UPDATE: New VALIANT Adds Wizard's Pierce, Marvel's Simons

VALIANT Plots Return to Comics

UPDATED 10:40am ET (below): Valiant Entertainment, who last week announced their plans to return to comic book publishing and entertainment property development in 2012, announced two additional staff members Thursday morning. Former Wizard Entertainment President Fred Pierce has been named Publisher and former Marvel editor Warren Simons has named Vice President - Executive Editor of Valiant. The pair joins former Marvel CEO and Vice Chairman Peter Cuneo, who was recently named Chairman of Valiant.

For Pierce, this marks a return of sorts to the company. He served as Vice President of Operations and Manufacturing of the original Valiant. According to the press release, Pierce was "actively involved in all aspects of the company and was instrumental in building it into the third largest company in the industry after only Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment" until its sale to video game company Acclaim Entertainment in 1994.

Following the sale, Pierce went to work for Gareb Shamus as President and COO of Wizard Entertainment, where he served for 14th years, overseeing their flagship magazine along with ToyFare, InQuest and Anime Insider, along with guiding the launches of the company's Wizard World conventions in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Dallas. In 2008 Pierce was one of many Wizard long-time executives and staff let go by the company in the last 3 years before shutting the doors of its publishing interests in January.

“Fred is a highly successful publisher who played an important role in Valiant’s history. I’m pleased to have him back at Valiant to give him the special opportunity to rebuild the legacy he helped create,” said Jason Kothari, CEO of Valiant Entertainment.

“Valiant has been quietly putting the key building blocks in place for a major reemergence in the entertainment industry. I’m very excited to be a part of it,” said Fred Pierce. “I’m proud of what we accomplished at the original Valiant and the opportunity to be back allows me to come full circle, making this very important to me.”

Simons, who according to Valiant "played a major role in discovering new creative talents and revitalizing some of Marvel’s most prominent characters", goes to Valiant having served seven years at Marvel. The editor oversaw the relaunches of The Invincible Iron Man, the 2009 Eisner award-winner for Best New Series, and Thor, the 2009 Eisner nominee for Best Ongoing Series.

“I’m excited to announce Warren as Valiant’s Executive Editor,” said Jason Kothari. “Warren is an expert at revitalizing classic characters and has a tremendous track record of creating books that are both award-winning and best-selling. He is the creative force that will ensure the new Valiant Universe is a sophisticated superhero universe that will powerfully resonate with today’s extremely intelligent readership, whether they are familiar with Valiant or not.”

“I’m excited to have been chosen for this important position,” said Simons. “The Valiant characters are one of the most beloved universes of characters ever created and have the potential to be icons like Iron Man, Thor and others of that class. I look forward to working alongside some incredibly talented creators and amazing colleagues to help rebuild Valiant into a world-class creative company again.”    

“We are pleased to have such accomplished industry figures as Fred and Warren on our management team,” said Director Gavin Cuneo. “Their additions further our goal to attract the best business and creative talent for Valiant’s return.”

Chairman Peter Cuneo added, “The nucleus for Valiant is strong and growing. We look forward to updating you as we continue to progress towards our return in 2012.”

UPDATE: Newsarama was given an opportunity to send email questions to Pierce and Simons in advance of the Thursday's announcement. Their respective Q&A's about their new positions and plans for the future of the publisher follow:

Newsarama: Fred, you’ve already got a recognizable list of names involved in the relaunch of Valiant, what will your role as Publisher entail exactly? What’s your day-to-day?

Pierce: As you know, publishing comic books is a very complicated and labor-intensive process both from an editorial production perspective and a business perspective. In a collaborative environment like Valiant, everyone has input on everything. A large part of my job will be to make sure that editorial has the tools it needs to create great product, to put the marketing in place and to make sure that we’re putting the appropriate amount of care and energy towards making sure that all aspects of the machine work properly. Sometimes it involves large spreadsheets of when different phases of the comic creation need to get underway, sometimes it’s managing when cash is coming in and going out, and often it’s on the phone with vendors.

Nrama: Given your history with the original Valiant, and your years at Wizard magazine, you’re perhaps in a very unique position in regards to having seen firsthand the speculator/collectors boom of the late-80s/early 90s (which certainly contributed to some of the success of the original Valiant launch) as well as the struggles of comics publishing since that time, particularly the last several years.

Having said that, why is 2012 a good time to relaunch Valiant Comics (specifically) to this publishing marketplace what will do you think will be the key to your success?

Pierce: On a daily basis, we get contacted by Valiant fans, including some in very high places, expressing their excitement for Valiant’s return. There’s a passionate fan base that’s been talking and dreaming about the return of these characters for a long time. Readers and retailers are constantly telling us there is a clear desire for something new and fresh in today’s market. It is important we focus on creating characters and stories that are innovative and speak to not only Valiant fans but all readers.

Nrama: What are some of the pitfalls and obstacles the new Valiant has to overcome?

Pierce: Just one - Valiant needs to look forward towards creating our own future and not focus on the past. As long as we’re taking the best of what was and refreshing it and modernizing it for today’s and tomorrow’s reader we’ll be fine.

