Fred Van Lente: Valiantly Towards the Future

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks

Fred Van Lente is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for thrilling, seat-of-your-pants comics action, with his work on Archer & Armstrong, Magnus Robot Fighter, Conan the Avenger and many other series. I had a chance to catch up with Fred at Emerald City Comicon to chat about his career and his current and future projects.

Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Let's start with how you got involved with Valiant.

Van Lente: I was at New York Comic Con one year. Valiant came there and asked me if I wanted to do write Archer & Armstrong because I did a book called The Incredible Hercules, which is another buddy book that involves a mismatched immortal and a younger person -- a super genius in that case. I'd never heard of Archer & Armstrong, though. I actually had to go home and Google it, but it seemed crazy enough that it was totally up my alley and I love Barry Windsor-Smith. I missed the original Valiant. I was in college at the time the original series was coming out, so I was busy with girls and grades. I didn't know anything about the property, but the more I started working on it and the more I started to realize what kind of a spin I could put on it, the more I really started enjoying it.

CB: A&A has been been a fun series. It's been very light but great adventure at the same time. So you really love to approach a book with a sense of humor?

Van Lente: Yeah, especially when there's two wonderfully ridiculous characters. Armstrong is this hard-drinking immortal who's seen and done everyone and everything. Archer has lived this cloistered existence his whole life and starts to get thrust into this other world. The humor comes very naturally from the characters, which is always the way you want it. 

CB: The adventure seems to be ratcheting up in A&A too. The comic's got dinosaurs, after all!

Van Lente: Yes. We've got dinosaurs chasing after them. We're right in the middle of a fun crossover with Bloodshot and the HardC.O.R.P.S, that's a deadly bunch they've gotta contend with, and we've got kind of a climactic arc called "American Wasteland", which is about entertainment conspiracy theories in which they go to Hollywood. We find out whether Jim Morrison actually died, who really killed Elvis, who killed Biggie and Tupac. It's going to be super fun.  

CB: Does Valiant give you the freedom to write about the topics you want to write about?

Van Lente: To a certain extent, I'm lucky that our book is so weird that I think it's hard to imagine it any other way. But we've made it work, and the response it's gotten has been terrific.

CB: One of the things that all the Valiant creators have mentioned is the strong editorial voice from the Valiant editors and publishers.

Van Lente: Yes.   

CB: How as it been, working with a group that has a real vision for their comics?

Van Lente: It's been good. Warren Simmons, Alejandro Arbona and my great editor Josh Johns are all very supportive, and have been very much involved with every step of the creation with the books. They're really keeping their eye on the whole universe. It's a neat tapestry that's being woven.

CB: I did interviews with Fred Pierce and Warren Simons a year or so before the line started in which they explained how they were creating a coherent universe. I think we're seeing the success of that approach. That's part of wat CB's reviewers have been responding to in their positive reviews for these books, and for myself as a reader too. How is it working in that universe? It's gotta be different from working in the Marvel Universe.

Van Lente: It's very different. I like that each book is very distinct. You know, Harbinger had an X-Men riff, our book is humor and conspiracy based, Quantum & Woody is humor based- but is in superheroes. I'm very excited to be working with my buddy James Asmus, the writer on Quantum & Woody. We're going to be doing a series called The Delinquents. That will be a team up book between Archer & Armstrong and Quantum & Woody. That will be launching at the end of the summer.

You know, XO is science fiction, Bloodshot is a techno-thriller. They're all very different books, so it's a neat universe because there's lots of different aspects to it.   

CB: Was it a hard transition to go from the Marvel Universe to the Valiant universe?

Van Lente: Not really; in many ways it's easier because there's not as many cooks in the kitchen, and at Marvel you have that weight of that continuity. That can work to your advantage, but often trips you up.   

CB: In Herc you were developing your own corner of the Marvel universe.

Van Lente: Yeah, and that was super awesome! I grew up liking Grant Morrison's Animal Man, and loved it when Denny O'Neil was doing The Question and all those great books where these sort of C-list bench player characters really got into their own. I always wanted to do that. It was definitely something I could cross off my bucket list was when Greg and our friends were able to do Hercules.


CB: How did you approach the recreation of Magnus? Did you have the '90s Valiant stories in mind, or were going a different direction?

Van Lente: I still to this day have not read the Valiant series. Although that is Dinesh Shamdeshi, the head of Valiant's, favorite Valiant series. I'm old enough to have read the Gold Key stuff when they were reprinted in the '70s, when Western was doing those occassional reprints. I love the concept of fighting robots with kung-fu but there's been so many developments in artificial intelligence, cybernetics and robotics. Even versus when Valiant was doing the book, we had to reinvent Magnus's world to have it make a little more sense. We have artificial computer intelligence, so why do they need robot bodies? Stuff like that is very interesting so we came up with this whole robot theology around the singularity and all this mystery around Magnus's world that we will be exploring as we go through the book.

CB: Something I really enjoy is when writers drop a lot of hints of future storylines in their scripts. Did you deliberately lay a lot of easter eggs in early issues of Magnus that will pay off in the coming months?

Van Lente: Oh yeah. Cory and I have a whole plan for the first season (as we're calling it) mapped out, and we're really excited to see people's reactions as they unfold.

CB: You're part of a mini-line at Dynamite. How are they to work with? Do they the same sort of vision for the line that Valiant has?

Van Lente: My editor on Magnus is our editor from The Incredible Hercules, Nate Cosby, and so those relationships are continuing. The properties are all currently owned by Dreamworks, and so we've been working directly with them.  That's been very cool, and they've been very supportive. You know, they're developing those properties to be video games and movies and all that stuff.   

CB: I see, okay so we may get a new Magnus video game and a new Turok video game.

Van Lente: Exactly.  

CB: So what's next for you, Fred?

Van Lente: I took over the Conan ongoing series at Dark Horse, Conan the Avenger, last month. Magnus is ongoing, Archer & Armstrong continues through the summer, I did the Free Comic Book Day story for Dark Horse starring Captain Midnight and Brain Boy, called Project Black Sky. I hope that everybody checked that out. I'll be doing an Image book with Nick Dragotta, Tom Fowler and Jordie Bellairer called Howtoons. It's a YA post apocalyptic adventure that teaches kids in how to survive the apocalypse using science and projects.

CB: If you believe those conspiracy theorists "It's coming!"

Van Lente: It is! Well, global warming unfortunately is not a conspiracy. If only it was then we could hope that it's not happening… I mentioned Magnus.

CB: Any teasers about what we can expect in Conan?

Van Lente: It's Conan at his lowest point. He's kind of become a drunk, but you can't keep a good barbarian down. He's going to be rising up pretty soon. I'm picking up from Brian Wood, where Conan has kind of been left at his lowest ebb so far in his life. So he's going to be literally climbing out of the trash heap, as you will see when you read the first issue of Conan the Avenger. But then he starts kicking ass! Stabbing dudes and monsters and wizards.

CB: Wow. That's so out of character for Conan.

Van Lente: I know, right?

CB: Kicking ass.

Van Lente: Exactly.

CB: Never heard of such a thing.

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