Alex de Campi’s Valentine was one of the first major digital-only comics outside of the traditional webcomics format. But financial difficulties put the popular series on the backburner…until now. Mark Waid’s Thrillbent is officially relaunching the series this week (you can check it out here) with both new installments and the previous chapters available. We talked to de Campi about the book, why it left, and its triumphant return.
Newsarama: Alex, tell us about the new season of Valentine, and give readers some background on the book.
Alex de Campi: Valentine is a webcomic I launched back in the dark ages of 2008-2009, when online comics were still very new. It was entirely self-funded; I wrote it, and Christine Larsen in Philadelphia, who’s a wonderfully talented cartoonist, drew it.
We managed 10 episodes on comiXology before I lost my job and got pregnant and couldn’t afford to finance the book any more. So it was one of those “life getting in the way” things.
So then, it lay dormant for a few years – we used to be kind of a big deal! (laughs) We were one of the first long-form digital comics that did away with the concept of the page. We did it in a format that was based around individual panels that could be easily viewed on your phone in landscape format.
The story is a supernatural thriller, and I can’t tell you too much about it, because the more I tell you, the more I will spoil some pretty amazing twists and turns, which is why it works so well for digital, and is so much fun to write.
The short version is that Valentine is a soldier in Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812, which where about 90 percent of the army died. It was one of the greatest military disasters in the history of all time. He gets separated in a blizzard from the main army – and therefore doesn’t die – and encounters a dying general who gives him a package to take to high command.
Taking that package is Valentine’s biggest mistake. (laughs) It takes him through all kinds of worlds, and all kinds of time zones, and all kinds of places that you don’t expect, as he’s pursued by supernatural beings that have been deserted on Earth as the film between their worlds and Earth hardened over time into walls. So they’re stuck there, and they’re after Valentine for mysterious reasons.
So that’s the story, and we were on comiXology for free, and we got something like half a million downloads, and then I had to stop doing it. And then Thrillbent, and Mark Waid, who’s a great supporter of my work and a great friend, came and said, “We want to do Valentine on Thrillbent and finish it.” And I jumped at the opportunity!
Nrama: What’s it been like working with Thrillbent?
de Campi: It’s been an absolute dream. It’s so easy – we make the book, and they put the book out. We’re going back to comiXology, where we have a great following, and Thrillbent takes care of all the stuff I hate, like the coding and marketing and formatting. It just works.
They’re completely supportive – it’s like a family, where if you need help, you can reach out.
I just love having the book back. Valentine is a book I had so much fun producing, and I love the digital format, and it just killed me when we had to stop doing it. So I’m so excited to have it back and finish the story – we’d only told about half of it when we stopped originally.
Nrama: So the new material launches with Chapter 6 – is that the other half of the story?
de Campi: We see this running about 22 issues of comics for the entire story, and then there’ll be a little caption box reading “The End!” Endings are awesome, they’re my favorite part of stories.
Nrama: What can readers expect from this chapter of Valentine?
de Campi: On Thrillbent, you can binge in 52 weeks of material – they’re slightly longer-format on comiXology. We’re working on Chapter 13 right now. We just met a dragon – well, not a dragon, it’s a wyvern, that’s important – and we take our first step away from the Napoleon era, and meet all sorts of characters, including a talking unicorn who’s an utter bastard, and a floating castle, and much more.
We’re getting into the old fantasy environment stuff, which we very quickly turn on its head, and then turn on its head yet again. It’s a real confection of thrills and spills.
Nrama: And what’s it like working with Christine on this?
de Campi: We’re basically telepathic at this point. She doesn’t need to show me pencils; she draws just everything so beautifully. We actually held the book a few months for relaunch to accommodate her schedule, because she’s half the book and she’ll always be half the book.
Nrama: I was curious about the historical setting – what’s interesting to you about creating those kind of alternate worlds and historical settings?
de Campi: We try to be as true to the era as we can. I love history, and military history, and I read a lot on the retreat from Russia – it’s just apocalyptic and picturesque in its own horrible way. A lot of my other work coming out is set in specific times, and not even alternate histories, but times I want to depict as accurately as I can. It’s not really a historical thriller, unless you only read the first strip. (laughs) The retreat from Moscow is the beginning of a much larger epic that does not remain in one place for very long, and if you want to rest – read the series!
Nrama: Do you have any other titles you’d like to do through a webcomics format?
de Campi: I always wanted to find a big pot of money – or a company with a big pot of money – because there’s just so many ideas I’ve thought through in my mind that could be very innovative, but I’d need someone to do full-time coding for it. What I would love is if someone came along and said, “Alex, let’s go to the cutting edge, and here’s a full-time staff to make the most amazing digital comic on the planet!” But I can’t do that on my own. \
Nrama: Well, maybe this interview will get a patron coming your way!
de Campi: That would be lovely.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
de Campi: You can meet Valentine on comiXology or Thrillbent, and the book’s coming out on a weekly basis on both. We worked really, really hard on that, and we hope you’ll check it out.
The second series of my Dark Horse book Grindhouse debuts in November, “Slay Ride,” which is a holiday-themed slasher with R.M. Guera from Scalped drawing it. My story with Jerry Ordway, Semiautomagic, is coming out in Dark Horse Presents in November, and stay tuned, because I got a whole bunch more work coming out! 2015’s going to be very busy for me, and so is 2016, and it’s all creator-owned stuff.
Check out Valentine on Thrillbent.