When Valiant Entertainment came roaring back in 2012, they took the comics industry by storm. With a focused output of titles focused on content, creativity and quality, the last few years have seen the publisher grow not only in marketshare, but mindshare as well. Let's not forget their huge movie news earlier this year that included a major 9 figure investment with DMG and a 5 picture deal with Sony.
We had the opportunity to chat with CEO & CCO, Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons to talk about the Valiant journey and what the future holds for the company. So welcome to the first in what we're hoping is a yearly tradition of recapping the year with the Valiant team. When you're done, check out the HUGE gallery of exclusive art from some of the company's top talent!
Guys, what huge year. It's got to feel good for you guys knowing that since you guys brought Valiant back, that you've seen a steady tick upward. As you guys close on 2015 what's the feeling internally with you guys? I know you have a bunch of great things coming up, but looking back on the year, what do you think are some of your big wins?
Warren Simons: I'm extremely happy with how we've performed on the publishing side as far as the content goes. I look at The Valiant #1, and the series as a whole really kicked things off for us. Then you look at Bloodshot Reborn, Ninjak and XO Manowar and you see it all snowball from there. When you have creators like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Paolo Rivera, Robert Venditti, Josh Dysart, Trevor Hairsine, Clay Mann and more all turning in their best stuff, it makes the entire universe better for it. Our freelancers are among the best in the industry. So on that end, I'm extremely happy with the work that we've done in the past year. But the things that I've talked about with Dinesh and Fred and Hunter is that we're really happy with it, but we're never satisfied. We're still always trying to make sure next year is better than the previous year, certainly.
Fred Pierce: Following up on that, Hunter [Gorinson], our marketing guy does a great job making sure that everyone recognizes us all over. It's very hard to turn around any place and not see Valiant. I believe we are the only comic book company, and maybe the only comic book company ever to have as many salespeople as editors. We have four sales people. They’re in the comic book stores constantly, every Wednesday you'll find them in the comic book stores. We've gone to 20 plus live events. What we're making sure that we're very well known in the Direct Market and with the fans directly. Which the conventions have done a great job for us really.
I do want to ask about the Direct Market and the response from retailers. It’s obvious that retailers are getting on board. It looks like that you guys are doing things a little bit differently to ensure that your product is out there on shelves. Can you give us any insight into the secret sauce that you think makes Valiant different from other publishers when it comes to the Direct Market?
Fred Pierce: I think that the primary secret sauce is that we have great editorial. The stories are great. The artwork is great.
Dinesh Shamdasani: Woah, woah, Fred. Do you want to not give away all of our secrets? What are you doing, come on.
Fred Pierce: What we're putting out, I believe is as good as anything that's in the industry. We're on the phone constantly with retailers. On some level we're a small comic book company. But we have to make a lot of noise in order to get through everything Marvel, DC & Image are doing. They all do great stuff, but how do we make sure that we're one of the people that the direct market is thinking of? That's a good part of the marketing and that's a good part of... We believe that if you walk into most any comic book store you'll see a Valiant poster, you'll see a Valiant header, you'll see book marks. All of these things are making sure that Valiant is uppermost on everyone's mind.
Dinesh Shamdasani: You know what's really helpful also, is the fact that the retailers have become fans. I guess I our secret sauce might be the employee at Valiant that doesn't actually come into the office. The retailer, the comic book fans from the 90's and you guys. It's crazy to see how many people go out and try to push our books. The retailers have become legitimate fans.
We're getting calls all the time now, from retailers saying "Hey I'm looking at this blank space in my store and I'd love for you guys to fill it with something. Do you have a poster or can we do some kind of signs? Can you have someone come in here and paint it?" So we're getting that kind of stuff. Those kinds of calls, which is really fantastic.
We have this big sales team now, I think it's the largest sales team for comics. But they are very aggressive about making sure the retailers feel that they have all the information and that when you come into a comic book store as a reader you're aware of Valiant. You're aware of what we're doing. You know we only publish about 9 books a month. We don't do a lot. So on one hand it is easier for us because we really can focus. And make sure that everything that we do is important to us. When you're at that level we can make the books the best they can be. And I think certainly that's starting to pay off dividends. The fact that people now know that even if they haven't heard of a book before, or they haven't read XO Manowar, it's only 40 something now. They haven't read it, they have read Ninjak and Bloodshot Reborn and they've read The Valiant, everything is good. And so the Valiant brand means good quality story telling. Well they'll go and check out the next book. It will be a little bit easier for us. So that's real good, and that finally happened this year for us.
