At Comic-Con International: San Diego, the revitalized Valiant Entertainment told fans at a panel that they planned to have fifteen ongoing series on shelves by 2015. That’s a pretty ambitious plan for a publisher who just launched their first four ongoings this summer, but with the minds and the history that this New York-based company has you shouldn’t put it past them.Built on the legacy of the original Valiant Comics from the early 90s, the new Valiant was relaunched with an impressive brain trust: former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo as chairman, Hollywood entrepreneur and long-time Valiant fan Dinesh Shamdasani as CCO, former Valiant Director/V.P. and Wizard COO/President Fred Pierce as publisher and seven-year veteran Marvel editor Warren Simons as Executive Editor. Together, they conceived a long-term plan for the Valiant library and went about enlisting the writers, artists, colorists and inkers to make it happen. Valiant re-launched with an ongoing series for every month this summer, X-O Manowar in May, Harbinger in June, Bloodshot in July and Archer & Armstrong coming up in August. With the publisher just announcing that they’ve sold out of Archer & Armstrong #1 at the publisher level, yesterday’s news that the start-up is adding a fifth title – Shadowman -- this fall seems like signs of a flourishing comics publisher even in these uncertain financial times.
As the “Summer of Valiant” comes to a close, Newsarama spoke with Valiant CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce and Executive Editor Warren Simons and what they’ve accomplished so far, as well as their plans for the future – both later this year and further down the road. This trio spoke with us at length about the return of more classic characters, the Gold Logo Program, and support they’ve received from the fans, the retailers, and even fellow publishers.
Newsarama: Gentlemen, now that we’re in the final weeks of the “Summer of Valiant,” what is the rest of the year shaping up to be from Valiant?Fred Pierce: The template for what we’re doing next is that we’re going to be re-introducing characters and new ideas to better develop the Valiant Universe. We’ve got new arcs starting in our existing four ongoing series, and our next new series Shadowman starts in November. We’ve also got our first [archive] hardcover collection coming in August, of the first Bloodshot from the 90s. Some people might expect us to be launching new titles every month, but after our initial four and then Shadowman in November we want to give retailers and readers time to absorb the return of these fan-favorite titles and characters.
Warren Simons: Looking at September and October, those are going to be a packed couple of months. Every one of our titles is jammed with cameos and first appearances. We’ve got Ninjak coming back in X-O Manowar #5, and it plays into what writer Robert Venditti has planned with X-O returning to Earth and entering the mix in the Valiant Universe. Rob came up with this great idea that the head of the British spy organization MI-6 is secretly an alien, which brings in Aric. MI-6 wants that X-O armor Aric possesses, so they enlist the world’s best weapons operative – Ninjak. In September’s X-O Manowar #5 readers will see why Ninjak is such a dangerous threat within the Valiant Universe. For this title, artist Lee Garbett is coming on the book with this issue; Cary Nord did great work on the first four issues, and has shown himself as a great storyteller.
In November’s Harbinger #6, we’re launching a new story arc called “Renegades,” which shows the fallout of Peter Stanchek and Kris’s relationship and the repercussions of Peter’s actions from previous issues. As readers will see in the next few issues of Harbinger leading up to this new arc, Peter’s left a lot of damage in his wake. “Renegades” will show the consequences of that, and also show other classic Valiant characters coming back into the fold. Also starting with this issue we have Phil Briones taking over art duties, and he’s proving himself to be exceptionally talented.Bloodshot also starts a new arc in November, and without getting too spoiler-heavy, we see the repercussions of Project Rising Spirit employing their program and putting someone through what it is to be Bloodshot. Duane Swierczynski’s not pulling any punches, and will show how Bloodshot’s been manipulated over the years and expected to be a “good soldier”. Duane is a very cruel, cruel man to his characters. [laughs]
Over on Archer & Armstrong, we’re riding high today because we just found out the first issue sold out – a first for us here at Valiant Entertainment. And that’s before the book is even goes on sale! Fans can see a preview for this series in the back pages of X-O Manowar #3, and I think once they do they’ll agree that Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry are doing beautiful, beautiful work together.
Dinesh Shamdasani: Every new arc is a fresh “jumping on” point for readers. We’re really working hard to make each story-arc as new-reader friendly as possible.
Simons: What Dinesh said. We here in the office and the creators working on the book have made it a top priority for making these books accessible, and not just with the first issues.
Nrama At the ValiantFans.com panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego, you announced a measured but still ambitious three year plan for Valiant, aiming to have 15 ongoing series by this time three years from now. Can you talk about that plan and how you’ll achieve it?
