It’s been a fruitful year for “Quantum and Woody.” In addition to the reimagined Valiant Entertainment series wrapping up its first run, the characters have also found success in “The Delinquents” and will soon be seen in series creators’ Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright’s “Q2: The Return of Quantum and Woody” is set to hit stands October 15 — but the World’s Worst Superhero Team isn’t stopping there. Announced at New York Comic Con 2014, writer James Asmus returns to the duo alongside “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” artist Steve Lieber for “Quantum and Woody Must Die!” in January 2015. Picking up from Asmus’ first series, “Quantum and Woody Must Die!” opens with the duo actually getting along — but all may not be exactly as it seems, even if they are in couples counseling.
Even if you’re not a longtime fan of “Quantum and Woody,” fear not: the first issue is being written to welcome new readers aboard. “It’s no sweat if you haven’t read [the original series],” said Asmus. “We’re going to give you everything you need to know and invite you along for the ride. That’s why it’s got a #1 on the front.”
CBR News spoke with Asmus and Lieber about the upcoming “Quantum and Woody Must Die!”, including development of the series, Lieber’s first run at Valiant, the importance of flawed characters and clear storytelling and much more. Plus, get some details on the current status of the Goat!
CBR News: James, Steve — you guys are collaborating on “Quantum and Woody Must Die!” — an ominous title for fans of the characters. James, talk a bit about developing the concept of the series that you’ve been working on for so long.
James Asmus: When we knew we were taking a break to do “The Delinquents” — and personally, I wanted to give a little bit of a breath for Christopher Priest and Mark Bright’s return series — I knew that when we were coming back, we had to jump back in a bit way, and I felt like I got to tie off a lot of what the first year storyline was for me. That was Quantum and Woody fully committing to the idea of this identity they’re going to have moving forward as erstwhile superheroes. Now is the time to raise the stakes, build up their world, bring them a flurry of new villains and supporting characters and see if they can remotely survive what that actually means.
Steve, what was it like for you to come on to the series? How did you first get involved?
Steve Lieber: Alejandro [Arbona, series editor] was kind enough to ask. I had met him and some other folks at Valiant at a convention a couple of years ago, and I was really impressed with everybody I spoke with there. They were bright, they were engaged, they really clearly loved comics and it was a pleasure to talk with everyone. Around the time that word got out that “Superior Foes of Spider-Man,” my current book, was wrapping up, they got in touch and wanted to know if I was interested and available — and I was and I was! I really enjoyed the work that James had written with Tom Fowler and Jordie [Bellaire] and Kano and folks, and I just liked the comedic rhythm they were playing with.
I only found out recently that I could be funny with pictures. That’s a new thing to learn. 22 years and this past year was the first time anybody had actually paid me money to get laughs. And I want to keep going with it! This was a great chance to get to do more of that.
Part of the big draw of this is James being a very funny writer, and Steve coming off a critically-acclaimed run on “Superior Foes.” What’s the collaboration you two have when it comes to the humorous side of the book? That’s assuming it’s going to be funny, of course.
Asmus: Well that’s certainly our goal! We’re still in the early stages. A lot of this is just about our nature at this point. We’re so excited to see the final product! I was super excited to learn that Steve is a really thoughtfully engaged, full-hearted collaborator of an artist. That’s how his work always looks and it always gave that vibe to me — just the details and richness of every reaction and background detail and gag. I knew he was bringing it on that front. It’s always thrilling — especially for me — to have a true collaborator who is just picking up a paycheck and doing the bare minimum of what you ask them to, but is really trying to elevate, excite and negotiate the better solution every time.
Lieber: Yeah, as James said, we’re still very early in the collaboration. I like to think of this as we’re Metallica before the first album — our monster days are still in the future. I always feel like my job as an artist is to be a window on the story the writer is telling. I like to and often do add things, but my primary job is to reveal the writer’s intent as clearly as possible. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like a fun thing — like, “Oh, this artist is really revealing the writer’s intent!” But that’s what the job is. I’m never about making the pictures pretty or stopping the reader’s eye and making them think, “Wow, that took a long time to draw.” I’m about getting the impact of the moment in the story. If it’s a laugh, get the laugh. If it’s a shock, get ’em gasping. If it’s tragedy, start readying those tears. I think this is material where we’ll get some of all of that.
