The Lit­tle Comic Book Com­pany That Could

Cre­ated from the ashes of Ac­claim, Valiant En­ter­tain­ment has been one of the suc­cess sto­ries of the past two years. Stephen Jewell vis­ited its New York of­fices to talk about bring­ing back X-O Manowar and Quan­tum & Woody, and launch­ing best­selling team bo

Comic Heroes - - Front Page -

I’d be care­ful, Valiant fans are so ra­bid.” Comic He­roes has just ad­mit­ted to Valiant’s vet­eran pub­lisher Fred Pierce that we might not ac­tu­ally have read ev­ery sin­gle is­sue that the fledg­ling com­pany has re­leased since X-O Manowar #1 landed in May 2012. But if the re­turn of much-loved char­ac­ters such as Har­bin­ger, Blood­shot and Archer & Arm­strong had ini­tially taken some el­e­ments of the in­dus­try by sur­prise, there’s no es­cap­ing them now.

Along with re­cruit­ing top tal­ents such as Peter Mil­li­gan to helm se­ries like Shad­ow­man, Valiant’s first team book Unity be­came 2013’s undis­puted break­out hit, Novem­ber’s #1 sell­ing a re­ported 68,500 copies, a record for a non-pre­miere pub­lisher. It’s no won­der, then, that Pierce sounds so up­beat and op­ti­mistic when we meet him, CEO Di­nesh Sham­dasani, ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor War­ren Si­mons and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Hunter Gorin­son at Valiant’s Hell’s Kitchen of­fices. Lo­cated just a cou­ple of blocks from the Jav­its Cen­ter – home of the mighty New York Comic Con – it’s hard not to be awestruck by the vin­tage Barry Wind­sor-Smith Eter­nal War­rior art­work that adorns the wall be­hind me or the as­sorted para­pher­na­lia (such as the bot­tle of Arm­strong Ale that re­ally does look too good to open!) that sur­rounds us.

“The idea is to keep Valiant at the level it’s now at,” says Pierce. “We’ve done ev­ery­thing we can to grow slow and steady. We started out by launch­ing a book a month for four

There’s the Marvel re­li­gion, there’s the DC re­li­gion, but there’s also the Valiant re­li­gion

Kothari, pur­chased its as­sets. De­ter­mined to breathe new life into the be­lea­guered line, the pair wasted no time in per­suad­ing Pierce to come back home.

“When­ever I used to do a con­ven­tion, no one would ever ask me about my time at Wizard, they would only ask about my time at Valiant,” re­calls Pierce. “That’s how ex­cited our fans are. I dis­cuss the comic book in­dus­try like it’s a re­li­gion. There’s the Marvel re­li­gion and there’s the DC re­li­gion, but there’s also the Valiant re­li­gion. We’re one of the few other com­pa­nies that has got that kind of fa­nat­i­cal sup­port and the beauty of it is that a lot of to­day’s comic book re­tail­ers were Valiant fans back in the day, which is a good part of what we owe our suc­cess to to­day.”

In­deed what makes Valiant’s per­for­mance even more im­pres­sive is that it’s had to do it with­out the old Gold Key stal­warts. “One of the orig­i­nal dis­cus­sions we had is that we thought the Valiant Uni­verse stood much bet­ter with just the Valiant char­ac­ters,” rea­sons Pierce. “If the Gold Key char­ac­ters were avail­able at the time, maybe we’d have looked at them but I hon­estly love the Valiant char­ac­ters more. They were very much like 20 years ahead of their time when they first came out and now I be­lieve we’re a good part of the way there.”

The Gold Key li­cense has re­cently been ac­quired by Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment, which has, iron­i­cally, hired Valiant scribes Greg Pak ( Eter­nal War­rior) and Fred Van Lente ( Archer & Arm­strong) to tackle Turok and Magnus re­spec­tively. “That was ob­vi­ously one of the first things we talked about when we got here,” adds Si­mons. “We all love So­lar and Doc­tor Spek­tor and think that they’re great, fun char­ac­ters but we def­i­nitely don’t need them. Hav­ing them is not a con­tin­gent for the uni­verse to work. We’ve got a su­per-deep bench up here with X-O Manowar, Blood­shot, Har­bin­ger and Shad­ow­man. And then there are the guys that we haven’t even been able to get to yet, such as Doc­tor Mi­rage. Plus we’re do­ing stuff like our team book Unity, which wasn’t even in the orig­i­nal in­car­na­tion.

“It’s re­ally tes­ta­ment to the ex­tra­or­di­nary cre­ators that we had in the ’90s as they helped build all of this stuff. One of the early ad­van­tages that I had was that we weren’t cre­at­ing an all-new uni­verse from scratch. We had an in­cred­i­ble tem­plate to work with, that we could up­date and mod­ernise, and we also have some amaz­ing fans, who were wait­ing for this stuff to come back.”

key ch ar­ac­ters

Si­mons was an edi­tor at Marvel from 2002 to 2007, re­spon­si­ble for nu­mer­ous ti­tles in­clud­ing Matt Frac­tion’s In­vin­ci­ble Iron

and J Michael Straczyn­ski’s run on Thor. “I’ve al­ways had an affin­ity for work­ing on a whole range of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters,” he says. “I launched Ares with Michael Avon Oem­ing and Travel Fore­man, and I did Im­mor­tal Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker, Matt Frac­tion and David Aja. What we were do­ing in both those cases was tak­ing the key el­e­ments that we loved about those par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ters and up­dat­ing them. That was some­thing that we also wanted to do when I came here – to take a look at these amaz­ing char­ac­ters, like Blood­shot and X-O Manowar, and un­der­stand why people fell in love with them in the first place.”

