Just a week after the surprising announcement that Valiant Entertainment would ramp up its publishing into a full line of comics in 2012 thanks to a capital infusion from new Chairman Peter Cuneo, the resurgent brand that left a mark on the ’90s comics market is taking the next step in building its staff this morning with the announcement of Publisher Fred Pierce and Executive Editor Warren Simons.
Pierce comes to Valiant after stints both at the first iteration of the publisher before its eventual sale to Acclaim as well as a long stretch as President of Wizard Entertainment before that company’s shuttering of its print magazine publishing operations. Simons edited many Marvel Comics of note over recent years including award winners like J. Michael Straczynski’s “Thor” and fan favorites like “The Immortal Iron Fist.”
CBR News landed an exclusive first interview with the pair, and below we dig into their histories in comics, how they view the goal of Valiant Entertainment’s 2012 launch, what characters and concepts will stick strongest moving forward and how Valiant looks to meet the challenge of comics publishing in the digital age.
CBR News: To start, both of you guys have done plenty of work within the comics industry over the years, but at the same time, many fans may not recognize your names right out of the gate. Could you give us a brief rundown of what kinds of specific projects from your previous gigs you felt most strongly carried your creative and professional stamp?
Fred Pierce: I’m proud of my time at the original Valiant helping all departments editorial, marketing and business work effectively together to grow Valiant into the major industry force that it became selling 80 million comic books.
As well-known Valiant was for creative innovation, we believed we matched this with marketing innovation, from redeemable coupons for new issues to the Unity crossover to Chromium covers. Wizard Entertainment was also filled with a crew of creative giants the editorial and marketing staff were as passionate as anyone in the industry. We were able to take Wizard from one hugely successful magazine in the comic book world, to magazines in gaming, action figures, anime, toys and science fiction. Wizard also was then able to grow into live events and a major online presence. In our unique industry, a company where the business people understand what makes the creative product tick and are passionate about it will be successful. This is certainly the case here at Valiant, and I can already see that the potential here is tremendous.
Warren Simons: Sure, sure, sure! My name is Warren Simons and I’m a comic book editor, and if anyone out there recognizes my name it’s probably because I worked in the editorial department of Marvel Comics from 2002 to 2009. Or because they work for Interpol. Ahem. While at Marvel, I worked with a number of extraordinarily talented creators and colleagues and had the opportunity to edit or launch a number of ongoing titles, including “Thor,” “The Invincible Iron Man,” “The Immortal Iron Fist,” “The Sensational Spider-Man” and “Daredevil.” I also edited a number of limited series, such as “Magneto: Testament,” “Ares: God of War,” “Thor: Ages of Thunder,” “Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock” and “Terror, Inc.” While there are many more, those few represent some of my favorites.
As far as a professional stamp goes, I definitely try to strive for accessibility to all readers in the titles I edit. I was certainly lucky to work with a group of creators who I think felt the same way. And I really tried to put my heart into all of the books, whether they sold a lot or a little or were critically applauded or assailed. I treated them all like my children. Some were red headed stepchildren that were clearly trying to kill me, but that didn’t make me love them any less.
Fred, you worked with the original Valiant both in times of high success and more rough transitions. What do you want to bring out of the reborn publisher that fans will remember from the first run of comics, and in what ways will the new company stand significantly different from the past?
Pierce: The success of the original Valiant was due to high energy, high passion and high standards – we would have been able to generate electricity just walking around the studio. That feeling is being recreated here. We’re a quickly growing team and just as the team of the original Valiant fortified each other, the current crew is dynamically working the same way. Warren is always saying, “The best idea wins.” It doesn’t matter whose idea it is. The world has changed significantly in the past two decades and the comics will reflect those changes – the importance of technology, the tremendous social changes that have taken place in the world and the new global threats that have arisen.
Publishing in general and comics publishing in specific has certainly seen many evolutions over your years in the business. Comics is publishing in the direct market is in a transitional period now, and digital initiatives are still finding their footing. In what ways to you hope to shape Valiant in terms of being a truly modern operation?
