As part of the Valiant (Re)visions team, it’s clear I’m a fan of what the team over there has going on right now. But there is a lot going on right now, with Valiant First bringing the arrival of two new books in Rai and The Death Defying Doctor Mirage, as well as the epic looking Armor Hunters event AND a crossover between Quantum & Woody and Archer & Armstrong. And that’s just in the next few months!
So to get the lowdown on the epic upcoming schedule they have, I talked with the whole team over at Valiant, namely:
– Hunter Gorinson, Director of Marketing, Communications & Digital Media
– Fred Pierce, Publisher
– Atom! Freeman, Sales Manager
– Dinesh Shamdasani, CEO & Chief Creative Officer
– Warren Simons, Executive Editor
We talked about what Valiant First is exactly, why Armor Hunters is such a huge deal, the world building of Rai, the genius of Clayton Crain, editor Alejandro Arbona’s prodigious karaoke skills, and a lot more. Thanks to everyone at Valiant – including a fantastic intern or two – for the great talk, and truly, check out Valiant. It’s a great time to be a Valiant reader.
Valiant First is what we’re here to talk about, it’s bringing a new #1 every month from May to September. It’s loaded with quality creators and events like Armor Hunters. For all of you guys, what would you say is the biggest goal of this initiative, both from a publishing and a marketing perspective?
Dinesh: Where we derived the name answers that question very well. Everywhere we went we kept hearing from people that they’re buying Marvel books, DC books, independent books, and our books. But the books that they reach for first was a Valiant book, because our book s are the books they were most excited about reading. And it was a great honor for us, and it inspired us to build this program where we can allow more and more people every month to find an entry point. We’re not asking them not to buy other books. We’re saying that you’ll love our books; we’re hoping that we make books good enough that you’re most excited about reading them, and our books are the first books you read.
Fred: We are a manageable universe. You’re still basically getting in on the ground floor of Valiant. If you want to be able to read a whole universe, we’re 9 books a month. You can do that very easily with us.
Hunter: And we’re staying at 9 books. Just because we’re going to be putting out these 6 new books over the next couple months, doesn’t mean that we’re automatically ramping up the size of the line to 12-16 books. We’re capping it at 9 so fans can keep up with the entire breadth of what we’re putting out, and the retail market can absorb it as well.
Atom!: It’s important to note that when we hear from retailers that a fan buys their first Valiant book and actually reads it, very often the very next step is to read them all. It’s a universe that pulls you in very quickly. So the challenge for us in getting a new fan is just getting them to read the first one. If we can get you to read your first Valiant comic, then chances are good we’re going to hook you.Continued below
Warren: I’m also excited about having the chance to play with these characters. We’ve had great success with X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer and Armstrong. We’ve got a really deep bench here at Valiant. And I’m super excited about what we’re doing with Rai. Robert Venditti and the guys are blowing it up with Armor Hunters. Fred (Van Lente) and James (Asmus) are working together on Delinquents. Jen Van Meter’s exploring Doctor Mirage. From a character standpoint, I’m really excited about the stories we have coming up. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Warren, you and your team have done a phenomenal job of building a cohesive universe. And not with just event books, but also in subtle ways; references to the Vine in Archer and Armstrong and things like that, where you can see the tangential connections building that will eventually lead to bigger things. At the same time you’re bringing on all of these new jumping on points. How do you balance bringing in new readers, but also building that connected universe?
Like the guys said, once you pick up one book, we hear from fans all the time that they pick up other books because it’s compelling and fun. You want to see how the characters are going to interact with each other. Making it accessible is obviously key to making great stories. You also have to look at the creators that we have. I feel like the guys and girls that we work with, this isn’t the fifth or sixth most important title they’re working on that month. They really love the characters; they really put their back into it. Whether it’s Matt Kindt on Unity, or Venditti on X-O or upcoming Armor Hunters, or Joshua Dysart on Harbinger, all these guys really love this stuff and put their heart into it. No one is on autopilot.
We have pretty close relationships with a lot of creators, and universally everyone loves working with you guys. The acclaim from the creator side is universal. How important is it for you to create an environment of creativity and collaboration at Valiant?
