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Interview with James Asmus on Quantum and Woody, comics, and the future

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jamesasmus Welcome to our first in what I hope will be a series of interviews with people involved in all aspects of creating and developing the Valiant characters and stories we know and love.

For our first interview, we talked to Quantum and Woody, and The Delinquents writer James Asmus about comics, writing, and the future.

What is your origin story? You’ve done work as a playwright, actor, and comedian, so how did you get into writing comics?

Comics were all I read of my own choosing growing up. Justice League International was the first I read, X-Men made me a regular shop fly, and the Dark Horse line with Madman, Hellboy, and Concrete got me hooked on comics forever. I spent my extra curricular hours acting, though. Over 15 years performing, my interests lead to improve, sketch comedy, stand-up, and then writing full plays and musicals. My shows were almost always rife with genre influence. I invited Marvel folks to a show of mine that went up in New York, mostly to talk comics. In something that still feels like a dream, Nick Lowe convinced his colleagues to give me a shot writing for X-Men anthologies. And I’ve been thrilled to create in comics ever since. (Though I still work in a bunch of mediums & industries.)

How did you end up at Valiant, and why Quantum and Woody?

I had briefly met with some Valiant folks at NYCC [(New York Comic Con)] right before the launch. But when editor Jody Lehoup was looking for a writers to pitch their takes on Quantum & Woody, I was doing a bad-behavior buddy comedy with Image called The END TIMES OF BRAM & BEN (with incredible co-creators Jim Festante & Rem Broo!). We had hired Sebastian Girner as a consulting editor, and I believe he showed the book to Jody.

Had you read Priest and Bright’s run before diving into the book?

MOST of it. The original series came out in my high school / college years of not having enough money for comics. But it was recommended to me once I got back in, and I tracked down most of the run, and absolutely loved it.

What is your favorite issue and why?

Of the original or ours? Of the original, the infamous “N-word” issue is still one of the most amazing and savvy comics I’ve ever read. For us, there really are a lot of issues I’ve been incredibly proud of – but issue #2 was the one where I really felt like we cracked the code for our run could be. I went from worrying to purely enjoying myself. And Tom Fowler always turns in incredibly thoughtful and excellent work – but his true co-creation of the ERA villains and the Clown-Spider elevated the book by bringing genuine threat and horror into what could have just been laughable absurdity.

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Thomas Edison, is an awesome villain, how did you come up with the idea?

I was a co-writer / performer in a musical sketch comedy show at the incredible Annoyance Theatre in Chicago a few years ago all about real inventors. In the process of reading to create material for the show, I was amazed to learn what a total bastard that man was in real life. He would fund young scientists’ research and then take all of their breakthroughs and patent them himself. Or sometimes just steal it outright. And once you get to the point in history where he murdered an elephant in a public spectacle just to help sell his electricity model over Nicola Tesla’s – it becomes hard to see him as sympathetic. When I was trying to figure out “my” take on Quantum & Woody, I wanted to streamline and centralize their world a bit more than the original had. In looking to tell a story that tied them getting powers to the death of their father, I felt someone trying to steal Derek’s invention could set this all up and provide our antagonists. And I guess all those stories I read about Edison just lept back to mind.

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The Delinquents is due out in August, how has it been working with Fred Van Lente and how are you dividing writing duties?

I was 100% down to write something with Fred. Before he and I ever met, I had actually become friends with his wife, Crystal Skillman, through her work as a wickedly fantastic New York playwright. I became friends with them both and love the intelligence and explosive spirit in their works. I’m happy to say, working with Fred has only upped my respect for the guy. He writes with equal parts masterful knowledge of comics and gleeful abandon. We plotted The Delinquents together over several sessions, and now I’m scripting the initial drafts for Fred to jump into and improve as much as he can.

Who’s funnier, you or Fred?

I am humbled to admit that most of the stuff that really makes me laugh in Delinquents was all Fred. The real selling point of the series – the fact that the “treasure map” is really a tattoo across a Hobo’s severed butt cheeks – was 100% his mad genius. He tosses out golden concepts like that with ease and it’s inspiring, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once.

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What impact do you see The Delinquents having on the future of Quantum and Woody?

READ TO FIND OUT! Also, hopefully an increase in sales numbers.

How do you convey the gags in Quantum and Woody to your artist?

This depends on the artist and the gag, really. Most of the time, a lot of the gags are dialogue and / or the characters’ emotional responses to things. Actual expressions of those emotions are left for my partners crafting the art to decide (and I’ve been pleasantly surprised like Kano’s hilariously creative depictions of Woody’s freakout about bursting a guy toward the end of issue #10). Those I just spell out pretty directly. But the hardest thing about writing humor in comics is timing. I have instincts for how to pace and deliver jokes live or even on tv / film. But in comics, you have to play with visual space to mimic & control the time it takes for you, the reader to get from looking at the set up to looking at the punchline. It can be abstract and convoluted (like most things dealing with “what makes comedy work”) – but thankfully on this series, I’ve been teamed with co-creators who understand humor in their own art. But at this point comics and comedy are so deeply ingrained in my brain, I usually know how to break up my causes and effects for the kind of impact I want.

Would you like to tackle Quantum and Woody again? If so, are there any plans?

We are talking about what could be next for the guys. It’s odd, because I am regularly struck with situations I’d love to write for them – but they’re usually odd little moments & exchanges or left-turn stories with rich settings. I’ve shared a bunch of rough ideas with my gracious and indispensable editor Alejandro Arbona – but we’ll see if any of those are right for a big return. There are many, many things I love and appreciate Valiant for. One of the biggest is that they are sincerely committed to doing books RIGHT, or not doing them at all. In creative endeavors, you’ll always miss the mark some times, but we need more companies who don’t go forward unless they’ve got tales they really believe are worth the readers’ time, money, and trust. And I truly trust them to help me gauge the merit in my own odd ideas.

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If you could be any comic book character, who would it be and why?

This is probably swayed by the year or so that I spent with him living in my head – but I’d probably say Gambit from X-Men. He’s handsome, preternaturally charming and agile, and unlike so many heroes — he isn’t burdened with a tragic origin, cursed edge to his powers, or any massive responsibility (being a chosen one, having to Klang gauntlets together every 24hrs, etc…) All of that would be worth a lot of people complaining they hate my accent or that I’m “overrated”.

Finally, any upcoming projects other than The Delinquents you’d like people to check out?

I’m in the middle of a whole lot I can’t actually talk about, sadly. I’ve been talking with Valiant about some possibilities of doing another title with them soon. I love working with Valiant, and we’re working to find the next right fit for me there (while being less humor-centric). Otherwise, I spent much of the last year split between jobs writing for television, games, and film – and as a result I really had to cut down my comics output. But I have a big backlog of creator-owned concepts I’m itching to do. I hope to get one up and running in the next few months – but again, I can’t say much at this point.(Other than say that I hope everyone who’d dug Quantum & Woody checks out my first creator-owned, The End Times of Bram & Ben recently in collection from Image!)

A HUGE thanks to James for giving us a few minutes of his time and answering our questions. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and check out all his previous work on Comixology or from your local comic shop. I highly recommend his run on Thief of Thieves and the aforementioned The End Times of Bram and Ben.

Don’t forget to also follow us on Twitter, and let us know who you’d like to see us interview next!

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