Pierce: Firstly, there are many ways to consume content today, and we’re building our content from the ground up to be accessible and enjoyable in many distribution forms, so readers can have a great storytelling experience in whatever form they prefer. Secondly, our fans really are passionate. At almost any weekend we as an industry are celebrating the medium at a convention. In today’s world, we can more effectively speak to and build this passionate community for Valiant because of the Internet and social media. Thirdly, comic books and comic book characters are more accepted today by the general population than they have been in any other time in their history due to the movies and other media giving them mass exposure.
Lastly, but very importantly, comic books have a huge advantage over other mediums because we have our own group of focused retailers, the comic book stores, which are so knowledgeable and passionate about their product that they provide an invaluable link between both the reader and the publisher.
Warren, I think the #1 set of comments we got from fans when the news of a 2012 publishing launch hit was “What characters will we be seeing?” So…at this point what can you say about the characters we’ll be seeing at launch? Do you have an idea of what you think the flagship title of Valiant will be?
Simons: I know exactly which titles we are going to be launching with, but Freddy “Pieces” Pierce has threatened bodily harm if I reveal that too soon. What I will say is that Valiant is a very, very robust Universe. When you take a look at the individual characters – X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Archer & Armstrong – ARCHER & ARMSTRONG!!!! – Rai, Eternal Warrior, Shadowman – you begin to see that any of these A-listers could anchor a line if executed in the right way. And then you throw all of them into the same, shared Universe? There’s an extraordinary amount of potential there. And these aren’t just titles that once sold well and are populated with two-dimensional leads. These characters have absolutely brilliant high concepts, and it makes them both unique and incredibly compelling. I think it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.
We saw the first piece of new art for Valiant Entertainment was Bloodshot as drawn by your former “Immortal Iron Fist” collaborator David Aja. Do you expect any more faces from your time at Marvel may be working their way onto Valiant projects moving forward? Is Aja specifically set to do any interior work for you coming up?
Simons: I will tell you a secret: I have a crush on David Aja. Specifically, his art. I sing David Aja’s praises in the streets. People who are not comic fans think I am crazy, but that does not stop me. As an editor, you get to see a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, and it is wonderful to see an artist who is a genius work his magic. He did a beautiful job executing the Rai/Bloodshot/Who is that guy? piece for ValiantEntertainment.com’s landing page.
And while all the guys I worked with at Marvel know that I love them and think of them often, my goal is simply to continue working with writers and artists that are great storytellers, whether it’s their first paying gig or whether they’ve been doing this for decades.
Oftentimes, readers look at comic book universes in terms of big connecting ideas. Marvel is the world outside your window. DC is the home of big, classic heroes. What do you see as the core stamp that will unify the Valiant line of comics?
Simons: Big, classic heroes that are right outside your window? All joking aside, big connecting ideas are great, especially when you’re talking about the broad cosmology of a shared Universe. And in that regard, there are many elements that are unique to the Valiant Universe. For example, it was built from the start to be a sophisticated superhero universe, one where characters don’t suddenly gain powers, put on a costume, and become different people. There are key elements of realism and introspection to Valiant. I also think that a core stamp will be accessibility.
A shared universe and accessible stories are not mutually exclusive if done right, and we are going to make sure that every comic reader, familiar with Valiant or not, can understand and enjoy our stories.
I’m sure there’s plenty of announcements to be made in the future, but for now, what do you guys see as the first big step in reintroducing fans to the universe?
Simons: We have a remarkable Universe populated with compelling characters, but without accessibility, the strength of our medium is diminished. Our goal is to work with incredibly talented writers and artists to produce timeless stories that stand out every month and add new energy to the marketplace.
Pierce: Every comic fan should know that we care about the Valiant Universe and its characters deeply. We have an amazing team, and we’re working feverishly to make this special again for our fans and new readers – to try to once again capture lightning in a bottle!
Stay tuned to CBR for more on the future of Valiant Entertainment!