In 2017, Valiant Comics will go above and beyond with its publication line-up. With a slew of titles on the rise, the publisher is set to unveil one of its most ambitious projects next March with its all-new X-O Manowar series. The landmark story will bring together New York Times bestseller Matt Kindt and others to give fans the most brutal X-O Manowar tale to-date. Recently, ComicBook.com had a chance to sit down with the the creative teams behind X-O Manowar and Valiant to talk about the Aric of Dacia’s punishing reintroduction. And, in an exclusive reveal, ComicBook.com can announce that X-O Manowar #1 will be getting an innovative, brushed metal variant cover to celebrate the exciting story.
We got to talk to the team at Valiant about the new cover and what fans can expect from the new series going forward.
X-O is back guys! I can only imagine now at this point you guys have got to be feeling pretty good with where Valiant is in general. To usher in this new era, can you guys real quickly explain what X-O means to you and the company overall?
Dinesh Shamdasani: X-O Manowar is arguably our most popular title, certainly the best selling title in the history of the company with over 10 million copies sold now in all languages. It's the magic of the character, it's one that our fans love, it's one that when you chat with someone that hasn't read that before and you explain the concept, there's a guy from the 4th century, fights the Romans, abducted by aliens, held aboard their starship as a prisoner, his only chance to escape is to steal the ultimate weapon that is a sentient suit of armor. It's the most powerful weapon in existence. He steals it, returns to Earth, only to find himself now in the modern day, and then triggers the invasion of Earth. He’s the most primitive man on the planet with the most technologically advanced weapon in existence.
It's interesting here because this is the first major interview the four of us have done about this book, and we did a number of interviews when we launched the company about X-O Manowar but this is one that's interesting because I'm having flashbacks, to the interviews we had back in 2012 talking about who we wanted to be as a company, talking about our hope that the plan we put together of building great stories and slow-and-steady would pay off, and that it would come to us. Here we are, it's the end of the year, it's December we've come. Every morning we wake up to 3 or 4 to different Best of the Year awards, Top Ten awards, and people calling us the best publisher in the industry. It’s a pretty great place to be.
So you guys are pulling out all the stops and really digging into your bag of tricks to make X-0 a big deal next year. How do you guys balance putting together a creative variant program that is enticing for a collector and reader, but also enticing to a retailer?
Fred Pierce: I'll tell what I see we do is we make sure, first of all, that we have a great stories. That's great writing and great art. Once we know that that's happened, and we've put a spotlight on it, we make sure that the fans are pushing for the book to the retailer and that the retailers are also comfortable ordering the book and then recommending it to the fans. The whole goal is to make sure that the retailer orders twice as many for the shelf as he was going to order for the people who got the books so that he can grow his business, he or she is comfortable knowing that Valiant stands behind them and that they will make a profit, and they will try to turn more people onto comic books, with our product.
Atom Freeman: I would say Dinesh was just talking about the beginnings of this iteration of Valiant and how I was brought on even before publishing started to being talking to retailers, that's what we've always done. As a result of that, Fred's right, we look at a book like X-O and we say, "How can we make this easier for retailers to take the risk on?"
The retailers today have probably the hardest job they've ever had before between economies that go up and down, and the numbers of titles that they have to choose from, and how do they place that risk. Our entire goal is to make it easy for them to say yes, because unless they yes, the fans won't be able to, no matter how hard we push them into the stores, the fans won't see them.
Step one is breaking this down and saying, "How are we going to make this easier for the retailer to say yes and to make money," and that's a lot of what you're seeing now, the streamlining of Valiant and such. Some of the incentives that we put on them are really just about mitigating some of that risk for them.
I would just only add that I think Fred hit the nail right on the head, which is that Valiant is and has always been a story-first company. Everything that we do is in service to the storytelling and vision of our creators. Once we get excited about something, there's nothing more that anyone that works at Valiant, from the CEO on down, loves more than good comics. Anything that we can do to get the message out about the stories that our creators are telling is really a great thing in our eyes, and that's something we like to reflect in everything we do from the posters that you see on the walls in your shop to the covers that are on the books.
Dinesh Shamdasani: It's also about the fans. We talked a lot about the retailers but it's also about the fans, that's why we do this here. The guys are right. It all starts from how good is this book. The louder you see us being and the crazy you see us being with creativity and sales and marketing, the more confident we are in the product. You could imagine, we're very, very confident in X-O Manowar, we think it's going to be the best book we've ever published, one of the best books next year from anybody.
We want to make sure that we make it as easy for the retailer as possible to stock the book; we make it easy for the fan as possible to get excited about it. Adam always talks about, "If you've got a great book, beat the drum really hard." We try to be creative everywhere we can, not just in storytelling but also in the marketing, that's what you're seeing here. We try and show confidence to the fan and to the retailer. If we're talking about this book in a hundred different ways but building a lot of programs around it, I think there is a subconscious psychic energy that gets out into the marketplace and find our balance. Really, really confident here.
Before I get to the metal cover, I want to circle back around to story-first. In announcing X-O Manowar, You’ve clearly got a big plan that you’re ready to execute on for the foreseeable future. You've got Matt Kindt coming in with an idea, you've got artists already lined up for the future of the series, and so right out of the gate, you're telling fans that we've got a plan, it's locked and loaded and we're ready to roll. Is this approach this something that we will see roll out to the rest of Valiant's line over the course of the next year; and will we see some series that you have going currently and be brought in in this style?
