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Exclusive: Executive Editor Rob Levin Discusses Archer & Armstrong’s Triumphant Return!

Archer & Armstrong Forever #1 Bernard Chang cover
cover by Bernard Chang

It’s the triumphant return of Valiant‘s best friends, Archer and Armstrong! When the hard-drinking immortal Armstrong seemingly loses his ability to heal, the young and optimistic Archer refuses to let his best buddy go gentle into that good night. But when you live for millennia, you rack up plenty of enemies who’ll be thrilled to find out you’re no longer indestructible…

Archer & Armstrong Forever is out May 4 written by Steve Fox, art by Marcio Fiorito, colors by Alex Guimarães, and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Covers for the first issue are by Bernard Chang, David Talaski, Dan Hipp, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, a black variant, and special 1:250 Burnt Wood variant that is yet to be revealed!

For longtime fans, this is a continuation of the duo’s adventures. For new fans, this is a perfect jumping-on point – no previous knowledge required!

Even better, the series will feature two brand-new villains!

We got a chance to take to the series’ executive Rob Levin about what we can look forward to.

Graphic Policy: Hi Rob, how’re you doing?

ROB LEVIN: I believe it was the poet, Pitbull, who said, “Every day above ground is a great day.” Happy to be talking with you today.

Archer & Armstrong Forever #1 cover by David Talakski
cover by David Talaski

GP: What can you tell us about the series that hasn’t been teased?

RL: I feel like there’s a habit, and depending on your perspective, a problem, of people trying to book various books in very specific boxes. And I think ARCHER & ARMSTRONG FOREVER is a book that a lot of people might think of in recent years as a comedy book, and assume they’re not getting anything other than jokes. But for me, A&AF has always been a book about this fantastic and unexpected friendship first, an action-adventure series second, and then a fun (and often funny) book third. I think what Steve Foxe, Marcio Fiorito, Alex Guimarães, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou are doing really emphasizes of all of the title’s strengths and even pushes in some new, hopefully unexpected directions.

And if you think you have the book figured out after issue #1, the end of the first arc is going to pull the rug right out from under you.

GP: When it comes to editing books, what does your process look like? Can you take us through a day in the life?

RL: Editing is a mixture of herding cats, scheduling wizardry, moral supportive, and creative prodding to get the right mix of elements to come out the right way, and make sure it happens on times. There isn’t a day that goes by where something isn’t on fire or there aren’t 19 things you wanted to get to but didn’t have the chance because the moving of comics never stops.

My days are both similar and widely divergent, but between each book’s unique identity, books, calls, meetings, development, and more, it’s hard to really break down a single day. I live in my inbox and my calendar, and I’m always trying to be as available and responsive as I can to people inside and outside the company. Which is a struggle because some of the best parts of the job — like reading scripts and reviewing art — require a degree of focus that you can’t deliver if you’re constantly looking at emails or responding to messages. I couldn’t live without my to-do list app (I’ve been using Things since 2008), and that and some nimble email management are the only ways I can stay on top of things.

Archer & Armstrong Forever #1 cover by Dan Hipp
cover by Dan Hipp

GP: What do you feel sets Archer and Armstrong apart from other buddy comics?

RL: It’s the odd couple pairing taken to the extreme. One is a guy who’s been around for millennia and either encountered or inspired so many myths from our past, and the other is a sheltered, naïve young man — who just happens to be one of the well-trained, highly skilled, and dangerous people in the Valiant Universe — with a giant heart. I love a Riggs & Murtaugh (or a March & Healy if you’re looking for a more recent) pairing as much as the next guy, but what I think sets A&A apart is that they really do care about each other. They’re the best of friends, and no matter how different they are, the core of their relationship is that they care about each other, not that they’re oil and water together. My love for them comes from their love for each other.

Steve’s pitch for the series had that front and center, and it tests, bends, and maybe breaks that bond, and I can’t wait for readers to experience it. If you’ve never read the book, I think you’ll find a lot to like. If you’ve read every issue, I’m confident we’re going to cover some new ground and remind you why they’re such a fantastic pairing.

GP: Archer & Armstrong has featured crazy cults and conspiracy theories, usually with a lot of humor about it all since it’s so exaggerated. Considering our reality, how can you pull that off today? Do you even try?