Warren: It’s extremely important. It’s the main thing we started doing when we began working with the guys. I’m hiring them for their voice, to hear what they have to say, to write the way that they write, to draw the way that they draw. We’re a shared universe, so we definitely have to keep all of our ducks in a row; make sure everyone’s playing with the toys that they want to play with, things like that. The creators love the opportunity. It’s easy for us to point to a line on a map and say, “go there”. It’s much more rewarding when the creator comes up with an idea that’s going to take us in a direction that we haven’t even thought of. Just continue to collaborate with them and create an environment where they can collaborate with each other. There’s a support system in place, and that’s a credit to the whole team, including Alejandro Arbona, our Associate Editor, and Josh Johns, our Assistant Editor. We really love working with the team, and that’s great to hear.
Dinesh: Part of it also is that we’re all a bunch of fans. You’ll see a lot of us just enjoying what we’re doing. We create an environment, that isn’t necessarily a corporate environment. We don’t have a corporate parent that’s demanding certain financial thresholds every quarter, or that has a goal for these characters beyond telling great stories. We’re all working as hard as we can because we love the comic book world, we love comics, and we want to tell great stories. That’s why when you go to conventions, you see our publisher, Fred Pierce, handing out free comics. Anyone will pick up any hat, and do any job, and that creates an environment for everyone, executive or creative. We come in and do everything we can, and it’s fun.Continued below
Fred: Warren’s been very clear from the beginning. You bring in the creators for how they speak. You see that in the variation in our books. As much as our books are a part of one universe, you can feel the different voice in the different book from the different creator.
Warren: The company has taken chances. We didn’t have X-O flying around blasting aliens in issue #1. And that was a big chance. How we rolled out Harbinger, and in Harbinger Wars also, we’ve taken enormous chances creatively, and I think it’s paid off.
Dinesh: It’s the story. We did it because the story determined it and we’re always the story first. Every variant, gimmick, and marketing initiative we’ve put together, when you look at it, it tells the story. Right from the beginning with the QR cover, it was about letting the reader see how the character speaks. It wasn’t about a gimmick, it was about breaking down that fourth wall.
Hunter: We’d always known we were going to bring back Chromium at some point. We talked about it even before soliciting X-O #1, but we were also very conscious about not putting it out there too early. Firstly, we wanted the storytelling let our books stand on their own and be character driven, not nostalgia driven. When the premise of Armor Hunters came up, and once we were able to locate a printer who could do this – because it was sort of a lost art—it took a tremendous amount of time and research to get chromium back on the shelves if you can believe that. It fits with the premise of the book, and they look beautiful. We knew that if we were going to bring chromium back, we were going to bring it back right.
Atom!: Earlier you talked about the energy of the team and that really comes around in this. We in sales, marketing, and publishing, when we look at the stuff that’s being made, that just makes us more excited to come up with new ways to put it in hands. I heard from a retailer today who said that he brought back [chromium] flats we gave him at Comics Pro and showed it to the fans, and everyone is crazy excited about these books.
Hunter: Dinesh you had a great example of cover treatments in comics, and how it has helped new readers get into titles. I remember reading Silver Surfer #50, for instance, which was my first book getting into Silver Surfer.
Dinesh: It’s sampling. One of the things we’re always talking about is how can we get people to read their first Valiant book. The stories are great, we know that, but it’s tough. You’ve got all this great content out there right now. Every publisher is on top of their game and they’re forcing everyone else to be on top of their game, as are we. We brought in a consultant who worked at Marvel during the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. One of the things we talked to him about was Valiant First. We explained to him our initiative about getting new readers into new books. And he talked about the gimmicks they did back in the 80’s and 90’s, explaining why they did them. I said to him that as a consumer myself I rarely ever picked up a book for the first time that isn’t a number one. Then he asked if I bought Silver Surfer #50. Yes, silver foil cover, great cover. X-Men #25? Yes, that’s the hologram, great cover. Amazing Spider-Man #365? Yup, I bought that one great book. And he asked me, how many of those were the first time you bought that character.
