Valiant Entertainment makes their big screen debut on March 12 with Columbia Pictures' Bloodshot, starring Fast and Furious’ Vin Diesel. Comic book movies - and superhero movies, in particular - have been dominating the box office in the past decade, but how can comic book companies convert ticket sales into comic book sales? This is one of the many questions that creators, publishers, retailers, and fans have been asking in conjunction with pop culture’s superhero boom.
With Valiant’s first movie release on the horizon, Newsarama stopped by the Valiant comic book offices in New York City to talk to publisher, Fred Pierce. We discuss how the company feels the Bloodshot film will impact their overall comic book sales and the current Bloodshot title, how comic book stores can team up with movie theaters to garner more interest in comics, and Valiant’s venture into diving into other mediums including: television, video games, and even social media.
Newsarama: Fred, to start us off, how do you think Valiant can convert movie ticket sales to comic book sales? Do you think the industry can give away comics when people attend these screenings? Would you like Valiant to do this with a future movie?
Fred Pierce: I think what you'll find is a lot of the more aggressive comic book stores do things like that. A lot of it happens locally, it doesn't happen nationally. So, if you have a local comic book store that has a good relationship with the local movie theater, yeah, that will happen. Anybody running the comic book store, it's 24/7. They don't really have time. So, can they break out and do this and how does it help? But I think you do find that happens.
Nrama: How about DMG and Valiant themselves doing it?
Pierce: Would we do it as a promotion? It's on the list of a hundred things to do, but we're a small company. How would we do that? It's not a rhetorical question. If you're Disney, if you're a Marvel, you can do anything you want. If you're Time Warner for DC – there’s a lot you can do. We have the challenge. I've never worked for one of the Big Two. I've only worked for these little scrappy companies - we've been very, very successful. What we try to do is we try to speak to our retailers and say try to do that locally, but we can't fight the big battle. But we can win all of these little ones.
Nrama: Between stints at Valiant, you were COO/President of Wizard so you know the industry on many levels. Do you think Marvel or DC can create a relationship like that with the AMC’s, the Regals, etc.?
Pierce: I think Marvel and DC should do whatever they think they should do. I'm not giving advice to Marvel and DC. They seem to be doing a wonderful job. We love Marvel and DC. Our editors have come from Marvel. Marvel does a phenomenal job in the comic book industry. DC does a phenomenal job and I'm not just saying that because I'm being interviewed.
The launch of Valiant was successful in 2012 because of the success of the "New 52." When DC did the New 52 and the retailers were successful with it, they had a lot of extra cash and they invested some of that cash in us. The comic book industry’s competition is not with Marvel, DC, Image, or any of those companies. We do better when the comic book stores do better with them. Our competition is everything else. We want them spending time reading comic books, maybe not playing video games or free TV.
That’s been our philosophy from the beginning. Marvel and DC are phenomenal, I want them to do really well because you want to know something. The way I'm going to make another sale is when they bring more people in the stores, and that's the key. So, I will not ever tell them what to do. I can't tell you how many people tell me what to do. And I made a joke last week in our Tuesday meeting saying I know all of you know how to do my job better than I did because that's how people feel about their bosses, and that's fine. But the truth of the matter is Marvel and DC do a phenomenal job. They creating product that you want to read.
Nrama: How do you think the release of the Bloodshot movie will affect comic book sales?
Pierce: We are already feeling our Bloodshot sales doing significantly better. It would be hard for them not to be. The Bloodshot movie's been a long time coming. It was teed up, teed up, and teed up. Once Dan [Mintz, DMG Entertainment founder] invested in the company it happened, he made it happen and Vin Diesel happened under his watch - that was wonderful.
I think people knowing the character better - we'll have people ask them for it in the stores. And I think that you'll find that the general population will want to order it and see what the original source material was we've created. We've created some original source material for people to buy and the comics are available. It has to have a tremendously positive effect. The movie is an adrenaline rush. Sony's done a phenomenal job with the movie, and I'm not just saying that, I've been in the industry 30 years. I don't misspeak. It's a phenomenal movie. It's a real adrenaline rush and it's a great depiction of the character.
Nrama: Would you want to make a Bloodshot comic based on the film?
Pierce: The film is using Bloodshot as it's source material and I think that's fine. I'm not saying we won't, but it's not where we are right now. We don't put out that many books a month. We put out six to eight books a month. We have to be very precious about what we put out. It feels like Valiant is much bigger than that, but we're really not. So, will we make them? It could be, but right now I think the movie is so close to the source material. I think it's great.
