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EXCLUSIVE: Valiant Execs Face Forward While Looking Back for 25th Anniversary

by  in Comic News Comment
EXCLUSIVE: Valiant Execs Face Forward While Looking Back for 25th Anniversary

Valiant Entertainment started life in 1990 as Valiant Comics, a company headed by former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, with an initial lineup of licensed comics based on Nintendo characters. The current Valiant — which began publishing reimagined versions of the original company’s shared universe characters such as “X-O Manowar” in 2012 — marks the 25 Anniversary of Valiant starting in May, making it clear that it’s a number they’re looking to fully embrace.

RELATED: Valiant Announces 25th Anniversary Celebration Releases Lineup

The celebration starts on May 2 — Free Comic Book Day — with the “Valiant 25th Anniversary Special,” the company’s 2015 offering for the annual event, featuring a variety of characters and creators, including a prelude to “Bloodshot Reborn” by Jeff Lemire and Kano, starring dozens of the company’s characters. That month also sees the debut of a new miniseries, “Dead Drop,” from the creative team of writer Ales Kot and artist Adam Gorham — and Valiant has stated that more 25th Anniversary-related releases are slated for the coming months.

CBR News spoke with Valiant’s CEO & Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons about the company’s expansive 25th Anniversary plans. The trio explained why they view hitting the quarter-century mark as a significant number, the importance of balancing nostalgia for the original Valiant while pushing their current vision forward, and why wholly new series under their Valiant Next banner, like “Divinity” and “Imperium,” are key for the company’s continued growth and success.

CBR News: Dinesh, Fred, Warren — it looks like Valiant is wholeheartedly embracing this opportunity to mark its 25th anniversary, with a variety of plans announced and more to come. What kind of opportunity did you see in capitalizing on this number?

Fred Pierce: We’re in an interesting situation, because when we launched, we really wanted to make it about 20 years from now, so we were embracing the future. Now, with the 25th anniversary, we have the opportunity to fold them both together. We have a huge, very loyal fanbase. It gives us a chance, while we’re promoting forward, to look back, also. As a matter of fact, I’m wearing a leather jacket from Valiant from 25 years ago, that Kevin Van Hook had made for a few of us. Dinesh made me wear it for this interview.

Dinesh Shamdasani: I insisted. Just so you know — this is 25 years of Valiant comics, it’s also 25 years of Fred Pierce at Valiant. It’s a double-celebration, so he had to wear the jacket.

Pierce: I started at Valiant in May of 1990. I was there for the heyday of Valiant — it was wonderful. They say you can’t go home again, but I did.

Shamdasani: This is a tremendous opportunity for us, because Valiant has such a tremendous heritage. Other than Marvel and DC, no one has had the kind of impact that Valiant has had. When you take a look at the creators that have been involved, from Jim Shooter, David Lapham, [Barry] Windsor-Smith; to guys like Joe Quesada, Frank Miller, Walter Simonson, Don Perlin; to the guys who are working with us now. It’s tremendous.

The storytelling in comics is different because of what the original Valiant did. The way people market books today — you can see the direct lineage of Valiant, both then and now, affecting so many different milestones in comics. You take a look at things like the Ultimate Universe, and you talk to the people who were involved in that; it took a page out of the original Valiant. It really changed the way people make comics. We see this as an opportunity to remind people of what Valiant is, and how important it’s been, and to celebrate that in all aspects of Valiant.

Warren Simons: I think it’s also a testament to the strength of the characters — what great characters we have up here, what great backstories they have, how strong and resilient they are and how exciting they are. Dinesh mentioned the opportunity to work on these creations that have been put together by some of the most iconic creators in the history of our medium, like Shooter and Lapham, Bob Layton, Barry Windsor-Smith. It’s really great to step back and take a look at the whole line.

On that note, would you say that the attitude towards looking back at the past has changed somewhat in the last three years? This current incarnation of Valiant has never run from its past, but at the same time, when you start out, you don’t want to be looked at as a company that’s coasting on nostalgia. Are you more comfortable with looking back and celebrating the entire history than you might have been a couple of years ago?

