The head honcho of Valiant comics speaks to The Outhouse about the Valiant revival!
When an editor for Marvel Comics, Warren Simons was associated with comics that had a strict focus on character and narrative intensity. Nowadays, he plies his trade as the Executive Editor of the revived Valiant Comics. Consequently, the comics published under the new Valiant Comics line do have some traces of Simons' fingerprints on them, and the company's launch during the summer of 2012 (branded as "The Summer of Valiant") has been a successful one. Simons spoke to The Outhouse from the Valiant booth on the show floor of New York Comic-Con.
The Outhouse (OH): So how is New York Comic-Con going for you?
Warren Simons (WS): The Con's going great. We had a really great panel on Friday. It was packed and we got a lot of great questions, had a lot of fans show up. It was a lot of fun.
OH: After The Summer of Valiant, where you launched four titles, you have a fifth coming out in November. How fast or how slow of a rollout of titles do you anticipate from this point forward?
WS: I think that we want to continue to produce work that we feel is exceptional and has a chance to be among the best in the marketplace. I think ultimately a lot of this is predicated on the stories that are driving the character; what the pitch is, who's on the team...A lot of factors go into it. How our other books are doing, of course. How the fan perception is to the books. There are a lot of variables that we look at to decide that there's X amount of books that we'll be launching in X amount of time. We try to be very fluid in our decision-making process. Being a smaller company allows us to have some kind of manuverability. Shadowman is going to be coming out November 7. That's going to be our fifth title. Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher are co-writing it, and Patrick's drawing it. It just looks absolutely amazing. We're really, really happy with the quality of that title, along with that of our other books. As Executive Editor, of course I'll say this, [laughs] but we also feel that we're putting out good work and we're really happy with what we're doing right now. The fan response has been great, the retailers have been supporting it. We're going to continue to bulk up the Valiant Universe.
OH: When you talk about retailer support, how do you gauge that? What kind of interaction does the company have with the retail community?
WS: We have a sales manager named Atom! Freeman. He's our sales guru. He speaks with a number of retailers. I believe at one point in time, he was calling every single retailer in America. He's constantly on the phone with these guys. He's speaking with them to ask "what's working? What's not working?" All those variables. He's a great cat, so he's our sales guy, and of course Fred Pierce is our publisher. We've got a really great team effort there.
OH: When I interviewed Justin Jordan, he told me he had a pitch in for Shadowman even before he was put together with Patrick.
WS: Yeah, it's kind of funny. I reached out to Justin after reading The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, which I thought was wonderful. I asked him to come pitch on a couple of characters. One of the pitches that he sent me was Shadowman. Briefly afterward, I was talking to Patrick Zircher about coming to do some work for us. Patrick had said that he wanted to do a little bit of writing, and what did I think about that? I thought it was a great idea, so let's get him hooked up with someone, because it's the first time he's doing this, I wanted him to have a co-writer to help shepherd him through the process. I try to make it a team effort on all the books. I never try to compartmentalize things to such a degree that any creators feel like they're not welcome to discuss how we're shaping things. At some point in time, someone had to say to Frank Miller "yeah, you know what? Take a stab at writing." And it turned out for the best. So Patrick and I were both talking about writers we both liked, and he mentioned that he really liked Justin Jordan's work. Oddly enough, I had a pitch in my inbox from Justin on Shadowman, so it was kind of serendipitous.
OH: Looking at the talent at Valiant, on the one hand it looks like you went through your Marvel Rolodex, but on the other hand, there are a lot of creators you've never worked with, like Justin. When you're procuring creators for your books, do you cast a wide net and see who responds? How does that process work?
WS: I wanted to find guys and gals who I thought would have a vested interested in putting their marks on the books. Robert Venditti I've never worked with before. I don't think he ever had a monthly comic before, but he's doing a great job on X-O Manowar. Joshua Dysart I'd never worked with before, but I read Unknown Soldier and was absolutely blown away by it, and thought that tonally, as dark as that book gets, it's also extremely intelligent and well-written. It's a beautiful, beautiful book, and I thought it would be interesting to see how he'd tackle a superhero book, and he did a great job with it. I worked with Duane [Swierczynski] on Iron Fist. I never worked with Fred [van Lente] at Marvel, but I read Taskmaster and thought it was wonderful. I thought tonally it was right on par with what we wanted to do with Archer & Armstrong. I had the opportunity to work with Patrick extensively at Marvel. Justin I'd never worked with. There are a bunch of guys I had the opportunity to work with like Cary Nord and Arturo Lozzi and bring them over to help us at Valiant. Casting's obviously a critical part of the process, and I'm really happy with what the guys and girls have done and I feel like they continue to do extraordinary work.
OH: What was your relationship to the original Valiant? Were you very familiar with those comics?