Nrama: Can you talk in more detail about the role collecting and price speculation played in the success of the original Valiant launch? Given this is something that probably can be replicated today, does that concern you at all?

The original image titles by the founders, only exist in limited form these days and there are certainly parallels to be drawn in regards to their initial success and Valiant’s. Does the current state-legacy of the original Image titles and “Universe” inform Valiant’s reintroduction to the market?

Pierce: The greatness of the original Valiant characters and stories fueled its success. The early 1990’s are often referred to as the Valiant Era. Valiant’s books were constantly found among the industry’s best sellers due to the company’s creative approach and sophisticated characters. If the company had not been sold and its creative direction kept true to its founding principles of story-driven as opposed to marketing-driven, I truly believe that Valiant’s characters would be household names today. Based on the brilliance of the original Valiant Universe and its founding principles, I believe Warren 0Simons] and his creative teams will once again create excellent characters and stories that speak to today’s readers.

Nrama: Even if you do your job and put out what you consider a quality product, do you think there are enough readers and retailers in the 2012 environment that will be receptive and interested in another publisher and more superhero-ish titles?

Pierce: Superheroes are the most popular genre in the world today, and not just in comics but in any medium. It’s important to note that the superhero genre is very diverse, and we are planning to play a part in broadening and deepening the superhero genre further. The most important thing is to put out great characters and stories and make them available to as many people as possible. The market is large, its reach is broadening quickly, and historically it has expanded with more great product.

Nrama: What role will digital distribution play in the new Valiant. Can you detail any of your plans yet for how you’ll enter the digital publishing marketplace?

Pierce: The digital distribution potential is limitless but the key is great content. When that happens, we’ll be successful in all mediums.

Nrama: Fred, what role does multi-media play in the plans for the return of Valiant? You’re quoted as saying “Valiant has been quietly putting the key building blocks in place for a major reemergence in the entertainment industry.”

There is now undeniably as aspect of comic book publishing of essentially serving as R&D for movie, TV, animation, and videogame development, at both giant publishers and small.

How much is the Hollywood and gaming is part of Valiant’s new business plan?

Pierce: My role at Valiant is Publisher, but we all know that the different aspects of the industry feed off each other. Hollywood and other media are thirsty for comic book based content and turn to our industry for intellectual property. Successful movies, animation and gaming properties help drive more readers to comic books. There are big plans in the works for other media, but great comics come first above all and this is the company priority that that drew me to Valiant.

Newsarama: Warren, same first question as Fred, except can you also tell readers familiar with you from Marvel how you found your way to Valiant?

Simons: Sure. I worked in the editorial department of Marvel Entertainment from 2002 to 2009. Marvel’s a company brimming with great people, and I had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing colleagues and creators. After I left Marvel, Jason Kothari, the CEO of Valiant, and Fred Pierce, our esteemed Publisher, reached out to me to discuss the Executive Editor position. It was clear from our conversations that the guys had a tremendous love for the Valiant Universe, and it was evident that Jason wanted to build the company the right way, with a focus on solid storytelling and accessibility across all media. This was music to my ears. The idea of helping architect and oversee a universe is in a lot of ways an editor’s dream, especially if that editor happened to spend his formative years reading handbooks from assorted fictional universes in his spare time. You know, when he wasn’t, uh, being totally cool. So it was a remarkably intriguing opportunity.

It had been awhile since I’d read a Valiant book, but I dove in head first, pulled some issues from my long boxes, picked up some trades, and the more research I did, the more enamored I became, and the more evident it was why Valiant was once a dominant force in the marketplace. The high concepts driving many of the characters are absolutely brilliant. And when you see how many amazing characters Valiant has – X-O, Harbinger, Shadowman, Rai, Bloodshot, Archer and Armstrong – and they’re all in a shared Universe – I mean, it’s incredibly rare and pretty amazing. When I began casting the books in my head and thinking about what I’d like to do with the characters, I knew I was in.

As for the job itself, the Executive Editor position covers a wide array of duties. The primary job is to architect and execute both the day-to-day and long-term vision for editorial. This includes everything from soup to nuts, including determining which titles we’re launching with, what’s the story and high concept driving them, how we’re updating the characters, managing the character redesigns, reaching out to the creators, getting pitches in, editing scripts, as well as a whole host of other editorial duties.

Luckily, I do not operate in a vacuum and am working alongside a number of extremely talented people, who are helping me bring this into focus. I will surely take the blame if a book ships late (which I assure our retail partners will never happen) or we receive a bad review (which I assure our fans will most certainly never happen).

The most important part of my job is to ensure the books are ready to go in 2012 and that every one of them is being created to be as good as the best of the Ultimate or All-Star lines. While it’s certainly a challenging task, there’s a lot of laughter in the office. It’s a great environment. We’re all approaching the responsibility very seriously, but we’re all having a good time and making fun of each other as we proceed, which is important.

Nrama: How would you describe your role, considering much of your initial titles (at least) will be based on existing, owned Intellectual Property?

