A couple weeks back, we offered a peak behind the scenes at Valiant Entertainment, which publishes Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Punk Mambo, Ninjak, and Rai, among many other titles. . While assistant editor Drew Baumgartner provided insight into the editorial process, there’s still so many other facets that help make this independent darling function day-to-day. So, we touched base with some other folks at Valiant in the name of better understanding the sheer logistics of comics-publishing:
Fred Pierce, Publisher
Oliver Taylor, International Licensing Coordinator
Kat O’Neill, Sales and Live Events Manager
Travis Escarfullery, Director of Design and Production
Gregg Katzman, Marketing Manager
What follows is a slightly deeper dive into the essential business of comics, which seems especially relevant now as the coronavirus has shifted the spotlight firmly on the operational side of the industry. The appeal and power of comics isn’t just what happens on the page, but the hours, days, and weeks of planning and work getting books into people’s hands. By better understanding how the donuts were made (to borrow a deeply tired joke), we can fully appreciate the dynamic ecosystem in which comics operate. That, and the unbridled power of coffee.
AIPT: How would you describe your job/role in just 10-15 words?
Fred Pierce: The role of publisher is to make sure that all of the different aspects of the company work together for the common goal of great comics that are widely respected and promoted.
Oliver Taylor: I license the rights to fan-favorite characters to bring quality merchandise to the market.
Kat O’Neill: I handle the logistics of Valiant’s presence at live events as well as sales of our comics to retailers.
Travis Escarfullery: Oversee and handle all phases of print production. I design assets like covers, ads, and marketing materials.
Gregg Katzman: My primary responsibility is to promote Valiant to comic fans, press, and potential new readers.
AIPT: What skills (soft or otherwise) are essential in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?
FP: By far the most important skill is listening to everyone’s opinion on the thrust of the company. Everyone includes our most passionate in the industry fans (who by their very nature have varying opinions), retailers (who to a person love this industry and are the backbone of the business), employees of Valiant who live and breathe their roles 24/7, and innumerable vendors (distributors, printers, marketing partners, licensors, etc., etc.). Also, let’s not forget that everyone includes our wonderful parent company, DMG. While it might sound like I’m kissing up, I’m really not, Dan Mintz has supported us in everything we’ve wanted to achieve.
OT: My job requires record keeping and management to ensure licensing deals are organized and progressing as planned. I also utilize data collection and negotiation skills to identify and close new deals with licensees.
KO: Communication and organization are probably the big two.
TE: The ability to multitask. Jeff (Walketr, our other designer) and I jump from one project to something completely different. We are always switching gears.
GK: An understanding of the press side of this industry, clear communication, a legitimate passion for the Valiant universe, and the desire to get the word out about Valiant in new, creative, and effective ways.
AIPT: I love my job because [BLANK].
FP: Every day I get to work in the smartest, most creative industry around and read great stories with beautiful artwork. What’s not to love?
OT: I love my job because I’ve been able to meet and work with passionate, funny, and exciting people in the licensing industry
KO: It’s comic books, what’s not to love? I do also have the added benefit of working with a great group of people who also love what they do. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to find in a job.
TE: The versatility. I have the opportunity to work on several different types of projects, which keeps things interesting. An example is the specialty cover. It is always fun doing these covers because you are constantly problem-solving since the material used or the way we are printing has never been done before in the comic book space and, in some cases, print publishing.
GK: Dude, I promote comics for a living. How could I not love it? I’m seriously beyond lucky to have this job and not a day goes by that I take it for granted.
AIPT: Do you think your job is well understood by the average comic fan? Does that make your work somehow easier or more difficult?
FP: After having met thousands of comic book fans, almost all of them are jealous and would love this job, and for the most part they all understand various aspects of the position. It makes my job so much easier knowing the joy we give to so many.
OT: I think the finer details, such as royalty negotiation and contract upkeep are not something most comic fans are particularly aware of. That said, one of the central categories for licensing is toys and games and I know fans understand and appreciate the importance of action figure deals just as much as I do! In that way it makes my job easier knowing that ultimately I’m working on projects that will make the fans very happy.
KO: Overall, I would say they do.
TE: Nah, I don’t think they understand. There are so many steps on our end building books and assets for the different departments within the company. Would their knowledge make my job easier or more difficult? It wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe an appreciation as to what is involved?
GK: I believe a good amount of comic fans have a solid understanding of my job. The most difficult part is being careful about what I can and can’t say to my fellow Valiant fans. I have to bite my tongue a lot.
AIPT: I can’t begin my workday without [BLANK].
FP: Coffee and then some more coffee.
