As part of a huge musical chairs in the comics industry of late, a few days ago Joe Illidge left Lion Forge to join Valiant as Executive Editor. Editor in Chief Warren Simons has confirmed he’s stepping down, and Robert Meyers has been promtoed to Editorial Director. With other recent changesm Illidge will have a big part in Valiant’s plans moving forward as they transition to new ownership under DMG. We had a chance to talk to Illidge about taking on one of the big superhero universes, and where the Valiant ship is going. Thanks to Joe for his time and to Mel Caylo for setting things up.
THE BEAT: Joe, how familiar were you with Valiant? Were you a fan before?
ILLIDGE: I’ve been a fan since the first iteration in the 90s. I’ve read comic books from every iteration of Valiant: the Shooter era, the Acclaim era and the Simons era that launched a little over half a decade ago. My first entry title with the present universe was the Harbinger series written by Josh Dysart and illustrated by Khary Evans.
THE BEAT: So you’ve definitely been Keeping Up with the Valiant Universe. So what excited you about getting this opportunity to work with these characters?
ILLIDGE: The thing I love about the Valiant Universe is I feel like every genre that exists in fiction is in there. You can do space, you can do horror, you can do science fiction, you can do a Western. You can do a romance. You can do a techno thriller. You can do a spy story. You can do all of it at Valiant. I can’t think of any other interconnected universe in the global space which can encompass all genres of fiction. And we didn’t even start talking about YA yet. You can do that too.
THE BEAT: Do you think some of the current stuff is more towards YA or is this something that you’re going to be developing more of?
ILLIDGE: The most important thing to me is that the people who have been with Valiant since the beginning, whether it’s the creators, the fans, or the retailers, that they know that we’re good, we’re here to stay and we’re going to double down on our relationships with all of them. That starts with the core characters and the core titles. X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Ninjak, Shadowman, Harbinger. Valiant will never abandon the core audience. But what we want to do is give them company. Let’s make it a bigger party, get some more takes and make it a bigger place.
We want to invite more people to the Valiant Universe.
This is a time of serious paradigm shift in the industry and what we want to do is have the Valiant Universe grow with the changes in the industry.
THE BEAT: Well, I was going to mention that, being loyal to the audience. The audience is incredibly loyal and very, very involved, as I’ve learned many times running The Beat. Have you been interacting with the Valiant fans yet? They are very passionate.
ILLIDGE: It has begun. People are already making their concerns clear. They are asking what are the future plans. They’ve let me know which characters they care about and which actors and actresses they want to play characters they care about. And that’s all good. That tells me they care and I talk to them as much as I can. It’s only the beginning of the process but I want them to know that I care too and that I was right there with them buying the books. In the press release when I talked about stuff like The Book of Death and Armor Hunters, that was not me going through some kind of list to see what I could namedrop. These were literally stories that to me the set a standard.
THE BEAT: Joe, you and I are friends, we’ve talked over the years many, many times about superheroes and how they affect the comics industry. What is it that keeps bringing you back to superheroes though? What is the allure for you personally?
ILLIDGE: For one thing I did feel like the definition of superhero is very reductionist in the American comic book scene. Black Panther is now the third highest grossing film on planet Earth, OK, so I don’t want to hear anyone tell me they have a problem with superheroes. Some people say it’s SF, and you could put up a strong argument for Black Panther to be SF. Ultimately Black Panther was a story about civic responsibility, however, and everyone was able to get that. So to me, I think the allure is stories about heroes. Superheroes, as we call it in this space, is a genre. So when I said that Valiantcan do any genre, superhero is one is of them.
THE BEAT: So when this announcement was made, it was announced you’d be working with Warren Simons. And now he’s made it official he’s moving on. But is that helping with a sense of continuity?
ILLIDGE: Warren Simons is one of the giants of our industry. The fruits of his leadership at Valiant are beyond easy measure, and I am honored that he personally chose me to join the editorial team. He’s imparted a lot of sage advice to me, so the best that I can do to continue his legacy is to work with the great people at Valiant in service to the power of stories, the importance of characters, and the spirit of collaboration. I wish him all the personal and professional success he deserves.
Right now we’re working in tandem to figure out the transition to what will come next. We’ve had many talks and he had told me about the history of Valiant from a real-world perspective. We’ve had two or three really good long talks. So we’re still very much in regular conversation and that collaboration is really good. What usually happens when you step into a new job is there’s no ally or guide and you just come in cold. What’s happening here is we’re working together.
