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Valiant Comics Is A Universe Full Of Your New Favorite Superheroes

We visited the Valiant Comics writers' retreat to learn why in the age of superhero blockbusters, comics and creators still come first.

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What Do I Need to Know About Valiant Comics or "Why Does That Goat Have Laser Vision?"

Valiant Comics

Valiant Comics is an American comic book publisher founded in 1989, by Jim Shooter (a former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief) and Bob Layton (a former Marvel artist).

During the early '90s boom in the comic book industry — the same one that gave birth to Spawn, The Death of Superman, and a record-shattering X-Men relaunch — Valiant introduced original properties like Harbinger (super-powered teens on the run), Rai (a samurai in the future), X-O Manowar (a fifth-century Visigoth in a stolen suit of alien armor), and Archer & Armstrong (it's complicated).

After fading away with much of the comics industry in the post-boom late '90s, Valiant returned with a vengeance in 2012. Under new leadership, it relaunched most of its flagship titles with a formidable team of fan-favorite comics creators, equally comfortable in the worlds of mainstream superhero punch-'em-ups and experimental indie work.

Long story short, two worlds collided and a new universe was born.

Inside a Comics Writers' Retreat: "Who's There, What Gets Done, and Why Haven't You Answered Our Question about the Goat?"

Valiant Comics / Via Twitter: @valiant

Like the shared writing room of a TV show, a writers' retreat allows comic creators to sit down face-to-face with rarely seen colleagues and make a blueprint of what's going to happen in their shared narrative universe in the coming year.

With superheroes constantly crossing over between different titles and creators, it's a good way of brainstorming character arcs for solo titles and plotting universe-wide changes in the status quo.

For instance, if Bloodshot (cybernetic killing-machine protagonist of Valiant's upcoming Bloodshot Reborn) was going to die (unlikely based on that title), and another writer was planning to use Bloodshot as a guest star in, say, Ninjak (a character who is basically James Bond crossed with Batman but also a ninja), the Ninjak editorial team might want to know about that in advance.

"What Are You Even Talking About, What Does This Have to Do With the Goat From Before?"

Valiant Comics

We're getting there. Comic companies also, pretty reliably, like to slate their production year with one or more universe-wide crossover events (often referred to as just crossovers, or just events). These are usually highly publicized mini-series that involve a lot of prominent characters and tie into their individual solo comics — famous examples include DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel's Civil War.

With so many moving parts, and so many writers' long-term plans affected, it only makes sense to fly everyone in and brainstorm this kind of thing together in a room. "I'm just here to steal from other writers," jokes Jeff Lemire, a Valiant writer who has also written for DC and Marvel, and, like almost everyone in the room, got started publishing his own creator-owned work.

Which isn't to say that all this brainstorming means everything is written out in advance. "Editors work closely with the creators and make sure their voice comes through," says Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons, "and not that they just execute the vision that was handed to them."

The 2015 Valiant Retreat was held in New York City, where Valiant is headquartered and hosted its publishing and editorial team and writers from all over the country.

Twitter: @valiantcomics

Including, but probably not limited to, Dinesh Shamdasani (chief creative officer), Warren Simons (editor-in-chief), Alejandro Arbona (editor), Josh Johns (digital sales), Fred Pierce (publisher), and writers Fred Van Lente (Archer & Armstrong, Ivar: Timewalker), Jeff Lemire (Bloodshot Reborn, The Valiant), Jen Van Meter (The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage), Matt Kindt (Ninjak, The Valiant), Robert Venditti (X-O Manowar, Armor Hunters), and Joshua Dysart (Harbinger, Imperium).

As they don't see each other very often, and they were also spending a weekend in New York City, some of them may or may not have made references to being a little hungover.

Work hard play harder. @fredvanlente and @robertvenditti enjoy @barcadenewyork before #ValiantRetreat15

"I Haven't Read Comics In A While — Why Start Again Now? (and Why Valiant?)"

Valiant Comics

Because comics are great. Even die-hard fans stopped reading after the '90s boom, between over-saturation and the inarguable dipping of quality. But like The Sopranos paving the way for a golden age of television, the medium itself has changed. A lot.

"It was the '90s, the Clone Saga just happened," says editor Alejandro Arbona, referring to an infamous storyline where Spider-Man was his own clone (or something). Arbona's love affair with comics temporarily ended after the craze along with millions of other people. "I gave them up and never looked back."

It was an editorial position at the now-defunct comics and pop-culture magazine Wizard that got him back up to speed with comics' unexpected maturation: "My god, I thought — is this what comics are now?"

Like TV, comics have come back strong as a cerebrally engaging auteur-driven medium. And like TV, it's serialized storytelling, paced in such a way as to keep you totally, hopelessly obsessed.

The Valiant Universe is still new enough and small enough that you could catch up on ALL of it if you wanted to.

Valiant Comics

...and that's entirely by design.

