Welcome To Our Next Valiant ICONS Series, Bloodshot Salvation – A Roundtable Interview With Valiant Entertainment

by Staff

 

On September 20th, 2017, the next chapter in the history of a major Valiant hero begins with Bloodshot Salvation. In acclaimed and Eisner-award nominated previous arcs, also written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Mico Suayan and Lewis Larosa, Bloodshot, aka Ray Garrison, has become a nanite-powered super soldier on the run from his creators in an attempt to avoid a life purely based on acting as a killing machine. In this new era, we meet a Ray Garrison who has left the corporate-owned life behind so completely that he’s been able to settle down with his girlfriend, Magic, and welcome a baby daughter into the world, Jessie.

But the kind of redemption Garrison thinks he’s earned is not achieved so easily, and his own nature may drive his family, and himself, closer to the edge of destruction. In Bloodshot Salvation we encounter two storylines, one set in the near-future, where Magic and 8 year old Jessie struggle against a splinter group of Project Rising Spirit known as Omen, who view Jessie as an asset, and one set in the “present” where Ray makes choices that may have stark consequences.

Bloodshot Salvation is being published as part of Valiant’s ICONS series, a program which presents key characters in title roles and further explores their mythology, kicked off with their X-O Manowar launch in March 2017, the first issue of which became the year’s best-selling indie title release by any publisher at 90,000 copies sold. The kind of support in marketing and retail incentives that X-O Manowar received is already underway for Bloodshot Salvation, suggesting that the series may result in a new high water mark for the publisher.

Several members of the Valiant team joined Comicon.com to talk about Bloodshot Salvation, the goals of the publisher, the way in which they operate in the direct market, and the things that make this series momentous for fans.

VP of Marketing and Communications Hunter Gorinson, CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce, Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons, and Director of Sales Atom! Freeman took part in the following interview.

 

Hannah Means-Shannon: Regarding Bloodshot Salvation, was there a particular goal in the tone and art styles that were chosen for this comic? I know that it’s told in two different time periods, the first time a Bloodshot comic has been told in this way, with Lewis Larosa on one, and Mico Suayan on the other. Those styles are both very realistic, almost hyper-realistic, for instance. Is that important to this story?

Warren Simons: Jeff has built a remarkable long-term book for us, and his plan resulted in a dual-narrative. The first narrative we see is about Bloodshot’s daughter Jessie, and it appears that we’re in the future. We see a bunch of guys attacking Jessie, and she dismantles them pretty quickly. And then Magic comes along, and helps out. When Jessie asks, “Who are those men?”, Magic essentially says, “Daddy couldn’t leave well enough alone”. Then we cut to the other time period.

Jeff starts this story in the future, and we cut back to the present to find out more. In the second arc, we’re going to go to the Deadside, and in the third arc, we’re going to the year 4001. All three of those arcs create the first year of the comic, and are based upon the theme of a father’s love for his daughter, and what he will do for her. From a storytelling standpoint, both Mico and Lewis are extraordinary artists, two of the finest artists working in the medium today, so I think that dual-track narrative allows us to convey two timelines taking place, as we move across the narrative. New villains are being introduced, it’s very violent, and there’s a big long-term plan from these exceptional storytellers. There’s a big focus on story, which is something Valiant has always prided itself in.

HMS: Was it important to keep the band together on this book, to have all three creators who previously worked on Bloodshot Reborn on Bloodshot Salvation? Or was that just fortuitous?

WS: I think that was mainly fortuitous. We think the world of Jeff as a writer and when discussing options for this arc, seeing the previous collaboration with Mico and Lewis, and how well received that was, Jeff loved the idea. Thankfully the timing worked out, too.

HMS: When people have worked together that intensely, they develop ways of communicating that are very effective, and it makes sense to keep using that connection.

Dinesh Shamsdasani: Bloodshot Reborn was incredibly well received, and nominated for an Eisner so that made sense.

HMS: I recall that Jeff Lemire said, I think at Emerald City Comic Con this year, that essentially he found that he wasn’t ready to move on from the character, and so he wanted to work on Bloodshot Salvation for personal reasons. Reading the first issue, I think you get that sense from the artists, too, that everyone involved wanted to do another arc with Bloodshot. And that’s an exciting feeling.

WS: Ray Garrison is a great character. There’s something extraordinary about him. The idea that he’s trying to live a good life, but in the past has not been able to, is really appealing.

HMS: Is there a particular reason behind the order in which the ICONS series have been slated for release? Bloodshot Salvation will be one of our ICONS series, and X-O Manowar was the first in that line.