Fred Pierce: The whole company works together really well. Robert Venditti just flew out to the west coast with Andy our west coast sales guy. I think they just hit 10 comic book stores for signing of the Wrath of the Eternal Warrior. And they have fun doing it.
Warren Simons: I think it's really a testament to the entire team working in lock step together. The idea that nothing exists in a vacuum. So no matter how great Robert’s scripts are, unless Hunter's there to market it and the sales guys are there to sell it. It's really a team moving together. I think really that's been a super large part of our success. Unquestionably.
Dinesh you mentioned your best employees are fans of Valiant from the 90's. Obviously, you being one of them. When you guys first came back onto the scene a lot of people expected that the comic output would feel pure "90's." Do you feel at this point that you've shed that nineties stigma that was attached to the brand for so long? Or is it still something that you guys are looking to embrace in new and unique ways moving forward?
Dinesh Shamdasani: It's a great question actually. The original founding fathers of Valiant did such a fantastic job with the characters that I don't think we can ever shake their impact. I don't think we want to shake their impact. I think what we've done is guided people’s perception of Valiant. So yes, there was a perception of, not just Valiant, but the entire 90's as a decade for every publisher of comics in general as being one thing. I think we have, I can't think of others, but I'm sure there are, but I think we have been a very prominent force in shaping the way that history looks at the 90's. Coming in and saying there's great stuff here. There's great characters, let us show you what these characters can be. Let's remind you what they were. I think I'm really excited. You mentioned we had a big year. I think we had a massive year. One of the things I'm most excited about is I think a lot of things, we accomplished a lot of things in the last 12 months, that we didn't think we'd accomplish in several years to come.
Dinesh Shansani: One of those things being that we have now named the 90's version of Valiant that as you called it stigma, into a massive positive for us. We can now tap into that and engage in that in the same way Marvel engaged in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 60's. In the same way DC engages in its history. We can now do that too.
What is it about that fact, that you think is so appealing to the fans new and old?
Dinesh Shamdasani: I think Frank can talk about it, he was there. But just quickly from my point of view I think it was the quality of the story telling was very strong at Valiant. If you look at this industry in that period and Valiant, the qualities of storytelling were very strong. There was sense of pure creationism, which is very rare in comics. You really have it in the 30's, and like an 11 year period of DC when were creating or amalgamating most of their characters. And then the 9 year period of the 60's for Marvel. Then you have Valiant in the 90's. Then along with Valiant, some others like Dark Horse, Ultraverse, & Malibu. You have all these characters that are being created at a level that doesn't usually happen. We just engage with that. I think we're in that period now with what we're doing and with what Image is doing, for instance. Fred can talk about the energy. He's talked about it with us in the office many times. The energy that was there at Valiant.
Fred Pierce: In a way it was very mystical time when you walked into Valiant then. First of all we had some of the top creators in the industry, you know. We had Jim Shooter, we had Barry Smith, we had Bob Layton, and we had Kevin VanHook. We had all these phenomenal, phenomenal creators and they really were about just creating great stories at the time. One of Dinesh's favorite things to do is to sit with me and Bob over lunch and talk about the old days. We talk about how everybody's idea could come to the floor, everybody worked together. A lot of the things that we did... There was a new take on the archetypes. We were very clear that it was all about story. If you remember Valiant in the day the stories were key. It was a very much about the writing, even more than the art. The writing sustained. It's core characters that, resonated. If you look, I think a third of the comic book retailers that you speak to today, were Valiant fans in the day. Because the characters are so good at translating to today. You know, Spider-Man is not the same today as he was in the 90's. Batman's not the same today as he was in the 90's. We had a mantra when we were launching Valiant. It's about 20 years from now, not about 20 years ago.
