Live! From The #ValiantSummit At Twitter Headquarters In San Francisco (UPDATE)
Gathering for the Valiant Summit (#ValiantSummit on Twitter) streamed live today on Periscope from Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, we were joined by Dinesh Shamdasani, Robert Venditti, Jen Van Meter, Warren Simons, Hunter Gorinson, and a crowd of Twitter employees who are big Valiant fans. Twitter employees were greeted with some Book of Death swag bags as they entered.
Simons joked that Valiant headquarters are "exactly the same" as Twitter headquarters in amenities and general coolness. The interior of Twitter is graced with "cabins" made out of log cabin walls with quiet nooks, actual baristas, glass staircases, plenty of multi-media screens and generally seems like a heavenly place to work, just for context.
Gorinson opened discussing Valiant's 25th anniversary and the "largest independent shared universe" that Valiant offers comics. Shamdasani explained that in the first incarnation of Valiant, Jim Shooter and other executives left Marvel to form Valiant based on several tenets including genre, diversity, more moral ambiguity, and achieved great success.
Venditti opened by speaking about X-O Manowar as a Visigoth in alien armor allowing us to have a range of story-types and for him, it was the first monthly comic he'd ever written, which taught him the mechanics of working on an ongoing. He just completed his 40th issue and is delighted by working on "one of our most popular characters", as Gorinson defined him.
Simons introduced the Harbinger concept to the audience, including Toyo Harada as a "child of the bomb", and someone who was determined that mankind would remain peaceful "by any means necessary". As a "kingmaker", he worked for 40 to 50 years building a foundation. The story focuses on a group of characters called The Renegades who expose Harada's corruption controlling markets and world powers. They expected this to "bring him down", but instead it makes him dig in deeper. In the current series Imperium, Hararada has taken over his own zone in Somalia and is building his power in response. Shamdasani says the book really makes you think about the way you see the world, and is fascinated by whether people identify with Harada or with the Renegades as fans.
Shamdasani says it may be strange to hear a comic book company talking about "whether fascism works" but that's typical of Valiant and an approach they've "embraced". Gorinson said that one of the other distinctive things about the Valiant universe is a difference in tone between the books. From X-O Manowar to Doctor Mirage, which has elements of romance and magic, there is a wide range of genre.
Van Meter described Doctor Mirage as having light horror with romance or heavy horror "depending on the page". Starting off with the character, she felt there was a "blank slate" to some extent, though she was dealing with an original character from the 90's. They came up with a "hero's journey" for Shan, who is a medium who talks to ghosts.
After her husband's death, she goes on a mission to find out why the ghost of her husband can't talk to her, and what she might do to bring him back. It's not much of a spoiler, she said, to reveal that they are "together" at the end of the first 5 issues. It's 5 issues of "being in grief" but for Van Meter it's "one of the most optimistic and uplifting things" she's worked on. Shan is a hero for Van Meter because she's a grown woman with a job where people assume she's a "crank or a con artist". She gets to be "brittle" when people don't take her seriously and gets to have a "mouthy" attitude. The only way she got to that place, she said, was by writing villains first. Van Meter "loves" the fact that Shan is "abrasive". She spent a lot of time not knowing how to deal with the living vs. the dead. Gorinson said there's been a tremendous response to the book at conventions.
Moving on to a discussion of Quantum and Woody, one of the funniest series at Valiant, features "idiots", Shamdasani said, who then "get a goat", to laughter. When these brothers decide that their father's death was not accidental, they get locked in a technological meltdown fighting over a containment suit. They wake up, "dematerializing", Shamdasani said, but the bracelets from their containment suit keep them both alive and only able to survive together. They make "poor decisions" generally. The goat is a "massive spoiler", Shamdasani said. The goat has superpowers and is pregnant, Simons chimed in.
Moving on to talk about The Valiant, native to San Francisco Paolo Rivera is the artist, who is currently expecting his first child, so couldn't be present. It's the story of the Eternal Warrior, who protects the guiding forces of the Geomancers, who shepherd humanity. The Eternal Enemy keeps destroying the Geomancers and flaunting his success over The Eternal Warrior. In The Valiant, a new Geomancer is attacked, and there's an "Empire Strikes Back" moment. We don't know if the Eternal Warrior was able to win this time around. In the same story, Bloodshot's nanites were affected.
