stronger. Of course, their bickering is a blast to write, so don’t expect to see that going away any time soon.

This is also a concept that lends itself well to playing with multiple genres. You're beginning the story by having them climb into the Pandora's Box of Armstrong's satchel. What kind of opportunities are you most excited about exploring in there?

Roberts: There is a strange society that exists inside the satchel made up of goblins, lizard-men, trash golems, and a variety of other strange creatures. Each of these factions appears to serve a purpose within Armstrong’s satchel so, even beyond this first arc, it will be fun seeing how these different species operate and co-exist. That’s not to say that we’ll be going back inside the bag any time soon after the first arc, but the events of this first arc will have ramifications down the road.

Plus, there’s a lot of just plain weird stuff. The best part of the day lately has been getting the art for these issues in my email and seeing the trippy stuff that David Lafuente, the artist on this series, has pencilled.

A&A #1 Lafuente Cover

There is obviously a lot of history both behind these characters and the universe they occupy, but this will be A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1. How accessible is this first issue going to be and how are you trying to hook potential new readers on this very fun concept?

Roberts: There definitely is a bit of tightrope walking between continuing the stories that Fred wrote in the previous series and creating something new and accessible for those who may be picking up an Archer and Armstrong comic for the first time. A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 is purposely designed so that anyone can pick it up and enjoy it regardless of their knowledge of the characters.

Going back to your work on Plastic Farm and Carpool Buddies, both of those were comics that you owned. How did you get involved with Valiant and what has the experience at the publisher been like so far?

Roberts: Every good thing that has happened to me in comics for the past few years stems from the Carpool Buddies comic that Justin Jordan and I made. (This is not an exaggeration. It was such a lynchpin moment that if they make a movie of my life, there will be a scene where Justin tells me his idea for this goofy comic and then there’d be a voice-over from Alec Baldwin—because my life story will be a Wes Anderson movie— saying something like “this is when things started looking up for Rafer.”) It’s a good and fun comic, which a lot of people seemed to like. The folks at Valiant saw that and hired us to do similar comics to backup the various Valiant anniversary issues. I discovered pretty quickly how much fun it was working for Valiant, so I sent Warren Simons a package of comics that I had written just hoping to get a chance to possibly write something.

Here’s why I like working for Valiant. You hear stories of big companies hiring writers and artists, people who have their own unique voices, and forcing them to write within their corporate mold. There are creators whose writing I genuinely love when they are writing their own books but whose writing on something for “The Two” is nearly unrecognizable as being from the same person. I blame that on a need to serve corporate overlords, sucking the soul out of the artist. I don’t feel that at Valiant. The first time I ever talked to Warren, when he was hiring Justin and I to do some backup stories, he told me that he wasn’t hiring me to draw like Bryan Hitch. He was hiring me to draw like me. The same holds true for my writing. I’ve been hired to write like me. More than that, actually, since there’s been a tremendous amount of support from the editors and the other writers to help me write like the best possible me.

It’s a lot of fun. It’s hard work, but fun work.

Why do you think you were the guy to pick up the reins and jumpstart Archer and Armstrong for another series?

Roberts: On a surface level, I think I’m pretty good at mixing the weird and funny with the deep and emotional. I got asked to pitch because of Plastic Farm, which balances those things pretty well.

On a darker level, I think I identify with both Archer and Armstrong to some extent. I was never as bad as Armstrong, but I’m no stranger to addiction or having a desire to drink away memories of past misdeeds or the pain of losing someone you’ve loved. My childhood was not as strict as Archer’s, but I know the untethered feeling that comes when you learn that everything to were brought up to believe is not true. And, like both of them, my coping mechanism for all of my faults is humor.

A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong is a funny book. It is also action-packed and full of strange and surreal characters and situations. However, under all the humor and surrealness, there is a great deal of heart. In my writing, and with David’s artwork, we are attempting to create emotional resonance in order to add meaning and depth to the humor. The 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, and occasionally fighting goat monsters, trash golems, and an army of frat boys and drunks in Santa suits.

Man, that answer sounds a lot more depressing than I intended. There’s still a lot of dick and fart jokes, I swear!

A&A #1 Kano Cover

This is your first time working with David Lafuente as well. How are you two going about the scripting process and developing the look and feel of the series?

Roberts: I didn’t know who was going to be drawing A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong when I wrote the first issue. There’s a lot of stuff in there (the infinite Escher-esque warehouse inside Armstrong’s satchel, for example) that I wasn’t sure how anyone was going to be able to draw and I felt a little bad for whoever that would end up being. But, holy crap, have you seen what David is doing? He’s incredible. He can cram a ton of detail into a panel without ever making it feel too crowded and his artistic tone only amplifies the emotional underpinnings.

As an artist myself, I try to give as much freedom to my artists as possible. David knows how to draw and my goal as the writer is to give him the opportunity to do that to the best of his ability. The worst thing I could do is to handcuff him with camera angles or panel layouts. He seems to naturally get what I’m going for and is able to capture the intent of a scene even if it differs from how I actually broke it down panel-to-panel.

Having had an opportunity to see some of Lafuente's work on the series, what do you think he brings to the table that's really going to make it pop? What are you most excited to see him do as the series progresses?

Roberts: There is no confusing the art in A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong as coming from anyone other than David Lafuente. He has a style that is very clearly his. The way he draws boots, the way he lays out a page, just everything about his art is fantastic and unmistakably Lafuente. The goal with A&A, and the goal with Archer and Armstrong before that, has been to create a comic that is unlike any other comic on the stands. Putting David on art, drawing the weird stuff that comes out the brain of a guy who made his bones on self-published indy underground stuff, is going to accomplish that.

But as far as what I’m most excited to see him draw? The next page. Then, once I see that, whatever the next page is after that will be the thing I’m most excited to see him draw. Always the next page. When I get an email from David and I see that there is an attachment, I drop whatever I am doing in order to look at it.

Thinking about what both you and Lafuente are putting into the first issue and series to come, what’s the one reaction you most want to evoke when readers finally get their hands on it in March?

Roberts: I hope that after reading A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1, readers find themselves “needing a moment” where they silently contemplate what they have just read until they finally nod their approval to no one in particular and declare out loud, “that was pretty good.”

I know it’s not much, but I just want people to enjoy reading this comic as much as we enjoy making it.

And to give us all their money.

Chase Magnett is a freelance journalist, critic, and editor working with comics, film, and television. He has been hooked on comics since he picked an issue of Suicide Squad out of a back issue bin fifteen years ago. When Chase is not working with comics in some way he spends his time rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and grilling. He currently contributes to ComicBook.com and other outlets.

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