OT: I can’t begin my workday without checking the licensing trades for the weirdest or funniest new licensing collaborations taking place.
TE: A large cup of coffee.
GK: Organizing my priorities for the day by writing them down (usually on a post-it note) and then crossing them off throughout the day. As someone who used to be in the hectic news industry and then a member of the comics press, I’m definitely no stranger to multitasking and adapting when something new pops up, but having a physical list helps me stay focused. Oh, and coffee helps a lot, too.
AIPT: What’s the 4-6 key tasks or functions that you have to complete each day?
FP: In no particular order: determining if our objectives of yesterday are still the best ones for today, generally worrying about what I’m not worrying about, ascertaining what did and didn’t progress as it should have from the day before, determining what has/hasn’t changed in the comic book world and how it affects us, and listening to the team in how best to proceed.
OT: My job requires me to check in with my supervisors about current contract terms. Are any deals up for renewal? Do I need to invoice anyone for royalties? I also need to touch base with current licensees and set up any calls to discuss how Valiant can best service their business. In the afternoons I’ll research categories or markets Valiant doesn’t yet have licensed products in and contact prospective licensees in those areas. I’m in contact with Valiant’s management throughout the day to keep them posted regarding negotiations with deals in the works. I’ll also send out newsletters to international licensing agents to get them excited about new licensing projects and publishing and ask about prospective licensees in their respective markets.
KO: Given the nature of my job and cycling through things like publishing schedules and convention schedules, my days vary a lot depending on needs. The one task that stays consistent from day to day is keeping in touch with retailers.
TE: I don’t have a daily task list, but essential functions in the department are making sure all titles that went to print are backed up. Any art being used for print is high resolution and making sure deadlines for projects are on track. Materials for some of these projects need to ordered and then tested to see if what I’m thinking is even doable.
GK: I’d say my top priorities every day are working with press and fans while also working with the rest of the Marketing team and other departments to discuss how we’re messaging our comics and ways we can always improve and grow.
AIPT: How do you define success in your unique position?
FP: Did we succeed in achieving that which was set out to be achieved in any particular project and overall.
OT: Locking down and closing a cool deal always feels like a success, but so does realizing I have a good rapport with a licensee.
KO: The obvious answer here is strong sales numbers, but I would say the more people I can help find stories and characters they love, the better I am doing.
TE: I guess the response from fans? Coming up with the Bloodshot carbon fiber cover worked out very well. Since its release in September, it has been the #1 Valiant variant cover among our fans.
GK: There’s a lot I could say here but it ultimately comes down to improving brand awareness. Are people aware of the new comics we’ve announced? Are people talking about our comics and characters? Do press want to talk about Valiant and read our comics? We always need to make an impact.
AIPT: If your job title were a superhero, it would be [BLANK] because [BLANK].
FP: The superpower I’d love to have is the ability to heal the sick. That may stem from my early days as a pre-med biology student.
OT: It would be the Silver Surfer because as licensing coordinator I’m a harbinger of (always good) things to come!
KO: Faith because she’s got the pop culture knowledge and flying would be handy for convention travel.
TE: Multi-Man (lol) — I’m not sure. Because I bounce around from one department to another.
GK: Ninjak because he has to be prepared for every scenario and react accordingly when surprises pop up. In Marketing, you need great tactics and the ability to adapt to the unexpected.
AIPT: How would you quantify the value of your work? How essential is it in the grand scheme of getting books into the hands of readers?
FP: The job of the publisher is essential. The publisher will represent the business aspects behind the exceptional creativity from the talent and editors, marketing/sales and designers, and the administration and finance functions. All the different moving parts and resources of the machine must kick in at the right time. Everyone you work with is more expert in their position but there are always competing voices so someone will need to decide on the course taken or chaos ensues.
OT: I make sure that Valiant’s characters are represented in other media besides publishing. Licensing is kind of a support to the publishing side and I feel pretty helpful in bringing new readers to our books because they’ve seen some cool merchandise or a digital project from Valiant.
KO: Sales is the bridge between the publisher and the retailers, so I would say pretty essential. If I don’t get the books in the hands of the retailers it makes it very difficult for it to make it to the readers.
TE: Extremely valuable. Books would not get printed or be available digitally.
GK: Marketing has the ability to communicate directly with the reader through press releases, social media, press collaborations, updates on the website, direct fan engagement, email campaigns, new features with creators, and much more. So yes, the department plays an essential role in promoting our comics and making sure readers know when they can get their hands on them.
AIPT: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the course of a day?
FP: The biggest challenge is setting the to-do list and deciding what has to get done first and allotting the appropriate amount of time to the task.
OT: My biggest challenges during the day are usually coming up with ways to get licensees as excited about projects as I am about them!
