Joshua Dysart has been heavily entrenched in the Valiant Universe since the publisher’s relaunch of “Harbinger” in 2012. Along with “Bloodshot” writer Duane Swierczynski, Dysart is co-helming Valiant’s upcoming “Harbinger Wars” crossover event, which will continue to expand his “Harbinger” mythology across the Valiant Universe. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t have been too huge a surprise when Valiant announced during WonderCon that Dysart is now a Valiant-exclusive writer. While Dysart isn’t the first creator to go exclusive with the publisher, he is the first writer.
To get a better idea of what Valiant-exclusivity means for the creator, CBR News caught up with Dysart during the show, where he discussed his reasons for the decision, what it means for his creator-owned work and whether his new status might be the first salvo in other Valiant creators following in step.
CBR News: Josh, before getting into the specific of your new deal, tell us what made you want to go Valiant-exclusive.
Joshua Dysart: It’s such an interesting time in the industry and Valiant’s been really, really good to me. They met my terms, which weren’t strenuous, but they met them. I think the thing is, honestly, my relationship with the people in the company. It’s a small company and that means there’s a real sense that we’re all in this together. That just really engenders in me a sense of loyalty. I’m a loyal person. A big part of that also is my relationship with my editor, Warren Simons. I’ve never really chosen projects based on the project as much as based on the people that I’m working with. When I find an editor — and I had this with Pornsack [Pichetshote] on the “Unknown Soldier” and Scott Allie on the “Hellboy” universe — when I find an editor that really wants to dig in on the process with me and isn’t just a deadline junkie, I cling to that editor. It’s like a marriage. [Laughs]
So, that was a big part of it. When Warren approached me and said, “Do you want to do this?” Do you want to commit to the relationship, to extend the metaphor, it was pretty much a no-brainer. I was just having fun, and why not?
You’ve had a lot of experience with many publishers in the industry before coming to Valiant. What about Valiant made you want to go exclusive when you’ve had all these other experiences in the industry?
You know what, I just like it scrappy and small. I like being part of that battle. I’m trying not to be negative about it, but I just don’t think the corporatization of comics is a trend that really benefits us. Obviously, it’s absolutely necessary and Valiant’s a corporation, and obviously Valiant is going to be a war of attrition in a way because every book they add dilutes the line and every time they get bigger, theoretically they could become a Marvel or DC. But for now, it’s a small company, the CEO is right here putting books on the table. I love that! That’s who I want to be with. There’s such a joy and collectivism about it.
While you’re not the first creator to go Valiant-exclusive — Cary Nord was announced as a Valiant-exclusive artist last year — you’re the first writer. As you go exclusive, are you hoping that other creators will follow in step?
I think that what we’ve seen recently is quite a bit of poaching from the big companies, particularly DC. I think for Valiant to grow — Valiant does something that DC won’t do for you. Valiant is willing to get in the trenches and build you as a name. Marvel, I think, is pretty good at that. They bring in somebody, they keep that person in their trenches. But I don’t really see DC doing that so well. I think it would be great for creators and it would be great for Valiant — for obvious reasons — to avoid future poaching, to be able to get locked into this relationship and then we can just produce the work, man. I adore Robert Venditti and I think he’s a great writer, and a really good friend. He’s going to DC and he’s working on some of their big books, and there’s a personal fear for my friend that he’s going to get chewed up in that system. That won’t happen to you [at Valiant].
One of the most interesting aspects about your “Harbinger” run in particular is that it’s a big superhero book that manages to retain that independent sensibility. As you move forward, is that a tone that you want to retain on the book?
Yeah, absolutely. Its been so fascinating doing the “Harbinger Wars” crossover, because here we have something that absolutely has to be a big summer budget thing and we have to blow up as many things as possible, really keep it going, and every creative decision is like a high-octane creative decision. That’s so different from what we’ve been doing with “Harbinger,” which is slow builds and explosive conclusions. It’s been really fun to work on both, but it really made me see — now I have a very clear vision for the tone and voice of “Harbinger.” I would really like to keep it like that. I think the reader response is allowing us to do that. If readers weren’t responding, then we’d have to make a more pragmatic decision, but I would love to keep it in that vein. I think it’s a character-driven book.