It was interesting to see that the road to hell is laid with good intentions. Not necessarily greed or hubris, but it was an attempt to bring new readers into comics. We’re very cautious about that, we try to be restrictive about the way we use these initiatives, but with Armor Hunters it just checked all the boxes; a story about these anti-heroes coming to Earth to take the armor from X-O and protect the Earth. It was a big #1 for us, a big event, a big crossover, it felt like the right call.Continued below
Warren: We work in conjunction with the writers. Roberts’s story for the first 17-18 issues of X-O led right into Unity. Matt picked up Unity with the idea that Aric had taken over Romania, with the idea that this super team needed to come together to take X-O down. Stories lead to other stories organically. Armor Hunters is something Rob and I discussed at length a while ago while plotting the next couple months of X-O. It’s the next logical progression and evolution of what we’re doing, within a larger tapestry of what he’s built over the past couple of years.
It’s an interesting one for me as a reader, and I have to admit I was not a big fan of it, but the way Rob has built that book, it’s amazing how my admiration for that book has grown and grown and it’s now one of my favorite books that you guys release.
Warren: Rob’s a real idea machine. I had a long conference call with him and Dysart where we talked a little about Armor Hunters. It’s a lot of to riff with the guys and go back and forth over ideas. It’s one of the best parts of being an editor; helping these guys shape a story, listening to their ideas, trying to create this environment of free-flowing collaboration. We’re just trying to make the best idea possible. It’s something that I really try to make a part of the editorial environment at Valiant; the best idea wins. I don’t care if it comes from an intern, or a writer. We love to try to get into a room to discuss and debate. I feel like that is evident in the books.
What element of Armor Hunters is Bloodshot? Is that a mini-series, or is that a one shot?
Warren: It will be a three-issue miniseries written by Joe Harris with artist Trevor Hairsine. It will ltie directly into the Armor Hunters series. Again, it’s a natural progression from where we started with Bloodshot in Blood and H.A.R.D. Corps #14 where Josh and Christos came up with a three-arc overlapping story, and it will culminate in the last issues of Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps. There’s a reason why we’re boiling down the series, which you’ll see based on the events in the series, then it’ll pick directly up in the pages of Armor Hunters: Bloodshot.
Dinesh: The way Armor Hunters works is that we’ve got Armor Hunters proper. Venditti is writing, and Doug Braithwaite is drawing. That’s #1-4, June-September. That’s all you really have to read if you’re interested in Armor Hunters, but don’t want to get the whole 18 parts. X-O Manowar will tie into that, it’ll expand the story, you’ll get more background into the Armor Hunters and it’ll reflect more onto what you’re seeing in Armor Hunters proper. Armor Hunters: Bloodshot and Armor Hunters: Harbinger, which are three issues each, they’re separate tie-ins to the book. They’ll take place in the world around Armor Hunters, they’ll certainly add to the story; if you read all 18 parts you’ll get the full story. But those are also built as entry points. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I really want to read Bloodshot, but don’t want to jump in on issue #14.” Here’s a place for you. It’s a new #1, we’re building it to be clean. We’ve built all our books to be clean, but this is a very easy entry point for our readers.
Warren: The larger tapestry for all our books after Harbinger Wars, is to make all our books clean entry points. As with Armor Hunters, all you have to read is the core story if you want to check that out; Unity, X-O Manowar, Harbinger and Bloodshot will enhance and tell more of an action-packed story.Continued below
Hunter: If you’re an X-O fan, you’ll be happy to know that Bloodshot has a very important role to play in Armor Hunters that pertains directly to the agency Aric currently works for, M.E.R.O. He will be running a very specific mission for Colonel Capshaw.
Warren: Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps actually ends very gently. It’s nice, they go see a movie, and then Bloodshot’s going to bring that to Armor Hunters.
Hunter: We’re calling the last arc, A Walk to Remember.
That’s what he’s always really wanted. I always read the subtext that he just wants a nice happy place with a field.
Warren: Finally, someone gets it! I’ve been working this for two years. Bloodshot’s about peace. [laughs]
Dinesh: Have you seen the pages from Rai?