Shamdasani: We’re very lucky to have a tremendous first couple months here at Valiant; it exceeded our expectations on all levels. We have a lot of options going forward, and it all follows a very specific plan Fried Pierce put together in the past few years. We’ve been doing a lot of long-term planning, even before our first book came out.
Pierce: Just so everybody understands, Valiant has a lot of characters and a lot of properties that would make great series. We launched with four because we felt that those four books – in their concept and in their number – would be perfect for readers and retailers to take us seriously. In the next few months and years, we’re going to grow in a much more measured way. We’re paying a lot of attention to the reception of these books, and seeing how the community absorbs each new title into their regular buying patterns. The number you quoted of 15 titles by 2015, that’s where we tentatively see ourselves in three years but that may change – up or down – depending on the results we get back from the community.Shamdasani: We pride ourselves on being a very nimble company, and being in a position where we can – and do – move very quickly. It’s important that we be able to react to everything that comes our way, and Fred’s long-term plan takes that into account.
Pierce: We’re planning on being a major publisher of comics, and that requires very successful products, but there’s a limit to the amount of new titles readers can absorb at one time. It’s clear that people can absorb four titles introduced to the market like we have, but the key is to know your market and know how to proceed.
Simons: When I came on board at Valiant, one of the things I talked with the guys about at length was that at its core, Valiant is about storytelling. Believe me when I say this, there’s no number on the wall here in the offices that we’re aiming for. Our primary goal is to produce great books and assemble the best creative teams possible to make that happen. Everything else will take care of itself.
Nrama: Another piece of news coming out of San Diego is that Valiant is bringing back the Gold Logo program where Valiant has some ultra-rare gold variant issues that it gives out to fans who show their support. Can you talk about that?
Shamdasani: Valiant has a very long and historic legacy of embracing fans. We’re lucky to have one of the most passionate fan-bases in comics. Bringing back the Gold Logo program is the first step of a much longer plan. The Gold Logo program was something Valiant did back in the 90s, where they rewarded fans who went above and beyond to show their support.
For example, we just received a photograph of a fan who plastered the Valiant logo all over his pickup truck. For something like that, he earned a Gold Book. We recently heard from a fan who earned a Gold Logo book back in the 90s from the previous Valiant, but never received it; we quickly made up for that and sent him out one of our Gold Logo books. So far, we’ve given out about a hundred Gold Logo books.
You have to be a very special fan to get one of these books, but for people who want an easier way to get a hold of them we’re auctioning them off on eBay with the proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Program.
Nrama: We’ve seen a lot of companies launch new titles, but what are you doing to keep the quality level and fan interest high in the series as they enter their second arcs and beyond? How do you keep that momentum going, and build on it?
Simons: Talented writers. They and my editorial team and then the larger team upstairs. We’ve got a good group, focused on story, and we’ll continue to focus on stories and art to make the consumer feel like they’ve got more than their money’s worth. And the end of the day, our goal is to make something unique, rare and great.
Pierce: I think overall, the entire industry is doing a good job of keeping the momentum going. The Walking Dead is the best example; every month people are looking for what comes next.
Shamdasani: For us, it means being bolder and more innovative with our storytelling. Hunter Gorinson did a great job coming up with our marketing and promotions, and our sales manager Atom! Freeman did great interacting with retailers.
Nrama: One of the key things stressed in the Valiant relaunch was how all the books co-existed in the same universe. When will readers begin to see that put into action?
Simons: If I told you that, then I’d have to kill you. [laughs]
We have some good times coming up. The great thing about the Valiant Universe is that there’s something very exciting around every corner. I think we have a great opportunity to build something definitive and lasting. We’re not just jamming pieces together in our broader storytelling though; there’s logic underpinning all of our ties between the titles. I talk with the writers at-length about creating great individual titles and a great universe, and I’m excited with what we’ve come up with.
Nrama: Not to dig too deeply, but how fan have you and the writers got stories planned out for?Simons: We’ve got a good idea of our plans for the next twelve months, but as Dinesh said earlier we’re able to be flexible. Nothing is set in stone. We’re attempting to come up with the best ideas for each individual title, and see how they can fit together with the others. The real key is to not diminish the main stories of each of the individual books.
Nrama: Valiant has an immense library of characters, five of whom lead your four launch titles and then people like Ninjak being introduced as a guest star in X-O Manowar. How firm a grasp do you have on the Valiant character library, and how would you describe your plans for reintroducing them to fans? Is there a book detailing everything in the Valiant library?
