Dinesh Shamdasani Talks Megalith, Lewis LaRosa & A Return To Valiant
Dinesh Shamdasani talked to us about Lewis LaRosa, Laura Martin, Megalith, and what he'd like to do about that Valiant-shaped hole in his heart.
When Bad Idea announced their Kickstarter for Megalith, an opulently produced OGN from Matt Kindt, Lewis LaRosa, Laura Martin, Taylor Esposito, and Rico Renzi, I wanted details from co-CEO Dinesh Shamdasani. Why a cost-prohibitively expensive printer? Why ultra-deluxe single issues for an OGN? Why an OGN from a comic company that doesn't do collections?
My real questions though, were about the experience of going to a comic con in India where everyone pirated the comics, but stood for hours in line for Shamdasani's autograph and that Valiant-shaped hole in his heart.
Let's start this interview off with a leak: According to a reward tier in the Megalith Kickstarter, Bad Idea secured a variant cover from Todd McFarlane. Is this true?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Oh man, I'm gonna get in trouble no matter what I say here…
Okay, let me try and thread this needle – we've made no secret of our desire to get all seven Image founders involved at Bad Idea. It sounds insane, but we already got friggin [Rob] Liefeld! McFarlane would be a coup wouldn't it? And we're on a good run with Joe Quesada, Leinil Francis Yu, James Harren, Mico Suayan among so many others involved with the Megalith campaign.
Oh! And we've been hard at work and are very close to locking in three of the greatest artists that have ever lived — like all-time, history of the world great. This would be their first time ever being published in comics which is insane. We're running out of time though. The Megalith campaign closes in just a few days so fingers crossed we get them in under the wire.
At C2E2 2023, you sounded a little defeated when you said when people bought your era's Valiant trades, it was primarily through Amazon. What strategies are Bad Idea kicking around to bring trade readers to comic stores?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Not every sale is equal. An Amazon sale doesn't help us in nearly the same way a sale does at a comic shop. People are often surprised to hear that. There's no cashier recommending and getting you excited about other Bad Idea books at Amazon, there's no discoverability from the new comic book rack, there's no repeat business every new release Wednesday. At Bad Idea, we are primarily comic books in comic book shops. We gambled that if we focused on quality and didn't give them the option of trades, trade readers would get excited and dive back into single issues. What we're hearing from our Bad Idea Destination Store partners is that exactly that happened. It's emboldened us to double down. I think there were some people who assumed we were all talk and that by now, several years after its release in stores, we'd have put out a trade of our launch books like ENIAC via Amazon. We haven't and have no plans to and the result has been that those single issues still move briskly for the few stores that haven't sold out completely.
How'd you talk Laura Martin into coloring Megalith? Was it as simple as "I can pay your page rate" or was there more negotiation to get on her calendar?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Laura is the absolute best. We would have moved mountains for her. I wish I had an interesting story for you here. We've worked with her before many times. She's incredible. We always pay market rates so that wasn't a consideration. She's certainly in demand and her schedule is always a factor but we very consciously wanted to build a book in Megalith that wasn't compromised by time so that was easy here. We simply asked at the onset of the book. She and Lewis are great collaborators and she very graciously agreed. Since then, it's been Christmas every time she turns in a page. Honestly, we've run out of superlatives to reply to her with. If anyone has any underused ones, I'd love a list!
I can't remember if it was you or Atom Freeman who said that it was originally Bad Idea's plan to debut with Megalith but you were taken aback by the detail in Lewis LaRosa's pages. What other "might've beens" exist?
