2010 was a hell of a year. Especially for the Shadowline imprint at Image Comics.Guided by Image founder Jim Valentino, Shadowline Comics has emerged as one of Image’s big sources for hits as of late. The success of new series like Morning Glories, 27 and Infinite Vacation paired with the continuation of the super-villain sexcapade in Bomb Queen have made it a banner year for the Portland-based company. Through Shadowline, Valentino was person who found Nick Spencer as an unknown writer in 2009 and now a major up-and-comer on both the creator-owned and Marvel/DC scene. Although Valentino’s best known for his cartooning work on Guardians of the Galaxy and ShadowHawk, he’s become a behind-the-scenes power player with a successful run as Image publisher and now steering his own line under the Image umbrella. With such a successful year behind him, Newsarama caught up with the comics’ veteran to talk about those successes and what Shadowline’s doing next.
Newsarama: Lately you’ve been having a string of hits with 27, Morning Glories, and Infinite Vacation. That’s 3 high-profile successes all within a short amount of time – what would you attribute that to?Jim Valentino: The fact that they’re good books? They have everything I look for in a book—a strong original premise with interesting twists and excellent art. I think all are examples of quality winning out and have my fingers crossed that our next launch, Kurtis Wiebe and Riley Rossmo’s Green Wake makes it four books in a row!
Nrama: Of course, all of those titles experiences sell-outs, leading you to go back with multiple reprints. For the common fan, can you tell us how a sell-out works – as in how to you determine how many to print, and how does orders outstrip that?
Valentino: Retailers are offered books three months prior to publication. They base their orders on any number of factors including a book’s past performance, popularity, etc. We get those orders before we set the print run. In all of these cases we over-printed, that is printed more than were ordered rather aggressively (25% over)—and they STILL sold out. There is no way for either us or the retailer to anticipate when a book, especially a new book, is going to catch fire and in these three cases, they did! So, when we realized what had happened, we ordered an immediate subsequent printing to meet the demand.
Nrama: 2010 was a year of big successes like we mentioned, but also some internal changes such as hiring former Cellar Door Publishing’s Jade Dodge as an editor to replace Kris Simon. Can you tell us what Shadowline is looking to do, big-picture wise, going forward and what led you to make changes?
Valentino: Jade still runs Cellar Door, her publishing model is different enough from mine that I don’t feel there’s any competition, she won’t be raiding my Rolodex to prop up her company. As to why she’s here—I like to work with the best and she’s the best at what she does. Her attention to detail and conscientiousness has made a huge difference in the quality of our books’ content.
As for “big picture wise”—honestly, I just want to publish good books. I’m not a Hollywood chaser. If they come to our door, that’s great—but my love is comics. And whether I’m working with new talent like Kurtis or established talent like Ted McKeever my goal always remains to make good comics. I can’t see that ever changing.
Nrama: One of your big stars has been Nick Spencer, and Shadowline has done all of his creator-owned books. Can you tell us about discovering Nick and seeing him grow like this?
Valentino: It is the absolute best thing about my job! Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching someone else achieve success, whether I’ve published them or not. But, it’s especially sweet when I’ve been privileged enough to lend a hand. Nick’s success has been a joy for me and, again, I hope to see Kurtis, Riley and all of the other creators I work with do the same.
Nrama: Another big part of your stable is Jimmie Robinson and Bomb Queen. That’s a real racy book, but it reminds me a bit of your series normalman. Can you tell us about having Bomb Queen as part of your line and what’s going on there?
Nrama: Bomb Queen is one of those guilty pleasures. I love Jimmie and I love his work. I think he’s one of the most underappreciated talents in the field and I always have—that’s why I’ve been publishing him for around 15 years now. His versatility amazes me. We have two specials coming out -- Bomb Queen vs. Hack/Slash and then Bomb Queen Presents All Girls Special and then two new trades and this Summer we’ll see the seventh mini-series in which the status quo of the book will be radically changed. Bomb Queen will get an enemy, her “Joker,” if you will, but of course, he’ll be a hero…and it’s someone pretty much everyone will recognize! More than that I can’t say, but it will be good. Oh, and, of course, completely demented because, you know, it’s Bomb Queen.
Nrama: This week you’re releasing an innovative little title called Captain Wonder 3-D, aptly enough in 3-D. What led you to do this project, with what I imagine is some more complicated printing going on?
Valentino: Actually, the printing is the same as in a flat or non-3-D book. It’s the way the colors and levels are manipulated.
Nrama: But you’re including those 3-D glasses.
Valentino: Brian Haberlin is an old friend and he told me about Captain Wonder years ago. I thought it was an interesting twist on the old Billy Batson/Captain Marvel bit. And I’ve always loved 3-D. The normalman annual was in 3-D, I edited and wrote most of a special issue of Amazing Heroes, the old fan magazine, that covered 3-D. I collect 3-D comics, so when Brian said he wanted to publish it and it was a 3-D book, well, I was sold. The fact that Philip Tan did the artwork was truly icing on the cake. I love his stuff and a glance at this book will tell you why. It’s just a damn sweet comic and, like I said earlier, I LOVE good comics!
Nrama: Last year you put out a new ShadowHawk series, but it seems to have stopped coming out. Can you tell us what’s going on with your line’s namesake?
Valentino: There ARE plans for him to return…but, I can’t say what, where or how. Let me just say this, I think it’s going to surprise everyone and it’s something I’m pretty happy with. Sorry to be so closed lip about so much of this stuff, but everything in its time.