Dinesh Shamdasani: But the thing about the retailers is key. We had Atom Freeman, head up sales for us before we even launched. His first job was to call every retailer, attempt to call every retailer in America. One of the questions he would ask them is "are you aware of Valiant? Are you a fan of Valiant?" We had a spectacularly high percentage of retailers say that they were fans of Valiant comics and the characters. And that just wasn't just necessarily a good thing in fact, they had high expectations. They wanted us to preserve the integrity of those characters and tell great stories. I think some of them were very supportive initially. Now that they've all see that the quality is there, they've all been very supportive. Those guys in the 90's, they created Camelot. They created a company where they were getting great characters, great storytelling and they could keep doing it. It's unfortunate what ultimately happened with the industry. But for a bright shining moment there, there was only something that happened only twice before. Once at DC and once at Marvel. We're lucky that we're living in the house that those guys built.
2015 was also the year Valiant got into the "event" game. The Valiant came out to critical acclaim across the board and it felt like an instance that showed you guys knew what the “New Valiant” was. With the characters that you had introduced since the launch and bringing them together with a top notch creative team was the next logical step for you. Obviously you guys were able to follow that up with a number of different events.
I remember early on when you guys first launched you were a bit trepidatious on events. What made The Valiant the right time to do it and then to continue the trend with other events like Book of Death?
Warren Simons: I think part of it was making sure that we could re-establish the characters and really tap into the zeitgeist that the guys were just mashing up a little bit about in the original Valiant. Which is really explains with an audience this is who XO Manowar is, this is what Harbinger is, this is what Bloodshot is, this who Archer and Armstrong are. We felt like when I first came up here and I was talking with Fred and Dinesh that it made the most sense to get these books out on their own, and then bring them together.
I think a lot of what we were trying to do was to get the characters back on the table and to show people why these characters are so special in the first place. I know that when I came up here we got to reread everything, especially the Barry Windsor Smith Archer and Armstrong stuff, was an absolute revelation to make. I hadn't picked that stuff up in 20 years so I think to a certain extent we wanted to re-establish what are the core concepts that the original creators put together that made these characters so endearing. I've never seen an immortal drunk before. It's actually someone who has 2 left feet is constantly making bad decisions. He's so exhausted by being immortal he just drowns himself in wine. That's a fascinating archetype. Having him meet Archer an extremely sheltered assassin is just classic. These are fascinating characters.
I think in some ways we wanted to get these characters back up and show people what they were before we launched into some larger crossover. I think that with The Valiant, to answer your question, I think the universe moved here sort of on its own. The thing that's worked really well for us is that we've had a really organic way of how we built the universe and how we've shaped it. So that with Dwayne did Bloodshot and Joshua getting Harbinger something that a year later became Harbinger Wars. Or what Jeff and Matt came up with for The Valiant, and the Paolo came on board with us. Those Eternal Warrior series in large part were based on a lot of the books that came before. So I think that it was organically building towards everything and letting the creators inhabit the structure that allows them to tell stories. But also where the guys are feeling like they're on the same team.
We're going to be having a retreat coming up in a couple of days and everyone's in the same room, we'll talk together about what we've got coming up. Everyone is trying to make the ideas better. They're trying to punch holes in each others stories, but in a really good constructive way as opposed to jockeying for position or trying to take someone down a peg. I feel like the environment's been really good to build that. A testament to Dinesh is that that what he prides above all else as the CEO of the company, is story.
But that allows us to inhabit a structure where I can then go out and talk to the guys about what we want to do and what stories we want to tell. They know that this is a, for lack of a better word, a safe environment to come build in. They're not going to have something, they're not going to be told on the day that their supposed to be leaving house that they can't use a certain character in their book. These things happen in our creative community now. I feel like we built a strong environment that's allowed us to organically get here.
Speaking of the creative community are you guys trying to reignite the exclusive wars from the early 2000's with making signings like David LaFuente and Mico Suayan?
Dinesh Shamdasani: That's hilarious. [Laughs]
How important is that for you? I feel like when you put something like that out you are obviously making a statement. Right? You say that one, the creator feels comfortable enough to sign and two, this is going to be the only place that, for a fan, you're going to be able to get their work in superhero stuff and work for hire stuff. Can you walk us through the mindset of signing exclusives a little bit?
