There are few companies in the comic industry taking bigger strides than Valiant. The home of characters like X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, and Ninjak, the publisher has gathered attention from fans, critics, and industry stalwarts alike since launching in 2012. Always looking towards the next step, Valiant has gone through several branded publishing initiatives that change the way comic stories are told, published, and promoted, including the Summer of Valiant and Valiant First.
And the company is at it again with their latest initiative, Valiant Next, which begins in December with the prestige format series “The Valiant” from Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Paolo Rivera. From there, the publisher will roll out six new titles featuring characters both new and old. Creating a new universe takes a lot of work, but it’s a task that Valiant’s leaders, including Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons, CEO & Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce, and Marketing & Communications Director Hunter Gorinson are happy to tackle. As Valiant prepares to enter the next phase of they call “the long game,” the publisher’s top brass spoke with Comicbook.com about Valiant Next, what keeps them up at night as comic creators, and why they’re the “Welter Weight Champions” of the industry.
Plus, Valiant provided Comicbook.com with a slew of exclusive art from Bloodshot Reborn #1, The Valiant #2, Ninjak #1, and Ivar, Timewalker #1. We'll tell them that you're welcome.
Thanks for speaking with us, guys. So the best place to start would be the upcoming miniseries, “The Valiant.” You’re releasing that series in a prestige format, which we don’t often see in today’s current market. How does that format benefit the story, as opposed to a traditional miniseries?
Dinesh: This is a story that’s told on a big scale. It’s very epic. Just in the first eight pages we span 10,000 years of history with three majors battles, all of which have major consequences for the Earth. We have a tremendous creative team that we’ve put together with Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Paolo Rivera. So this is a very important book for us. We felt that this one was very special, and wanted to do everything we could to make it feel that way.
Fred: We wanted the book to stand out all on its own. And how do you cut through the noise of 400 or 500 titles a month? This is a book that deserves to stand out. We’re going to do a matte finish. We didn’t raise the price, because we wanted to make sure that everyone who’s wanted to enter the Valiant Universe didn’t know where to enter, could do so here. With the creative team, and with the format of the actual book, and the scope of the story, if you’re ever going to jump into a Valiant title, this is sort of our neon sign saying “Jump In Here.”
Dinesh: We’ve taken a lot of time to make sure that everything in the book is designed for a high level of quality. It’s going to look beautiful. In the backend of the book, we’re going to walk through Paolo’s artistic process. The bonus content is going to be a lot of fun, and will compliment a really beautiful story.
And this will be Jeff Lemire’s first Valiant project. How did he become involved with Valiant? What will his writing style bring to the Valiant universe?
Warren: Jeff’s obviously one of the most talented creators working in our industry right now. If you’ve ever read “Sweet Tooth” or “Essex County,” you know what type of a powerhouse he is. He’s a really terrific guy to work with. We’ve also been working with Matt Kindt on a bunch of different titles up here, including “Rai.” He got on our radar when Matt and I were talking, and he had mentioned that he and Jeff were really good friends. They were thinking about collaborating on something. So when I had the opportunity to go out to Seattle, I met with the guys and discussed different opportunities and different projects. And we came up with “The Valiant,” which I think is really special. As Dinesh mentioned earlier, it’s something that spans the Valiant Universe’s entire history. But it’s also accessible to new readers. We were really smitten to have Paolo Rivera involved, who’s obviously one of the most talented guys working in the industry today. It’s a pleasure to work on a book like this.
Rolling into the general idea of Valiant Next, what goals do you have for the concept? What are you hoping to achieve with this initiative, and what makes Valiant Next different from past concepts like Valiant First or the Summers of Valiant?
Dinesh: When we launched the Valiant Universe, it was very important for us to get our big, marquee characters up on the canvass. It was very important for us to come out there and let the world know what we’re doing. That gave us the opportunity to then expand and try new things. We’ve been doing that for the last couple of years. You’ve seen that with Valiant Firsts. We launched Rai and the 4001 version of Valiant. You’re seeing us experiment with a lot of crazy, fun things like “Punk Mamba Zero”, which I think is one of the best things we’ve put out. We had a lot of fun with “The Delinquents,” when crossed Archer & Armstrong into Quantum & Woody.
But we built the foundation for our universe, and I think that’s what draws a lot of people in towards us. We’re building a universe from scratch. And we’re doing it with the best creatives in the business and the best editors in the business. And even though we’ve built our universe from the ground floor, we’re not out of steam. Valiant Next is about taking it to the next level. “The Valiant” is the perfect kickoff for that, because it’s one of the biggest creative teams in comics. It easily could have been one of the major releases from one of the Big Two publishers, given the creative team, its vision, and its scope.