Dinesh Shamdasani: I think you may have killed Fred and Adam, and not just them but Warren Simons and our editorial staff as well.
Fred Pierce: I will tell you that each product that we put out needs to be loved and nurtured in it's own way and this is how we're loving and nurturing X-O. Other products will be done a little bit differently just because the talent that's on hand; how do we want to handle it; do we want the same talent on; how quickly; how far in advance can we work; how far in advance can they work. At the end of the day, you have to do what's best to the storytelling and you have to do what's true to that.
If we really start with, "Okay, this is the story we want to tell and this is how we want to tell it," with certain writers, they can write far ahead. With certain talent, they can draw quickly enough and maintain the quality. Basically what we do is, depending on the story and the talent that's put together, a lot of that drives how we're going to generate it. So, in answer to your question, some will be done like this and a good part of them might not be done like this.
Atom Freeman: Each one of our children is unique and needs different things, and I think that's also some of the brilliance of the plan that Dinesh and Warren put together early on, is not putting out too many titles all at once. It allows us the opportunity to focus on each one and put together a unique plan that will focus on the strengths of that book and help us get the message out about what that book is. If we were a publisher that needed to put out 10 new titles every single month, you probably wouldn't be able to see that because there's not enough bandwidth; but as a result of that, we get to treat each and every one of our kids like the unique, special snowflake they are.
Hunter Gorinson: With this book, part of that strategy is about making a statement about the story that Matt Kindt has in store and then about significance that this series is going to play in the Valiant publishing line and in the Valiant universe. Over the course of 2017, X-O Manowar, as you rightly noted was a book that relaunched the Valiant universe back in 2012, but now that we're bringing him back in a big, big way and pushing the character in the territory that has never before been attempted. We wanted to make sure that this was a giant book for Valiant in the new year.
I think the fact that we have five of the best artists in comics, it's actually clearing their schedules to work on some issues that are going to coming out for several months to a year. We have Matt planning out more than thirteen issues at once for his first year and what his new iteration of X-O Manowar is going to look like, says a lot about how big this book is going to be and how great Valiant is going to be in the reception we think it's going to get once fans get their hands on it.
Who found the brushed metal cover?
Dinesh Shamdasani: It was at a convention of all places. Some guy came to show us a sample almost three years ago and we’ve been noodling the idea ever since.
Hunter Gorinson: When we got the proof of concept versions, they were floating around the Valiant offices in New York and everyone loves them. It is something that I certainly have never seen as a fan in comics. The book's got some weight to it, no doubt about that.
Recently, retailers have been confronted with a seemingly endless series of escalating incentives for high-end variants — some with one in five thousand ratios or higher. Did that factor into the reasoning behind the metal cover at all?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Of course it did. Marvel ad DC are being incredibly aggressive in the marketplace right now. There is a battle for shelf space and one in five thousands are just one of the nuclear options they have pulled out of the armory over the past 12 months. We’d be foolish to believe that we could continue to succeed in this climate without at least approaching the kinds of tools they’re using. However, these kinds of promotions need to be built with a conservative and longterm approach, which is why we’ve, for one, built something that is undoubtedly unique and exciting, and therefore has value for collectors. And, two, has a robust series of qualification guidelines to protect fans and collectors.
One of your stated intentions with the new X-O Manowar is also to give the book a consistent series of cover breakdowns going forward. What is that breakdown,i and what was the reasoning behind that decision?
Dinesh Shamdasani: We spend a tremendous amount of time discuss, planning, and executing our cover and incentive programs, so that they best support the stories and so that fans can feel confident in collecting the covers without fear that we are going to overburden them or overtax their wallet. The marketplace is constantly changing and this is a moving target. We’re constantly looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of our programs and, therefore, reduce the quantity of covers. We’re a storytelling company. Variants are, at best, secondary at Valiant. With X-O Manowar, we’re attempting to redefine how variants are approached in the industry by working very far ahead and providing as much information to the collector as far in advance as possible.
We’ve announced that each of the first thirteen issues of X-O with have an A shelf cover by Lewis LaRosa, and a B shelf cover that, for each arc, will have the same marquee artist doing three standalone covers. Kenneth Rocafort is doing the B covers for #1, #2, and #3. Each arc will also have a three-part, incentive interconnected cover, beginning with an amazing piece by Mico Suayan. Lastly, each issue will have an industry icon doing a high-end incentive cover. Issue #1 will feature the phenomenal J.G. Jones.
So, if you are interested in grabbing one of these metal variant issues for yourself, then you will need to contact your local comic book shop. The exclusive item will be difficult to find, but as you can see, X-O Manowar #1 will be worth the extra mile. The gritty series will see Aric of Dacia pushed to the limits as he begins a new life. Freed from his violent past, Aric of Dacia finds himself thrust back into turmoil once he’s conscripted into an alien army and forced to fight one more. The man is seen as little more than a weapon to his masters, and X-O Manowar #1 will begin a story that shows how Acia of Dacia turns the tide of war.
X-O Manowar #1 will be available in March 2017.