Valiant Entertainment’s Robert Venditti and Warren Simons, the writer and editor of the upcoming “X-O Manowar” relaunch, spoke with CBR TV’s Kiel Phegley at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo about the rapidly approaching debut of the new Valiant Universe. The two discussed launching “X-O” with the first issue arriving on shelves just days in advance of the Free Comic Book Day issue, leading into what the publisher has coined the Summer of Valiant with “Archer and Armstrong,” “Bloodshot” and “Harbinger” all hitting stores in the coming months.
Simons and Venditti also go into detail on the character of Aric, the titular “X-O Manowar,” how much of the character’s previous incarnations have survived to inform his most recent iteration and Valiant’s unique talking “X-O” cover.
Check out the video and transcript of the interview below.
CBR TV: To my left are Mr. Robert Venditti and Mr. Warren Simons, the writer and editor respectively of “X-O Manowar.” We’re standing in the Valiant Comics booth — it sounds so strange to say. I’m standing at the Valiant Comics booth on a comic book show floor and it’s not 1994. It’s very good. How do you guys feel? The book’s just about to come out. I know it seems like you’ve been working for a long time to get to this point, you know?
Robert Venditti: Yeah, I think it’s been almost a year when the book comes out from when Warren and I first started talking about it. So, lot of lead work going into it which is what you want. You want to be able to take your time and put out the best story possible, so it’s nice that Valiant was so far ahead in terms of their scheduling to give everybody the time to do that. We’re just excited about it now. Cary [Nord]’s done some great work and the book looks great and now we’re just waiting for it to come out.
Warren Simons: Yeah, Robert and I, we met up last year at San Diego Comic-Con and were talking about “X-O” and kicking around a couple ideas and we’ve been able to get Cary Nord on board. He’s doing the pencil work on it and it just looks absolutely gorgeous. Stefano Guardiano is taking it way with Musso Guardman on colors and Robert is absolutely writing the hell out of it. It’s right around the corner for us, the issue goes on sale May 2nd. We’re pretty excited about everything.
You guys are launching — it’s back-to-back releases. We’ve got the first issue on May 2nd and days later for Free Comic Book Day, there’s a special issue. How did you guys work out knowing there was going to be a #1, there was going to be this special Free Comic Book Day issue? Does one play into the other or did you try to make them stand alone depending on who came to which first?
Venditti: I think this is probably a better question for you, but I would say the section that we chose of issue #1 is a nice standalone six page piece of “X-O Manowar” so that when you read it on Free Comic Book Day, it’s self-contained so you’ll have a good idea of what the story is and who the players are, the setting and all that kind of stuff. I would say that if you walk in on Free Comic Book Day or pick it up on Free Comic Book Day, you’ll get a clear sense of what it is, and of course the full issue will have the full 29-page story.
Simons: Yeah, it’s the Summer of Valiant. In May, we have “X-O.” In June, we have “Harbinger,” in July, we’re going to have “Bloodshot” and in August we’re going to have “Archer and Armstrong” and it’s all going to be #1 issues. With “X-O,” what we wanted to do is put together a really beautiful Free Comic Book Day book that showed samplings of the entire universe that had sections of “X-O” in it, that showed sections of “Harbinger” in it, that also showed previews of the books we have coming out not just over the summer but in the winter and then next year as well. What we want to do is be in a position where if someone walks into the store and read the six page or eight page sample we have coming out in “X-O,” the first issue will be on the shelves so they can pick it up. Also that our Valiant fans will get excited because the first issue came out on Wednesday but also on Saturday with Free Comic Book Day, they’d be able to see a larger sampling of the universe. We want to have both of them in tandem so we can kind of get everything on the shelves at the same time.
So, you talk about this and it’s true. I just heard a guy standing here saying that he loved “X-O” back in the day when Barry Windsor-Smith did it and they know these books so you’ve got a certain amount of audience that know this material, know these characters and then you’ve got a lot of people who have come into comics since Valiant was last around and they don’t know any of this stuff. How did you guys work in “X-O” specifically and across the whole line to split that difference in the story, to do something that was new and fresh but also held those pieces from the stories of the past?