Simons: Well, we have a massive library to mine. I think we have 8 or 9 A-list characters, including X-O, Archer & Armstrong, Rai, Shadowman, Bloodshot, Harbinger, and Ninjak, and the list goes on and on. I mean, even a guy like Eternal Warrior -- I cannot wait for you to see what we’re doing with him. I mean, the possibilities are seemingly limitless for a character like that. And how he ties into the Universe…wait…I’m getting ahead of myself here. Sorry.

Nrama: Is it similar to your role at Marvel – caretaker of existing concepts?

Simons: There are a lot of absolutely brilliant core concepts at the heart of the Valiant characters, and I want to tap into those. When I was at Marvel, one of my favorite things to do was edit characters that had been dormant for some time. Whether it was Thor, which was an inactive title for years before launching as the # 1 book in the industry thanks to JMS [J. Michael Straczynski] and Olivier Coipel, or taking a totally new approach to Ares with [Mike] Oeming and Travel [Foreman] at the helm, or seeing Ed [Brubaker] and Matt (Fraction] and David [Aja] craft Iron Fist into a fan favorite, or watching [David] Lapham and Patrick Zircher absolutely own Terror, Inc., I definitely enjoy updated the characters and working with or tweaking existing concepts. It can be a lot of fun to tweak something 5 degrees, or change it 180 degrees, as long as you’re adhering to the DNA and core concept of the character, which is very important.

With the Valiant characters, we are going to adhere to the DNA of the original concepts. But we’re going to tweak and update them while still maintaining the timelessness inherent within them, so we are speaking to a modern audience.

Nrama: How much editorial and creative freedom will you have to not only re-imagine the existing concepts, but create new ones?

Simons: I have a clause in my contract that I can kick anyone in the shins if they try to get in the way of my sweet, sweet re-imaginings or wholesale creations/recreations. Luckily, I am working with a good crew of people, and I am not such a crazy person that I don’t value feedback from talented folks who are equally as vested in making sure that we’re getting the best books into the hands of the fans. One day I will surely barricade myself up in my office and scream at anyone who offers a contradicting opinion, but my ego isn’t there just yet.

Plus, if I did that, who would I scapegoat if things head south, you know?

Nrama: In your time at Marvel, you often saw iconic characters struggle to gain a foothold in the direct market. How does that experience shape both your expectations and approach to trying to get readers to give Valiant’s characters a try?

Simons: Well, I’ve also seen iconic characters struggle to gain a foothold in the direct market after my time at Marvel. And what holds true then still holds true today - Everything comes down to execution.

Iconic characters with cooked high concepts and antiquated art will not thrive in a competitive marketplace. If the comics have nothing new to say to the fans, you’re not going to stick around. A logo and a pretty painted cover will not keep your titles alive. The story has to matter, the art has to work, and a fan needs to want to read the book more than watch TV, more than surf the Internet. That’s what I want from our titles. To tap into the power of our medium, which is unlike any other in the world. That’s our company goal. We take our comics very seriously.

Nrama: What do you think the specific strengths of the Valiant Properties are? Both as a group – a shared universe of concepts – and individually? Can you perhaps say a few brief words about each of the properties both mentioned in last week’s announcement and subsequent interviews? What makes the cool and/or unique to you?

Simons: Well, the origins and high-concepts driving many of the characters are incredibly compelling, and among the best I’ve ever seen. Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor Smith and Bob Layton and a whole group of other talented creators really did a tremendous job building a robust universe populated with three-dimensional characters. These guys have personalities. There's no character in the world like Armstrong, a guy who's been out drinking with both Shakespeare and George Washington, a guy who's seen the best and the worst humanity has to offer.

And he's just one of 8 or 9 incredibly compelling A-list characters, like X-O Manowar, Archer, Peter Stanchek (aka Sting), or Bloodshot. When you put all of these characters together, under the same roof, the potential for incredibly compelling stories is seemingly limitless.

Nrama: In last week’s initial announcement of Valiant’s return, a lot of attention was paid to Valiant’s past success and how welcome fans of Valiant would be to their return. I believe Peter [Cuneo] said something to the effect it’d be like the return of an old friend.

We don’t think we’re being pessimistic in saying Valiant needs more than the loyalty of previous fans, and fond memories of past success to make any headway in publishing in 2012.

First of all, do you think any danger of being perceived as of another, previous generation to the younger fans who never read the original incarnation, particularly as Valiant has so emphasized the “return” aspect?

Can you talk directly to potential new readers, and try to explain to them why Valiant will be worth their consideration and perhaps dollars in 2012?

Simons: Great ****ing creative. That’s what it’s all about. If that’s not clear to anyone, I’ll say it again - great ****ing creative.

Nrama: Last question – Quantum and Woody – Christopher Priest, yes or no?

Simons: You know, I always had a fondness for Quantum and Woody, and I read the title back in the day. It's really well done, and innovative and smart. We will have more news about all of our titles in the coming months, and who knows, maybe there will be some Q & W announcements.

Nrama: Any last thoughts you want to leave potential readers with now?

Simons: We're going to bring a new energy to both the superhero genre and the marketplace come 2012. Hang tight. We're on our way.

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