Clayton Crain. I have to admit, I haven’t universally loved his art, but holy crap, his work on Rai is outrageous.
Dinesh: You should see his work from later on in the arc. Each issue just looks better and better.
Atom!: Any review of Rai #1 that doesn’t include the words “holy crap” is just being dishonest. It’s amazing.
Fred: I haven’t seen artwork like that in the industry, ever.
Hunter: There are a lot of notable things about Rai that we thought warranted launching an entire wave of books with it. To a certain extent, it’s almost entirely continuity free. Anyone’s going to be able to pick up this book without any previous knowledge of Eternal Warrior or any other Valiant titles, and just dive into the world Matt and Clayton have built for 4001. It’s a very singular thing in our line and we’re proud of the way things are shaping up.
Dinesh: It’s also a character that fans have been asking for. Literally banging on our door, and Warren’s nice enough to chat with them for a little while. All they want to do was ask, “When’s Rai coming, when’s Rai coming?” We really didn’t have a choice.
Dinesh: He’s literally world building. That first pitch didn’t just talk about the story, but everything that was happening in the universe in the year 4000.
Warren: Matt put together this whole world where all of our characters will be. Talking with Clayton earlier today and he was telling me how much fun he’s having. How extraordinary it is to be able to build out this entire universe with all these characters. We’re also doing a Plus Edition of Rai #1.
Dinesh: It’s an experiment. It might be crazy, we’re not sure if it’ll work, but we’re excited about it. It’s Rai #1, but it’s called the Plus Edition. It’s the same book as Rai #1, same story. The cover has a slight color change. It’s got a 16 page section that’s bound in the middle of the book, and the 16 pages are in universe content only available in this edition of the book. It doesn’t affect the core narrative, but it is content that flushes out the world. As Warren was saying, Matt Kindt is putting together this giant awesome map of what the world looks like in 4001. We refer to it in the office as a deep dream. It’s all those teeny little details that everyone who loves comics, loves.Continued below
Warren: We got a really great pitch in from Jen. Alejandro Arbona has taken point on the project, working with Jan. Jan put together this story that really unlocked a component of the Valiant Universe that delved into who Dr. Mirage was, and what her relationship is with the rest of the universe in Shadowman. We felt like it was a beautiful story. Roberto is killing it over in Shadowman, we’re all huge fans of his art.
Dinesh: Of all the Valiant First titles, this is the one I’m most excited about, and I think it’s because it’s such a small, personal story. Don’t get me wrong, the stakes are massive, but it is the kind of storytelling that is rare in comics, and a book that we built an aim for doing when we launched, following the personal journey of the character. It’s not world building, it’s not a giant alien invasion, it’s about a woman and the loss that she’s felt for her soul mate. The depth to which she’ll go to try and bring him back, and the journey she goes on; the determination she has; how far she can pull her emotions into the forefront. She will literally go off-world into a part of the Valiant universe that we have seen a little bit of, but not too much of. Jan did an amazing job; she found a nugget of genius that unlocked everything, and Alejandro has been doing a great job working with her. It’s a book that I think will look beautiful, but will also be a little of a stark contrast to what’s out in the market today, hopefully in a very exciting way.
It sounds very exciting. Just to give a little bit of props. We did a piece last year where we picked our favorite editor, and we really love Alejandro. There’s something about Alejandro Arbona, where everything that he touches is magic. So we’re excited that he’s working on that book.
Atom!: I think it’s amazing you put him on this list when you haven’t seen him do karaoke.
Hunter: He sings Total Eclipse of the Heart entirely in Spanish, because growing up in Puerto Rico, he learned all of the lyrics in his native tongue. Also a fun fact: Warren and Alejandro worked together for many years at Marvel.
Warren: Alejandro’s great. We’re super happy to have him up here. I had the opportunity to work with Alejandro for 3 or 4 years at Marvel, and as soon as we had the opportunity to hire him he’s the first guy that I wanted to get. We call it the Arbona gold touch, where everything he touches is gold. We should also show some love for Josh Johns, he’s doing a bang-up job as well.