What can you tell us about where Eric and Woody are when the series starts off? Is it really close to where “Quantum and Woody” left off, or will there be a whole different concept?
Asmus: Well — [Laughs] this is a continuation of our series, but enough things have suddenly changed around the guys that it’s sort of a fresh start. So much has changed around them that they start to wonder what the hell just happened and how they got there. There may be a little bit of an inception that they’ve fallen victim to, and these choices they’ve made in their lives may not be their own, and that will be part of the mystery of the first arc. It’s a continuation of our story.
Specifics of what we find: the guys are actually getting along, which doesn’t feel right at all. They’ve been in couples counseling, which might be the reason things are better — or it might be what’s making things worse. The goat is still pregnant on the verge of having a baby that they can’t figure out what’s actually happening. Regular science is not telling them what’s inside their goat right now.
All of a sudden, a half-dozen mysterious forces are operating against them that they’ve never seen before. It’s a whole batch of things that are both picking up where we left off and also feel like something’s changed off panel that both the reader and Quantum and Woody will be trying to figure out how we got there.
Steve, James came up with so many different ridiculous things for his artists to draw during the course of “Quantum and Woody.” What excites you about the design challenges of a book like this?
Lieber: Honestly, the most exciting thing is following in the wild imaginative footsteps of an artist like Tom Fowler, who set the tone for the previous series. The designs that Tom came up with were unbelievably good, and I’m just cracking my knuckles knowing that I have to get into the ring and compete with readers’ memories of that. Knowing that we’re getting laughs as well as superhero thrills out of it makes it an additional challenge. It’s going to have to function for pure super heroic purposes and sometimes it’s there just to get a laugh. It’s a double challenge making everything work both ways, and I’m really looking forward to it.
What about the goat? Were you really excited to draw the goat?
Lieber: I love drawing animals. It’s something you almost never get to do in mainstream comics, but it’s one of the foundations of traditional illustration. Also, I really like that goat!
This is probably a question you’ve never gotten asked before: have you ever had to draw a pregnant goat?
Lieber: [Pause] [Laughs] I started to parse my response to that like Bill Clinton or something.
Asmus: [Laughs] Depends on what your definition of “is” is.
Lieber: I’ve never had to draw a pregnant goat before, although I have had the opportunity. I’ve taken a sketchbook to a petting zoo once or twice, though my lawyers advise me not to speak about this any further.
[Laughs] Okay, seriously, have you ever had the opportunity to draw a pregnant goat?
Lieber: [Laughs] I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a pregnant animal before. I have drawn goats, I’ve taken sketchbooks to petting zoos. One of my earliest experiences as an art student at Penn State where they have a bunch of goat and deer sharing a pen with each other. One of the animals came up to me and grabbed the charcoal I was drawing with and chewed down the entire piece of charcoal as I tried to pull it out of its mouth. I would like to think that the animal was trying to prevent me from ever working on this book!
James, you’ve had the opportunity to really dig into these characters. As we approach the new series, what sort of challenges await you from a humor and plotting standpoint?
Asmus: In terms of plot, there are so many situations I really want to throw them into. They’re characters who really do surprise me when I’m writing and make their own choices once you put them in something interesting enough. That’s why I love working on them. From a humor standpoint, it’s a tricky thing when you don’t want to just keep playing the same types of friction between the characters — and obviously, it’s so fundamental to who they are and it’s a great source of what I think works in the original series and our series. But you just don’t want to go to that well too many times, and you want to see growth in the characters.
The emotional point we left off on is that Woody realizes he drives people away and he doesn’t want to do that with Eric. Eric is the last important person in his life. He’s still going to be a total douchebag to everyone else — you can still get a lot of what you love to hate about Woody — but trying to grow their relationship in a positive way without pulling it back to its initial Itchy and Scratchy-ness [is a challenge].