Warren Simons: I think at least for me the most important thing that you have to remember is as Fred mentioned very early, we're really a small company. We're in this business competing with Time Warner and Disney. These companies have gigantic resources. They publish 90 books a month or 50 books a month, whatever it winds up being. For us, the way that we succeed is by isolating excellence and trying to retain it I think, to a certain extent. Then executing that in a team environment. Raul Allen is exclusive with us. Raul's art came in and it just blew us away. We were absolutely floored by the work that he was doing with Bloodshot and with Ninjak. I think Ninjak 6 came in, or 7, I forget which exact issue it is, I was absolutely sick, I was absolutely floored by the work. I showed it to Dinesh and Fred and I was like we've got to lock this guy up. This is going to come out and hit the stands and in no time he's going to be gone. And I know unquestionably that that would have been the case if he wasn't exclusive. But also we try to build a creative relationship with the creators so that they understand that they are going to be able to do excellent work, come here get among the best page rates for a company of our size and continue to work with a great writers.
You know what it is also? also these guys all want to tell great stores. You know? At the core almost all of the writers and artists that we work with they want to put together a body of work that's going to stand, hopefully on the shelves, in 20 years and in 30 years. Just like the original Valiant creators did. Just like David Lapham did, Barry Windsor Smith did, Bob Layton did, Jim Shooter did. I think that this is a place where they can do that, instead of being shuffled from one ancillary crossover to the next ancillary cross over book. They look back on the 2 years they've been with the company and the body of work has been essentially...they're seeing how the sausage is made in really rough ways. So in that ways we are certainly not trying to reignite the exclusive wars, but we definitely do retain in places immense amount of care on our creators and what they want to do.
Dinesh Shamdasani: I think that the exclusive wars are good and alive. I don't think it has anything to do with us. With being the best reviewed publisher in the business. I think we are officially again this year. But with that comes a lot of envious eyes and other larger publishers would like to have a piece of that. So we have to protect the assets we’ve cultivated.
Fred Pierce: Guys, guys let's be clear. We're too small to start a war. Maybe we can have a little skirmish. We're just playing defense.
Warren Simons: There is literally a book that we publish that every month the issue comes out and I talk to Dinesh about it and the creative team on that book is being approached by another company. I mean it's amazing to me. Like we literally publish a book and 30 days later our talent is contacted. It's amazing to me. It's great to do that. And you know we're doing something great.
So now, I've got to ask you about your big movie plans and your big movie deals. When that announcement happened I feel like you guys took everyone by surprise. Heading into these plans, and given how close knit everyone is, is that same approach going to go for your future films? If so, does that mean are the creators involved? Is there a movie brain trust or things like that for what you guys are planning?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Yes. Absolutely, it'd be foolish not to. I think our approach to storytelling is something that we bring to every type of storytelling, whether it's comic books, or movies or television or digital content or licensing. So we are definitely looking forward to bring that there.
Looking at say, Bloodshot, have you guys starting working towards production on any of these films? If so, can you say who's involved in yet or not?
Dinesh Shamdasani: We can say a little bit. I can say that we as a company, I think, I know as a company we like to play things very close to the vest.
Dinesh Shamdasani: We're working on, for instance, the launch of the universe publishing wise. The 5 picture phase one that we have at Sony, we had that locked for over a year before we announced it. The 9 figure investment was another that we had that locked again a year before we announced it. Which is always funny because we announce these things then we're always excited and we're like we really want to talk about the thing that we're working on now. Which is why I'm a little distracted, because you mentioned movies, and my mind literally goes to all of the things I cannot say that I'm super excited about. I can't wait for the world to know because they're equally, if not larger than the things that you do know.
We can say that Sony is involved, and very aggressive about Valiant and they love the storytelling that we're putting out. That we have Bloodshot and Harbinger plans with sequels and the Harbinger Wars film. That Neal. Moritz, who is the producer of the Fast and the Furious franchise and the 21 Jump Street films and he produces a ton of movies. He's got Passengers coming up. Which is one of the best scripts in Hollywood He's in Bloodshot and Harbinger, and Harbinger Wars with us. David Leitch and Chad Stahelski from John Wick are directing Bloodshot. We're just looking at actors now. Bloodshot was in development for years before we announced it. We're right where we want to be with that film. Once we get into production you'll see us that is usually when we get comfortable enough to start one of the things. So I apologize I can't say more than has already been announced. Other than we're excited about it. It's a fantastic script. I think they're great directors, perfect for this. We're really, really excited about the team we have.
