Valiant Entertainment's Archer & Armstrong #1, written by Fred Van Lente with art by Clayton Henry, hits comic shop stands this Wednesday, and we spoke with Fred about the approaching series. Herein, Fred and I discuss A&A, politics, comic books, his creative process, and what he has lined up for the coming months. You don't want to miss this one, folks! Be sure to check out our three--count 'em, three!--advance reviews of Archer & Armstrong #1, linked for your convenience in the left margin of this page. Enjoy! ComicBookBin: I've been a fan of your work at Marvel for years, but there exists in the comics community a certain fervent fandom for Valiant properties which I've always connected with. Did you associate the same kind of personal excitement and satisfaction with writing for Valiant characters as you might have with Marvel's?
Fred Van Lente: Sure. Maybe a little moreso, as I grew up a Marvel fan and kind of missed Valiant 1.0 when I was in college, so I'm entering a whole new universe for the first time, and it's pretty exciting.
CBB: Will you continue your work-for-hire with Marvel succeeding the Marvel NOW! relaunch?
FVL: I have a MARVEL ZOMBIES HALLOWEEN one-shot coming out this October -- I'm pretty proud of it. It's a shift away for the franchise into somewhat more traditional zombie apocalypse fare, but with a holiday bent. It is -- dare I say -- a "sweet" Marvel Zombies story? But with gore. Lots and lots of gore. And costumes. I hope people check it out.
CBB: How did you come onboard the new Archer & Armstrong series?
FVL: Valiant approached me to tackle the property, due in no small part, I'm sure, to the work I did with Greg Pak on "Incredible Hercules." I've always been a huge Barry Windsor-Smith fan -- one of my first jobs was with Malibu Comics when he still worked there -- but wasn't familiar with A&A. Valiant gave me the first few issues, I tracked down the rest myself, and I became as much a fan of the irreverent series as everyone else.
CBB: How is your Archer & Armstrong divergent from Barry Windsor-Smith's lauded run of the 90's?
FVL: As with most reboots, you try to keep everything that works. Armstrong is still an impossibly strong, inevitably drunk immortal. Archer is still a cloistered martial artist. They're still being pursued by The Sect, a sinister secret society in control of much of the world's institutions since ancient times.
CBB: What of Barry's work in particular on these iconic characters has informed your work on the title?
FVL: Oh, who doesn't love the ninja nuns? Here they're the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, followers of Lilith, and they protect the secrets of the Z-Collection, the fabled banned book collection of the Vatican Library.
CBB: The recent announcement of the series' antagonists, the One Percent, has truly piqued my interest. The social commentary here is clear, but I'd like to get your take on the Occupy movement vs. the one percent.
FVL: The Occupy movement did a great job voicing a lot of people's frustration with the world's elites and their inability -- or perhaps refusal? -- to deal with the economic crisis. In our story, The One Percent worships Mammon, the Biblical god of greed, and sacrifices the homeless to drive up the Dow. Because we all know they really do, right?
I should also point out that the One Percent are not the series' main antagonists -- they are part of a much larger Sect, with innumerable factions, some of which cleave more toward the "liberal" end of the spectrum.
CBB: Any chance we'll see a sinister Romney-analog in the mix somewhere?
FVL: Romney would be more appropriate for Magnus Robot Fighter. (RIMSHOT) Archer's parents are modeled on a former US presidential contender and her husband, though -- and Clayton told me he actually based their look on famous TV preachers I wasn't familiar with. So the satire goes beyond the One Percent, definitely.
CBB: Grant Morrison's often talked about comics being an extension of humanity's ancient roots in religious myth. He said something last year along those lines: find a current problem (politics, economics, war, etc) and drop it into a comic book, which is essentially a dream tank full of modern Greek gods, and see how they deal with it to empower yourself against that same problem. Do you hope to affect some sort of sociopolitical change in that manner, by having your heroes face-off against the social stratification associated with bull-headed free market capitalism?
FVL: My attitude is less political than aesthetic: Too many super hero comics wallow in genre navel-gazing, super heroes sitting around a table talking about the plot. If super hero stories don't attempt to engage in current events, the world around them, then they don't deserve to leave Mommy's basement.
CBB: I get the feeling that some conservative American comic readers find themselves disenfranchised by leftist commentary in some comics (I seem to remember someone bitching about that just recently, actually). What's your outlook on politics in comics and how do you reconcile with readers that might not share your political point of view?
FVL: I strive to be an equal-opportunity mocker. Armstrong, our resident "liberal," is a pretty ridiculous, irresponsible and at times disgusting figure. There are other darlings of the left that are gonna get theirs in these pages, don't you worry. People who can't take a joke don't realize -- or, at times, care -- that lots of other people are targets of fun of too.
CBB: I've always felt that perhaps comics were the best-equipped pop-cultural medium to propagate counter-culture art and literature. Do you think we'll see comics take a center stage as the 2012 election nears?
FVL: It's possible, but I'm not sure. This doesn't seem like it's going to be the kind of contest that inspires a lot of art. Obama won't be able to inspire the same kind of rapturous enthusiasm he did in '08, and Romney doesn't seem to be inspiring much of anything even among his own supporters.
CBB: I recently read a comment made by an artist, one that I really admire unfortunately, about people who demonize corporate America are ignorant hippies. This is of course an ignorant generalization itself, but even the creative community is extremely polarized when it comes to this issue. Is there any trepidation on your part about tackling this subject matter?
FVL: I laugh when I see stuff like that. Today's right wingers are always fighting the last war -- the already-defeated enemy. There hasn't been a hippie movement since Watergate. They keep referring to Russia as "the Soviet Union." When wingers have any real solutions to address any real problems besides the ones in their Ayn Rand fantasies, I'll gladly take them seriously. Until then, I'll continue to tease them mercilessly, just like I do everybody else.
CBB: What is your creative process like? Any particular idiosyncrasies we should know of?
FVL: I pace. A lot. Like an animal at the zoo. I had to put carpeting down in my office after ten years because I walked-out a rut in the wood. Seriously. I spend so much of the day on my feet I get pretty exhausted by the end of it. Drives my wife crazy.
CBB: Your work has always had very humorous tones. How important is humor to you creatively, and how will your sense of humor relate to the storytelling in Archer & Armstrong?
FVL: As will shock everyone who's still reading this interview, I've been a wiseass since I was old enough to talk back. I just find it very hard to take the world seriously. The human world, at least. We're asked to swallow such outrageously moronic crap every day of our lives that my only way to keep sane is to just point and laugh.
CBB: Are there any other Valiant characters you're dying to write?
FVL: Yes. And I'm going to shortly. (grin)
CBB: What kind of influence do you see Valiant Entertainment affecting in the comic book medium as far as publishing and content?
FVL: I think Valiant's success so far has proven that the early 90s wasn't a once-in-a-century thing, it is possible to challenge the dominance of the Big Two. And I think anyone at the Big Two will tell you they welcome that. A healthy market is a diverse market and I think Valiant provides that diversity with really excellent comics.