ICv2: Let's start with what began some of the visible changes for people in the comics business, the departure of top management team after the acquisition. A lot of people knew Dinesh (Shamadasani). Why was he removed from his position?
Fred Pierce: Dinesh was great. Everybody needs to understand that he did a Herculean task. Everybody saw him probably more around 2010, 2011. Dinesh was really doing this for years before that.
It was really a private matter between Dinesh and the board (remember it was also Peter and Gavin Cuneo [who were also removed], all of this happened at the same time). It's not a public company. Whatever happened between them happened between them.
Following that, you had two other people leave. Were those departures connected to the changes in top management?
Pierce: It's hard for me to say, truthfully. For seven or eight years, we've had, remarkably, no change in senior management. They’re very tough jobs. Did the acquisition trigger it? Was that a call to action? It seems to be more than a coincidence, but I really couldn't tell you. I think Warren and Hunter wanted to do other things.
It's not like the jobs here weren’t, waiting for them if they wanted. They did great; we can't thank them enough for everything they did. Warren put out the best books in the industry. Hunter made sure everybody heard about them. My bet is it's not coincidental, but I couldn't tell you why.
Where is Valiant Entertainment now, do you think, in terms of the management team? You've obviously not only lost some people, you've added people. You've had promotions. Do you feel like it's stable now or do you anticipate further changes?
Pierce: I feel as if we're stable, but I'm always anticipating changes. You ran a company, you're always anticipating changes. You never know what’s going to happen. The two people who replaced the people that you're talking about are on this phone call, Joe and Mel.
Will there be other changes? In any normal business, people come and go. They have other opportunities; they have family things they want to do; they want to try something new. Doing the same job year after year after year, maybe sometimes you just want to move on to something else.
Mel Caylo: I just wanted to go on the record as saying when Fred reached out to me to apply, I wanted to make sure that the company was stable. I didn't want to join a company that I feel was trending downward. Once I was assured that things are going to be fine, things are going to continue, I was more than happy to go through the application process, go through the interviews, and very, very excited when they asked me, when they invited me to join the team.
Since I joined, for the six weeks that I've been here thus far, I've seen nothing but a strong team that Fred and management have put together to keep the ship running, to keep everything going. I'm pretty excited for the times ahead.
Pierce: The funny thing is, you ask if we're stable. All the changes you're talking about were initiated three months ago. We haven't missed a beat. It's great. Mel came on. Joe is here. I'm thrilled, I like the challenge.
We’ll get to the editorial, but starting on the business side, what's changing about the way Valiant is being run as a result of the change in management?
Pierce: The comic book part of what we do really has not changed at all, other than we have a couple of replacements. I think what we're really looking to do is, we have a Bloodshot movie coming, how can we make use of making sure that the mass market knows about Valiant comics because now we have the mass media?
[Valiant owner] DMG has so many resources to add. We're trying to figure out together what are the resources that DMG has, what do they need from us. We're doing movies, we're looking to TV, we're looking to other media. Really, what we're trying to figure together is how can we tap into having a much bigger company help us?
How about your budgets or scale? Is that changing?
Pierce: We have exactly the same budgets for the talent that we've always had. You haven't found any changes in the talent that are doing our books, or the talent that we're pursuing for it. Our goal is to continue to put out the best quality books in the industry. We have Valiant fans who committed to us, and we have to make sure that the quality of the books stays the same.
Dinesh is gone, Warren is gone, and Hunter's voice isn't here. The people who made the comics are still here. A good portion of the people who made the comics are still making the comics. The characters are still the best characters in the industry. What's going to happen now is that we'll have a broader scope of how to promote them than we've ever had.
So there are no changes planned, from before the acquisition to after, in the number of titles?
Pierce: No, not right now. Right now, we have a solid publishing schedule through the end of 2018. We have a solid publishing schedule that we've recently completed through the end of 2019. It doesn't show any change in the amount of titles we're doing now.
We might be a little opportunistic as we get some great pitches, or as we make use of some of the other things that we're going to be doing. The title count, the promotions we're going to do for the title count, the sales staff, all of that stays the same.
What about the goals of the company? How is that changing with new leadership?
Pierce: The goal for our comic book publishing is to continue to put out the best comics in the industry, the best comics we can do. We have to make sure that we maintain the heat that Valiant had and Valiant deserves. Our goal is to make sure that we're at the leading edge, that we remain ahead of the curve in what the industry is looking for.