You’ve worked with these characters for at least a year and a half, going through a few different artists. What do you think Steve brings to the table on “Quantum and Woody Must Die”?
I’ve been so lucky with the artists they’ve called in to work with us on the book so far, but when we were trying to figure out somebody for the new miniseries, when Alejandro mentioned Steve, I immediately realized he’s a pitch-perfect choice for this book. The elements he was talking about liking to balance are things we get into every book. He’s proven how hilarious he is with character and timing in “Superior Foes,” but in all of his work, you see a very real humanity and vulnerability that we try to keep as a strong undercurrent in “Quantum and Woody.” If you don’t feel for these guys, if you don’t love them and let your heart break when theirs does — if you don’t have that, you don’t care about jokes, you know? The bonds have to be stronger for it to mean enough.
We try to put that in and build that with these characters. Knowing that Steve is someone who can totally deliver on that — and it is, like he said, always in service of character and in story and telling that story along with us as opposed to stopping and saying, “I think I could sell this page if the explosion looked like this.” There’s no trying to slip in a really expensive secondary market image. He’s always in service of story and can do it hilariously and heartbreakingly. That’s the perfect mindset.
Lieber: Well, in terms of not drawing to the secondary market, these days I’m drawing almost entirely digitally, so it’s not an option for me. One thing I’ve found is that doing a combination of 12 to 13-panel pages with rapidly failing old dude eyesight — I need to be drawing on the computer screen so I can draw those tiny panels. Most of what I draw is just for reproduction.
Steve, for fans that might be coming on to this series due to your work on “Superior Foes,” what might they see that’s different from some of the work you’ve done in the past?
Lieber: The big difference between what I’ll be doing on “Quantum and Woody” and what I did on “Superior Foes” is the occasional presence of a sympathetic human being. “Superior Foes” is about five soulless sociopaths, whereas Woody is a cad, but there’s still redeemable humanity there. I look forward to playing with the tension between his worse nature and what he’s learned from his dad and his brother. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays off. And I’m interesting in the relationship between Eric and his dad — how much flashback stuff we’ll get to do, I’m not sure, and I don’t want to spoil anything for people that haven’t read the previous series, but his dad’s presence is still felt.
As for the rest of it, I think what was said earlier about the vulnerability of the characters — I like working with characters who don’t need to be shown as flawless marble gods. I think the juicy stuff is in where characters are vulnerable, where they can be hurt — both physically and emotionally and these characters have plenty of both. A fight scene’s only interesting if the characters can be threatened, and a talk scene is only interesting if the character really has something to lose.
Wrapping up, what are you guys most excited about — not just for the series, but your collaboration together on it.
Lieber: I’m just looking forward to ping-ponging ideas back and forth. The most fun part of every collaboration is the “Top that!” that happens when you try to make each other laugh, when you try to make someone intimately involved with material go, “That’s cool.” If you ever watch comedians at a club, 99 times out of 100, even if the guy onstage is killing it, they’re not laughing out loud. They’re nodding and saying [little], but seeing when they can get a laugh out of someone else in the biz, that’s when you know they’ve broken through.
Asmus: I definitely second all of that. I said it before, but I really am always happy to have genuine, fully invested co-creators on stuff. Steve’s reputation as one of those people preceded him and I love his work, so I’m excited to get to be on the other side of the tennis net with him. Also, for me, I know that he really — one thing we’ve been talking about is that he likes choosing some of the visual breakouts himself rather than having full calling out of panels. In every script I write start with a giant paragraph that says, “Please, for the love of god — I’m calling out shots, but feel free to change it, jump on something totally different. Follow your visual instinct,” because as anyone who’s read my comics knows, I’m really good at talking and talking and talking! [Laughs] But I feel like my artists have a better visual sense than I do, and knowing that Steve has a genuine love and an excellence at pacing and of putting in atypical visuals that hit the sweet spot — I’m really excited to have someone take what I write and elevate it and pull it off so thoughtfully.
“Quantum and Woody Must Die” hits stores in January 2015.