Venditti: I think the key is to just stick with the core concept that was driving the character and keep that for the fans and keep the major conflicts and who the protagonists are and the antagonists and these sorts of things. We sort of made some changes, but to try and keep that core of the book and just modernize it. Make it something that’s going to relate to the modern day readers. We didn’t do anything that flies in the face of what stood before. We’re trying to be respectful of that and maintain what all the longtime fans are looking for but also still making it a first issue in every sense so a new reader can come to the book with no previous knowledge and pick it up and run with it. Even for myself, I was one of those readers who wasn’t overly familiar with it either because I came to comics pretty late. I didn’t read my first comic book until 2000. I’m already sort of of the mindset of “Where would I want to be if I was a new reader coming to this book? What would I want to see and how would I get people engaged with it that aren’t familiar with it and also retain people that have that pre-existing knowledge of and enjoyed those books back in the day?” You know, that’s what we try to do.
Simons: With X-O, he’s such a great character and as Robert said, the high concept that’s driving him, we have this Visigoth warrior who’s up under the oppressive thumb of the Roman empire. Through machinations, he becomes involved with an enigmatic enemy called The Vine, loses his family, loses his entire culture. He becomes a prisoner and then he’s hellbent on returning to Earth so he can seek vengeance on those that have crossed him. He returns to Earth and due to time displacement, he discovers that 1500 years have passed. So you have the most primitive man on Earth and the most technologically advanced weapon. A core concept like that you don’t want to stray too far from because it’s such a brilliant high concept. So you want to modernize it and dust it off so it becomes relevant for today’s readership, but like with “X-O,” like with “Harbinger,” like with “Bloodshot,” like with “Archer & Armstrong,” there will be some changes to all of the characters but we’ll still retain the key elements that made these characters so great in the first place and that’s why these kinds of characters can have such a devoted fanbase because so many people love what they were. We’re not going to be moving too far away from the core concepts that made them so great but by the same token, we’re going to be updating and modernizing them.
One of the things that I wanted to ask before we wrapped is you guys did these posters here and it’s one of the variant covers for the first issue, which is the talking cover where people can use their smartphones or iPads or what have you and make X-O talk to them. I understand that this is something where Robert, you were involved. It wasn’t just “We’re going to have a marketing team, we’re going to put some stuff in,” but you actually came up with some dialog in that that was going to work for this. What was your response when they said, “Hey, we’re going to do a talking cover. You want to work on expressing something out of that character’s literal mouth?”
Venditti: When they first talked to me about it, it was going to be a poster like you see on the table there that we were going to send out to all the retailers. I thought it was a great idea because before I was a writer, I worked on the publishing side, I worked a lot with the retailers doing direct ordering and stuff like that. So I know how much of an investment it is when a retailer spends their time and dedicates their shelf space to a new title. So whatever you can do to help them move that book is to the benefit of us all. When they told me about this idea, I thought it was great because it seems like the kind of thing that retailers would put up in their stores and it would get customers excited about it. It would be something that people would gravitate towards, they would want to see what it was all about. I’ve got one hanging up inside the food pantry in my house and the neighborhood kids come and look at it. It’s like it’s wizardry, they can’t understand it. It’s cool. It’s exciting and I think it speaks to the general energy as a whole that’s going on in the Valiant offices. I’m not there in the day-to-day. They’re in New York and I’m in Atlanta, but you can feel from the way that they’re not just in editorial but also the marketing people and the higher-ups and everybody, they’re really involved and they’re really excited about the books and they want to get the word out. They’re doing it in different ways and they’re putting thought into it and they’re being creative with it and having fun with it. I think just about in every sense of the word, that’s the kind of publisher you want to work for. I was on board with it from the beginning, so I wrote the dialog that they ended up using for the poster and then for the variant cover.
Warren, you guys have many books to come. Have you guys been talking about other things you can do for “Archer & Armstrong” and stuff, similar kinds of stuff with the creative side and marketing side involved to get the word out there?
Simons: Yeah, sure. We have a lot of innovative stuff on the marketing angle. The talking poster, we have the pullbox variant, we have some other stuff coming down the pike. The great thing about these is that we have a beautiful piece of art by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic and we have great dialog from Rob so I feel like it’s really tapping into the strengths of who the character is and also relying on our great talent pool and our great freelancers to create this kind of stuff.