Simons: That book is called Dinesh’s head. [laughs]
Every year we go out to Comic-Con International: San Diego, Dinesh, Fred, Hunter and I do a trivia night together over poker. During the hours long game we pick Dinesh’s brain about the ins and outs of the Valiant catalogue; Dinesh knows these characters inside and out. And with all that knowledge, we have to balance keeping the characters and stories true to the original books while also not preventing ourselves from introducing new concepts that would make the books even better.
Shamdasani: There was a long-time fan named Seaborn Adamson who was our biggest resource, but unfortunately he was killed in a car accident. He was a big part of the Valiant family, and in his absence I’ve taken up that role as “continuity guy.”
Nrama: We’ve seen some of comics’ top tier talent working on Valiant’s launch titles, with a host of other big-name creators like Neal Adams doing variant covers. Can you talk about your creator outreach and recruitment for Valiant, and who’s right for your comics?Simons: I have good relationships with a number of comics creators from the time I spent at Marvel. Once I got settled in here at Valiant, I was able to reach out to some people I’d worked with in the past as well as people I’d wanted to work with but never had the chance. I’m almost embarrassed by the riches in terms of talent we have on our books.
Pierce: And many of the creators we have working on these books were Valiant fans back in the day, and in some cases like Patrick Zircher they’ve worked on Valiant characters before. What we’re doing here is a unique opportunity to revitalize one of comics’ greatest libraries of characters, and there’s been a lot of excitement and interest from creators to work with us.
Nrama: In addition to the wealth of characters, you also have a variety of comics material from previous Valiant eras. In the recently released October 2012 solicits is Valiant Masters Bloodshot Vol. 1. It collects the inaugural Bloodshot arc from the VH1 era, but also an unpublished story. Is this an older story that never came out, or something new?
Pierce: It’s a new story, but it is done by the original creative team of writer Kevin VanHook and artist Don Perlin, who we reunited for this.
People may not remember this, but I too was part of the original Valiant line-up, as V.P. of Manufacturing and Operations. I’d been gone from Valiant for almost twenty years, but still everyone asks about my time at Valiant so it’s great for me to come back full circle as publisher.Simons: Speaking about this great library of classic stories we’ve got, as an editor I feel gifted to have material by industry titans like Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor Smith, David Lapham and others – some of the finest writers, artists and editors who’ve ever worked in comics.
Nrama: Speaking of collecting Valiant work, what is the schedule like for collections of the new material?
Pierce: Our current plan is to have the first volume of the new X-O Manowar series to come out in December, and for a new collection to follow each month after that.
Nrama: Now that we’re a couple months past the relaunch of Valiant, now is an opportune time to talk about the goals Valiant had leading up to it. What do you think most surprised you about the relaunch?
Pierce: For me, it was the excitement from the retailers. Atom! Freeman did a good job rallying the comic stores around us, and we made it a point to go to every Comics Pro event we could. The retailers have been very welcoming and accepting of us. The numbers on X-O Manowar continue to be phenomenal, and like it was said earlier we just had our first sell-out with Archer & Armstrong #1.
Simons: I’m happy at the support the fans have gave us. From the creative to the packaging to the scheduling, fans have given us very great feedback. Here in the Editorial department, me, Jody Lehuep and Josh Johns are invigorated by what we’re hearing and what our creators are turning in. Everyone here is putting their hearts into the books. Harbinger #15 will be better than Harbinger #8, and we’re going to keep growing and getting better each month and each issue.
Pierce: I know many Valiant fans were concerned that this iteration of Valiant wouldn’t be as good as the original, but I think we’ve proved just as good, with our best stories yet to come.Shamdasani: Leading up to our debut, we planned for 80% of our audience to be new readers and 20% to be fans of the older Valiant materials. So far it’s worked out like we planned, and we’ve gotten a great number of new fans asking questions about the future of the new titles and the reprinting of the older stories. It’s exciting bringing in new readers, and getting them excited about the past, present and future of Valiant.
Simons: I’d also like to add that the support from the other publishers has been great. People from Marvel, DC and other publishers have spoken to us in person, at conventions, by phone and online supporting our goals and the books we’ve put out so far. It’s nice when the whole industry is cheering you on.
Pierce: I think Dinesh is surprised at the camaraderie between publishers, since he’s used to infighting from his days in Hollywood. [laughs]
Shamdasani: Yes, that’s very true. [laughs]