Valiant Entertainment is the newest incarnation of a legendary comics publisher that was founded in 1989 by former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, drew in fans with strong, character-driven stories, and then fell on hard times and ceased publication in the early 2000s. The current owners bought the company in 2005 and began launching comics based on updated versions of the original Valiant comics, including X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer and Armstrong, last summer.
From a digital point of view, Valiant is in an interesting position. They are one of the first publishers to launch a new comics universe in a market in which digital distribution plays a significant part. At the same time, they have both new titles and a substantial backlist. I asked Hunter Gorinson, Valiant’s marketing and communications manager, to explain the company’s digital strategy and how they arrived at some of the choices they made.
Good E-Reader: Most comics publishers have a branded app in addition to distributing their digital comics via comiXology’s Comics app. Can you explain to me why Valiant didn’t do that?
Hunter Gorinson: We worked diligently to position our launch so that it would attract as many new readers to Valiant as possible. We did this at every level—from the publishing rollout to sales, to marketing and editorial. Launching with a Valiant-dedicated app, however, had the potential to narrow our audience right out of the gate. We weren’t only looking at tapping into fans of the original Valiant Universe, although they were obviously a priority; we also wanted to bring in fans of the medium as a whole, and especially those readers that are continuously interested in quality storytelling and might be willing experiment on a new property.
For instance, in the case of a title like X-O Manowar, we knew that readers new to Valiant would be interested in the work of Robert Venditti and that they would be interested in the work of Cary Nord. And in the case of digital specifically, having Rob and Cary’s first issue of X-O Manowar promoted alongside other perennial titles—your Batmans, Amazing Spider-Mans, and so on—would also encourage consumer experimentation.
It has been just about a year since you announced an exclusive deal with comiXology. Are you considering expanding to Comics Plus, Diamond Digital, or e-book platforms such as Kindle, Nook, or iBooks? Why or why not?
We’re always exploring new developments in the marketplace, but we don’t have any announcements to make on that front quite yet. We’ve been deliberately slow and steady with our growth thus far and that strategy extends into our digital plans as well.
What has been your strategy with regard to releasing older Valiant material digitally? Are you releasing any of that material as digital-first or digital-only?
The vast majority of the Valiant back catalog is currently available digitally. The original Valiant era predated the rise of the collected market we know today and, with only a handful of exceptions, the material from that period has never been reprinted. Outside of the physical back issues themselves, the bulk of classic Valiant is now digital exclusive.
There are indeed some all-time great comics in there—Shooter and Lapham’s Harbinger, Windsor-Smith’s Archer & Armstrong, VanHook and Perlin’s Bloodshot, and Shooter and Layton’s X-O Manowar being just a few examples. To this day, three of those formative runs remain out of print, although the possibility remains that you may see new print editions forthcoming in the near future.
In print, you have been releasing those older comics as collected editions. Is that your preferred digital format as well? Why or why not?
We have specifically stayed away from issuing the Valiant Masters line of classic hardcovers digitally. Physical comics retailers service the vast majority of our fans, and we want to give our retail partners the opportunity to sell as much Valiant product as possible to the widest consumer base possible. The individual issues that make up those collections continue to be available online, but if you want the copious back-up material and extras that are included in the hardcovers, we’ll always encourage you to visit a local retailer.
Have you considered publishing any new comics in digital-only or digital-first format?
Yes! But unfortunately that’s all I can say for now. But we have something special in the works and fans can look forward to an announcement soon.
I should also point out that each of Valiant’s new monthly issues comes complete with several digital exclusives—usually a selection of behind-the-scenes art showcasing pencils and inks from that issue.
Do you have any evidence that digital releases are cannibalizing or, conversely, enhancing print sales?
They are enhancing the print audience. Since the launch of the universe last May, our print sales have remained incredibly consistent and, meanwhile, digital sales have reflected that every step of the way. We’re simply not seeing ever-increasing rates of attrition, which, as any comics publisher will tell you, is the constant battle of monthly comics publishing.
And, anecdotally, we hear from fans all the time at the conventions that were new to Valiant, picked up some digital issues during a comiXology sale, got hooked and bought up the trade paperbacks, and then moved to monthly print issues.
You recently released a game for mobile devices. What was the thinking behind that?
Every promotional initiative that Valiant does is designed to point back toward the publishing line and get new readers in the door. And at this stage in our development, we’re well aware of the fact that there are still a ton of readers out there that still have yet to sample a Valiant title. The idea of an all-new iOS/Android game with a retro edge like Harbinger Wars: Battle for Las Vegas was an incredibly exciting opportunity to introduce potential fans beyond our normal reach to the Valiant Universe and our publishing line-up for the summer and beyond.
But to go back to the beginning, the idea of the game was born of the fact that we’d been planning a line of 8-bit variant covers for June, while at the same time, we were just gearing up to begin promoting Harbinger Wars, Valiant’s very first standalone crossover event. The game’s developers at Storm City Entertainment were incredibly keen on the idea and, together, we were able to produce something that accomplished all of our stated goals. And, at the end of the day, it’s just a cool idea!
You have used augmented reality technology for two covers now. How did you get the idea for those covers, and what were the challenges involved in creating them?
Again, we’re always looking for attention-grabbing concepts, such as the Harbinger Wars mobile game, that allow Valiant to showcase its distinctive voice. Moreover, quality storytelling is our top priority, and the talking “QR Voice Variant” covers that were produced for X-O Manowar and Harbinger allowed us to expand on two of our lead characters in a new and novel way. But it was important to us to make sure that the initiative enhanced the world portrayed in the print book and wasn’t just a gimmick for the sake of a gimmick.
But since this was something that had never before been attempted in comics, coordinating the process did seem a bit daunting while we were still in the planning stages. However, we fortunate enough to wind up working with the great Neal Adams and his amazing team at Continuity Studios on the finished product. They took the concept and 100 percent delivered on the execution. It’s something that everyone seems to now associate with Valiant—and, in fact, we will be revisiting the concept in July with a new augmented, talking cover for Quantum and Woody #1.
And if you know anything about those characters, you know that we absolutely had to make a talking goat!
Will there be more AR or digital extras in Valiant comics in the future?
Most definitely. As I mentioned, Quantum and Woody #1 will be getting the full animated, talking goat treatment in just a few weeks and we continue to produce digital exclusives for our monthly titles on a regular basis. And stay tuned, we’ll be making a very exciting web-related announcement within the next week.