Shamdasani: We’re always thinking about the next 25 years. When we launched, we were thinking about the next 25 years. We’ve built a foundation of success, where people look at the things that we’re doing, and they get excited, and we have a fanbase, and there’s emotional connectivity to the universe that we’re building that allows us not to be defined simply by nostalgia. However, we never really look at it that way. We always look at, what’s next? What’s 25 years on? Fred is a big proponent of that.

EXCLUSIVE: Ales Kot Sets Up a “Dead Drop” for X-O Manowar, Archer & More

Pierce: The companies that look back, I find, have a problem. If you look at how well Warren and the talent have done with the books, they really have stripped the characters down to their basics, and made them very much about today and 25 years from now. That’s really what gets people excited. No one’s getting excited about an idea that’s 25 years old. They love the nostalgia of it, but the truth of the matter is, when you have the depth that we have, it’s something that you jump off of. That’s really what Warren and the talent have done. If you look at it, anyone who reads today’s comics that didn’t know Valiant existed doesn’t miss anything.

Shamdasani: And we’re competitive. The original Valiant, which Fred is part of, set a bunch of sales records and built some stories that have stood the test of time. We wanted to make sure that we set some sales records. We’re the best-reviewed publisher in the industry — I think that’s an official statistic. That means a lot to us, and we will continue that.

But we are also taking the 25th anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate the legacy and the lineage of the largest independent universe in comics, which is something really important, and I think it’s worth celebrating.

Simons: If you take a look at the books that we’re launching now, like “Imperium” or “Divinity,” which are new characters, or how we’re reimagining some books — I’m constantly pushing the freelancers and the teams to innovate and tell new stories, to think about what’s next, and most certainly not to use our history as a crutch, or to rely on continuity or rely on stories that have come before, but to continue to blaze new trails, and to continue to be a new voice in the market place.

Shamdasani: Just take a look at what we’re publishing with Valiant next. We’ve got “Divinity,” a brand-new character, which is one of the best books that we’ve published, and I think is going to be one of the best books being published by anyone this year. “Imperium,” there’s a ton of new characters in there. It’s a paradigm we haven’t seen in Valiant, or maybe in comics in general. Or “Bloodshot Reborn,” which is an existing character, it’s a very popular character of ours, but we’ve got this stellar creative team, and the things they’re doing in that book — it’s tremendous. It really is a masterpiece. It deserves that word.

Simons: I think that’s why we’ve been able to lure such great talent over here, like Lemire and Kindt, and Venditti and Dysart, Jen Van Meter — they’re excited. Creators want to create. On the writing side, we’ve had a tremendous number of extraordinary creators. On the art side, we’ve got guys like Dougie Braithwaite and Clayton Crain — I’m leaving half our team out and they’ll get mad at me, but it’s an exciting time. Looking at the extraordinary legacy that we’ve inherited with these amazing characters, but also driving forward for what’s next.

Shamdasani: That’s a good point. There’s almost is a duty that we have, based on the legacy the original guys, Fred included, built. They pioneered so many things that are now storytellings tropes, so many industry standards, that we feel there’s a duty on us to do the same. And when we find ideas — like Matt presents to us a communist cosmonaut with godlike powers [in “Divinity”] — we feel like we have a duty to make it work.

Pierce: The other advantage all of this gives us is, a good percentage of the retailers were reading comics 25 years ago. We were one of the reasons they fell in love with the comic book industry. When we count to 25 years, they realize 25 years has passed, but they also remember when they were teenagers, reading Valiant books, and becoming excited about books for the first time.

Shamdasani: It’s been really exciting, talking to our different partners on all fronts, on the licensing side and the movie side, people that are big proponents of the company, and telling them we’re doing the 25th anniversary, and talking about our plans. They get very excited, they want to be a part of it. So many of the licensees want to be part of this, and celebrate, because they’re fans of the original material as well.

You mentioned the new titles, like “Divinity” and “Imperium” — how much do those books represent a deliberate move to not only reimagine old Valiant titles, but to do things that are wholly new? How important of a step is that, pushing new titles forward at this point in the company’s lifespan?