Warren: Valiant Next also provides us the opportunity to introduce new characters that we haven’t seen before. We’re extremely excited to reboot Ninjak, which is one of the characters that fans have asked for repeatedly at conventions since “X-O Manowar #5.” We’re excited to finally launch him in his own book in March, followed by another Bloodshot title by Jeff and Mico Suayan in April. Those books give us the opportunity to really experiment and tap into some new things. I think we have a really great combination of extraordinary ideas coming out of here today, and some of the extraordinary characters that we inherited from from Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, David Lapham, and Barry Windsor Smith.
Valiant Next Will Also Feature “Divinity” and “Imperium,” two entirely new titles and Concepts to your lineup. Could you tell us what those two books will be about, and what will make them unique to the Valiant Universe?
Warren: Sure. Matt Kindt put together a pitch for Divinity that knocked all of us on the ground. It’s the story of a cosmonaut from the 1960s who goes up into space, but something occurs up there. He goes farther than any cosmonaut or astronaut has ever gone before. He seemingly returns to our present time, in 2014-2015, and finds himself as one of the most powerful people in the universe. And he also happens to be a communist. We thought the idea was something that we hadn’t seen before, so we were extremely excited by that.
Matt’s a brilliant writer, and Trevor Hairsine’s one of the most talented pencillers in the industry. We almost have the entire first issue in, and it looks extraordinary. Trevor’s doing some amazing work. “Imperium” is by Joshua Dysart, who did an amazing job for us on Harbinger. It continues the story of Toyo Harada. When we left him in the last incarnation of “Harbinger,” Harada was essentially outed as a villain. He was always content to work within the system, to be a “kingmaker” and operate in the shadows, but that thin veneer has been shattered by Peter Stanchek and the Renegades. It forces Harada to tap into opponents that he’s never tapped into before, and to form, for lack of a better term, his own League of super villains. He’s now building a team that achieves through force. So while Peter thought that he was taking Harada down by publicly leaking all this information him, it was actually one of the worst things Peter could have done. And there’s going to be some horrific ramifications to the Valiant Universe as a result.
Dinesh: And these new characters make the book so exciting. While the thematics of what happened in Harbinger continue, it’s also a great place for someone to come in and get a different perspective on the Valiant characters. We have four new characters that Josh Dysart has done such a great job creating and Doug Braithwaite has done a great job designing. They’re the types of characters that people haven’t seen from us yet, and I think they’re going to take people by storm.
One thing that I was curious about were your plans for readers who have stuck with you since the 2012 re-launch. You’re obviously concerned with attracting new readers, which is important, but how are you planning on retaining your devout readership? Are you working towards any rewards or payoffs for the readers intimately familiar with characters?
Dinesh: Our books are very layered. If you take a look at Ivar, Timewalker #1 you’ll see a bunch of cameos. You might be Rai in 4001, or you might see Gilad in a battle from Unity #1. This is something that we talk a lot about. Series writer Fred Van Lente came up here and he walked all of us through his timeline for the Valiant Universe. Fred found all the little places where characters and events can overlap. That’s part of the fun with Timewalker. Ivar is a character than can visit events that you’ve already seen in the Valiant Universe, like “Armor Hunters” and “Unity,” or events you haven’t yet seen, which “Ivar, Timewalker” or other books will visit later on. So for our fans, we just try to build the best stories. That means building on our continuity and knowledge. At the same time, we don’t have Wolverine and we don’t have Batman. We understand who we are, and we aren’t trying to be something we’re not. So, we try to make everything as accessible as possible so we can grow the readers
Warren: We’re always trying to tap into what we’ve built so far. Just take a look at the journey Robert Venditti took X-O Manowar on with “Armor Hunters.” If you had been reading all along, you found this multi-layered story. But by the same tolken, Armor Hunters isn’t impenetrable . When we’re working the scripts, we’re trying to make sure that we’re drilling into what we’ve built so far. But we don’t want to make everything inaccessible. With “The Valiant” for example, you’ll find out where Bloodshot is, you’ll pick up where Eternal Warrior is, and you’ll see where Geomancer is. It’s really a great place to figure out the whole Valiant Universe, but if you’re invested in one particular character’s story, you’ll also see their natural progression.
Heading into Valiant Next and beyond, who is one particular character that readers should pay attention to? Which character is really poised to shake things up for the Valiant Universe?
Warren: While I wish that I could pick one, I can’t. They’re all my children. I’ll give you three though: Ivar, Bloodshot, and the new characters in Divinity.