RL: We’re always cognizant of real-world events and how that changes how our content is viewed, but that wasn’t really something that entered into my thinking when developing this book. It’s always been like comfort food for me, a book I can read when I’m feeling down and just want to lose myself in an adventure. But while I love an exciting adventure, I don’t usually find myself reminiscing about the big set pieces or over the top action when I think back on a story. I go back to how it made me feel, and what the characters did, learned, or overcame. And that’s what draws me to A&A in the first place. I want to see how they react to the situations they end up in, but the situations aren’t what get me in the door. It’s their relationship, their interplay, and what we learn about them as a result. So while I’m super happy with the story here, I’m very invested in seeing these specific characters go through these specific events.

Archer & Armstrong Forever #1 preorder cover by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
cover by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt

GP: Part of the magic about Archer and Armstrong is the vast difference in age between the two; we often see Armstrong at least half drunk – do you think this was a way for him to cope with the knowledge that his friends will all leave him eventually?

RL: Almost certainly. When you’ve lived as long as Armstrong has and the only people that seem to be there century after century are your brother and a number of enemies you’ve made along the way, that has to take a toll. Armstrong has the soul of a poet, and that means he’s very much in touch with his feelings and emotions. But I don’t recall ever seeing Armstrong talk about those emotions with a therapist, so I imagine he’s spent more time hiding from those emotions than processing them in a healthy way. All I’m going to say for the moment is that the Forever in the title has a number of meanings in the series, so you’ll see plenty of drinking and plenty of emotions.

GP: Armstrong’s lack of healing is bound to shift the dynamic between the duo; did you help guide [writer] Steve Foxe with the new status quo?

RL: I’d love to take more credit for this, but Steve’s pitch came in extremely well-formed. The status quo shift provided the inciting incident and a story engine for where things go from there. Having those very general things were likely part of our initial discussions, but the rest came from his brain and his love of the characters.

To bring it back to something I said earlier, the status quo shift is just the high-concept. Everything else that supported the pitch came from character and choosing the right things to explore that shift and see how that affects their relationship.

GP: Valiant has had some interesting marketing ploys over the years; the Eternal Warrior axe, Dr. Tomorrow’s Baseball, the odd beer… if you had a choice, what would you do for this series?

RL: One man’s ploy is another man’s must-have collectible. Valiant has definitely been at the forefront of innovative marketing and promotions — from chromium covers to Valiant Vision and beyond — and that’s something that remains part of the company’s DNA to this day. We’ve got some very cool promotional items planned for the series, including a 1:250 Burnt Wood variant by Marcio that might be a not-so-subtle nod to something you just mentioned… I hope we have your ear as more gets revealed.

GP: If you had to pick just one, Archer or Armstrong, which would it be?

RL: I should probably hem and haw over this, but I did an earlier interview where I tipped my hand. I’m happiest when these two are together, because like chocolate and peanut butter, it’s a perfect combo. They really do play so well off each other, and they provide such different energies and experiences. But…

I have to go with Archer. There’s something about his perspective on the world, his gentle nature, and his ability to, you know, hurt people… There’s a lot to like, with or without Armstrong. But given my druthers, I’m choosing them as a duo.

GP: Are there other characters in the Valiant pantheon you’d like to get your hands on?

RL: I think the better question is whether there are any characters I don’t want to explore at some point. I think it was our Publisher, Fred Pierce, who once referred to the Universe as “a wonderful forest,” and I think it’s an apt metaphor. You can go for a walk in the woods and take in all kinds of different scenery, plants, etc. And that’s one of the benefits of the Valiant Universe, we have so many different characters that are either built around different genres or tones, or can easily fit into them.

So yes, there are a couple dozen characters I want to tell new stories with, from heavy hitters like X-O Manowar (who I’d like to do more with) and Bloodshot to characters whose potential has yet to be fully tapped including Doctor Mirage, Divinity, and more. I also want to see us create new characters and let them explore this forest and play off the characters people already know and love. 2022 is The Year of Valiant, and so I think it’s safe to say you’ll see a number of things we’re itching to do, and we definitely have plans well beyond that.

Zeismic