EXCLUSIVE: Valiant Brings Returnability, Special Variants & Exclusive Talent to "Unity"

Earlier this week, Valiant Entertainment announced its new ongoing series "Unity" by Matt Kindt and Doug Braithwaite, set to debut in November. Considering the size and scope of the series -- not to mention the title's history as one of the most memorable events from Valiant's presence in the 1990s -- the publisher has thrown its full weight behind the ongoing. Not only will "Unity" #1 feature covers by a "Murderer's Row" of artists -- including Clayton Crain, Travel Foreman, Bryan Hitch, J.G. Jones, and Paolo Rivera -- but the issue will also be fully returnable for retailers, the same offer that came with every issue of DC Comics' New 52 #1 issues. Along with the "Murderer's Row" covers and full returnability, Valiant has also signed "Unity" artist Doug Braithwaite and colorist Brian Reber as the two newest Valiant-exclusive talents.

In order to get further clarification on the publishing initiatives associated with "Unity's" launch, CBR News spoke exclusively with Valiant CEO Dinesh Shamdasani, Executive Editor Warren Simons, Publisher Fred Pierce, Sales Manager Atom Freeman and Marketing & Communications Manager Hunter Gorinson about moving into the "Unity" launch, bringing on the talented and fan-favorite artists for the "Murderer's Row" variants, partnering with Diamond for full returnability on the first issue, signing Braithwaite and Reber as Valiant-exclusive and more.

CBR News: Warren, you and I spoke a bit about this on the editorial side yesterday, but "Unity" really represents a whole new era for the new Valiant, and it really seems as though you've got a lot of initiatives in place to demonstrate that, the most recognizable of which are going to be these incredible covers. What kind of thought went in to assembling a super-team of cover artists to launch the first super-team of the Valiant Universe?

EXCLUSIVE: Clayton Crain's "Unity" #1 variant cover

Warren Simons: Luckily, we've been able to work with some of the greatest creators in the industry, like J.G. Jones and Bryan Hitch and Clayton Crane. We really wanted to represent to everyone how important an event this was. Part of the way to do that was to demonstrate with the covers what this event meant to the Valiant Universe. Being able to work with this caliber of guys was really fantastic.

Dinesh Shamdasani: You know, there's a proliferation of variant covers in the industry -- with 52 covers here and 80 covers there. We've tried to be as conservative as we can with that. We have, of course, a variant cover program that we use on our new arcs and launches, but with "Unity," we wanted to do everything we could to bang the drum because we're so confident in the material. It really is an amazing story and Doug [Braithwaite] and Matt Kindt have done an amazing job. We looked at our strategy and we recalibrated and pulled some of the artificial conservation we'd put into it away. With everything on the table, what could we do to get everyone to pay attention to this and point out why it's a must-read book.

Hunter Gorinson: It's very much about visibility and getting people into stores. Our "Murderer's Row" covers that we're emphasizing is about getting people into stores in advance of November, talking to their retailers about "Unity." These are all part of our ongoing Pullbox program, which we use to promote all of our new arcs. As this is probably the biggest thing that Valiant has done since the launch of the company with "X-O Manowar" #1, we thought of upping the scale of it as behooving the scale of what "Unity" is and will be.

Fred Pierce: One of the other things that's happening is we find when we're out at the conventions talking to people, a lot of people have to find different reasons to jump on. "We've been hearing great things about Valiant -- why am I going to jump on to Valiant with this issue?" "Unity," and especially all the different covers and cover artists, it gives people an opportunity to -- "I've been waiting for a year or so, this will make me jump on."

From a retail perspective, Valiant is also making the first issue of "Unity" fully returnable through Diamond, something that's rarely granted to publishers outside Marvel, DC or Image. For those not familiar with retail, this is a big deal and represents a huge amount of faith in the book not just on your part, but on Diamond's part as well. Why go the extra mile to make the issue completely returnable?