Fred: If you were going to pick one character who’s story keeps progressing through the Valiant Next titles, I think Bloodshot would be the one.
Awesome. And looking beyond Valiant Next, what larger plans are in store for your ongoing books?
Warren: Well, we have some great stuff coming up with X-O Manowar. It’s not part of the Valiant Next initiative, but I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We have some stuff coming out towards the middle of the year that isn’t part of the Valiant Next initiative, but will be direct results of what happens during Valiant Next. We just want to take things one step at a time.
Dinesh: Warren’s right. We have some great stuff coming out for X-O Manowar next year. As a tease, I suggest you pick up X-O Manowar #30. In #30, there’s a teaser in the back that will give you your first clue as to what 2015 holds.
One of the things that has made Valiant stand out amongst its competitors is its willingness to experiment with things like the talking QR variant covers or the Harbinger Wars 8-bit mobile game. Are there any new special projects coming down the pipeline that you can tease?
Fred: One of the incentive covers for Rai #5 will actually have sport a new talking QR cover.
Dinesh: We’ll also continue a program called “The Plus Edition.” We we did that previously on “Rai #1” and “Dr. Mirage #1,” where we released 16 pages of additional material into a book. We’re bringing that format back for Rai #5. We also made standee for The Valiant, which we’re really excited about. We have over 100 of them going out to stores.
One of the things we always question is, what is the best way to tell the story? We have the prestige format for The Valiant, because that’s the best way to tell that story, and then Ninjak #1 will be a 30-story page book, just because we’ll juggling multiple timelines and we want to be able to tell the larger story in the right amounts. We could have compressed the story, but the it wouldn’t have reached its full potential. We do that frequently. “X-O Manowar #1,” our very first comic, was 29 story pages.
Fred: Sometimes the story takes on a life of its own, and luckily we have the ability to allow for more story pages or special PR to supplement that. We’re such a young company, and we’re not beholden to and large corporate mandates.
Cool. So to wrap up, I was wondering: What keeps you up at night, as editors and publishers? What are the things that you’re constantly thinking, wondering about, and stewing over?
Fred: You always want to be smarter tomorrow than you were yesterday. Every time we come up with a new idea, you raise the bar for the next new idea. So what really keeps us up at night is that we believe we’ve done a wonderful job, but how do we make sure that all of the editorial, marketing, and publishing branches work together to top what we’ve done before? How do you be brilliant again? The second you’ve done something in the industry, it gets absorbed by all the other publishers, so you have to constantly keep thinking of new ideas. I can’t tell you how many times other people in the industry have come up and thanked us for coming up with an idea.
Warren: For me, at the end of the day it’s art. That’s the biggest challenge. While it’s commercial art, it’s still art. You essentially have 28 days to make 22 pages of content eight or nine times a month. So that’s a healthy amount to try to do while continuing to innovate and do the best stories possible. I honestly believe, pound for pound, that we’re putting out the best comics in the industry. We’re not as big as some of the other companies, but I really do believe that if you go through the stack, our books will stand out. That, and my children keep me up at night (laughs).
Fred: We’re the welter-weight champs of the comic book industry. We’re not the heavy-weights, but we are the welter-weight champs.
Warren: We’re just trying to never be fully satisfied with what we’ve done. We’re trying to make sure that the next book we do is better than the last.
Dinesh: You know, Warren and Fred’s answers are actually very enlightening to me. They’re the types of problems you want to have. They’re good problems to have. Like they said, how do we do something that we’ve never done before, and how do we get new readers? How do we tell new stories, and how do we tell them as best as we can? I think that’s the crux of who we are as a company right now. We’re playing a very different game than retailers, readers, or other publishers have seen before. We’re playing a much longer game. We don’t have many problems. We all sleep pretty well at night, because we’re playing such a long game. There’s just so much investment. Take a look at the creative lineup for the Valiant Next titles—it’s insane. Jeff Lemire, Paolo Rivera, Matt Kindt, Doug Braithwaite, Josh Dysart, Clay Mann. It’s crazy who we have on board, and that’s just Valiant Next. If you look at the rest of our lineup, we have Clayton Crain on Rai, and Robert Venditti on X-O Manowar. We’re happy to have them all. And our sales are really strong compared to where we thought we’d be. We’ve got a ton of resources, a ton of great staff. We have so much time as well. That’s the thing. We know we don’t have the big characters, but we’re telling great stories. We’ll get there.
Awesome. Well, I think that’s a perfect note to end on. Thanks for taking the time to chat, everyone.