The cool thing about the Valiant line being a little sparse compared to other lines is that we really get to have a book for each particular niche. Theoretically, you have horror for “Shadowman,” there’s theoretically going to be two comedy books with “Quantum and Woody” and “Archer and Armstrong,” “X-O” is the big explosive book and “Bloodshot” is the gritty action book. It really allows me to be the character book. That’s my place in the niche. It’s the most comfortable place for me. I’m always character over plot.
Let’s talk about that comfort zone for a moment. Now that you’ve gone exclusive, are you going to be taking on more assignments in the Valiant Universe?
Yeah, that’s what benefits Valiant from that. There’s no way I can get drawn thin by other projects. That’s the point. We’re talking about the next project, and obviously, I can’t announce anything, but I have to say that after “Harbinger Wars,” which is a lot of work and a fast attack, I wouldn’t mind taking a break, getting back to really focusing on “Harbinger,” put in some time, get a good “Harbinger” arc in the can and then we can start talking about the next thing at Valiant.
Can you tell us anything about what’s coming down the line after “Harbinger Wars?”
No, I can’t! The plan is to deal with the effects of that on our universe and our world and just put a great “Harbinger” arc in the can.
The recent zero issue of “Harbinger” gave you a chance to really focus on Harada. We spoke about this before, but moving forward is that the type of thing you’d like to keep doing? Go back to the origins of these characters to see where they came from?
Nothing would make me happier than if my role in the Valiant Universe was just to build up the mythology behind the “Harbinger” book. I’d be totally down for that. It’s just a question of what the will market sustain, obviously, and what these guys are interested in allowing me to do. If it’s up to me, I’d love to do a 12-issue maxi-series about the Bleeding Monk. [Laughs] I absolutely want to do more of that. Every time I sit down to write, two things are happening. One is the minutiae of these characters and how they interact and the other is the crazy growing shadow of the world around them expanding. The more opportunity I have to explore those facets, the happier I’ll be as a creator.
I think an issue that’s sure to spring to mind as fans of yours hear the news is how the Valiant-exclusivity will affect your other work. Does this mean you’ll have to stop doing creator-owned work?
No, it doesn’t. In fact, a big part of the pragmatic reasons for taking this is — I’m in a place right now where it’s really hard when Marvel or DC come at you with a beautiful book that you really long for. This is sort of a forced parameter for me, so I can just do this and it’s contractually stipulated that I’m allowed to do my creator-owned book. I can finally get back to doing that. In truth, I haven’t done anything creator-owned since 2000 and I’m really getting hungry for that. This contract allows me to devote time to this work, get paid, do quality work with people that I love and hopefully find the time to get back to creator-owned stuff.
When can readers expect to see your next creator-owned project?
The very next thing that I’m going to sit down, screw my ass to the chair and do is going to be “Helmet Girls” with Camilla d’Errico. This is something that Camilla and I have been talking about since 2005. I started scripting last year, we’ve been doing conceptual work for years and years and years. As soon as I finish “Harbinger Wars,” again, I’m going to get another arc of “Harbinger” in the can, just work on that. I’m spread a little thin, admittedly. Once I get that in the can, I’m going to sit down and really get this big, beautiful graphic novel together and Camilla and I are going to bust it out. That’s the first thing I can promise, but I can’t give a date.
I will say this, and I’m hesitant to say this, but I discovered Camilla. We first met in 2000 at San Diego Comic-Con and she was younger. She was pretty young then. I’m thinking she was 17, 18. She was with her father, who flew her down from Canada to go to the show because she wanted to be a comic book artist. She was showing her work around from table to table just to get advice and stuff. We stayed in touch through email and once a year she would send me some art. It was good, she was definitely influenced by Manga, but it was relying on her influences a little heavily. I think three years into us doing these email conversations and seeing each other at shows, she sent me something that was brilliant. She had extraordinary growth over a year, and I introduced her to TokyoPop at the time, which I apologize profusely for to her, since. We’ve been talking about doing “Helmet Girls” together since.
Does going Valiant-exclusive mean readers will never see a sequel to your Avril Lavigne manga series?
[Laughs] It’s the only thing that’s keeping the sequel from happening! [Laughs] I don’t think Avril even knows that book exists, to be quite honest, which was brilliant, because she didn’t care! She didn’t know, we could do anything we wanted! The only note on that entire book that I did with Camilla was, “Does that severed arm have to be on fire?”