Since its return as an active entity in 2012, Valiant Entertainment has steadily hit recognizable comic book publisher benchmarks: Its first major multi-part story with “Planet Death,” its first superteam with “Unity,” and its first crossover event with the current “Armor Hunters.”
Now, the current Valiant embraces another first: Its first Editor-in-Chief in Warren Simons. Simons has more than a decade of editorial experience in the comic book industry, dating back to several years at Marvel, and had held the position of Executive Editor at Valiant since 2011. The promotion means he’s only the fourth editor-in-chief in Valiant history, period, following Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and Fabian Nicieza.
In our exclusive first interview with Simons in his new post, CBR News and the freshly minted man in charge discuss what the change means for him and the publisher, their goals going forward and the tantalizing hint that next month’s Comic-Con International in San Diego will feature “the biggest announcement the company’s ever done.”
CBR News: Warren, how does this move change things for both you and for Valiant? From the outside, I think the predominant view was that your job as executive editor was sort of a de facto editor-in-chief position already.
Warren Simons: We’re growing the company. The whole company’s growing, our editorial team is growing. We’re going to have some exciting new stuff coming up in the next couple of months.
I’ll still continue to manage many of the titles that we have up here. I think we’ll continue to put out some of the best books in the industry.
Editor-in-chief is a job that has a lot of history in the comics world. How does it feel to be taking up the role? If you look at the past Valiant editor-in-chiefs, all three are big names in comic book history.
There have been some extraordinary, talented people who have held the position at Valiant, there’s no doubt about that. I certainly do feel honored. We have a great team. I can’t speak highly enough about Dinesh [Shamdasani], our CEO; or Gavin [Cuneo], our CFO; or Peter [Cuneo], the chairman of our board; Hunter [Gorinson], our marketing guy. [Editors] Josh [Johns] and Alejandro [Arbona]. It really does take an entire team to make everything work.
I think that what we’ve tried to do from day one is just simply put out the best comic books marketplace, and that’s what we’ll continue to do — continue to try to get really great creators up here like Robert Venditti and Joshua Dysart and Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain. We’re putting our hearts and souls into the titles.
Speaking of the growth of the company, Valiant has had a very steady and seemingly calculated and deliberate growth. It hasn’t been a rapid expansion; there looks to be a plan at work as to when to hit different benchmarks. Now that you’re in place as editor-and-chief, and as someone that’s been with Valiant from nearly the beginning of this venture, what are you looking forward to for the future? How much growth do you see left to do?
We’ve always tired to be meticulous in our planning — we try to make sure that the series that we’re launching makes sense in the context of a larger publishing plan, that it makes sense against the broader tapestry of the universe. That the titles we’re working on, when they tie into each other, there’s a reason for it. “Armor Hunters” happened because of an actual progression of the story that Robert Venditti started in “X-O Manowar” #1.
It’s also been a real testament to the brain trust up here, including Dinesh and Fred Pierce, our publisher — trying to make sure that we’re not just simply throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. We really try to make sure that we have the right story, that we have the right creative team, that any book that we launch is being launched because we feel like it’s going to be a great comic.
Over the next month or so, we’ll have announcements coming up that will be some of the biggest books that Valiant’s ever done. We have some absolute monsters coming down the line. I can’t get into it too much, but I will say that I am extremely, extremely excited for what we have. It’s a couple different projects I’m working on — the scripts have been terrific, we have some monster artists lined up. So I feel like the best is yet to come. We’re really happy with what we accomplished, I’m really happy with the books. But I want to make sure that the comic we put out tomorrow is better than the one we put out yesterday.
In regards to the number of books released a month, Valiant has expanded to a point, but hasn’t flooded the market in a way they might be tempting. How much more room do you see in the short-term future to grow that number?
I think we’re going to focus on nine titles as our maximum for the foreseeable future. Quality is paramount.
As someone who’s been with the company since 2011, what are some things you’re particularly proud of? Things Valiant has been able to do that maybe isn’t possible at some of the other comic book companies, especially the ones also doing shared universes?
I’m really proud of the collaborators that we have. I’m really proud of the job that Robert Venditti and Cary Nord have done on “X-O Manowar.” I’m really proud of what Joshua Dysart and Clayton and Khary [Evans] have done on “Harbinger.” I love the job that Matt and Clayton Crain are doing on “Rai” right now. I feel like “Harbinger Wars” was a highlight; our first sort of crossover, even though it was small scale. I think “Unity,” with Dougie Braithwaite, is just a hell of a lot of fun. I think the guys have done a great job with “Quantum and Woody,” I think that book’s been hilarious almost every single month. I loved the first arc of “Archer & Armstrong” with Fred Van Lente, and I think Josh Johns has done a terrific job shepherding that book. I’m really proud of how hard everyone works.
A lot goes into it. The costume redesigns, the designs for the books, hiring and staffing up — there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that nobody ever sees that takes an enormous amount of time and energy. I really feel like we’ve got a great crew of employees who work their ass off, because we want to make sure that every time a fan plunks down three or four bucks for a comic, it’s the best book that they’re going to read that month — or at least that week. That’s our goal. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s our goal.
Slow and steady wins the race. Every single freelancer I’ve always worked with will probably tell you that’s my mantra. Just consistency, consistency, consistency.
Is there anything you’d like to see that Valiant hasn’t been able to do yet? Areas where the books could improve, or something you’d like to see done differently or better going forward?