Atom Freeman: A book like this really does have two parts and they kind of dovetail off of each other. As Hunter mentioned, we're doing everything we can to make sure that fans are heading to the stores for "Unity," because it is our biggest event since "X-O" #1. The second part of that is the one that is often difficult for anybody, especially the stores, in trying to gauge exactly what that's going to be like. We can say to retailers, "This is going to be the biggest thing that we've ever done," but it's often difficult for retailers to budget for that. Giving them the opportunity to have more than enough copies available -- although, we hope they never have more than enough copies available -- for all the fans that are no doubt going to be beating down the door, returnability was one of the options. Diamond has been incredibly supportive of everything we've done. This is just another indication of that.

I should also note it's not our only arrow in the quiver, either. We are putting together some sales incentives for the book. We are doing our normal plate of retailer promotions plus -- I think you can tell just by the stores that support us, when you walk in the door, you can see we do probably more, and I'm including Marvel and DC in this, promotional material for stores to use to push our books than anybody else in the industry. We're also putting together a nice slate of backlist promotions, too, so all the new fans starting with "Unity" will get a chance to get caught up.

EXCLUSIVE: J.G. Jones' "Unity" #1 cover

Shamdasani: Part of it is also as successful as we've been, we've seen that the retailers are ordering the books for what they can sell. There's a tremendous number of Valiant fans out there, but we're always looking to bring in new people. We feel very confident about the books, the reviews have been phenomenal, and we want new people to try the books. For example, "Quantum and Woody," we just announced that issue #1 sold out at 21,000 copies. If you go into stores, you'd be hard-pressed to find an issue. We've got die-hard Valiant fans asking where they can find a copy. We talked to Diamond about this and one of the things they've been very kind about letting us do is with "Unity" to avoid that problem, even though we know we're going to get a big number, they're letting us tell the retailers that there's no risk on their part. If they match the returnability threshold, there's no risk here. They can put as many copies on the shelf as they want and they can find their top end. We're very excited about that.

Pierce: One of the problems is, if a retailer sells out of one of our books, you don't see it. We want to make sure the books are on our shelves for a while so that people are grabbing it.

Gorinson: We can't emphasize strongly enough that this isn't an event, this is going to be an ongoing book. There will be a "Unity" #7, 8, 9, 10, 12 -- hopefully #50, 60 and onward. This is a great place to begin for those people who have yet to take a chance on a Valiant book. You've heard all the reviews, you've seen all the coverage of us in the press. This is really an exciting new entry point into what Valiant is doing and a perfect place to begin. Having returnability there and making sure there are books on shelves means that more people than ever will have a chance to read one of our books.

On the subject of "Unity" as a concept, it's an ongoing series, but shares a name with the incredibly popular Valiant crossover in 1992. What sort of steps is Valiant taking to make sure confusion between an ongoing series and event is avoided?

Gorinson: I think we've been priming die-hard Valiant fans who remember "Unity" very well for this as an ongoing title, or maybe something that is not a complete reboot or rehash of the original "Unity" since we first discussed it. You heard about this way back since our Free Comic Book Day book came out in May. There was a teaser in that, which made the rounds very quickly while we were at the retailer conference. It spread like wildfire. This is something we've been talking about and alluding to for six or seven months now. Just like with "X-O Manowar," just like with "Harbinger" or "Shadowman" or any of our titles, we're not in the business professionally or editorially to rehash or retell stories that happened before. We're all about bringing stories into the modern day. This version of "Unity" is thematically an extension of what the original "Unity" was, but it is by no means a reboot or retelling of that exact same story. That's something that I don't think we're interested in doing.

Simons: Yeah, from the start, we've been trying to re-envision the universe and create a universe that will be accessible to the fans, but still have an attachment to the core element that made the books so loved in the first place. As "Unity" began to take shape, it grew organically out of a lot of what we were doing in "X-O Manowar" with Aric of Dacia. ... Aric lived in a world where you walk in to a town, you take that town over and that town is now yours. That's where his culture and his values operate. When he lands in Romania and he takes over Romania, it doesn't bode well for him or his people. The rest of the world looks at this and they realize something very dangerous is happening.

