We interviewed Valiant Entertainment executives CEO/Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce, Executive Editor Warren Simons, and Director of Marketing, Communications, and Digital Media Hunter Gorinson. In Part 1 of this three part interview, we talk about Valiant’s first two years and its graphic novel business. In Part 2, we talked about Valiant’s biggest reorder titles, the use of variant and enhanced covers, and the Valiant universe. And in Part 3, we talked about the state of Valiant’s movies, licensing, and the company’s summer releases.
Help us establish where Valiant is in its timeline; how long has Valiant been publishing?
Fred Pierce: Our first book came out almost exactly two years ago, and we’re just about to launch X-0 25 which will be the first book of our third year.
Have the first two years met your expectations?
FP: When we started two years ago, and Dinesh [Shamdasani] nine years ago, it was really about how do you bring stories to life that were very popular 20 years ago and make them relevant for today? I think Warren [Simons] and the editorial team and the writers and talent have done a tremendous job doing that. People who didn’t know Valiant was an older empire now see us as something relevant to today, especially with a lot of what’s in Harbinger.
In terms of the numbers we won Publisher of the Year [in the “Under 5% Market Share” category in the Diamond Gem Awards] our first year out, which was very exciting. We just continue to be well-received and growing.
Dinesh Shamdasani: We set very high expectations for ourselves. We wanted to come out of the gate and give the industry a bit of a shakeup. We wanted to tell great stories, the greatest stories that can be told with these characters. We’re very happy with the reception. People seem to like the books. We’ve been winning awards, as Fred said, Publisher of the Year, won a lot of ‘Top 10’ awards, ‘Best of’ awards so we’re looking to keep doing what we’re doing and doing better and better every year. We’ve just done that with Valiant First (see "'Valiant First' Initiative Launches New Titles"). We put out Rai, one of the best books that we’ve done ever and one of the best reviewed books of the year so far. We think the best issues of Rai are coming up and that’s just a kick-off to Valiant First.
After your first year, you said you really exceeded your expectations (see "ICv2--Interview with Valiant's Publisher"). Did that hold true in your second year?
DS: Yes, definitely. Moreso, in fact.
FP: When you think of all the publishers who have suffered from the sophomore slump, we’re definitely happy. We’ve more than doubled the size of our print run from year one to year two, which is very difficult. When you do your first year of printing you have the whole year to lead up to it. Your second year your editorial staff is tasked with launching new material, designing new characters that people care about while they’re still doing the characters that everybody is looking forward to.
That was a great challenge and I think we met it as well as anybody could. In the second year we became a Top Ten publisher, which was phenomenal. Even more than that, the industry turns to us now for a lot of what we do and the industry is copying a lot of what we do.
Warren Simons: When I walked in the door three years ago, part of what we were looking at is what is the X-O Manowar costume going to look like? How are we going to redesign the Harbinger kids? Who are our writers going to be? Who are our artists? How are we going to staff up? What is our publishing plan? These are all variables that, looking back on it now, thankfully with the team upstairs and with all the great freelancers we have, I feel like we did very well. I think X-O has been really well received. I think it’s a great book. I thought Harbinger Wars, the project that [Joshua] Dysart and Duane [Swierczynksi] put together was really well received.
I’m really excited with what we’ve done and with the creators we’ve been able to bring over here. When we walked in the door a couple of years ago, people didn’t know if we were going to be able to publish one issue, ship on time, be successful. We’re playing with toys that were one of the most beloved fictional comic book universes that had ever been created, by some of the most beloved iconic creators in the history of our medium, so we had an immense amount to live up to.
We’re not satisfied, we’re not resting on our laurels, and we’re not looking back at the last couple of years and saying our job is done. We want every book that we put out to be better than the last one. That’s the goal we strive for and that’s why guys are in the office until 7, 8, 9 p.m. That’s why everyone works late.
I’m very happy with what we’ve done to date but the best is yet to come. With the launch of Rai and that first issue selling out, with the work that Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain are doing on that book, I feel that the kick-off to Valiant First has been really great.
FP: The funny thing is, I don’t know how we could have done any better. In the first two years, we never shipped a book late, which is an amazing accomplishment considering all of the hoops that everyone has to jump through. The editorial, the writers, the artists, the colorists, the letterers; everyone really has to get their work done on time and done well so not only do we ship on time, but we ship things that people continue to care about.
DS: You have to see it as a long-term plan. We’re not looking to build a company in two years; we’re looking to build a company in 10 years. So our first year was establishing the company, and we felt very good about how we did that. Our second year was expanding the company, and we feel very good about that. We wanted to avoid the sophomore slump and we did that. The third year is about expanding the readership, and that’s why you see with Valiant First a lot of things to give people a chance to read their first Valiant book so we can dramatically increase our readership. We’ve been seeing the benefits of that already in the mass market and our trade program, which is something that we don’t talk a lot about, but it’s been far exceeding our expectations. I think that speaks to the fact that we have a very solid, a very loyal readership.
How many collections do you have in print now?
WS: We have 35 books, including our Valiant Masters reprint collections and the oversized hardcovers of all of our trades.
FP: Again, since we’ve been publishing for 25 months, 35 collections is quite an accomplishment.
What has been the response in markets other than the comic store market?
DS: They’ve been beating down our door, to be honest. In keeping with our slow and steady growth we’ve tried to be conservative about how we push into the returnable markets like the book market. About three or four months ago we loosened the strings a little bit and have seen a very good response from that so I think we’ll continue to do that.
The deluxe hardcover editions are an example of that where we were planning on doing just the one with X-O, and see how that went. We did Harbinger, see how that went. So now there’s nothing that we’re not considering for direct hard covers.
FP: We have no less than four planned a year.
Valiant is thought of as a product targeted at core comic consumers, as a self-enclosed universe with costumed heroes. Who do you think this audience is who is finding you in the book channel? Do you think it’s lapsed or new readers?
DS: It’s certainly lapsed readers. We have a massive reservoir of Valiant fans from the 90s who are also finding that because the books are so well received, that there’s an aura that’s permeated further out than just the Valiant fans of "these are great books, you should be checking these out, I’ve heard about these books." And when you see them in the book store with a $9.99 price point on Volume One, it makes it a very easy purchase. People are reading them and giving them to their friends. We’re seeing that going on, especially at the conventions.
A lot of people come to us and say they read the books for the first time in trade and didn’t know what Valiant was to begin with, they just heard rumblings. Image is so successful now, and the independent movement is so successful that I think people are more open at this point.
FP: We do phenomenally well with digital, and I think when people are scanning digital comics, we come up and they find us there, too. Also we’re at so many live events and I think a lot of different kinds of people are coming to live events these days. When you’re looking around at these conventions, you’re not just seeing core readers, it is more like something to do on the weekend in an area and people are going. If you think about how successful all the comic book movies are, at some point we all get to benefit from that.
Click here for Part 2.
The First Two Years, the Book Business
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