Dinesh Shamdasani: The daunting task of how to launch a slate of titles let alone a new publisher is one that requires a lot of "might've beens". ENIAC was a blockbuster and we're so happy and grateful that it was our launch book. Megalith was a different type of beast and I'm so excited that waiting has allowed us to really lean into what makes it unique. In terms of other plans we were considering, there were a few but Saver is the one that comes to mind. It's a superhero story like none you've ever seen before — which is saying something when you look at how far down Marvel and DC have drilled into that genre over the many decades. Not only is the book centered around a very novel power but it's an enormously emotional story. I can't think of a story in superhero comics that dives into heart the way it does. I don't want to spoil anything about where it goes because the twists and turns are its genius and beauty but suffice to say that I love talking to creators and other publishers about it and watching their eyes well up as I explain where the story takes us. We did put out a short story version of just the main premises of the powers and were thrilled with the response. Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello built the entire series for us and I expect we'll be too greedy for veneration not to put it in the next slate.
What does financial success for a Bad Idea comic look like? To use Orc Island as an example, I can't imagine Matt Hollingsworth's time is cheap.
Dinesh Shamdasani: Another absolute genius. I kinda feel he is too cheap lol. When you look at the work he's doing, especially on Orc Island. That work was something else. Financial success at Bad Idea is simple. Can we make enough money so that we can all keep doing this in the way we're doing it. Not compromising on quality. Focusing on the stories. Doing it on our terms. And doing it with friends. Bad Idea is not aiming to become Marvel or even baby Marvel. I think we're unique as a publisher in that way. And it's why we've worked hard to stay small. The executive team is just five people – Atom Freeman, Josh Johns, Anthony Militano, Peter Stern, and myself. There is freedom in that. Other publishers doing what we do are 30, maybe 35 strong. We'd all sleep more but I don't think we'd be as fast or as experimental.
In an interview with David Harper (I believe), you talked about going to a comic con in India where you sustained damage to your hand signing so many autographs for fans who eventually told you they read your era's Valiant bibliography on the internet. Can you walk Bleeding Cool readers through the highs and lows of that weekend?
Dinesh Shamdasani: It was a very eye-opening trip for me, and one that almost didn't happen. I resisted going to that con for so long. They were very aggressive about having me. I'm an executive and as one we don't fly out to conventions as guests. We don't sit in the green room. We're the ones that are supposed to be making sure the people in the green room are happy. I had to get over that but I also was worried that they wanted me because I was Indian. A convention in India wanting to bring someone from comics who was also Indian? Not a big list, unfortunately. They had to slum it with me lol. But the convention organizers weren't taking no for an answer and the licensing and sales teams at Valiant were keen that I go. They were hoping it would lead to us opening a new market for sales. Eventually, I relent and agree to go. All my worst fears come true immediately! They put my face on a giant billboard in Delhi. I'm meant to give a speech on the main stage for thousands. They want me to do three all day signings. ALL DAY! No one's gonna come. People want the writers and the artists. I had visions of sitting at this big signing stage with tumbleweeds rolling by.
The opposite happened. The first day, there's a line further than I can see. Hundreds of people. We didn't get through them all that day. Some had to come back the next day and line up with all the new people at the con that day! I'm very skeptical of course. Who are these people? We don't have lines like this at New York Comic-Con for big stars, so how is this happening? Also, no one has comics. Everyone is just lining up for me to sign prints that the con has made. I start thinking the convention has paid people to line up, so I start asking them questions. "Who's your favorite Valiant character?" Everyone has an answer. And not the same answer. Okay, that's unexpected. I start asking, "What's your favorite Valiant story?" Lots of answers. Great answers. All different. What's going on? "Where do you buy your books?" I ask. "Are there comic shops here?" "Online?" Suddenly, no one wants to look me in the eye let alone answer questions. I finally get one of the convention helpers to explain it to me. No one buys comics in India. In fact, they tell me that they buy almost no physical media. It makes total sense. The country skipped that entire era. They went straight to digital. But they don't buy those either. It's all pirated! And because of that, they read everything. We were a hit in India! But not the way we would have hoped. We didn't open a new market for publishing but we did start to build licensing partners for the Indian market and those did very well for us. And now at Bad Idea, we're experimenting with hoping to try to push some of those international enthusiasts of unofficial copies to physical books by offering a type of hybrid comic/merchandise product. That's part of why we've done so much in the vinyl toy space.
