Hey, gang, welcome back to another inspired installment of Fan About Town. Everybody have a nice Free Comic Book Day? Get any good stuff?
I took my oldest son, Max, to our LCS, Legacy Comics & Cards in Glendale, CA (you can read last week’s interview with their Manager, Henry, right here), where we picked up a lot of great-looking books, from Oni’s Yo Gabba Gabba! and Archaia’s hardcover sampler for my son to the book I’ve been waiting twelve years for: VALIANT’S FCBD offering.
Because, if you get past all of the gold-embossed-chromium-variant-covers and zero issues for which they ultimately became famous, VALIANT comics were really indie comics in their most quintessential form.
Take, for instance, their most humble origins, starting out with licensed Nintendo and WWF books in order to fill the coffers so that VALIANT architect and bad-luck lightning rod Jim Shooter could afford to tell the stories that he wanted to tell.
The art was, at first, competent, but not flashy, a sharp contrast to the glossy, muscular pin-ups being generated at the time by rivals like Image Comics. Like most indie publishers, VALIANT employed the best artists they could afford which, at the time, wasn’t much.
But, like other indie comics, these unproven and young (or – in the cases of guys like Don Perlin, Bob Layton, and Barry Windsor Smith – seasoned)artists wound up honing their skills and establishing followings all of their own (see indie darling, David Lapham, for example).
Yet, what VALIANT lacked in razzle-dazzle, they made up for with innovations in storytelling and distribution incentives. Yes, the variant covers and trading card inserts became much-maligned after they were overused (some might say “abused”) by every other publisher out there, but that is only because these incentives actually workedat first in generating buzz and building a fan base.
And, since Jim Shooter was essentially writing or ghost-writing every book being put out by VALIANT at the time like some 90s-era Stan Lee, complete with a “bad boy” ponytail, the VALIANT comics benefitted from a heretofore unseen level of continuity that did not hamper the storytelling but, in fact, supplemented it with Easter eggs, time paradoxes, and all kinds of other comic book catnip for meta-narrative junkies like me (best evinced in the mind-bending Unity Saga, which I go back and read every couple of years, always finding something new in those pages).
What we had in VALIANT in the nineties was a singular artistic vision, unencumbered by editorial or corporate pressures (well, until Shooter got canned in unceremonious fashion), being published with the best possible resources they could afford at the time, and bolstered by inventive production techniques and story ideas to counteract any financial shortcomings.
Sounds a bit like what we’re all trying to do today, right, fellow indies?
So, what did I think of the new X-O Manowar #1 and FCBD issue? Well, despite my initial concerns that these books would be hollow, illustrated treatments for future film franchises (the VE execs and editor referred to the characters on multiple occasions as “I.P.,” for the love of Pete Stanchek), I found both offerings to be solid reads, mostly due to the high-caliber talent assigned to realizing these new iterations of twenty-year-old properties. I suppose I’m excited about what’s coming next rather than the issues themselves, but perhaps that was the point. Either way, my fears have been allayed by the care and craftsmanship being put into these new books (there’s even a reported Eternal Warrior cameo in X-O #1).
And I can’t think of any better way to pay tribute to the spirit of the VALIANT of old than to blaze a new path with these characters, on the cheap, and with much planning…
Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards. On his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both.