Nrama: We’ve talked about your big hits – but what else do you have coming up?
Valentino: Well, I’ve already mentioned the new Bomb Queen series, of course there will be more Morning Glories goodness, including a few surprises we’re not ready to talk about yet and Green Wake, which is a five issue series that begins in April. In September we have 27: Second Set a brand new mini that continues Garland’s further adventures. Again, I don’t want to give it away just yet, but it’s another music-based riff (no pun intended) that translates well into the world of comics. And we’re debuting an original “all ages” graphic novel called Monster Elementary by two newcomers, Nicholas Doan and Caanan Grall that’s to die for. And in October Xenoholics by Dear Dracula scribe Joshua Williamson and one of my favorite artists, Seth Damoose and this one’s a corker. I believe we’ll be seeing some preview pages in an upcoming issue of Chew, so watch for it. It’s going to do for aliens what Chew did for cannibals.
Nrama: Do you have anything new planned with your all-ages sub-imprint Silverline?
Valentino: Monster Elementary, that’s it for now. The unfortunate problem was that I was just not able to compete with the big children’s book publishers. I think I released some great books and I want to do more, just maybe not as aggressively as I did before.
Nrama: You’re also continuing to do webcomics at Shadowlinecomics.com. Can you tell us how that’s going, and what plans you have in that arena?
Valentino: We’re doing a complete redesign and rebranding of the site. When we go live, in a couple of months, it will be called ShadowlineOnline.com (thanks to Newsarama’s own Dirk Manning for the name change). We’ll be launching with two brand new series, both by Dirk (and I’m sure he’ll be inundating everyone with info at the appropriate time) and a lot more features. The site will be a lot easier to navigate and a lot more intuitive so I’m really looking forward to it!
Nrama: When I first contacted you about doing this, you mentioned there were 3 different movie deals going for Shadowline titles. Can you talk about that at all?
Valentino: A little—I can say that Existence 2.0 has been optioned by Paramount with a name change to “Upgrade” and that Cowboy Ninja Viking has been placed at Disney. I can also say that the third is one of my own properties, which has been signed, but is too soon to talk about. We have high interest in several other Shadowline books, but no deals yet on those.
I can’t give any more of the details than that. I’m always of a mind with these things that I’ll see it when I believe it—optimist that I am.
Nrama: I’ll give you that… In the late 90s, the Shadowline titles became commonly referred to as the “non-Line”, referring to the fact that the comics you put out weren’t interconnected. Would you say that’s still the case, and is it a “must” for your titles?
Valentino: Inter-connected universes seem to work best with super-hero titles. The only title we publish on an even semi-regular basis in that genre is Bomb Queen, and she’s a super-villain! There’s no dictum that makes it a “must” it’s just that the vast majority of books I chose to published are self-contained. I mean, if Nick Spencer really wanted to put the Morning Glories kids in the town of Green Wake there’s nothing to say he can’t do that. I just don’t see it happening. But, hey, weirder things HAVE happened, I mean I did a Sonic book that guest starred the Image heroes, so never say never.
Nrama: I blame you for finding some of Image’s biggest talent in the past few years – we talked about Nick Spencer, and you also published the first Image books of Robert Kirkman and Brian Michael Bendis when you were Image publisher. Can you tell us about your talent drive and gauging creators and their work?
Valentino: I just look for people that do good work. It’s really as simple as that. A writer with a fresh idea and a clever turn of a phrase, an artist that brings something new to the table, tells a good story and knows how to make characters act. I don’t want cookie cutter comics; there are enough of those out there. So, I look for people that excite me as creators. The way I see it that’s my job. When they take off, like a Spencer or a Bendis or a Greg Horn or whomever, I’m ecstatic…it means I did something right for a change!
Nrama: For readers in a comic store, they see little difference between titles coming out from Image Central and those from Shadowline. How would you explain the difference?
Valentino: I’m not so sure that I CAN, or that I’d even want to other than to say that IC comics reflect Eric Stephenson’s sensibilities and Shadowline reflects mine. Now, that said, it should be understood that while we don’t always agree mine and Eric’s sensibilities are similar in that we both use the same criteria on accepting or rejecting a project; is it of professional caliber, is it an original take on the subject and do I perceive an audience or is it of such artistic merit that it deserves to be published. The only difference is the fact that Eric and I are two different people who may arrive at two different answers to those questions.
Nrama: Before I let you go, I have to ask about you. I grew up knowing you as a creator on books like normalman, Guardians of the Galaxy, What If? and ShadowHawk but you’ve seemed to withdraw from the drawing board to become more of a comics mogul. Can you talk about that transformation and how you make it work?
Valentino: First, I’m not a “mogul” by any stretch. Here’s how I see it—I’m going to give you a sports analogy, please understand this is coming from someone who hates sports, but here goes—when a player leaves the field, he either retires or becomes a coach. I see myself in that coaching/mentoring phase. There is just as much creativity involved, it’s just turned in a different direction. It’s not that I don’t draw or write anymore, I do. I just don’t feel compelled to do it 16 hours a day anymore. Now, that fire may re-ignite in me someday and, if and when it does, I’m in a unique position to indulge it. But, for now, I’m greatly enjoying what I do. I find it creatively fulfilling and wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that’s a good feeling. I’ve been blessed to make a living doing the thing I love most in the world…well, second most—no one’s gonna pay me for the other.