What is so special about LaRosa and Martin's pages that they required the cost-prohibitive Heidelberger Druck printer to realize?
Dinesh Shamdasani: You only have to look at the pages to see why they're so special. I'm very biased but I genuinely can't think of a comparable book. Lewis is a master of representational art. He's as close to photo real as you can get. But he's also a master of dramatic lighting. In fact, he may be even better with light than he is with representation. He uses light to tell the story in a way that is both cinematic but also uniquely comics. Add to that the insane rendering he does and you've got work as good as anything that's ever been done in comics in my opinion. But then — and this is the part that I think his contemporaries both love him for and hate that he's so good at — you look at this work and anyone else doing work like this can easily and often look stiff but not Lewis. His figures are fluid and feel like they're in motion. That's incredibly, incredibly hard to do. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned how good a storyteller he is!
Now how do you color work like that without diminishing it? That was the mighty task that Laura took on. She went further though. She's elevating the work. She's giving the entire piece a tone and a storytelling subtext through color that is remarkable. She's doing things with color theory here I don't mind saying I don't really understand. The brain page, for instance, flips every rule comics has for color. A scene like that should only work with cooler blues and purples, which recede to the eye, in the background and hotter yellows and reds, which pop forward, in the foreground. Here she's done the opposite. It not only works, it's spectacular, it's unique and it begs the reader to dive into more.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the rest of the team. Matt Kindt, who's written a hell of a story. One that flips expectations in a way I can't wait for readers to discover. Taylor Esposito and Rico Renzi, letters and design, who have both met the gauntlet Lewis has thrown down. And then all the incredible artists from Joe Quesada to Leinil Francis Yu to James Harren to Mico Suayan to Tomás Giorello and so many more that we haven't announced yet.
Why does Bad Idea need ultra-deluxe single issues to promote a hardcover collection?
Dinesh Shamdasani: It's the other way around. The hardcover exists to help us fund a rather financial irresponsible idea we have for the single issues. With Matt, Lewis, Laura and everyone else reaching for the stars with their work we felt a responsibility to do the same on the physical production side. We had a series of meetings where we determined that we wanted to produce the most luxury single issues that had ever been created to work as a presentation piece for the story. The most luxe comic to date in our mind was the Alex Ross book Marvels, which had those wonderful acetate covers, the overly thick cardstock covers and that incredible paper. A lot has changed since they made those books and we're taking full advantage of the new techniques and technology. And of course, it's all very expensive. Prohibitively so. Our philosophy though, was if given the choice we believe the reader would step up for this type of comic. So in order to make this even remotely financially feasible we decided to ask them via pledging to a Kickstarter that would help fund this insanity.
Why not offer a digital-only tier to ameliorate some of the costs of printing Megalith?
Dinesh Shamdasani: We would have loved to but we haven't yet figured out a way to approach digital that makes it a net gain when factoring in the rampant piracy that it enables. I saw today that Erik Larsen, while addressing Image's move to Lunar distribution cited the inevitability of piracy in comics. He says, "every comic book ever published has been bootlegged and is free and available". I couldn't help but crack a smile. Not Bad Idea. And I think that has everything to do with us avoiding digital.
Is Megalith II anything more than an outline on Kindt's hard drive?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Yes. Much more. And the books that James Harren, Leinil Francis Yu, Mico Suayan, etc are doing for us for Megalith are the entry point into that much larger world. We've got a lot planned and some big surprises for this world but first we've got to make this first turkey fly!
You said on Most Expensivest that you were trying to fill a Valiant-shaped hole in your heart with comics you liked as a kid. Judging by your collection, and a prior interview with Felix Lu, what grails can possibly remain and is there a project big enough to finally be at peace with the Valiant years?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Yes. A return to Valiant. :)
Conflict of interest siren: I backed the Megalith Kickstarter, which Dinesh Shamdasani promotes here.