Baltimore Comic-con 2012

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Valiant Interview at the Baltimore Comic-Con 2012

Written by Maxxum

In the early 1990's Valiant Comics was a new publisher, helmed by Jim Shooter, an experienced editor/publisher/writer who had worked at both DC and Marvel. After a quick rise, Valiant Comics was eventually acquired by Acclaim Entertainment, who then declared bankruptcy in 2005, so ending the Valiant Universe. Or so we thought... banished bad guys always come back, dead heroes always return, and good publishers find new investors - so it goes with Valiant Entertainment in 2012. Valiant has been recreating its Universe, starting with 'X-O Manowar', 'Archer & Armstrong', 'Bloodshot', and 'Harbinger'.

I attended a panel in which the team discussed their plans for the new series; I was curious to see how fans would respond during the Q&A - fans can be tough critics, but original fans can be even more harsh when judging re-inventions of their favorite titles. Some questions were fielded by new fans, and quite a few original ones - the questions were long, specific, and probing. An interesting pattern emerged as the Valiant panelists had to avoid answering many of the questions because to answer them would reveal important plot-lines; which I saw as an indication that Valiant had already synced with the minds of those original fans by creating possibilities in story-lines that fans are anxious to see.

Warren Simons, executive editor of Valiant Fred Van Lente (foreground), writer for 'Archer & Armstrong' and Hunter Gorinson (background) marketing manager for Valiant Justin Jordan, writer for 'Shadowman' Duane Swierczynski (left), writer for 'Bloodshot' and Joshua Dysart (right), writer for 'Harbinger' Cary Nord (left), artist for 'X-O Manowar' speaking with Robert Venditti, writer for 'X-O Manowar'

A few hours after the panel, I had time to speak with Fred Pierce, publisher for Valiant Entertainment about the new company, and Hunter Gorinson, marketing and communications manager:

Why Valiant, why now?

Fred: Well part of "why Valiant" is Valiant was the third largest [comic publisher], and probably the next best universe that's available. And after Marvel and DC I don't know that there's another universe that compares to Valiant. So, that's why Valiant. The fans never went away - I've been in the industry now 20 years, and people are always asking about the early days of Valiant, the times of Valiant; they love the characters.

There's thousands of people that consider themselves Valiant fans, and when we were calling the stores, as it turns out, 30 to 40 percent of the retailers grew up during that time, so they're huge Valiant fans themselves, which is the advantage we have, the advantage we have today is everybody's been really yearing for Valiant to come back ... so those who have been great and support us, you see them here now all the time.

They became ambassadors to the stores and to their friends, and retailers said, "Y'know - why not?" We love Valiant, we're taking a serious shot, that's why Valiant. And, you'll see the books really have a course. And, you saw in the room today, that even the new readers who love the books, wanted to know, "Do I have to read the old books," and the answer is "No." But, if you know the old books, you have a different experience.

A lot of the people at the panel were long-term fans, what are you going to be doing to get new fans.

Fred: Part of what we're doing now is we're marketing and Hunter is great at marketing, Atom [Freeman] is great at sales. We're exposing it [Valiant] coming to these shows, telling people about the shows, doing the "Pullbox Variant", so that people know, this is Valiant, and if you want this other cover, it doesn't cost anymore, and anybody can have it, but you have to have a subscription with your retailer. It helps the retailer, it brought the old Valiant fans in, and it gave the new Valiant fans something else to look at, something else to do.

It's a story about today, so if you look at 'Harbinger,' if you look at 'Bloodshot', if you at 'Archer & Armstrong', if you look at 'X-O', they're really very today stories. 'Harbinger' couldn't have been written 5 years ago, it's a story about now. 'Archer & Armstrong' with the "One Percent," could only be written today.

Hunter: Original Valiant was always ahead of its time to some degree, sometimes we've actually caught with them, with what they were trying to do.

Fred: So, what we're really looking to do, is not be the Valiant of 20 years ago ... we were writing about nanites before anybody else was talking about nanites, but now nanites people talk about, so we're trying to be 15 years ahead, what's going to be, what's going to happen.

People are going to be comparing the new Valiant to the old Valiant, what kind of volume is the new Valiant doing as opposed to the old Valiant when it first came out?

Fred: The old Valiant is from a different world, it's a different time-period, and everyone in those days, was selling hundreds of thousands - there were Valiant books that sold over a million in the day. I remember some of the Image guys were joking around and saying if any of our books go under 250,000 we're gonna cancel them.

I was telling people at the time, y'know it's sort of like the Bible - in the Bible you're gonna have seven good years, and then seven bad years, I said we're gonna have seven good months, and then let's hope it's only seven bad years. But, you can't compare volume of what was going on, nobody is doing those numbers - Marvel and DC aren't doing those numbers. In today's marketplace, with only four books, we're one of the top ten publishers. We're talking now only twelve books of ours have been released, twelve physical different comic books. We're doing spectacularly well, we're making in-roads in the market, and the retailers have treated us well, Diamond [Comic Distributors] has been phenomenonly supportive of what we're doing, and the fans have gotten behind us, I'm impressed, guys like you, look, we're a company that started in May, you guys [press] are here talking to us. Everybody has been very supportive of us, and the books have been great.

Are you going to be doing anything with chromium, and to add on to that, are you [Valiant] going to be carrying the flame, or is this an entirely new torch?

What we're doing is, we have the old IP [intellectual property] that everybody loves, and we have to make that for today. So, will we do chromium, if chromium makes sense. But, we're not doing it now ... we came up with a QR poster, and it would talk - we had 20,000 downloads, of the 'X-O Manowar' character talking about how he was feeling about being in the world today. ... We did all of these innovative things, and we're doing that now. The "Pullbox Variant," the QR poster, all of these kinds of things - so, in that sense, we are trying carry the torch, but you got to be innovative, you can't be innovative on old stuff, you have to be innovative on new stuff. When we come across the next best technology, we'll all sit in a room and figure it out, but that's really how it works; and, at the old Valiant it was very collaborative, and at the new Valiant it's very collaborative.

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Hulk Stan Lee with The Red Skull, Captain America and Tony Stark Chun-Li (Street Fighter) statue Hobgoblin statue Stan Lee with John Romita Sr.
Stan Lee & John Romita panel with fans V This thing keeps getting bigger every year Spider-man

After speaking with Fred and Hunter, we talked a little about the comics - professionally I have an interest in the story, but personally I collected 'X-O Manowar' when I was younger, and I expressed my frustration at being unable to buy a copy of 'X-O' #2 when it hit shelves, and had been unable to find one anywhere leaving me with an incomplete collection for the last 20 years. Hunter actually had a copy of the print, which he gave to me. Talk about supporting the fans.

I'd been to the BCC last year, but this year was a more personal experience. Being able to stand a few feet from Stan Lee as he posed with cosplayers, shaking hands with the people whose comics I used to read when I was younger... you could see everywhere that people were breaking the barrier between fan and artist/publisher/writer. I've been to a lot of conventions, and it's not uncommon to feel like one is outside the window looking in, whether it's talking to famous people, or the staffers working the event - I didn't feel that way at this year's BCC. They got it right, and I hope they continue the formula.

End of line.

Photos by Maxxum