‘David vs. Goliaths” is perhaps the best way to characterize Valiant Entertainment’s battle against Marvel and DC Comics. But like the biblical David, Valiant has many things going in its favor.
First, all Valiant heroes inhabit the same universe, explains Valiant Chairman Peter Cuneo. This allows for interesting cross-stories and team-ups. The success of the 2012 film “The Avengers,” in which several comic heroes team up demonstrates the value of this approach.
Valiant’s universe features 1,700 characters to which the company owns and controls all rights, Cuneo says. Valiant’s position as the No. 3 comic book universe behind only Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics also places it in a solid position. Valiant’s team features many former Marvel staffers, as well.
Founded in 1989 by a cadre of ex-Marvel executives, including former Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter and Iron Man artist Bob Layton, Valiant sold more than 80 million comic books during its original peak in the mid-1990s. Known for comics that emphasized a sophisticated, real-world approach to superheroes, Valiant galvanized comic fandom by introducing some of the most successful new comic book properties since the heyday of Stan Lee’s Marvel in the 1960s. Valiant’s most celebrated properties include X-O Manowar, an alien-armored Visigoth warrior transported to the modern day; Bloodshot, an indestructible super-soldier enhanced with nanotechnology at the expense of his own humanity; Harbinger, a team of runaway teens with risky and unstable mental powers; and nearly two dozen more marquee properties well known to comic book fans around the world.
“Our strategies parallel Marvel in some ways but also differ,” explains Cuneo, a former Marvel CEO. The entertainment landscape is rapidly evolving and has changed dramatically in the past 15 years, he notes. Trends such as viewers binging on entire seasons of programs, the proliferation of TV channels and the rise of streaming media have altered the entertainment landscape of which comics form a part.
Yet, motion pictures remain “an exciting way to introduce characters to global fans,” Cuneo says. To this end, Valiant partners with directors and producers to develop scripts, enabling it to present studios with projects that already have “several legs on the stool,” ensuring creative control.
The comic book world, with its 2,700 comic book stores, is a lucrative and growing market, says Publisher Fred Pierce. Most comic book stores are independently owned and there are more comic book shops than Target and Staples stores combined, he says. “The worldwide comic book market is $5 billion more than Dell and Niemen Marcus combined,” Pierce says.
Customers are regulars who visit the stores for weekly new arrivals. “They usually come in on Wednesdays when new comics are released and then again on weekends to browse back issues,” Pierce explains.
The digital space is exciting for Valiant, as well, with sales increasing 10 to 20 percent at digital retail stores such as Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. In particular, digital comics have helped Valiant grow its international operations.
Nimble and Battle Ready
Dinesh Shamdasani, CEO and chief creative officer, says he relishes the opportunity to challenge “the duopoly of Marvel and DC.” Valiant does this on the publishing side by reinvigorating characters and increasing fan base. Since the publisher’s hugely successful publishing relaunch in 2012 – dubbed “The Summer of Valiant” by industry watchers – Valiant has accumulated numerous awards and accolades for its resurgent publishing line, including a Diamond Gem Award for Publisher of the Year. Fans, too, have been quick to support Valiant’s return. In November of last year, Unity #1 – a new series featuring the publisher’s biggest characters united a la the Avengers or Justice League – posted sales in excess of 70,000 units, making it one the year’s most successful releases from an independent publisher.
“Being the new kid on the block allows for us to take chances and tell stories consumers are looking for,” he says. “The studios are looking for us to find the next evolution of comics.” Valiant is more nimble and adept than its larger peer companies, which tend to be bulky and slow as many large organizations are, he says.
Valiant takes a very pragmatic approach to marketing and cross promoting amongst its licensing partners - offline as well as online. And for Valiant to additionally “gain additional exposure,” President Russell Brown says, “we are developing partnerships with pop-culture-oriented third-parties that have a similar demographic clientele as Valiant.”
Some examples of suitable partners for consumer products might include retailers such as Hastings Entertainment, Spencer’s Gifts and Hot Topic, as well as partners in the casual dining sector and snacks.