TMStash One-On-One Interview with James Asmus at NC Comicon!

During NC Comicon we had the honor of sitting down with James Asmus to talk about “Quantum and Woody” the “World’s Worst Superhero Team” and one of the funniest action-adventure books out today.  Asmus was a fan of the original series and has brought this fan-favorite back to the shelf to both critical and sales success.  We get some insight into Woody’s character in this interview, along with a hint or two about the future (no spoilers, so don’t worry).  So, let’s get to the Q&A!

TMSTASH: With “Quantum and Woody” you’re bringing back a fan favorite title.  How do you balance what was great about the title before with the likes and demands of today’s comics readers?

ASMUS: In terms of making it feel current, I have the benefit of just kind of being a current writer. (Laughter) I’ve really only been writing comics for a few years, and I feel like I am still kind of – I have contemporary rhythms.  And in terms of bringing in what fans loved about the old one, as somebody who was a fan of this series I feel like I know what I think of first and most fondly when I think of “Quantum and Woody”. I’ve spent a little bit of time reading what people say when they talk about it, and I realize they pretty consistently referenced some of the funnier moments.  And, it was a book that definitely had a lot of great biting, clever humor and commentary to it.  But, if you really read the whole series, there’s more drama than people speak of when they speak of the series.  There’s just a lot of other elements at play that  aren’t necessarily what I hear people focus on why they love it. But, to me I knew what I would do is hone in on the relationship, because that is so core, that is so key.  We like these people, we like them not liking each other but relying on each other.  And, we love the humor and the irreverence and the sort of earnest attempt at heroism from at least Eric. (Laughter) And everyone loves a goat.  So I knew that those were the essential building blocks, and luckily for me that’s what I loved about it anyway.  And then from there, I felt that it was my obligation to tell a good contemporary story.  So, for me it was just a question of starting by saying, well, looking at the things I loved, what are plots, what are elements so that if you build those things out or if you lean into those aspects, where does it take you? And then the second part was saying like, well what do I think is an element in this book where other books in Valiant’s Universe don’t do that now?  And, for me the whole “accidental” lab accident, the very nature of using the word “quantum”…I feel like “mad science” is kind of something missing.  You have nanotechnology in “Bloodshot”, but it’s kind of a scaled down implication of it, a focused one.

TMSTASH: But “quantum” can mean or do anything in comics.

ASMUS: Right, and I wanted to get into mad science as a place that these guys could fall into.  We can run into no shortage of insane people doing insane things. You know, at the end of the second issue and beginning of the third they fight the Nightmare Brigade, which is this horrifying science-gone-wrong, and I felt that this was the kind of space I wanted.  I didn’t want to subvert the world, because it is obviously part of a shared universe.  But I felt like literally an enclave of mad scientists can give me several kinds of crazy villains, where people on the streets react to them as real people.  It’s a short of one stop shop to set up adversaries.

TMSTASH NOTE: Woody is a lovable rascal, but violates about every social principle there is.  He’s got to be a lot of fun to write.

ASMUS: Oh he’s wildly freeing and makes me sometimes ashamed and horrified at my own ideas.  The key is to make him not really harm anyone, it’s more about self-interest than about pushing anyone else down.  I think that makes someone, like you said, a loveable rascal as opposed to a jerk.  Also, it helps when you have other characters call him out for being inappropriate.  It helps reassure the reader, like we’re not saying the world should be this way, and hopefully they can tell when it’s not our opinion but we’re depicting a character of ill thought process.

TMSTASH:  It’s interesting how he will also call other people out. He’s aware of the rules.

ASMUS: That is actually one of my favorite things to do, is have him choose a moment in which he wants to act like he has the moral high ground.  Like in #5 he chastises Eric for using the term “hobo”.  But, to me this is a guy who has lived on the street at some point.  I mean like, he’s guy who’s crashed in the lowest abandoned spheres of society now and again and I think he has a sympathy there, which is kind of – I don’t know if I’ll end up doing more about that, but that’s something that was definitely established in the middle of the (old) series, sometimes to more dramatic effect.  But, I still assume that to be true and I’ll see how much we get into it explicitly. But, in the third issue where they’re running from the cops, that’s why Woody has the idea, let’s have this homeless guy try and tell the cops where we are, and cops are so disdainful to these suffering people that this will be the one place that they don’t go.  And it works.  It’s sort of a piece of social commentary, but it’s also a subtle nod to Woody’s less successful times.  I think things like that also add a kind of vulnerability to him, and you know he’s essentially going to take any chance to be on top, because I think he’s been on the bottom a lot.

