Indie Comics Spotlight: Joe Illidge and Mel Caylo talk Bloodshot, Shadowman, and Valiant shakeups

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May 4, 2018

Valiant Comics was started in 1989 by former Marvel EIC Jim Shooter and Steven Massarksy. In 1994, Acclaim Entertainment picked it up but then dropped it when they went bankrupt in 2004. The characters were saved when fellow entrepreneurs Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari raised enough capital to buy the company in 2005. They changed things around and brought in several high-level folks from other comic book companies — including publisher Fred Pierce and Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons — in 2011. And in 2012, the company made its mark by officially launching its print division, but it didn't stop there. Valiant shook up the industry when it swept the Harvey Awards in 2014 and repeated that performance for two consecutive years.

This year, Valiant shook things up again, first in January, when the company was acquired by Los Angeles-based studio DMG Entertainment (Looper, Iron Man 3). This was shortly followed by the official announcement that Vin Diesel had inked a deal with Sony Pictures to bring Valiant Comics character Bloodshot to the big screen.

Next, Valiant hired comic book veteran Mel Caylo (BOOM Studios,Top Cow, Wizard) to run marketing in March, followed by another announcement that Joseph P. Illidge (Milestone, DC, Lion Forge) was named executive editor.

Now SYFY WIRE speaks with both Caylo and Illidge about their new roles, and what the current vision is for Valiant comics.

I know that there are two versions of Valiant storylines, the '90s arcs when Acclaim owned the characters and the current arcs that started in 2012, adding new characters. What is the Valiant universe now called?

Joe Illidge: Well, what [started in 2012] is really called V2, and that's because the version of Valiant that was done when Acclaim owned the characters wasn't known as Valiant Comics, so it's kind of like A1 for the Acclaim time period, V1 for when Valiant first formed, and V2 currently.

One of my favorite characters, Livewire, is going to be heading up Harbinger Wars now. Can you tell us a little bit more about Harbinger Wars II?

JI: Harbinger Wars I took place during the V2 period and was basically Bloodshot put at odds with the psiots [the superpowered members of the Valiant Universe], which Harbinger is a part of. Part of that also reintroduced a group called the Hard Corps, which came from the original V1 and was re-introduced in V2. So basically you had a triangle of combat, which was Bloodshot, Harbinger psiots, and the Hard Corps. That is revisited to some degree and escalated in Harbinger Wars II, because you're going to have Livewire going up against XO Man O War and the number two psiot named Peter Stanchek. And Peter's going to be battling Charlie Palmer, who is the head of the Hard Corps paramilitary division.

Right. As soon as everybody's done with NinjaK, because currently he's fighting everybody.

JI: Well, yeah. He's part of MI6, and what side of the battle he ends up on depends on the geopolitical situation at any given time. For him, another major conflict is that he and Livewire are romantically involved and Livewire takes a major stand that neither NinjaK nor MI6 can ignore. So Harbinger Wars II will definitely impact their relationship profoundly.

LiveWire really is the center of everything this go-round.

JI: Livewire's kind of like a first-generation character that is really going through a major character arc equivalent to some of the best classic characters. She has been around since the beginning, and she decides to take a major step using her abilities to perceive and disrupt technology. The step that she takes really catalyzes the war between the superpowers of the Valiant Universe, the rest of humanity, and the American military-industrial complex.

Speaking of classic characters, Shadowman just dropped by Andy Diggle with gorgeous new artwork by Steven Segovia. What was the choice to bring Jack back?

JI: One of the amazing things about how the Valiant Universe is set up is that when you reintroduce the characters, their status quo has evolved from the previous volume in a very significant way. So Shadowman has not had his own series in a while. He's been seen in other parts of the Valiant Universe. But coming into this book, [if you’re new] you could start right here, because Shadowman has been away from the world for five years, so he missed a lot of developments. He's been through a lot of things on the "dead side," which is the other dimension in which his power draws from connection to Voodoo magic. Now that he's back, he's on a personal redemption story, and that is going to take place over a two-year arc that Andy Diggle has set up with editorial, and we're really looking forward to rolling out the entire saga of Shadowman.

I know Bloodshot is moving forward with production at Sony; are there any other titles in development? Divinity maybe? Is this the beginning of the Valiant Cinematic Universe?

JI: Bloodshot is really going to be the high-power entry next year, with Vin Diesel and Sony, and the film is going to start shooting this summer in Prague. But for now, that’s the only film in development.

In terms of positioning, there's been a lot of talk about shops that won't push a lot of title characters of color, but at the same time, Valiant’s lineup is very diverse. What do you think are the most effective ways to push Valiant’s lineup?

Mel Caylo: Well, comic book shops are definitely our first line of defense. They are our allies, and you first have to convert them and once you do that, they become your partners in spreading awareness of these characters in comics to their customers. So without retailers, there would be no Valiant.

Today, we really have a dedicated core group of fans. I call them Valiant "evangelists." We have many, really hardcore fans who do a great job of spreading the word to their friends and to others in the comics community. We like to say that Valiant has over 2,000 characters and that we are the best-reviewed publisher in comics, and that's not smoke. That is all true.

We definitely have some fans and proponents of Marvel and DC, so I wouldn't say that Valiant is an alternative to [the Big 2], but we’re just another choice. You know, I think that Valiant's characters are all pretty diverse and unique. We have the luxury in that it's a closed universe.

Do you have any plans of changing or upping the number of storylines or titles you drop a month?

MC: You know, we've found that we don't have to do multiple books a month or two to help get these stories across. We're perfectly happy doing five to seven titles, and I think that makes it manageable for fans, many of whom are on a budget. So if you want to keep up with Valiant, you can afford to do so with minimal investment.

JI: The core Valiant audience, they have been loyal since the beginning, and they're our first priority. We're looking at the changes in the industry, and we have a really good foothold. So to maintain that we kind of have to acknowledge different things going on. Where is the growing readership? What age are they, and what kind of stories do they want? So what we definitely want to do is invite more people to the party. We have the core audience, now we just want to give the audience some company.

Are you looking to do any more YA titles? Are you looking to get some of the younger audience?

JI: Well, the thing is Faith is actually our YA title. YA titles tend to be aspirational in terms of the main character in age, and I think even though Faith came out of Harbinger, if you look at the independent Faith series, if you look at Faith and the Future Force, you're talking about books that are great gateway books for younger women. Librarians have really taken to Faith and the work that writer Jody Houser and the various artists that have been paired up with her have accomplished here. There are a lot of great characters in that series that can expand in a variety of different directions.

So what I really hear you saying is that even though you are growing and expanding into other areas, you're still making those shipping deadlines and the core characters are not going to be harmed.

JI: That's right. We're going to build on what exists before. This is not a scorched-earth scenario. We're building on the beauty of the Valiant Universe, and I have really enjoyed starting to talk with fans on social media. I know the Valiant fans love to ask a lot of questions. They love to get a sense of what's happening. And I've been enjoying engaging in those discussions with them. So, as Mel said, we're not going anywhere. We're going to double down on our relationships with the creators, the fans, and the retailers.

Valiant Comics Harbinger Wars II: Issue 1 Prelude hit comic books shops this week on May 2, 2018.

 

This article was edited May 4, 2018.