EXCLUSIVE: variant by Paolo Rivera

Toyo Harada, head of the Harbinger Institute, is a child of the bomb, who has made a vow that something like that would never happen again. He understand that when X-O Manowar goes head to head with the Russian Navy, things are not going to go well. This is not something that's going to be in a U.N. Conference room. The next step here is going to be annihilation. Toyo realizes he has no choice but to put a team together to keep this from happening. ... These are super, super hard men and women and they're very dangerous. These are lethal individuals and they're not necessarily friends. Having to put together this team to take out X-O is an extraordinarily challenging and dangerous thing. ... As the guys are saying, the scope of that story warranted all these initiatives.

Gorinson: When Matt turned in his pitch, one of the things that really resonated with us and everyone we've spoken to about what "Unity" is, is that these aren't friends. Having them together is a very, very dangerous proposition. Unlike the Justice League, they're all bad, bad dudes. I'm not sure there's anything else in comics like that right now.

Shamdasani: Yeah, they've got no time for nobility.

There's another side to this coin that you might not be aware of. "Unity" was not just a milestone for the original Valiant in terms of the fact that it was an event crossover. It was also a milestone in the company's evolution. "Unity" was the moment where you'd heard about Valiant, people were talking about how great the books were, they were hard to find because people had to go back and look for them. "Unity" was the place where people who had heard about how great Valiant was were able to jump in. It was really the tipping point for Valiant. Coming out of "Unity," they were a much different company. They were suddenly the #3 publisher in the business, publishing some of the best books. For us, thematically, "Unity" won't have the same resonance, of course -- we don't have the size of the market that we did then -- but I think you'll see the same kind of push for us, at least creatively, out of "Unity." We're going to be telling some of the best stories. We're very excited about that.

Pierce: Because it's an ongoing series, we'll be pushing this for a while, and "Unity" itself will evolve.

Simons: When Matt turned in his pitch, it knocked all of our socks off. It was extraordinary. When Doug Braithwaite turned in his cover and we saw that first cover for issue #1, it was one of those moments that resonated. It was like when we got that Esad Ribic cover for "X-O Manowar" #1 where we realized that something had changed within the company. It was a beautiful, beautiful piece of art that Doug put together. It was a moment in the evolution of the company. We're really excited about it, we have a really incredible creative team on. Matt's just a brilliant, brilliant writer, Doug is a brilliant superhero artist, great storyteller, great action. We're really excited about the pages we're getting in right now.

This is arguably one of the biggest title launches the new Valiant has had since its inception, timed during its second year of publishing monthly. Speaking with Warren and the creators and editors about these multiple launches, it's clear that editorial doesn't move forward with an idea unless it's mandated by the story. That said, how important is it for Valiant to continue having these clear jumping-on points for new readers as the publisher moves through its second year into the future?

EXCLUSIVE: Bryan Hitch variant cover

Simons: I think it's something that we really try to define the company by: accessibility and being able to hand the comic to somebody on the street who's never read a comic before. Handing a comic to my brother who doesn't necessarily read comics and have him understand the story and enjoy the story; I think it's really part of the vision that all of us have for where the company is. Just have great comics where you don't need years and years and years of continuity to understand what's happening on the pages. I think that's something we tried to do very carefully with all our launches, whether it's "X-O," "Harbinger," "Bloodshot," "Archer & Armstrong," "Shadowman" or "Quantum and Woody," we wanted to tap in to what made the book great in the first place. All the brilliant stories that Jim Shooter and David Lapham and Barry Windsor-Smith and Mark Moretti and all these guys came up with -- we're lucky to have this incredible groundswell of support in large part because of the work that those guys did, but we didn't want to be dependent on that as a company. We wanted to make things accessible, we wanted to tell new stories, we want to innovate, we just want to make great comics. Our goal is to make sure the next comic is better than the last one.

Shamdasani: It's not just important for us, it's important for the entire industry. We're all comic book fans, everyone who works in comics. We just want this medium to grow and flourish and continue to evolve. Bringing new readers in is one of the biggest challenges, so it's something that we as a new company can try and build ourselves to in order to tackle more effectively. I think we're doing that, and certainly "Unity" is a good example. I think we've done it very well for a new #1.

Pierce: To that point, what we're hearing from retailers is, a lot of companies have launched and said that they're going to bring the old readers back. But if you speak to retailers, they will tell you we're the first company that really did that. We're the first company that had lapsed readers come back because we came back. We hear that throughout the country.