"As a writer I can read every book in the line and and that helps respond to what other writers are doing," says Matt Kindt, the writer behind a number of Valiant titles, including the new Ninjak #1. Arbona (one of the team's many Marvel veterans) confirms that at a company the size of Marvel, there'd be "no time" for every writer to try to read the company's monthly output, and "the workload would be unmanageable."

Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani puts it simply: "Keep the line small and the quality high."

Valiant is a Universe Where Anything Can Still Happen.

Valiant Comics

Although it's more or less expected these days that superhero comics under the banner of one company will all take place in a shared, crossover-heavy universe, the creators love it as much as the fans. Starting (somewhat) from scratch helps Valiant stay free of the continuity clutter that alienates new comics readers.

"We all want it to be part of something bigger and make sure all the stories matter," says Lemire, "without it getting too big and collapsing in on everything. We can create something very cohesive so people want to get in on the ground floor."

Fred Van Lente, the writer behind the globetrotting-comedic-adventure-buddy-comic, Archer & Armstrong adds that as writers, they "can't get into turf fights, because the universe is too small to stake out territory."

In a room full of writers with their own independent, creator-owned projects, there's a lot of love for the Valiant way of doing things. "It's great to be part of a shared universe for its own sake," says Jen Van Meter, writer of The Death Defying Doctor Mirage (a trippy occult detective story featuring an Asian-American protagonist searching for her husband in the afterlife). Matt Kindt adds that his duties scribing Ninjak invoked such passion, "I forgot it was work for hire."

There are a bunch of Valiant #1 issues on comics stands right now.

Your local comic shop can help you find more — and if you haven't been in a comics shop in a while, you can find the one nearest you by punching your zip code into comicshoplocator.com. Comic book arcs are collected into trade paperbacks, or "trades," that usually contain four to six issues, comprising a complete story. (These are sometimes also referred to as graphic novels, which isn't totally accurate, but anyone who corrects you is just being difficult.)

If an individual comic book is like one episode of TV, then a trade paperback is a binge-watch.

The first volume trade paperbacks of most Valiant titles are less than $10 on Amazon. That's a complete story told over four issues of comics in a bookshelf-friendly paperback that fits in your messenger bag.

comiXology is iTunes For Comics On Your iPad.

Right down to the goofy capitalization of their name. If you have an iPad or Android tablet (or whatever), you can set up an account at comixology.com and download a comic for your commute that morning, just like you would a podcast.

The comiXology app for the iPhone also breaks panels down for "guided viewing" — breaking down the individual panels and word balloons so that you read them in the correct sequential order for maximum clarity and effect. Basically it's the perfect training wheels for non-comics readers whose eyes go out of focus when they look at a double-page spread of everyone punching everyone and have no idea what order they're supposed to read the word balloons in.

Another great option is the Humble Bundle — a pay-what-you-want DRM-free digital comics seller that curates "bundles" of themed comics (like say 110 digital issues of Valiant comics). Your payment is split, however you choose, between the publishers, the operators of Humble Bundle and selected charities, like WaterAid and The Red Cross. It's like something out of a utopian future.

Digital comics also means keeping your home free of clutter (although comics on your coffee table remain the world's best conversation starter and, probably, aphrodisiac).

"But Aren't Comics Now Just a Shameless Way to Sell Movies and TV Shows and — WAIT, THAT'S THE GOAT, I SEE HIM."

Valiant Comics

"I've worked here for a year and it hasn't come up," says Jeff Lemire.

As Marvel and DC strategically tweak their continuity (up to and including blowing it up entirely) to better conform it to their big-screen counterparts, Valiant claims to place no mandate on generating movie-friendly properties. Indeed, a lot of them seem a little too weird for the big screen.

"Comics history is littered with the corpses of companies that put intellectual property first," says Imperium and Harbinger writer Joshua Dysart, essentially saying that if you've written a comic solely as a movie pitch, you're probably not making a very good comic, and the fundamental product that your success is hinging upon might be kind of not great.

And just as using comics as a direct path to movies hasn't produced a lot of success over the years, the opposite approach hurts the medium too, Van Lente adds. "There are people out there who don't even read comics, thinking, I couldn't get my screenplay made, so I'm turning into a graphic novel," in order to jump-start the movie-pitching process.

Valiant Comics

In these more mercenary mind-sets, the comics themselves end up being an afterthought and suffer for it. Again, Shamdasani simplifies, "It's impossible to avoid, but so are toys and stickers, and all that stuff will come if the stories are good, but it can't affect the stories."

That being said, superhero movies and TV are a logical extension of great stories — and big, big, big business. Shortly after their writers' retreat was concluded, Valiant publicly announced a deal with a Beijing-based entertainment company planning to invest on bringing their universe of characters to the big screen. The next few years could easily see a rise of a Valiant cinematic universe — in the U.S. and in China — as rapid and strange as the one in their comics.

Also, the goat is a her. Its genetic modifications provide it with heat vision, super-strength (for a goat), and short bursts of flight. Obviously.

Thank you to Valiant Comics for exclusive access inside their writers' retreat and for providing the artwork above. Valiant Comics — and all comics — are on stands near you.

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