Nrama: Why do you feel TV and movies are the perfect place to adapt comics?
Pierce: Well comic books are serial fiction. A movie is great - it's big budgeted and it's a lot there, but The Walking Dead was a very small comic until it was picked up. And then it's every week the story develops on television very much the way the story might develop in a comic book. Where do you see the evolution of the character over time.
Nrama: From a creative standpoint, would you rather a comic book writer be the showrunner or someone solely from the TV world?
Pierce: I want the person who can create the best show. If the showrunner happens to be a comic book person who knows how to create great TV, that's fine as long as the showrunner respects the medium and creates a great show then I'm happy. So, to me that's really the key.
I learned that at the original Valiant Bob Layton had all these pages of a comic book drawn by Ernie Colon. And he said to me, he was Editor-in-Chief at the time at Valiant, "Fred, you say you can write, let's see what you can do, put some script to this." And the first time I wrote the script to those 20 pages, it wasn't good because I wrote it comic book-y. But the second time and third draft was very good. Probably the best comic book written at the early part of Valiant [laughs]. I’m only kidding.
It was fun, and I think that's the key. You have to respect the medium and you have to respect what the medium is really saying and do something quiche. The second you go there with comic books, it ruins the industry. And I think that was part of the problems we had with comics early on except for the original Batman show, which leaned into that, did that, and was wonderful. But I think you'll find a lot of the shows that don't work just because people don't understand the what the inner DNA is of the medium.
Nrama: With the recent announcement of Valiant working on video games, how do you feel like you can bring the video game community into comics or is it more about comic fans being able to enjoy their favorite characters in that medium?
Pierce: The funny thing is when you speak about video games, Valiant was owned by a video game company. Valiant was bought in 1994 by Acclaim video. So, we're very familiar - we've done the Shadow Man video game. We've had a number of video games, hugely successful video games. The Valiant characters lend themselves to video games very easily.
Heather Antos will work with the video games. Peter Stern will work with the video game people. David Menchel and Drew Baumgartner will work them. So, everybody really gets involved. Robert Meyer will run all of these things. So, whatever we're involved in everybody's involved in, because when you walk around here, you're seeing the whole company. So, if the video game people need to know which characters are in the Shadow Man family, if there's going to be a Shadow Man video game. Who's in the XO family? If there’s going to be an XO video game.
Everybody's involved in that. It’s interesting because we have such an eclectic group. Walter Black, who you'll meet, who's the curmudgeon of the company, he's our video expert. He's written video game books on how to play the video games. He's written the expert handbooks - that's how this thing works. It's a great place to work.
Nrama: All business needs competition, and we all know social media has built up that competition for Marvel and DC even more. Do you believe they have competition with each other within the companies themselves?
Pierce: I'm not sitting in their offices, so I don't know. Internally for us, do we have a competition with them? I can't say no. At the end of the month I look at our numbers versus other people's numbers, Bloodshot now hits the Top 50. That is the competition with everybody else and I'm thrilled.
So, is there a competition? I hope there is because competition makes us all better. What's our edge? Our edge is trying to be better than we were last month, but our edge is also trying to be better than our competition. So, if there wasn't competition, we wouldn't have the Superbowl. And we love that competition. So as long as the competition – it’s great.
I love Marvel. I love DC. There were books that I can understand are phenomenal, but they weren't written for me, but you know what they bring people into the stores and bring people joy. We forget that comic books are entertainment. They bring joy to people and that's really what we do. So, is there a competition? I hope there's competition. I hope it's a healthy competition. I'm sure there is, but I'm not sitting with them.
Nrama: How do you feel social media has changed comic books?
Pierce: We have a great social media presence. Emily Hecht does a phenomenal job with our social media. I think our fans do a phenomenal job in our social media, especially when they're not happy with us, but they're fans. Look, I'm a Giants fan, I’m a Yankees fan - I'm often not happy with that. I don't go on social media because it's not what I do. But I want them to be involved. I want the social media presence. We will respond to them. I love that. But social media can't be a substitute for going into a comic book store.
Social media on a tablet gives you the illusion that you're interacting with people. But there's nothing like going into a kind of a bookstore and saying, I read this, I recommend this. Look, our product is as good as any Marvel or DC product. Okay, I don't think anyone can argue with that. Marvel and DC might because they want to be competitive with us, but we're not their competition clearly. We have product that fits into any family that they have. We have the superhero, science fiction, and different genre. So that's really not it. The truth is social media is wonderful as long as it's not a substitute for actually going in to a comic book store and looking at the book.