The Valiant series was impactful on the "status quo" of Valiant, and led into Bloodshot Reborn, which is still ongoing, written by Jeff Lemire. At the end of The Valiant, Bloodshot is able to escape the nanites in his body (avoiding spoilers how), but he's "haunted" by the memories of what he did and turns to drink and drugs. Other characters begin to appear and commit "mass atrocities" with a mark on a chest like his. When he stops them, he absorbs more nanites from them and starts to lose his humanity again. His soldier duties are in question.
Gorinson pointed out that these characters so far are legacy characters from the first Valiant Universe, however, the company has been releasing new characters this year, including Divinity. With Matt Kindt writing the story, which is already a massive success, Valiant "took their time" on their new character but did it right. During the space race in the 60's, Russia was much further along than people knew, Shamdasani explained. A black, communist cosmonaut in the series goes into the cosmos on a 30 year series, and while out there he gains "the power to control energy", but he still has the "mind of a man". He has followers in the Australian Outback where he lands, but wonders about his wife and child from his earlier life. Ninjak goes up against Divinity, but it's like a "4 year old fighting him", Simons said. Trevor Hairsine's art on the series was displayed on screens. It's the "book that cannot be stopped", going from 5 printings to the 6th. Divinity is going to a 6th printing, Valiant announced.
Valiant also announced a new one dollar incentive for #1 issues for these books, including many titles.
Valiant then announced that Book of Death #1 is now officially the "highest selling book of all time" for Valiant in first issue. This is their current massive crossover event spanning the summer.
Valiant then screened the trailer for Book of Death #1, debuting live. With taglines like "This is how they died" and introducing the young girl Tama and the Eternal Warrior sent to protect her, asks, "What if death consumes us all". Venditti commented that he "totally wants to know what happens" on this series, to laughter. Arriving in July, this is a series not to miss.
Venditti explained that Tama is the new Geomancer in this story, and has in her possession a book that records the history of the Geomancers long into the future. In the wake of horrific natural catastrophes, he explained, where nature seems driven to act out, Gilad is trying to stop them. The rest of the Valiant Universe believes that Tama is causing the events, which pits Gilad against them.
Venditti said that "baked into the mission of Valiant" is to create stories that "don't have easily defined heroes and villains" because we are all the heroes of our own stories. Differences of perspective over time creates "interesting dynamics". Valiant is working on this book with Robert Gill, but at 40 pages, each issue contains flashes into the future of the Valiant Universe as recorded in the Book of the Geomancer. They showed off art from Braithwaite's pages (the future sequences), which present "clues" for Gilad in his quest to solve the turmoil. Doctor Mirage appears in the background as a ghost. There are also extra characters shown in these pages. Bloodshot fighting a Bloodshot dinosaur appeared, and the was X-O Manowar and his wife as well as child (they marry in issue 38 coming out tomorrow). There will be many first appearances, including The Beast Brigade including a telepathic dolphin (MATT, a nod to Matt Kindt's obsessions with telekinetic dolphins). The Book of Death will be a "road map" of things to come in the Valiant Universe.
Venditti said the last creative retreat for Valiant proved to him that many of the things depicted in these 8 page excerpts from the Book of the Geomancer are things that will "pan out" and aren't just being created for the heck of it. They will all come to pass. Shamdasani said this will span "years" and you may see these new characters years from now who are introduced in Book of Death. Simons said that when talking to Shamdasani about the future sequence, he "morphed" into a 12 year old fan in excitement, alluding to the fact that Shamdasani had a Valiant birthday cake at that age.
Venditti announced a new book for The Eternal Warrior, coming called Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, and this book will look at the "cost of his immortality". He's not a "pessimist", Venditti said, but must be an optimist to "keep coming back" to advance humanity. To watch his personal sacrifices in order to come back and fight on "the surface world" will be a new take on an "immortal character", Venditti said. They showed a wrap around cover for #1, which looked pretty extreme and featured red dragons.