As a reader and a critic, I notice there’s a tendency for a lot of Valiant books to have fill-in artists. Why is that necessary, and what has the Valiant team done to improve the cohesiveness of the art?
Warren: First off, we’ve shipped 140 issues on time. So one of the things we wanted to do during the relaunch was guarantee that we ship on time. We certainly have many discussions at the office about that. We make sure the book comes out the door on time. One of the things we try to do – such as in Bleeding Monk #0 – is use a stylistic choice as an aesthetic. For example in the first arc of Harbinger, Khari Evans is the main artist but we have flashback pages by Lewis LaRosa. We feel like stylistically it makes sense then we’re all for it. We also have a number of artists who do ship on time and do tackle entire arcs by themselves; Doug Braithwaite, Pere Perez, Clayton Crain, Diego on X-O or Clayton Henry on Harbinger. We try to schedule everything effectively.Continued below
Dinesh: We also should point out that two of our best received books have used that stylistic choice: Harbinger #0 and Shadowman #0. This is something that comes from Warren, even at Marvel working on Immortal Iron Fist, and it used that technique better than anybody. I think it’s something that Warren does better than anybody. I think it’s something that if you do as well as he does, can elevate a book to a level that stands head and shoulders above a lot of what else is coming out.
Last question I have for you guys, as you’ve mentioned, you’re nearly two years in which is pretty amazing. When you look at social media and beyond, Valiant fans are as attached as ever. People are so vocal in their support of you guys. What do you view as the keys to your success so far, and how do you feel about that going forward?
Dinesh: I think it’s because we’re passionate. Great storytelling and passion are two things that differentiate us.
Fred: The fans feel the passion we feel for the product, for the characters. It reverberates back and forth. Don’t forget that Dinesh bought the company because he loves the characters. If you don’t love the characters then you really can’t work here.
Hunter: Yeah, we’re all here because at the end of the day we all really want to make some great comics and be a part of something a little groundbreaking in the industry. We all saw the extraordinary potential Valiant had to come back and be a force in the industry again, something a lot of people perhaps didn’t agree with at the time.
Dinesh: Come hell or high water, come blown appendixes, or divorced marriages, they’re going to make sure Valiant is a force in the industry.
Fred: David, I was at the original Valiant and you had this tremendous energy. We have that here now. You can see it when you see it at cons, and you hear it when we talk about the project. Our fans love it, we love our fans, and we’ve always respected our fans throughout the years.
Hunter: I think our creators share that enthusiasm too. Warren was correct, we’ve been extremely fortunate in having a lot of extremely talented writers, artists, colorists, and letterers work with us, and take what seemed to be a risk on Valiant in the beginning. But it’s paying off for all of us, and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.
Warren: We’ve got a great universe here; a great number of visionary creators, and an amazing fan-base. When we walked in the door we had guys who were passionate and hungry to see the books published again.
Dinesh: That goes for the creators too. You’ll see it in the pages when they come out. We’re lucky we have one of the best stables of creators of any publisher; but not just the names. Robert Venditti, when he came on, this was his first monthly book. Now he’s a massive star. I think you’re going to see that continue. Matt Kindt is on the rise, doing great work. Robert Gill, Diego Bernard, these are guys on the rise.
I hadn’t heard of Robert Gill before Eternal Warrior. I’m a really big fan of his work now, he’s a tremendous artist.Continued below
Warren: I love what Robert’s doing right now. I feel that those four issues of Eternal Warrior are really special and it’s not just because of the great scripts that Greg has put together, but Robert has this beautiful widescreen feel and sensibility to his work. He captures these beautiful emotions in the face of the characters. There’s a beat in Eternal Warrior #6 where he just captures so eloquently and beautiful and touching. It’s really one of the best things I’ve worked on since I’ve been here. And what he’s doing with Armor Hunters: Harbinger is going to be special as well.
Dinesh: Cafu as well, a lot of people were surprised with how solid his work is.
Hunter: To your original question, there is a man named Robert Meyers. He is the Valiant operations coordinator, and he handles all of our social media day in and day out. So anyone reading this, please get on twitter and send Robert a tweet @ValiantComics!