Valiant’s Management Team Talks Post-Sale Changes, Future Plans
It’s certainly been an eventful 2018 for Valiant Entertainment. In January, news broke that that the comic book publisher had been fully acquired by entertainment company DMG. While DMG already held a significant stake in Valiant — reported as 57 percent at the time of the sale — it was the latest major shift for the publisher of the North American comic book industry’s third largest shared superhero universe.
Valiant already has one of the more colorful publication histories in comics — the current era started in earnest in 2012, but the company first attracted a loyal fanbase in the 1990s, before an ill-fated acquisition by video game publisher Acclaim Entertainment put characters like X-O Manowar and Shadowman on the shelf for an extended period. The DMG acquisition has already led to at least one piece of big Hollywood news: that Vin Diesel is on board to star on the long-percolating Bloodshot film, based on Valiant’s long-running antihero.
Yet the DMG acquisition came coupled with some major personnel changes, first with Valiant CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani departing the company. Shamdasani was key in initially acquiring Valiant’s intellectual property from the remnants of Acclaim, and for years was a very public advocate for the company’s product. Valiant’s longtime Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons also left the company, as has its VP Marketing & Communications, Hunter Gorinson. In turn, veteran comics editor Joe Illidge — most recently of Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime line — has joined as Executive Editor, Robert Meyers has been promoted to Editorial Director, former Marvel editor Karl Bollers has joined Valiant’s ranks as an Editor and former BOOM! Studios publicist Mel Caylo has joined as Director of Marketing.
Of course, there’s also the standard existential questions that persist when one company acquires another — ones that rang soundly in the heads of nervous comic book fans, already concerned about comics being treated simply as an IP farm for TV and movies, when DMG CEO Dan Mintz was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter article announcing the Valiant acquisition, “This is about taking it to the next level… I am not looking on expanding from a publishing standpoint but from a motion picture standpoint.” (Mintz is quoted later in the article, “The plan is not to go in there and take apart what’s working,” but fans were still concerned about what the future of Valiant may look like.)
There are a lot of questions about Valiant’s current state and its future, so CBR talked to Fred Pierce — who has remained on board as Valiant’s publisher, a position he’s held since the formative days of the company’s revival — along with Joe Illidge, Robert Meyers and Mel Caylo. While all four downplayed any behind-the-scenes tumult, they did express a renewed focus on expanding Valiant’s audience, with Illidge promising “elevating characters beyond the icons and bringing in new voices” in 2019.
CBR: There are a lot of places we could start, but let’s get right to it — in the past few months, there have been a lot of new hires at Valiant, some promotions, some notable departures. For people who might be curious, how are things structured currently, in terms of who is in charge or what?
Fred Pierce: I’m in charge of the division. We’ve been running like this for three months now. If you haven’t seen any huge change in Valiant, that’s because there really is no huge change in Valiant. We’re lucky to have Joe running editorial, he’s the Executive Editor.
What people don’t realize is, we were very stable for a very long time. Seven or eight years. I guess with the transfer, certain things happened at the same time. It became an interesting moment, but what company has four or five division heads stay around as long as we did? These changes are inevitable.
Joe is great. We have a great editorial team in place. Robert has stepped up. Everyone in the company is having a lot more to do, and they’re spreading their wings. We have a five-person editorial team with Joe, Robert, Karl, [Benjamin Peterson] and [David Menchel]. We’re very happy with the editorial team. Hunter decided to leave, but who’s better in the industry than Mel? Mel’s voice is being heard in marketing, and he’s very involved in what we’re doing. That was a great replacement.
That’s really where we are right now. Everything is stable. In three months, we still haven’t missed a beat. I cross my fingers every week to make sure that we don’t miss a deadline. Robert and Joe and Karl and Ben and David all work very had, as well as our design team.
Things are progressing wonderfully. The beauty of what we have now is, now we have DMG, so we have a whole new resource behind us. We have a big brother, and before we didn’t — it’s very hard for a small company to be able to have the breadth of resources, when we’re competing in a market where other people have huge resources. DMG had a lot of faith in us. DMG is invested in us, and the integration and the conversation are wonderful, where we’re talking back and forth — what can DMG do for us, and what can we do for them?
We’re happy. Just by the nature of having so many changes, we’re going to build on the shoulders of the giants who built Valiant. In May of 1990, who would have thought I would be the one here? We always had so may different voices. Now we’re going to have new voices looking at the world in a new way. Valiant has always been cutting edge. We’re continuing to be cutting edge. Our goal is to create great comics that say something more than great comics.