A lot of what we've done in the industry over the last seven years, the innovations, we're going to continue. A lot of the minds of those innovations have been replaced. We'll have to see what new ideas we come up with. We're not planning on any major changes. We're just planning on executing as well as we can and using the talents of the people around and the new people around as best we can.
Getting down into the content a little deeper, the first question is how that's organized. Joe, you came in as Executive Editor, that was with an Editor‑in‑Chief. Is there still an open Editor‑in‑Chief position, and what’s the status of that?
Pierce: People forget that Warren started as Executive Editor and then became Editor‑in‑Chief. From my perspective, that's the normal path in a situation like this.
Joe, what’s the editorial plan as far as the content -- is that changing at all because of your vision instead of Warren’s, or because of the new top management of the company?
Joe Illidge: The thing is that Warren is really an exceptional and incomparable talent in the business. His editorial vision set the standard for Valiant now the same way that Jim Shooter and Bob Layton set the standard for the first iteration of Valiant. Our plan is to use Warren's vision as the foundation that we're going to build on and grow this company forward for the next era of Valiant.
So limited change, really just trying to execute on that vision that's been set?
Illidge: Basically, the consistency of quality, so we're using an editorial vision of quality, and building and using that same level of quality and vision to go forward.
You have a different background from Warren. He was Marvel, you were DC, right?
Illidge: Yes. I have a career in which I've basically learned editorial under great legends. I have 25 years in the business. Warren was an amazing veteran with one of the top houses, so getting to follow up after him is basically the same way that he brought his editorial experience to bear. As a member of the Valiant team, that's what I'm contributing, and that's what we're doing as a team. We're building on our collective experiences to take the company and the mythology forward.
What are you seeing in terms of the market conditions on both the comic side and the book side, and what do you think that means for the year going forward?
Pierce: What we're hearing in the industry is that the comic book stores are having a rough patch now. What we're hearing when we speak to the retailers is it's a little bit more difficult for them, but that they're coming out of it.
For us, our first quarter numbers exceeded our budget by a little bit, so it's not affecting us as much. Being a much smaller company, I think those people who order us can order us, and that the fans that want us want us. What we're hearing in the direct market, that has been a little bit more difficult, but they're seeing their way out of it. On books, I think the direct and mass market is doing well. You have a lot of graphic novels that are doing very well for the mass.
Maybe you could share with the readers Valiant's big initiatives for the rest of the year, editorially or otherwise.
Illidge: Basically, what we're doing is we're continuing from the path that is laid out by the great summer event Harbinger Wars 2. As Fred told you, we have a publishing plan going to the end of 2018. You'll see something, new characters spinning out of Harbinger Wars this year.
We have a publishing plan for 2019, so we're very confident, and we're looking forward to the next era and all the different projects that we have coming up. Again, we're using the foundation that we have here now to build forward and to maintain quality for the creators, the fans and the retailers
Pierce: We're looking forward to the next iteration of Britannia. Our fans are very excited about that. That's coming in July.
Also, we're going to have a huge opportunity sometime coming up soon, because for the first time, we'll have a movie with Vin Diesel, so it's not going to be a quiet movie.
We'll have to figure out together with DMG, with the fans, and with the team here how we make the best use of that, and how we make sure that all of a sudden having the best marketing we've ever had, how do we take the best advantage of that we can.
Is there any timing on that?
Pierce: I believe they're planning on shooting this summer, and I don't know if there's a release date.
Caylo: Just to add on to it. We will have announcement coming up in the next two months that will lay out the rest of the year for Valiant. We'll be announcing them closer to when they appear in Previews. That's why the timing is a little postponed for now, but we do anticipate announcing a few new projects for the rest of the year in the coming months.
Illidge: The Harbinger Wars event will affect many of our characters tremendously, and out of that you'll be seeing very new aspects of a lot of our characters.
Thanks very much for taking the time. It clears up a lot of questions our readers have had...
Pierce: It's funny. People are speaking as if it happened yesterday. We've already been working under this new umbrella for last three months.
The top management change happened then, but then there were these two other changes since then. Warren was relatively recent.
Pierce: Warren has been great. Warren has been helping with the transfer, he's still involved. We're a very close‑knit family. Once you're a member of the Valiant family, you're a member of the Valiant family forever.
That sounds like another kind of family.
Pierce: "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way."