KO: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a daily challenge, but in a field like comic books people can be very passionate, which means you sometimes have to navigate strong opinions you don’t necessarily agree with as respectfully as you can.
TE: Meeting deadlines. When you have to design something, it takes time. Ideas that you have in your head don’t always translate to the screen. You’ll work on something, step away for a minute or jump to another project and revisit the project later with fresh eyes.
GK: No matter what pops up, I always have to ask myself two questions: Will this inspire someone to add a Valiant comic to their pull list? Will this make a current Valiant fan keep it on their pull list? Those are the ongoing challenges and I am always eager to face them.
AIPT: The one thing I wish more people knew about my job is [BLANK].
FP: Is that it’s just fine being the guy behind the scenes who allows everyone else do their thing and shine.
OT: The one thing I wish more people knew about my job is that deal negotiation and product manufacturing can take a long time! The licensing industry usually operates about 6 months if not more into the future!
KO: This is a bit more what I wish more people knew about comic sales in general, but pre-ordering books at your local comic shop is one of the best things you can do to keep creators and books you like on the shelves.
TE: That my job functions have stretched into multiple areas of design such as packaging, car wraps, displays, and multimedia.
GK: You’re always welcome to reach out to me! Whether you’re a comic fan or press, I’m always here to hear your thoughts on Valiant and might be able to provide you with some cool stuff.
AIPT: What’s been your biggest success or point of pride in your tenure? What about the biggest disappointment or misstep?
FP: Success: There is an incomparable success to the fact that a team of individuals who loved Valiant took a dormant, but vibrant, group of characters and resurrected them to a great success. Disappointment: While the Bloodshot movie was the #1 movie the week it launched, it could not have happened at a worse time with the Corona virus closing so many theaters around the globe. However, it’s been doing great on Video on Demand – see it if you haven’t!!!
OT: My biggest success has been signing [CLASSIFIED] for high quality Valiant action figures! My biggest disappointment is that I hadn’t reached out and signed with them sooner so that the figures could already be in the market now!
KO: I’m still finishing out my first year in this role so I’m still finding that high point and thankfully haven’t hit a big misstep yet, but check back in a year and I’ll have an answer for one of them I’m sure! Fingers crossed for the former over the latter.
TE: Valiant sponsored the U.S. Luge team, so I got to design the helmet and work on the suit for the Sochi Olympics. The icing on the cake was that Erin Hamlin made history winning a medal. So my helmet design is in a ton of photos while she is holding the U.S. flag.
Luckily, I really have not had any disappointments. When I’m working on a specialty cover, it’s all an experiment with the print process and materials. A lot of the time, it works out great, other times the result is so so, but it comes with the territory of exploring and being the first to try something.
GK: I’m incredibly proud to have this job. The opportunity to be part of Valiant Entertainment and have a voice in the company is something that I truly appreciate. That said, whenever we succeed, it’s as a team and everyone plays an important role.
Good or bad, every single step is a learning experience and we have to make sure we hold on to that knowledge as we move forward. We cannot make the same mistakes twice.
AIPT: What’s the one thing you wish you could change about your job? And what about the business of comics in general?
FP: I’d like to see comics more respected as the essential artform it is and ubiquitous in the general psyche of the United States as it is in many other parts of the world.
OT: I wish manufacturers and licensors would take more risk! Weirder products, more obscure characters, more variety on store shelves. I think the same goes for comics in general, I’d like to see publishers take more risks on interesting artists and stories.
KO: Aside from the outlandish want of something like an unlimited budget to work with, there isn’t really anything I’d say I’d like to change about my job. It’s pretty great. As for comics in general, and really I think this applies to a lot of our culture as a whole in the internet age, an easing up on snap judgement. There is a tendency of deciding whether something is good or bad before they’ve even hit the stands.
TE: Don’t have any changes with my job, but I do notice at cons how some creators are too full of themselves. Stop being so serious, what we do is fun.
GK: There’s such a massive audience for these stories (just look at how many people love comic book movies & TV shows, or attend conventions but never buy a single comic), but getting a comic and reading it is still an alien concept for so many people. There’s no easy fix for this but it constantly inspires us to come up with new tactics to reach new audiences while still appealing to our core fans and the Wednesday Warriors who visit their local shop at least once a week.
AIPT: I keep doing what I do because [BLANK].
FP: It’s close to the best job in the world.
OT: I keep doing what I do because being able to know that I helped bring to fruition a fan’s favorite shirt or figurine makes me really happy to be in this business.
KO: I love it.
TE: It’s fun being able to create new and exciting things.
GK: It’s a dream job.
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