TMSTASH: Were Eric and Woody brothers in the original series?

ASMUS: Not in the original series.  This was one of the first big things we discussed, one of the only big structural changes we ever talked about.  Their relationship in the original one was childhood friends, and their dads worked together.  And then, their dads both died.  They were like neighbors and besties.  But, their relationship always played brotherly.  To us, in talking about it, it felt like…I have plenty of friends from childhood that I don’t feel nearly the debt to that they seemed to in the original series, especially when they had been years apart from each other and it ended on a grudge.  To me, it made more sense and it just heightened what the book was always about, to make this real familial relationship where they are brothers without being brothers.  And then, you really do understand having that debt to someone, and even if they drive you crazy you’re responsible for each other.
I think everyone has had a family member that causes that push-pull.  It helps us take the themes to a more quickly understandable place.

TMSTASH: There’s a hint that their father’s brain may not be completely gone, didn’t completely liquefy.  Is that coming into play down the road?

ASMUS: The idea of their father I think is integral.  I think they’re not done dealing with those issues, and there’s a way…I have plans to reconfront them with their father issues.  I don’t want to say much more about the mechanics of how I’m going to get there because it will ultimately play as a reveal and surprise within the story.  I think it’ll end up coming in when people aren’t expecting it.

TMSTASH: What other projects do you have going on?

ASMUS: I actually have been shedding comics projects throughout this year because I’ve been developing and writing a television show that has become a bigger and bigger demand as it’s gone.  The show actually is still going through title changes, so I can’t be like “look for blah-blah”.  It’s going to air on the History Channel very early in 2014.  It follows an animal control team in the bayous of Louisiana when there’s a bunch of strange animal attacks, and what we find is increasingly is that there’s a lot of unique supersitions and folklore that is part of local culture.  Increasingly, locals are thinking this may be from their folklore or from something to do with Voodoo or whatever, and so this animal control team who had been investigating this stuff ends up kind of at the front lines of these various issues and attacks.  It’s a six episode mini-series, shot documentary style.  I used to live in Louisiana, and I spent a while in the bayou and became familiar with this culture and became very intrigued by all this stuff.  I worked with a production company that was shooting a reality show there with a Sherriff’s department that was called “Cajun Justice”.  That show ended, but there were no shortage when they were down there of these calls and reports of weird going on and all of these people telling them all sorts of stories.  So, we ended up wanting to revisit that and explore some of that stuff.  We’ve been working on that for the last year, and we’re just wrapping production and post-production on that soon.  It’s supposed to air sometime early next year, I think Sunday nights on the History Channel.  Tentatively I heard it will premiere January 12th.

TMSTASH: Please get us a preview clip as you get closer to time – this sounds great and we’d love to put it up on our site. Anything else that you want to tell our viewers?

ASMUS: I am incredibly grateful for people who have not only given us a shot on this book but who have helped spread the word for Valiant in general.  You know, when you’re making books up against a subsidiary of Disney or Warner Bros., we never have the marketing budget to saturate awareness like that.  But, even a hundred ads are less convincing than you telling your friends, “you have to read this book”.  When you really know someone’s taste matches up with it, the sincere enthusiasm in telling other fans about it is the best way to keep this going and to build it and to let us keep us making comics that we believe in. So, I’m appreciative of those who have, and for people who may love it but haven’t bugged someone about it – if you think of the right person, let them know.

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And that’s it!  Thanks to James Asmus for taking the time to speak with us.  Keep your eyes on this site for more interviews, previews and reviews!

Ed is a long-time comics collector, going back to the days when comics were only 12 cents. He reviews DC titles and a variety of Indie publishers here at TMStash.

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