WS: I was familiar with some of it. Valiant hit around 1991, 1992. I was eighteen around that time, I had a number of other things that were a priority. You know, money, girls, that kind of stuff, you know what I'm saying? [laughs] Being cool. I always read comics, always loved comics. I grew up in the 80's as a Marvel geek. That's primarily where I was. In the 90's when Valiant came around, I did read Archer & Armstrong. I read a couple of their books, but I loved Archer & Armstrong. I thought that was brilliant. As the guys are often fond of saying, I also came in with a critical eye towards the original material because I wasn't enamored of it. I was able to look at it with a critical eye, and it's brilliant brilliant stuff. We have extraordinary icons up there. We're walking in the shadow of giants, like Barry Windsor-Smith, David Lapham, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, Bob Hall, these are extraordinary creators who left an indelible mark on the medium. But to look at it with a critical eye, whether it's Marvel or DC or Valiant, it makes the book a little stronger because you're not enamored of it. You're trying to look at it critically.
OH: You worked at Marvel after growing up with it, but now at Valiant you have that distance. Do you have a preference for which mode you work in?
WS: I think eiditing to a certain extent, regardless of what the character is and what the book is, is about taking the character and then you have twenty-eight days to create twenty-two pages of original script, pencils, inks, colors and lettering. It's an incredibly labor-intensive job, no matter what character you're working on. It doesn't matter if it's Thor or Iron Man or Daredevil or X-O Manowar or Harbinger. For me, I love these characters. It's an interesting question, but for me, it's a love. I love my job, I love working as an editor. I love having the opportunity to work with freelancers and build something and create a line. It's an extraordinary time. But I love the Marvel characters, I love the Valiant characters. They're all my kids. I don't love any of my children more than the other ones.
OH: Was there a lot of worry in the early days about being compared to the original Valiant, or even about being seen as a cheap nostalgia act?
WS: I knew that once the books came out, everyone would see what they were. That was the main goal that we were working towards the whole time. We obviously have an extraordinary number of characters here. As an editor, I'm lucky to have characters like X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Archer & Armstrong, and Shadowman to play with. I'm lucky to have the template that these characters initially inhabited so we can look at that material and draw the stuff that we like from it. That's been a great advantage to us. We're lucky to have all the Valiant fans who knew this stuff originally and loved it. But as an editor my job is to make the work accessible and great. I'm not here to do an exercise in nostalgia. I want this to be a book that I can give to anybody walking across the floor in front of us and they'll be able to read it and understand it and love it. That's the challenge that we have every single day. That's what our goal is. The previous incarnation, I don't look at that other than as an advantage that we have; it's material to draw from. Our goal is just to make our books accessible, especially with the launch titles.
OH: Can you talk a little bit about the Pullbox Variant Program?
WS: The Pullbox Variant Program is something that allows our fans to go into the stores and give their name to the retailer and order the issue, and if they order the issue ahead of time and they add it to their pullbox, this will allow them to get a special variant cover outside of the regular cover. The reason we did that is that the retailers are the backbone of our company. They're the backbone of our industry. We try to have really great relationships with our retailers. We try to do things to support them as much as we can. They're our backbone and the Program is our attempt to try to support the brick-and-mortar stores.
OH: You came up through the editorial ranks at Marvel. Were you specifically looking for an executive job, or was Valiant an opportunity that came up and you felt ready for?
WS: It was just an opportunity that came up. Jason Khotari, the CEO of Valiant, reached out to me a couple of years ago. I worked for Marvel from 2002-2009. I worked there for seven years. I had a wonderful time there. It's a company that's filled with great people. I still have a lot of people there I absolutely think the world of, but I left in 2009 to move in a different direction with my career. I was working in a freelance capacity for a couple of years, doing career services stuff, doing some writing, some editing, a bunch of different stuff. The guys reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to come on board and help architect the company and editorial and oversee the launch of the line and bring in the talent and that kind of stuff. It felt like such an extraordinary opportunity that I couldn't pass up. The guys had read a lot of the work that I oversaw at Marvel, like Iron Fist, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and Magneto. They liked those books a lot and they felt I'd be a good choice to help resusitate the IP. It was a great challenge, and it still is, but I love working at Valiant. It was a good opportunity, and I couldn't pass it up.
OH: Anything else you'd like to say?
WS: We've got a bunch of great books coming out in the coming months. We have a Harbinger zero issue we just announced. It's going to be by Joshua Dysart and Mico Suayan. Phil Briones is kicking off the next arc of Harbinger with issue #6. We also have the new arc of Bloodshot with issue #5. We have a ton of great stuff coming out. Archer & Armstrong #5, we're going to have a new arc there. So I'm very excited we're going to have a lot of great stuff coming up.