Robert Meyers: We’re really excited over here. The energy in this building is really fantastic right now. We’ve got a lot of new voices of people who have come in, people who have stepped into new roles. We’re really clicking as a team. It’s been challenging, but it’s been a lot of fun.
Pierce: Look, there is nobody better in the industry in terms of editorial than Warren. We’re standing on Warren’s shoulders, and Warren was standing on the shoulders of Bob Layton, and Jim Shooter, and Kevin VanHook, and Barry Windsor-Smith, and Don Perlin. We’re such a large universe, there are so many different places we could go with it.
What’s that challenge been like, though? You mentioned you haven’t missed a beat in terms of the publishing schedule, but to deal with so much upheaval — multiples comings and goings concentrated in such a short amount of time — is difficult for any company.
Pierce: Everyone has been so cooperative. You’re looking at it as upheaval, and we’re just looking it at as a transition. Warren and I worked very closely together to find Joe, and to make sure that Joe would be the right voice. One of the reasons everybody cared about Valiant is because of what Hunter brought to the table, but Mel’s phenomenal. Mel and I worked together for 20 years, so there’s no learning curve there. We don’t look at it as upheaval, we’re really looking at it as a transition.
Let’s talk ownership. DMG was heavily invested in Valiant already, and now sole owners of the company. How much of a shift that is in the day to day? You’ve described it as relatively business as usual, but a company doesn’t buy another company unless they have plans for it. How do you characterize the current relationship between Valiant and DMG?
Pierce: I have to tell you, it has been smoother than anyone would believe. We’ve been told all along that they want us to keep running the publishing division as it’s been run. The proof of that is, we’ve been doing this for three months and nobody really sees any difference. As we’ve always said, Valiant is about great comic books first, and out of the great comic books, we’re going to be doing movies and TV and other things down the road. And we will be doing that. As you know, we have the Bloodshot movie, which we believe will start being shot this summer. What else would a company like DMG, that is a big conglomerate, want from us than great IP that they can use in different ways? Their message to us was that the most important thing is that the IP stays as hot and as good as it’s been.
It really hasn’t changed all that much, other than we’re trying to figure out how we can help each other the most.
Mel Caylo: I am in a unique position in that I physically work in the DMG office in LA, even though I work directly with Fred, Joe, and Robert and the rest of the staff back in New York. Just being around here for the past two months, I can definitely see that these guys care about these characters, and about expanding the awareness of them through other mediums, like film and TV. There are other types of businesses that they have invested in that I can’t speak about yet. They are looking at ways in which Valiant and those other businesses can partner up.
It’s all about helping Valiant reach new audiences, reach a bigger audience; at the same time, allow the publishing side do what they’ve been doing, and hopefully do a little bit more — and giving them the resources to do so.
Joe Illidge: Valiant is a company that has always been about developing talent, that talent growing with the company, and that’s something that’s going to continue forward. 2018 has really been a year where Valiant has reinforced and crystalized its iconic characters. The great Shadowman relaunch is representative of that. The Harbinger Wars 2 event is a culmination of that. We have our publishing plan for 2019 — 2019 is going to be about elevating characters beyond the icons, bringing in new voices, building on the great foundation that’s been laid by people like my predecessor Warren Simons, and really taking the universe to the next level. Harbinger Wars 2 is a big summer event, and thematically levels the playing field and gives us the perfect opportunity to propel characters forward, to work with a great team of existing creators, to invite new creators. You’re going to see some new characters spinning out of Harbinger Wars 2.
Basically, what we’re talking about is a transition on every level. A transition on a company level, a transition for the crystallization of a new team, and a transition for the fictional universe. As Robert said, this is an exciting time. The hardest thing for us is just basically keeping our mouths shut up about all the great things we have coming in the next 18 months. [Laughs]
This transformation, this transition is felt throughout the whole company, and it’s really great for these new voices to be coming in. When we start rolling things out, it’ll be especially clear to everyone with whom Valiant has great relationships, that we’re stronger than ever, we’re here, and we’re going to grow with this industry, and the creators, and the fans, and the retailers, who have been with this company since the very beginning.
Meyers: We’ve got so many exciting characters out there that are on the board now, and so many that are ready to get on the board. It’s just a huge opportunity. We’re exciting, and having a hard time even containing ourselves.
Pierce: Don’t forget, Valiant has the best fans in the industry. Before we launched, they threatened that our books had to remain as wonderful as they used to be, and I think our books now are as good as they’ve ever been.
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