Will the movie follow in the same feel of the books? In the type of genre that they are? I think one of things that so great about your publishing line is how diverse if feels. Now I know the movie plans are leading up to Harbinger Wars, but that doesn't necessarily mean each of the individual movies would feel one in the same. So, is that something that you guys still looking to keep true for some of the individual films like you do with the books?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Totally. One of the things that Warren and Fred and I talk about a lot is the fact that we don't make superhero comic books. We don't tell superhero stories. Our stories involve superheroes, but Ninjak is an espionage book. Bloodshot is a sci-fi action adventure. We're bringing that same point of view to the films. So the Bloodshot film has more in common with Terminator and Robocop and Total Recall, than it does superhero fare. In having a superhero at the center of it, but all of the other iconography, the tropes, the conventions the trappings of the film are in a different genre than I think people would expect from Bloodshot. But, this is the same thing that we do in the comic books as well. Which is try and do it subtly, so we're not hitting you over the head with it. So I think if you're a fan of the comic book you're definitely going to see that same tone and character up on the big screen. If you come to the big screen first, and then go to the comic book afterwards you'll see that same tone resonated in that same character appear in the book as well. I mean we're very conscious of, because we have a big voice in the process we're able to make sure that that happens.
If you could, outside of the movies that are there, and I'm sure you've got movies you haven't told anyone about. But, if someone came to you and said all right we're going to green light any character that you choose, who would you pick to get immediately fast tracked for a film in your universe?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Oh god. I think we all treat them like our children. It’s tough because we’ve been so lucky so far. And also, Bloodshot is the perfect film for us to be first. We built it that way. And I'm very happy that it's going to be the first one because it's the exact entry point to the Valiant universe thematically. But on the other hand the things we're doing with X-O Manowar right now are like insane.
Warren Simons: There are two, for me. and this is taking into account everything that not on the slate that has already been announced. So all those are perfect to lead out. But I do love Divinity quite a bit. And I think a David Lynch “Goat” movie would be fantastic as well.
Dinesh Shamdasani: I cannot believe that you confirmed Lynch, dude. We haven't announced him yet. [laughs]
Warren Simons: Goat, plus steady cam equals genus. [laughs]
Turning this back around to publishing for a bit, I want to ask you an Industry health question. There has been a lot of discussion that the recent rise in variant covers, and retailer exclusives are hurting the industry. Some see it as a boon, with retailer exclusives being a sales and marketing tool for comic shops. Obviously some companies have seen huge lifts in units and dollars when it comes to marketshare, is it tempting to launch an event with a wide swath of covers or is that not something remotely on your radar?
Fred Pierce: We really can't react to what Marvel and DC are doing. And let us not forget that when Marvel and DC bring a lot of people in to the stores it's good for us, not bad for us. The more people that come into the stores, they come into get Marvel or DC picks, and then they want the next best thing. A lot of the times, we are the next best thing. So everything Marvel and DC is doing is good for us. Do they take up rack space? We don't need a lot of rack space? We're going to get our books on the racks. The comic book stores are going to have us there. So I'm very happy when Marvel and DC do something because, I believe we are often going to be the next buy. That is really what we're looking for.
Dinesh Shamdasani: You see that in the way that we publish, we go in aggressively if Marvel and DC have a big event. Because we know the others will just pull out. I think we're in a unique situation. We're probably the worst company to ask that question to because we love, we love, the situation that you’re describing because it's helping us.
It also comes down to quality. If the stories, if the story is good, you should beat a drum about it and get people in. I don't know that you need 50 exclusives to do it. But you should try and be creative about getting people excited about it. I think you can survive 50 retail exclusives, if the story is good. Because people buy it, then they get jazzed about the story telling.
Dinesh Shamdasani:The fear that comes with variants is really a fear of poor quality. And getting a lot of people to notice that the quality is poor all at once, using a lot of variants.
Fred Pierce: When the retailers are making money, they're making money with us too. It all works. So as long as what Marvel and DC are doing is good and what the industry is doing is good, what Dark Horse is doing, what the Boom! or Dynamite, it's all good for all of us. The quality of the work in the comic book industry today is as good as it's ever been.
So what do you think ComicBook.com readers? What was your favorite Valiant comic in 2015? Are you excited for 2016 and beyond? Let us know in the comments below!