With such a rich plethora of char­ac­ters to choose from, se­lect­ing the right prop­er­ties

to head up the line was a cru­cial de­ci­sion. “X-O is one of our most beloved char­ac­ters, as is Har­bin­ger, so they were the two that we re­ally wanted to do the most,” ex­plains Si­mons.

“We wanted to of­fer some­thing for ev­ery­one, so X-O served as a big sci-fi epic, Har­bin­ger is a teen drama to a cer­tain ex­tent, Blood­shot is an ac­tion movie and Archer & Arm­strong is a com­edy. We didn’t want to repli­cate archetypes when we first came back, so we didn’t want to pub­lish X-O and Eter­nal War­rior back to back. We just wanted to be pa­tient – and Fred was very wise in not rolling out nine ti­tles at once and flood­ing the mar­ket­place.”

“It let us brand this stuff as well,” continues Sham­dasani. “So we could just go, ‘Here’s one ti­tle and let’s make it the best that we can.’ We did that for four months in a row and people were say­ing, ‘This is an in­ter­est­ing new uni­verse, they’re do­ing qual­ity work.’ The fun that we were hav­ing in the of­fice came through in the books and in the way we’d tease things and in­volve the fans. It be­came more than just buy­ing and read­ing comics; it be­came part of a new grow­ing chap­ter in the Valiant his­tory.”

With Marvel feed­ing off the phenom­e­nal suc­cess of its cin­e­matic en­deav­ours and DC ini­tia­tives such as the 3D cov­ers for last Septem­ber’s Vil­lains Month also pay­ing lu­cra­tive if short-term div­i­dends, the comic book mar­ket­place is seem­ingly be­com­ing in­creas­ingly crowded, mean­ing that smaller op­er­a­tions such as Valiant have to con­stantly max­imise their ef­forts just to stay in the game. Pierce main­tains that the com­pe­ti­tion is healthy, though. “The ex­pec­ta­tions of the fans has be­come higher but they’re also spend­ing more money,” he says. “People for­get that if the prod­uct is bet­ter, people will in­vest more time and en­ergy into it be­cause our com­pe­ti­tion is not Marvel, DC, Im­age and Dark Horse, it’s tele­vi­sion, videogames and all the other things that take up your time.”

new or­der

The char­ac­ters were 20 years ahead

of their time

In fact, the un­ex­pect­edly high re­turns of 2012’s “Sum­mer Of Valiant” launch is partly down to the enor­mous sales fig­ures of the New 52 seven months ear­lier. “The re­tail­ers did so well out of it that they felt a lit­tle bit flush with cash so they in­vested a lit­tle bit more in us,” says Pierce, who smartly po­si­tioned Valiant as the next big, ex­cit­ing thing. “We’d still have done well but we wouldn’t have done so well. The re­tail­ers could af­ford to take a chance and then when they made money

with us, they could af­ford to take a chance with other people.”

While Unity is cur­rently tear­ing up the comic shop shelves, Pierce is al­ready look­ing to the fu­ture. “We have 30 prop­er­ties and al­most 200 char­ac­ters,” he says. “Ba­si­cally, we go through the char­ac­ters to see what fits and the cre­atives and ed­i­to­rial pick out what strikes a chord with them. If we con­tinue to launch things slow and steady, we have enough old char­ac­ters to bring back for the next few years – and we’ll also cre­ate new char­ac­ters. Unity was a new idea, as there’s never re­ally been a team book like this in the Valiant Uni­verse, so things like that will con­tinue to hap­pen.”

In­deed this month sees the re-emer­gence of the 4001 AD fu­ture-verse in Eter­nal War­rior #5, which will ap­par­ently herald the muchan­tic­i­pated re­vival of Rai and the Fu­ture Force. “Un­like some­thing like Marvel’s 2099 books or Legion Of Su­per­heroes, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are much clearer, so events that hap­pen in the core Valiant line will im­me­di­ately be seen in the 4001 time­line and vice versa, which is a very Jim Shooter idea that he’d pi­o­neered at Valiant,” re­veals Gorin­son, who in­sists that the far-flung sce­nario doesn’t rely on its erst­while Gold Key in­hab­i­tants such as Doc­tor So­lar. “It doesn’t need those char­ac­ters as it’s just a

Priest is one of the leg­endary comics cre­ators

great op­por­tu­nity to mod­ernise the uni­verse and reimag­ine it in a more cre­ative way.”

Valiant will unashamedly hark back to its past later this year, though, with the an­nounce­ment that Quan­tum & Woody cre­ators Christo­pher Priest and Mark Bright are re­turn­ing to their beloved cult cre­ations for a spe­cial five-is­sue minis­eries. “It’s set in the orig­i­nal’s con­ti­nu­ity, but 20 years on,” says Gorin­son. “That’s big on so many lev­els for us. Christo­pher Priest is one of the leg­endary comics cre­ators of the past 20 years, but he’s been out of the in­dus­try for six/seven years.”

“You don’t of­ten see it,” continues Sham­dasani. “Cre­ators who have left the fold but have come back to work on their char­ac­ters again, and are do­ing a great job. The Quan­tum & Woody fans are freakin’ in­sane! They’ve been on our backs since day one, scream­ing, ‘Bring back Quan­tum & Woody… and the goat!’”

“We’re big fans of the goat!” laughs Si­mons. “It’s great to have the guys back. We’re su­perex­cited to have them work­ing on the book. It’s pure Priest and Bright. It’s like they’ve never stopped work­ing on it.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.