Shamdasani: And we're not done. That's just the beginning.

Freeman: To answer your question, it's incredibly important. As our popularity grows and as our sales grow and our stories progress, every single comic has the opportunity to bring back someone back into comics or start them up again fresh. Being that we're the company that is bringing back all of those people from the '90s, we want to make sure we get the opportunity to bang that drum and this is one of the biggest drums we've brought to bear.

Pierce: Really, you want any book to be one that someone can pick up and start reading. Most comic book guys that are addicted to comics, they remember the first comic that they read and it often wasn't a #1, it often wasn't the beginning of an arc. They picked up a comic that spoke to them and they got immersed in the universe.

Simons: Yeah, Fred and I talk about that all the time in the offices. Every comic is somebody's first comic. We want to make sure it's accessible, we want to make sure people understand what's happening in it. As Josh Dysart likes to say, we want to make sure every comic kicks down the door somehow.

Valiant has amassed quite a laundry list of exclusive talent, and with "Unity," it adds Doug Braithwaite and colorist Brian Reber to the stable. As the library of exclusive creative talent continues to build, how far into the future are you looking in terms of projects for your exclusive talent?

Shamdasani: It's very simple why we're doing it -- you only have to look at the other publishers to figure out why we're doing it. Everyone wants a little piece of what we're building, so we have to make sure the talent that we're elevating and the stories that we're telling, we can continue to tell. In terms of how we're planning ahead, Warren's doing a great job with building stories organically and we have pieces lined up. There are several more exclusive creators that we haven't announced yet.

EXCLUSIVE: Variant by Travel Foreman

Simons: Yeah, Doug is an extraordinary talent. I had the opportunity to work with him in the past. I think the world of him. He's done a lot of covers for us when we first launched. He's a great storyteller, he's just a fantastic artist. When we talked about launching the book, we wanted to be in a position where to a certain extent we can protect our talent. I literally, one hour ago, got a text from one of my guys who informed me that one of the big two wanted to offer him a job. Thankfully, he's exclusive with us, so can continue to work on the book and develop the book together. What we found is that our talent pool that we put together over these first five or six launches, a lot of the industry has descended on them fairly rapidly. Being able to launch "Unity" with Doug, knowing that he's going to be here for a while is very valuable to us as a company.

Brian Reber for me is one of the most talented colorists in the industry. Brian's been turning in his "Eternal Warrior" pages and the coloring is just absolutely fantastic. It's just blowing us away. And of course the pages we've gotten colored for "Unity" have just been extraordinary. So, we're really excited about the guys that we're working with. Talent is critical, it's everything. Having great writers and artists is essential to the success of our company.

Valiant clearly already has a multi-faceted launch for "Unity," but for every major launch or publishing milestone it's had so far, there's been something new and innovative in the works, whether it's something like the mobile tie-in game for "Harbinger Wars" or the talking covers that started with "X-O Manowar" #1. There's something unique. Is it safe to say that fans will get something equally innovative with the launch of "Unity" later this year?

Shamdasani: You're too smart. We've got quite a few things up our sleeve for "Unity," but we aren't ready to talk about them just yet. I think returnability, Doug Braithwaite and Brian Reber going Valiant exclusive, the "Murderer's Row" pullbox covers -- the concept that we've got, some of the most ruthless guys in the Valiant Universe let [loose] by Harada, is compelling enough for right now. But rest assured, yes, we have something pretty neat.

I love that we're now a brand that's known for doing that. Because we see the discourse of -- should you be doing gimmicks and variant covers. For us, it's a very simple question. We will stop doing them as soon as we have a book we don't believe in. If you've got a great book, it's your duty to do everything you can to get people to pay attention, get them into stores, pick the book up, it's good for the industry, it's good for the consumer, it's good for the publisher. The only problem I think is when you do that artificially to inflate a book that isn't good in its core basic principle of storytelling.

"Unity" #1 is on sale in November.

Tags: matt kindt, valiant entertainment, warren simons, dinesh shamdasani, doug braithwaite, hunter gorinson, brian reber, fred pierce, unity, atom! freeman

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