THE BEAT: I reached out to the Valiant loving staff at The Beat and got some questions from them. Obviously there have been a lot of publishing changes at Valiant. Do you think that the number of titles is going to stay the same?
ILLIDGE: The future output of Valiant will be determined by stories. Basically we’re talking about organic movement whether that’s organic growth whether that’s organic stabilization with some different voices. That will be revealed. It will be story and character facing. What’s most important is how do we grow this mythology; how do we take this mythology to the next stage. And that’s both a nerve wracking and exciting question to ask. I’m really blessed to have the trust of the people here, Fred Pierce and Warren who put his heart and soul into this. You know the entire company has really been very welcoming and I think there’s a level of trust.
THE BEAT: There has been a little bit of concern for Valiant having a creator base which is excellent – great people like Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt Josh Dysart and so on – but perhaps a little bit skewed towards the traditional talent base for comics, shall we say. Do you feel that there’s a chance to diversify that a bit more moving forward?
ILLIDGE: Well, here’s the thing, when you’re talking about diversity what you’re actually talking about is variety and Valiant has always had variety with its characters and actually with its creators. So what I’m looking to do is do what Valiant has always been doing. We’ve always helped nuture new voices, or relatively new voices. So what we can do as a company is maintain that philosophy and find new voices to be nurtured as well as allow the existing relationships with creators to flourish. We appreciate their loyalty. Sometimes creators have to move on different paths, but we went them to know we’re going to be here.
THE BEAT: As we speak, I just came back from C2E2 and Mocca Fest and you mentioned there are so many changes in the industry. There’s just this feeling of change everywhere. Obviously, it’s a change for you. But change for a lot of people. Have you detected anything about the nature and future of that change?
ILLIDGE: The change has been building for a long time. You can connect it to benchmark individuals like Raina Telgemeier, or a piece of fiction like Saga. For those people who did not see the change coming, they may have unfortunately been victims of myopia. And you know [that’s not how I view things]. One of the things that I think is really important is that you have to be open to wanting to learn more. You have to be able to say, “I don’t know this, I want to know this” and either you investigate it yourself or you go to people who know to learn more. Adapting to change is opening yourself up to learning and our industry is in a learning process, with, unfortunately, a steep learning curve.
It’s a great question. We had a big meeting recently with the entire staff, and we listened to ideas from every department. What do you want to see? The perspectives that I don’t have. So we’re open to an expansion of perspective, but that does not mean not respecting the core audience that has been your bread and butter. You can do both right. You can respect your core audience and you can expand your awareness.
THE BEAT: Well, that is called “growing your audience.” It’s how you do it. So what can you tell me about Bloodshot? The movie is going into production with Vid Diesel, correct?
ILLIDGE: That’s right. This is for real.
THE BEAT: Okay, obviously I don’t want to ignore the elephant in the room. Valiant has had a lot of changes. It’s changing its focus to be a media company, or at least adding to its focus. How does that affect what you do as a comics editor? I know you love comics but now there is so much scrutiny.
ILLIDGE: Yes, I do [love comics]. But you can’t ignore the media elephants either. And Vin Diesel is certainly a media elephant. I consider the term “comics guy” reductionist. I’m a media guy whose loves stories in any medium, but I work in the comics medium. What I find interesting is no one asks a Batman editor that question even though theyare owned by a super mega corporation. Why is Valiant being asked that question when it’s the same with all these other companies?
But I think more to your point, Heidi, I would not have come to this company if I was not convinced that a priority wasn’t making some of the best stories in the comic book and graphic novel format.
THE BEAT: Okay two questions just for me. I was looking over some stuff and remembering The Valiant which was so beautiful. Can’t we get Paolo Rivera to do more comics? He was just saying never does comics anymore.
ILLIDGE: He has an open door here to come back. The Valiant is one of my favorite storylines.
THE BEAT: OK, and perhaps most important: do you think there will ever be more Cat Cosplay Covers, because that is still Valiant’s greatest achievement. [Laughter]
ILLIDGE: You know, it’s funny, right on my desk I have the Britannia Cat Cosplay Cover sitting here. So as far as I’m concerned I could see a return of that. And I think it would be great.
THE BEAT: Joe, thanks again for your time – anything else we need to know as you embark on the good ship Valiant?
ILLIDGE: I’m just really looking forward to working with the people here to find the further gems in this mythology. I’m looking forward to continuing a really healthy relationship with the creators and the fans and the retailers.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.