Since coming onto the scene in 2012 in an unprecedented relaunch of what was an all-but-defunct set of properties, Valiant Entertainment hasn't taken its foot off the gas. They've had events, critical acclaim and sales success that put them on the map as the third-largest shared superhero universe in just a few short years. Now they have a big-time movie deal with Sony Pictures and a digital series covering many of their properties in development. They have TV shows on the way, too, with none other than the likes of the Russo Brothers attached.
With their next summer event, Secret Weapons, on the way from writer Eric Heisserer (Arrival), who is also getting first crack at the aforementioned film adaptation of Harbinger from Sony Pictures, plus a recent relaunch of X-O Manowar, 2017's focus is on taking what they knew and going bigger than ever. We sat down with CEO and CCO Dinesh Shamdasani in a "State of the Publisher" to see what's been working, what could be better and why 2017 will by Valiant's next best year ever.
Dinesh, let's start with a look back: what one thing in the last year are you most proud of as a company?
Dinesh Shamdasani: That's a difficult question. We had a big year last year, and it’s not easy to pick just one thing. Faith elevated not just into a major character in the Valiant Universe, but into a major character in comics. We debuted brand new characters and concepts in Brittania and Savage to tremendous critical and commercial success.
But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would probably have to be the recent launch of X-O Manowar, the first issue of which has become our biggest selling issue since our return in 2012 and the bestselling book from an independent publisher this year. Not to mention the reviews, which have been off the charts. We're very lucky; people seem to like our books. We've been the best-reviewed publisher in comics every year since we launched and our books are often touted as among the best in the industry, but even by our standards, X-O Manowar has been tremendously received.
We set out to build a book with X-O Manowar that could compete with the biggest icons in the industry and it's been such a joy to see so many people embrace the book in such a big way. I'm so incredibly proud of everyone involved — the entire team at Valiant, all the creators, all the retailers, and all the fans — who supported the book and made it a true juggernaut. We’ve seen readers carry through not just through issues #2, #3 and #4 of X-O Manowar —which have been massive sellers for us — but also the subsequent books that have launched in April and May, as new readers who have jumped into Valiant with X-O Manowar #1 have started to migrate to our other books.
What one thing last year didn't go quite as you hoped/would you have liked to do a bit differently?
Easy! Divinity III: Stalinverse was a big favorite in the office as we were building it. The Stalinverse was something we had been working towards right from the first Divinity series — the idea that the Russian communist cosmonauts have come back and managed to change the world so that capitalism was not the dominant social ideology, but communism was. The story was told in eight parts — four parts in the Divinity III: Stalinverse miniseries and four parts in standalone one-shots that explored the other characters in the Valiant Universe and how they had been changed in the Stalinverse. For example, Bloodshot became Kommandar Bloodshot and X-O Manowar became Aric, Son of the Revolution.
We had initially planned to build four more one-shots for a total of 12 issues, and those additional one-shot issues would have featured additional Valiant characters being changed by the Stalinverse. The plan was not to solicit them upfront but to secretly put them out in the market. We were going to pick four titles that were going on at the time in the regular publishing schedule and ship two versions of each of those books. For instance, rather than shipping just Ninjak #23 with the regular narrative continuing, we would ship Ninjak #23 with the regular narrative and a version with a brand new Ninjak in the Stalinverse story. If you picked up the version with the brand new story, it would be completely different than the regularly scheduled story. The 'Stalinverse' editions would be preceded with a disclaimer to the effect of "The Soviet Bureau of Information has deemed the following story inappropriate, in its place, we present the glorious adventures of the Comrade Ninjak."
Ultimately, it proved to be too difficult logistically with the solicitation cycle and the idea was scrapped. Perhaps it's an idea for another day ...
What's something you're trying that's new or different for your company in the next year?
2016 was very much about expanding the Valiant Universe and expanding what it meant to tell a story in the Valiant tradition. We added characters like Britannia and Savage, we sequelized our first major new character with Divinity II and Divinity III: Stalinverse, and we elevated Faith and Generation Zero.
This year is a return to the icons of the Valiant Universe. We launched X-O Manowar to tremendous success in March. We've got a new Ninjak book, Ninja-K; a new Bloodshot book, Bloodshot Salvation; and Quantum & Woody all returning this year. This is something we haven't really done. We launched in 2012 with some of our marquee titles and we have not, with a few exceptions, built a new series for these marquee books. We are very lucky that those initial launches were extremely well received and went on to have long runs. X-O Manowar, for instance, had one of the longest runs in modern comics: 56 issues.
And now, we have an opportunity to define what the new point of view for these marquee books is. With X-O Manowar, we've taken the character to places he'd never been able to go before — into the cosmos. But it's also somewhere he wouldn't have been able to go to if we had not built the foundation of his origin, his time on earth, coming to terms with being a man out of time, evolving Aric as a character, all the things we did in the 56-issue run. We've tried to earn the new numbering while also building on what came before. So this year the question is, after the tremendous success of our initial series for Bloodshot, Quantum and Woody, Ninjak and so on, can we top ourselves? Can we go bigger? Can we be better? Can we live up to what we accomplished with those books?
What do you hope makes or will make people look at your product and say "This is Valiant"?
Right from the beginning, we've built our entire company — every component of it — to allow us to tell the best stories possible. Storytelling is our fundamental goal. The hope is that, when you pick up a Valiant comic and read it, it's engaging, it's moving, it feels fresh, it feels high quality, and you say "This is Valiant."
We have a number of stories coming up in the next couple of months that we feel really exhibit that. For example, Harbinger Renegade #5 (see additional preview art below) is a book we have been building to for a long time. It sets the groundwork for the massive conflict of Harbinger Wars 2 — our major event of 2018 — in that a major Valiant character will die. One of the ways we are able to maintain the quality of the storytelling is to maintain the consequence of the storytelling. So that when a character dies and we take the audience through an emotional journey, we don't undermine those emotions. We don't bring characters back willy-nilly just because it would be a sales boon to do so.
In the same regard, we have a tremendous roster of creators, some of the best in the business, who work tirelessly with the same objective in mind: quality storytelling. The upcoming Secret Weapons series is a perfect example. The book is coming from master storytellers, Eric Heisserer and Raul Allen. Eric is the writer of Arrival, for which he was nominated for an Oscar this year, and Raul is one of the finest artists and storytellers in the business. Both of them have been relentless in building Secret Weapons, tweaking it, shaping it, and it shows in the final product. That's a book that I think is really going to surprise people.
What’s something another company in the comic book industry does well that you'd like to emulate?
Every company does things we would like to emulate. It's very difficult picking just one! I would love to build Artist Editions the way IDW does, those are phenomenal books and we're lucky to be working with some of the finest illustrators in the world but it's not really part of our business plan, so it's not something that we even approach as a company. At least right now. But they are amazing books. Titan and Boom! do seem to do a really great job with licensed properties from the books of theirs I've read. It would be fun to play in another sandbox but again, it's something we’d like to emulate, but it's also something that's not really part of our plan. We're focused on the Valiant Universe.