As the great Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Not everything we’ve done has been perfect, but we try to make sure that the book that comes out next will be better than the last one.
As we grow the company, things actually become easier and smoother. When we walked in the door three years ago, we were talking about what X-O Manowar’s costume was going to look like, who was going to redesign that. Luckily we had Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, one of the most talented designers probably on Earth, work on that for us and just knock it out of the park.
Beyond just past mistakes, but is there something that for whatever reason Valiant hasn’t done yet within publishing you’d like to see — a type of book, tone or genre?
I think as we grow and ramp up we’ll be introducing new characters, we’ll be experimenting with different formats, we’ll be taking a look at some stuff that we haven’t touched on yet. The first summer of Valiant had four launches — “X-O,” “Harbinger,” “Bloodshot” and “Archer & Armstrong.” Our main goal was to show our fans and new fans what these books are about, what these characters are about. Now that we’ve built a little bit of foundation in place, it provides you the opportunity to do a book like “Armor Hunters,” which gives us a chance to bring in more of a fantastical cast than we’ve seen in the Valiant Universe, at least in this current incarnation.
We’re continuing to grow, we’re continuing to experiment with different things. I think you’ll see a lot more crazy stuff coming up over the next year. That’s taking into account of course, that we did do a book called “Bleeding Monk” #0. We get out there when we need to. [Laughs]
When Valiant started, fans were asking questions like, “When are we going to see Rai?” “When are we going to see Quantum and Woody?” At this point, readers have seen most of those past Valiant properties return. You tell me — are there still legacy Valiant properties out there that are left to get revitalized by the new company?
There are. There are some that we haven’t had a chance to get to just yet. We’ve got a super-deep bench here. For example, “Unity” in its initial incarnation wasn’t a team book, but now it is. We’ve zigged and zagged somewhat. We’re going to have some stuff coming up over the next year that will be new concepts that we haven’t seen before in the Valiant Universe, and also we’ll continue to tap into some of the books that we haven’t had a chance to get to yet. I think the next announcement that we have coming up is going to be pretty extraordinary.
The current Valiant, as noted, has introduced new characters and new concepts — so can we expect new series launching starring some of the new characters and new concepts?
Yes, absolutely. It’s something that we all think is a great idea. I don’t want to give away too much right now, but we’ll be getting to it over the next year. You have characters like Generation Zero or the Bleeding Monk that I feel would be awesome additions. We will get to it in time.
Let’s talk your philosophy towards recurring talent — Valiant has had a clear pattern, with both writers and artists, in utilizing folks that might have been undervalued at the bigger companies. How important is that aspect to you, both in these first few years and going forward?
I’ve been super-honored to work with a crew of guys and girls who don’t treat this as the fourth or fifth most important book that they’re working on. They really put their heart and soul into it, which is why we’ve been able to build relationships with creators that last for years, and they continue to come back and work with us. It’s really important for us to hire them for their voice, and not just hire them and completely and totally revise what they want to do through our filter.
We do think it’s important. We talked a lot really early on when I came here about what freelancers were out there, what talent was out there that was being underutilized in the marketplace. But the main thing that we’re looking for, really, is freelancers who can tell a good story, who are good writers, who are good artists. I don’t care if they’ve only published one book and never had an ongoing book, I don’t care if they’ve never tapped into a superhero comic before — or I don’t care if they’ve done a thousand of them, and they’ve been mainstays at Marvel or DC or Image or another company for years and years and years. I feel if we’re able to bring talent in that will put their hearts into the book, and make sure that the books ship on time and care about the properties that they’re working on, that’s really what we’re looking for above everything else.
In terms of audiences for Valiant books, the company definitely seems to be taking advantage of different distribution methods to getting books out of there, along with having a heavy presence at conventions. As now editor-in-chief, do you feel that Valiant is reaching the full audience you want to be reaching? Are you hitting your targeted demographics as much as you’d like to be?
We wouldn’t be where we were if it wasn’t for the Valiant fans. We think they’re awesome. We think the world of them. But my main goal right now, as it has been for three years, is to build really accessible books — to continue to strive to build books that you can hand to anyone, and they can read without having a comprehensive understanding of what came before.
What we see at a lot of the shows, people will come up to us and they won’t know our stuff. We’ll get them an issue of “Harbinger” or an issue of “X-O” and they’ll come back the next day and they’ll buy the whole run. Or they’ll come back the next day and buy three or four trades. Because the quality of the books, I feel, is so good. I really do believe that. What we’re going to do is continue to grow, continue to look for other outlets, continue to try to build and build and build. That’s really our focus.
I want to ask about the recent news that editor Kyle Andrukiewicz was moving from DC Comics to Valiant. What attracted Valiant to his work?
We’re really excited to have Kyle joining us. We think he’s going to be a fantastic addition to the team. He seems to be a super-smart, bright guy. We’re a fan of the stuff that he’s done to date.
People in the industry speak extremely high of him. When news got out there that he was going to be coming over, I must have had 15 emails from people telling me that we got a great one.
Anyone in the comics industry is very aware at this point that Comic-Con International in San Diego is coming up soon — any hints as to what we can expect to hear from Valiant coming out of that show?
We’re going to have the biggest announcement that the company’s ever done. But besides that, I don’t want to hint at too much. [Laughs] I don’t want to set expectations too high, but I am very, very, very happy. I’m very excited. We’ve got an extraordinary creative team, an extraordinary story. It’s going to be a lot of fun.