Maybe you have heard of Tony Stark’s struggle with alcoholism. Maybe you picked up a Valiant comic and thought this characters are tons of fun, this one guy is called Ninja-K and another X-O Manowar that’s awesome. Maybe you saw that crazy new trailer for the Vin Diesel Bloodshot movie. Maybe, just maybe you know that legendary creator Bob Layton was instrumental in all of those very things I listed. Maybe, last one I promise, Bob Layton was at NYCC 2019 and we were able to speak to him briefly about his work, Bloodshot and Valiant.
We were excited to talk to Mr. Layton about the legacy of Valiant, checking in on his creations current runs, and how he named Ninja-K.
Thanks so much for doing this. You’re an industry great. You’ve done everything there is to do, the art.
Bob Layton: I’ve done everything but put the staples in the books. I’m here primarily to promote Bloodshot, the upcoming film, which Kevin Van Hook and I co-created, and I’m also here to promote my new movie which starts production in March called The Helix. We start filming in March in Sweden. It’s going to be be the first major motion picture that I wrote and co-produced.
What’s been the difference for you, especially now later in your career doing the movie stuff, going from on the ground writer, artists doing sequentials, monthly, to now?
BL: It’s a lot less of a grind. Any creative business, there’s a lot of BS. In the film [industry], you get a lot of BS, but the pay is way better. The reason I left Marvel to co-found Valiant was, I didn’t want to be a wage slave. I wanted to own something that I created. And it seemed to me at that time, it was a great window for me to take a chance with my career. And the fact that it’s still here, almost 30 years later, is like a real testament to these characters, and the people behind them. And Fred Pierce still acts as Publisher, the only person left from the old school. And that’s one of the reasons I’m here is always to see Fred. I love Fred.
To piggyback on that, as co-founder of Valiant, where do you see the legacy of Valiant? And where would you like to see it go now?
BL: Well, apparently the legacy of Valiant is going to be a Paramount universe, right? We’re going to Paramount, apparently. I think it’s great because let’s face it, television and film is a jumping off point. This is how people get excited and get interested in comics now is by checking out the movies. So it’s kind of like reverse engineering. So the fact that I spent the last 10 years in Hollywood working out there, it’s a different language. I worked on the first two Iron Man movies, and then I went to work with Edward James Olmos and his production company. And I wrote a crapload of stuff when I was out there. The Helix was one of them that was actually slated to be produced, and then got axed. It’s usually money, money and politics. So now I’m in a position where I can raise the money and make myself. But I had to wait until I had some hits with Iron Man and Ant-Man and War Machine and Bloodshot. Now I can go out and I have a little bit of a resume where I can go to an investor and say, hey, look, all the money they’re making from this stuff.
Kind of like comics. You’ve got to get a few hits under your belt.
BL: Yeah, exactly. Advantageous positions, as we would say.
The cool thing about Valiant is, they’re always so excited about everything, and it feels so genuine. Why do you think Valiant has that vibe?
BL: I’ll tell you why, and again, I’m gonna go back to Fred. Fred, acting as publisher, Fred is brought that family feeling that we had originally with the company, and he’s made sure that stayed intact all these years. Valiant is a family company in so many ways. It’s not just a bunch of employees in a room pumping out stuff. There’s always been a bit of camaraderie. That’s why I come up once a year, just to remind you guys where you came from. Every time I come up, there’s a whole group of people who have no idea about the storied history of this company. And I feel like it’s kind of my obligation.Continued below
I call Scott Freelander who was my production manager in the old days, the original production manager of Valiant. And we go up the offices and just disrupt everything for a day. We’re going to do that on Monday, just shake up the offices for a bit. They’re all going to be tired and exhausted, but Scott and I are going to go up there and remind them all of where they came from.
You’re co-founder but also like you said co-creator of Bloodshot. You’ve got the movie coming out.
BL: Most of the characters, actually.
Is that something you follow, like one of your kids? Have you watched it over the years, like other creators writing it and what’s going on with them?
BL: They sent me the books, but it’s kind of like the same as Iron Man. I don’t really follow Iron Man once I left because I made a statement in terms of what I thought that the character should be. And I understand the characters grow and evolve, but I everything I ever wanted to say was said. So if somebody comes out with a different take on the character . . . I still do covers this stuff. And it’s some weird feeling doing somebody else’s version of something I created. It’s an odd feeling. I don’t know too many creators who actually experienced that. But it’s a kind of a double edged thing. I love Valiant and the time I had there. The time I still have with these guys is amazing. But it’s also weird to see this stuff evolve into something different. It’s not as familiar as the stuff I created.
Most of these characters sprang from an idea going back to my Marvel days. Bloodshot came from an article I had read in Scientific American about nanites, back when they were theoretical. And I said, “well, that’s, that’s better than being bitten by radioactive spider. That kind of makes more sense.” So that was part of the genesis. Ninja-k came from my love of James Bond. And XO came from two things I always loved, which was Iron Man and Conan, and I mixed them together.
All that stuff is like boiled down into the essence of like what’s cool about comics, and you guys giving them these awesome storylines.
BL: Ninja-k was, I was actually going through a thesaurus and I saw the word free jack. And I thought about it, and I blended the words together, and that was kind of the inspiration to create a sort of modern day James Bond. I took Bruce Lee and James Bond and mixed them together. So that was the original conception of the character.
You’re influential in Marvel, writing ‘Demon in a Bottle.’
BL: And War Machine, Scott Lang Ant-Man. We could go on.
How was it working on, and watching someone so influential in the universe, save it in its final moments?
BL: I’m still friends with some of those people so I knew what was coming. My oldest grandson was actually crying when it actually happened. Here’s the problem. Once you get to know these guys personally, you can’t divorce yourself. When I see him up there, it’s Downey. It’s not Tony Stark, per se. It spoils the suspension of disbelief in a lot of ways. It was an honor to be involved. David Maisel, the founder of Marvel Studios is my biggest fan. His office looks like the Bob Layton Art Museum. And he said, “You gave me the best comic I’ve ever had in my life. There would be no Marvel Studios without my love of your work.” It wasn’t an accident Iron Man was the first thing that they did.