Simons spoke about Raul Allen, who is exclusive to Valiant, and his "extraordinary" work on the November arriving book upon the conclusion of Book of Death.
This December, Jen Van Meter and the original team will be appearing in Death Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives, Valiant announced. Shan and Hwen are back together after 5 years of separation, but he's a ghost, so he might as well be a "voice in her head" according to those around her. They are "madly in love" but they are going in search of a spell that would give him a "corporeality" again, but that is going to "let something out into the world that is very dangerous", she said. The first story was about taking Shan into the afterlife, which was about "building a sense of a lived in space" and "rich depth of culture" for the ghosts, angels and demons who lived there. This series for Van Meter is, in this coming story, using the characters a way of looking into this world with their perspective, a "psychic eco system" of ghosts around us. Places are wonderful or terrible based on ghosts who won't leave, and they "believe in us" even if we don't believe in them. Shan and Hwen experience a threat to that population, and they have to decide if their relationship should be risked to help. This is a "lighter" book where the artist, Robert De La Torre, actually gets to draw people "smiling" for once. Van Meter is having fun writing a family of sorcerers in Spain, and getting Barcelona-native De La Torre to draw it is great. She's glad to be writing about the relationship that Shan spent the first book trying to save.
Coming in 2016, Valiant teased that X-O Manowar is going to go to 50 issues in the modern era for the first time. Venditti can't believe he's heading for 50 issues on the character. Venditti sees it as a big triumph to be "here" doing a live event on the books and feels "fortunate". He didn't really know if he had "what it took" to develop the character for 50 issues, and is happy to see the result. Venditti is now the longest running writer on X-O Manowar in Valiant history and may be the longest tenured writer on any Valiant title. X-O will be a big component of 2016, Gorinson teased, with more news on the way.
The room was then opened for Q & A.
An audience member asked how Venditti keeps the characters straight and keeps all the combinations of events straight in their own mind, keeping them "fresh", rather than repetitive.
Venditti said that there are ultimately a limited number of different types of stories out there, but what will distinguish a story is the extent to which you can put yourself and your life into your story. If you can put your "snowflake" into your story, it will be different. You can learn craft, he advised, but you have to "stay true to yourself" to make your story distinctive.
From Twitter, we had a question about whether Valiant animated films might be on the way. Shamdasani said they are interested in various forms of media, and they are "cooking stuff up".
Asked if Valiant will ever have crossovers with other universes, Simons seemed quite optimistic but didn't have any specific details.
Van Meter was asked how she writes a comic not knowing how it will look if the art isn't done. She said that it's hard when you don't know who the artist will be and what their preferences are. She knows Roberto well now, so the process is easier. There's a "mystery collaboration" aspect, too. She walked us through the "plot elements" she might introduce, but said what she gets back is "10 times better than she could ever ask for". She tries not to tell the artist "how" to do it since the less you stand over their shoulder, for a real artist, the more "magic" you get. Venditti agreed, saying there is no one equation that you'll ever figure out, but the more you learn and improve the more you work in comics.
As a question from Twitter, a fan asked what's next for Live Wire who appeared in Harbinger and is the leader of Unity. She's going to be in Book of Death as the leader of the Unity team, Venditti explained. She had a key role in Armor Hunters, but she's going to "potentially" appear in some of the tie-in issues related to the series, and not just Book of Death.
Asked who their favorite characters are, the panelists replied:
Simons said it's impossible to pick. Shamdasani joked that he walks around the office saying "I love the goat. I hate all the others".
Van Meter said Doctor Mirage must be, she enjoys working on the series so much.
Shamdasani said today it's Armstrong, who is 7000 years old, but unlike Dracula or Highlander, it hasn't made him an "art collector" but instead an "immortal hedonist".
Gorinson said Harada, as being someone who straddles the line between hero and villain.
That concluded the Periscope presentation of the Valiant Summit at Twittter headquarters, with plenty of rounds of applause for the panelists. Watch the whole thing here.