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Valiant, thank you for respecting creators (now keep it up)

by  in Comic News Comment

In May, I wrote about some troubling signs of creator disputes at Valiant Entertainment, which had obtained the properties of the old Valiant free and clear, despite some buy-back clauses that weren’t honored by former owner Acclaim Entertainment. Artist Kevin Maguire spoke out about his concerns over the digital re-release of his Trinity Angels and other Acclaim-era titles like Quantum & Woody by Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright. Later that month, Maguire met with Valiant CEO Dinesh Shamdasani, and while details were slim, he posted on his Facebook page that, after getting his questions answered regarding Trinity Angels, he was “now cool with them.”

Some questions still remained, however. Shamdasani said in interviews he was in talks with Priest and Bright about new work, but the two remained curiously silent, making no public comments about the relaunched Quantum & Woody by James Asmus and Tom Fowler. Had they signed off on it? Were they or any of the Acclaim creators getting anything for the digital re-release of their work?

I’m happy to say that after the news coming out of New York Comic Con about Priest and Bright returning to their version of Quantum & Woody, any lingering concerns seem to have been settled to everyone’s satisfaction. In their relatively short existence, Valiant Entertainment has demonstrated it’s willing to set things right even when it may not have any legal obligation to do so. Comics blogs often call out industry wrongdoings, and rightly so, but you don’t often see a lot praise when it’s done right. In May, I asked for Valiant Entertainment to do right by its creators and the Valiant legacy, and today, I’m thanking the company for doing so.

Amid the decades-long lawsuits over Superman, with scant to non-existent financial bonuses given by Marvel to key creators for its record-breaking movies, Valiant has chosen the high road.

In an interview with ComicsAlliance, Priest and Bright revealed how they’d left comics and moved on from ever handling the characters again; they don’t even seem too concerned about the relaunch by Asmus and Fowler. What’s also telling is how persistent Valiant was with bringing the duo back into comics, if even for this limited project, as Priest admitted “it took a couple of swings to get my attention.

The truth is that Valiant was able to offer Priest something other comic companies hadn’t: an opportunity to work on a character that wasn’t Black Panther/Lightning/Goliath. Executives approached Priest as a writer and creator first, not as a demographic-specific writer. Maybe, just maybe, that will lead into more comics projects on new properties by both Priest and Bright. As Shamdasani and editor Warren Simons mention in the CBR interview, this is unlike the rest of their publishing strategy to date. It’s pretty clear the writer/artist duo are getting the royal treatment. And other original Valiant creators have also gotten extra attention, such as with the Valiant Signature project, where past creators like Sean Chen and Sal Velluto create special variant covers. While that’s certainly not the same as getting to do your own comic set outside the current Valiant Universe, it’s great to see these creators getting the spotlight.

I have to admit, when I heard Shamdasani state in a CBR TV interview he had patterned Valiant’s business plan after Marvel’s post-bankcruptcy strategy, I had some concerns — but not that it wouldn’t be successful. Obviously Marvel has done very well for itself since 1996, but the company, even in its more recent incarnations, hasn’t exactly had a clean slate in dealing with past creators. From Jack Kirby to Steve Gerber to Stan Lee himself, who got shorted millions on Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, the sad truth is there have been some unfortunate missteps, to put it gently. So the association might not be ideal in this context.

However, Shamdasani was obviously not talking about that context, but instead about Marvel’s innovative handling of its characters during the early 2000s, the launch of Marvel Studios and the eventual acquisition by Disney. That’s a remarkable success story worth emulating. In addition, writers and artists currently working with Valiant Entertainment have spoken of a family atmosphere that encourages creative freedom and collaborative relationships. So I’m glad to hear that their actions today are consistent with what’s being said in interviews.

It’s a crucial move on Valiant’s part. As the publisher is still establishing itself, its actions can make or break its ability to hire creators down the road. Creators will avoid companies if they hear a friend has been wronged or that the odds are high they’ll get taken advantage of or mistreated. Marvel and DC have market-share dominance, financial stability and childhood nostalgia as bargaining chips to counter stories of editorial interference or strong-arming. They also have the stories that praise certain editors and some creators who are able to not only stick it out but thrive in that environment. Valiant has some ’90s nostalgia to draw upon, but the company is still financially too young and its reputation still forming. Valiant seems to understand that the quality of the stories is what matters for its product, and executives seem to get that the quality of the stories depends upon creators. The company benefits from writers and artists who feel comfortable, confident and creative, because that produces better work. And the best way to achieve that is for the creators to feel like the publisher is on their side. Valiant’s handling of these issues shows it’s willing and able to walk the walk.

Now the hard part: The bar has been set, don’t lower it. Valiant is far from the first. It’s tough to beat the amazing precedent set by BOOM! Studios with its new profit-sharing deal with 20th Century Fox. There are also a host of publishers with a pro-creator approach to doing business; in fact, there are more creator-friendly publishers in existence today than ever before. Valiant is in prestigious company, and how its responsibility is to live up to that standard and, when possible, go further.