School is back in session this week as Valiant Entertainment releases the second issue of their exclusive-to-Comixology series, Valiant High, by writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artists Derek Charm and David Barron. Breaking off from the traditional continuity of the Valiant Universe, this team is bringing the heroes and villains back to high school for this four-part mini-series.
Newsarama spoke with Kibblesmith about his life as a writer - whether it’s working for on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or writing comic books - as well as what readers can expect from this marked departure in storytelling for Valiant.
Newsarama: Daniel, your day job finds you working alongside Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. Can you describe a little bit of what your writing duties are like there?
Daniel Kibblesmith: It's probably pretty close to whatever you're picturing - wake up early in the morning, read literally all of the news, drink literally all of the coffee, and come up with a pitch for that day's show, usually off a topical story. Pitches become assignments, followed by rewrites, rehearsals, and meeting/writing for the future. It's hectic, but incredibly rewarding - and it feels like an important time to be on a team that's helping people process news and politics at the end of the day.
Nrama: Writing for Valiant Entertainment will be your first time writing comic books, correct? How did this opportunity come about for you?
Kibblesmith: Actually, I'm a grizzled vet - if being a grizzled vet means writing a handful of single-page humor gags for Valiant before Valiant High. But I'm also the co-writer, with Eliot Rahal, of the Heavy Metal series The Doorman, which comes out in paperback March 22. Valiant High, however, is my first solo credit and I'm extremely proud of it.
Nrama: Can you describe your work with Derek Charm on the art as well as David Baron on colors and Simon Bowland on letters? I imagine that being in a writers’ room must require a certain level of collaboration. Is this much different for you working with the members of the artistic team to bring your story to life?
Kibblesmith: The TV writing process is all collaboration all the time, so it was easy to learn to trust the rest of the team, especially once I found out who I was going to be working with. I got to see Derek's designs really early in the process, so I was able to react to those and get inspired when filling out the character's personalities and backstories. David did an amazing job finishing the art with color, and making it feel like the tie-in comic for an animated series that doesn't exist (yet???). And importantly, Simon brought every joke to life, which is crucial for a book with so much humor and angst. You really want everyone to be able to really hear the dialog in their head and have a consistent experience with conversational pacing and punchlines.
Nrama: Was it difficult to maintain a certain continuity of the original characters as you translated them into this teen comedy?
Kibblesmith: In terms of traditional comics continuity, no difficulty, because Valiant High is a self-contained universe outside of the rest of the Valiant stories. In terms of character continuity, it was a really energizing experience, because these characters have now been around long enough that their personalities feel really complete and fully formed, and you can start thinking of them as archetypes - and then have the fun of mapping those archetypes onto other archetypes, like the cast of a high school soap opera. So, armored warrior X-O Manowar becomes an "armored" high school running back, whose battles are on the football field, and many, many more discoveries like that.
Nrama: Likewise, how has it been working with Lauren Hitzhusen and Warren Simons, your editors on Valiant High?
Kibblesmith: Pretty fantastic. The key word again is trust. We're all on the same page, and we did enough planning at the outset to really keep momentum going as we started generating actual scripts. The most comforting part about working with Valiant that they're all huge fans of their own characters, with intimate familiarity with their personalities and relationships, so it's easy to agree when a creative choice clicks while we're transplanting familiar characters to unfamiliar circumstances.
Nrama: If memory serves, this would actually be one of the first non-continuity series for Valiant, as it’s clear this story takes place apart from what regular Valiant fans have come to know. Do you know why the decision was made to move in this creative direction?
Kibblesmith: Not sure, but it gave us a lot of freedom. One definite benefit was accessibility. We strived really hard to make this a fresh, standalone take that any fan of teen romance and/or superheroes could enjoy without ever having picked up a Valiant comic before. And who knows? The beauty of comics is that years from now, we can decide this was a parallel universe, or somebody's dream, or an animated series that Faith was binge-watching on Netflix.
Nrama: What were some of the most informative “coming of age” high school stories for you? [Any medium – comics, books, film, TV, etc.]
Kibblesmith: For this particular project, alternate universe stories, whether high school superhero re-imaginings (X-Men: Evolution, Smallville), or just archetypes in a new setting (Marvel's 1602) were all big influences. As well as other self-contained universes, like Power Rangers or Community (yes, I just compared those two shows), where you don't really get a sense that their home-lives or their families are a big part of the story at first. Everything happens on campus, the center of their universe.
The other huge influence, obviously, is teen movies, like The Breakfast Club, or She's All That, which gets name-checked in Valiant High #1. But I tried to go beyond reference, and subvert the movie tropes so hopefully people will be surprised how these things get invoked. If these all sound like wildly different influences, it might come from being a comedy nerd who is also a comics nerd, who is also just a flat-out nerd.
Nrama: How do you see them playing out in this first and second issue?
Kibblesmith: I don't want to give too much away, but friendships will be tested, social hierarchies will be disrupted, and faces will be smooched.
Nrama: Similarly, this story is being released exclusively via comiXology Originals an is also available through their new subscription service, comiXology Unlimited. What was the rationale for taking your story in this direction as opposed to the direct market and local comic stores? Will readers eventually be able to purchase copies there?
Kibblesmith: Comixology was part of the project from the beginning, and I think, especially for comiXology Unlimited (the read-all-you-want subscription plan), it makes perfect sense that they'd want to start producing exclusive content, the same way Netflix and Hulu do for movies and shows. I'd love to see a print edition at some point, as it means a lot to me to see my work on the shelves of my favorite comic shops and physically put it in people's hands. Plus, I keep getting yelled at for signing people's iPads.
Nrama: Looking at the story itself, you’ve basically got the entire Valiant Universe at your disposal. Were there certain characters you gravitated to more than others? Clearly, Livewire is someone who takes the spotlight along with Peter Stanchek. What about these characters were most appealing?
Kibblesmith: Livewire was a natural fit, because her core character is someone looking for her place in the world, which is an extremely "high school" feeling. She's also heavily defined by her mentor/mentee relationship with Harada, whom we already determined would be the principal in this universe. So it made perfect sense to transplant that relationship into a setting with literal students and teachers. As for Peter Stanchek, he has this classic sad sack quality - maybe it's just the yellow sweatshirt from those great early Harbinger covers that makes him remind me of Charlie Brown. But then you juxtapose that feeling of powerlessness with a huge amount of actual power, and get into really interesting questions about what's holding him back and why. I think these are all big, relatable feelings people have in high school, stepping into their power and identity for the first time, while also being in a system where they have basically zero control over their lives.
Nrama: Are there any heroes - or villains - we haven’t seen yet that might make an appearance?
Kibblesmith: Yes. Stay tuned.
Nrama: This will be a limited series, but do you know if there are any plans for a “second season” of Valiant High?
Kibblesmith: No official plans yet, but I'm in. This universe got so big so quickly, and it feels like there's so many more stories to be told - and so many characters who we've barely seen a glimpse of. We haven't even gotten to prom yet!