Simons: It’s critical to arrive at this place in an organic manner, and I think that’s what’s key. I think we have a list of great creators who have told some great stories. I think it’s important to continue to innovate, just like the original Valiant did when they set up shop in 1989. I think it’s super-important that we create new creations. Some of them will work, and some of them will not, and that’s cool. I feel blessed as Editor-in-Chief of a company to have stepped into a place where we have Bloodshot, where we have X-O Manowar, where we have Harbinger, where we have some of the most iconic creations that have ever been put together in the industry.

I think having the mix and continuing to innovate, create new characters, is critical for us. There’s a great shot of Punk Mambo lobbing a Molotov cocktail at the Immortal Enemy in an upcoming issue of “The Valiant.” It’s exciting to me. I love working with the teams who want to innovate and tell stories that are going to be relevant 20 years from now.

Pierce: We have some very tough critics. We have the Valiant fans. Everything that we do new has to interweave in the fabric of the universe. Basically, any of the characters that you see fit into the universe seamlessly. That’s a testament to the creators and the editors.

Shamdasani: It’s exciting. We’ve been very lucky. I can’t believe it worked — we just set out to tell the best stories that we could, and it worked. It’s exciting that the Valiant fans, who are very harsh critics, now have the level of trust with us that we can put out books like “Divinity” and “Imperium,” and they turn up, and they get behind it, and they help integrate these characters and build them up. That’s an exciting place for us to be at right now.

Pierce: Universes have evolved, and our universe has evolved. I don’t know if a character like Punk Mambo could have existed easily in the Valiant Universe of 20 years ago, but she clearly exists well in the Valiant Universe today. Those are the kinds of characters that the culture today is looking for.

To talk a bit more about the specific anniversary plans — there’s that massive poster by Kano, variants, and also a “Valiant Universe Handbook: 2015 Edition” — is that an updated version of what came out last year on Free Comic Book Day?

Shamdasani: Yes. The handbook had a tremendous impact. We loved it. It killed us to build, but we were really shocked at how much other people loved it. We put it out again during our Dollar Debuts, and we’re going to put it out again as an updated version. We’re pretty excited about it.

We have a lot planned. We’ve got a series of specials celebrating the 25th Anniversary, which should debut in June. First one is an “X-O Manowar” #1. We’ve got a really cool trade that we’re putting together, “Zeroes & Origins.” We’ve got some classic trades coming up. We’ve got some big creators from back in the day that are cooking up some really fun stuff with us. We’ve got a lot going on.

In the age of “Secret Wars” and “Convergence,” and seeing superhero publishers revisit old stories in some form, does Valiant have any further plans to tell any new stories set in its previous continuity?

Simons: I have a high concept that I absolutely love that I’m not going to get into right here. [Laughs] It’s one of my favorite things. But again, I want to keep looking forward and innovating. We did the book “Unity,” and that has direct links to the biggest crossover that came before in Valiant history.

I also want to not just deplete the tank and be wholly reliant on things that came before, 20 years ago. I don’t have a tremendous interest in that right now as a storyteller, as the Editor-in-Chief of the company. What I would like to do is build crossovers like “Armor Hunters” or “Harbinger Wars,” innovate and tell new stories with the creators that will hopefully be foundations that 20 years from now someone could look back on and tap into. That’s what got me jazzed as a kid. Reading “Secret Wars” in 1984, that’s what got me jazzed. Reading “Dark Knight Returns” got me jazzed. I think that’s what gets our creators jazzed, also. What’s coming up in “Bloodshot” with Jeff Lemire — he’s got a lot planned out right now, and it’s all new, and it’s all innovative, and it’s all fucking amazing.

Shamdasani: It’s difficult to answer this, because we can’t tell you all the things we’re working on, but we’re all comic book fans, so we love this idea. There’s so much cool shit that our guys are working on. When this becomes the best idea, we’ll do it. There are a lot of really cool ideas.

Pierce: It feels like we’ve been around for a long time — we’ve been around for 25 years — but the new iteration of Valiant is less than three years [old]. We’ll look back 10 years from now, 20 years from now, on what we’re doing today.

Valiant Entertainment’s 25th Anniversary celebration starts in May.

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