DS: In some ways, it’s simple, though immense thought went into it. The core tenant of the company is making quality comic books, and making sure to plan how much time we needed for each book was important. It was about creating a publishing plan that would work with what was ready. X-O Manowar was ready early in the year, with the right writer and artist. And Bloodshot is ready now.

Fred Pierce: I think X-O Manowar, however, was the right skeleton for us to launch everything around. With the timing of X-O Manowar, we had time to do a tremendous amount of marketing and strategy. We were able to put together a calendar that worked. X-O Manowar was able to launch with a certain trajectory, and Bloodshot can join that trajectory, with both heading toward Harbinger Wars 2. It fits in perfectly. I think we were both lucky and smart in this way.

DS: I think, Fred, that you’re talented enough that you could make any one of these big books work, as well as the rest of the team. I think you’ll be able to prove that with Bloodshot in September, Ninjak in November, and Quantum an Woody! in December. In fact, Shadowman comes next March, and you’ve promised the world just as big a campaign for that as for X-O Manowar.

HMS: After seeing the roll out for X-O, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I now believe you all could launch any book on that level. You have the system down, now. It was so organized that you’ve definitely set a precedent on this. But it doesn’t hurt to follow up with Bloodshot, because he is a character who, when put in the spotlight, looms very large.

You’re doing some of the same things already with Bloodshot Salvation that you did with X-O Manowar, too, like creating the Pre-Order Bundles. As I understand it, the Pre-Order Bundles contributed a significant amount to the overall sales of X-O, leading to record-breaking numbers. Is that right?

DS: That’s correct.

WS: It was so successful that we immediately followed it up with a second Pre-Order Bundle on X-O Manowar, and then on Secret Weapons. We’ve expanded that on Bloodshot Salvation.

Atom! Freeman: And Valiant is a company that started off by creating the Pullbox Variants so fans could go into shops and say, “I want this on my subscription”. That’s what they were designed for, and retailers have said this is necessary to get fans into the stores early and asking for something.

FP: It guarantees to the retailers and to fans that there’s a commitment behind it. And the retailers know they’ll have people coming into the store every month for this particular book. And now they can do that for a year. It’s important for stores to know that the publisher will be behind you, and fans will come in. The Pre-Order bundle assures that.

Hunter Gorinson: Pre-ordering is so important to the industry, but thinking about how to incentivize has been something of an open question for creators and publishers. And I think we’ve gone a long way toward answering that, especially in the direct market. We even borrowed a page from the gaming industry a little bit, who do pre-order bonuses, and in this case adding the Bloodshot Salvation #1 Rampage Redux, which is an expanded edition that won’t be sold in stores individually and is available only with this bundle. It’s a special “thank you” to fans for getting in there early, a year early, and supporting this series.

HMS: I think we all know on some level that pre-orders are important and that retailers need more support than they get in order to keep the comics industry alive. When I see something like these Pre-Order Bundles working in the way that you’ve made it work, it reminds me of taking some elements of a crowd-funding campaign and using it to create that confidence and certainty for sales.

DS: It’s interesting you say that. You’re right, though I don’t think we’ve thought about it that way. If you were really were to take the elements of a crowdfunding campaign and do something that would help the direct market, I think you would actually do something different. But you touch on something we actually have planned for next year…

AF: From the beginning, we’ve been a company that has valued retailers. We have the biggest sales team in comics, we ship every single issue of our comics on time. We ask ourselves what we can do to help comic retailers, and they know that they cannot be an afterthought. They have to be the structure around which our efforts are based.

FP: Retailers have often told us over the past several months that working with us on X-O Manowar was the first time in a long time that a publisher has delivered on the story and the numbers they were promised.

DS: That’s a good point. When we were first getting started, we were given advice by many people not to try to make the direct market work – to instead to go into the mass market, to go to consumers. Because of that, many publishers have started, incorrectly ignored the direct market and failed. But one of the things we are so proud of is that we have built a template now that we can show others, saying you can and should make the retailers your primary focus. And you can build a company around that. X-O Manowar has been an example of that.

You’ll see that again with Bloodshot Salvation. Look at Jeff Lemire, a tremendous writer, starting a new book that’s a jumping-on point here. It’s in our interest to promote Jeff’s other works and cross-pollinate. We hope to build communities that way.

HMS: So, promoting the creators as well as their works, as known personalities who fans can “follow”?

DS: More than that, even. When we promoted X-O Manowar and Matt Kindt, in the lead up to X-O Manowar we promoted his [creator-owned] book Dept. H. That helps the retailer. They can build Matt Kindt sections in their shops, and create new die-hard fans for X-O Manowar.

FP: Comic book stores have that atmosphere that makes our industry special. We also think of our company as a family. We love our creators, so we’re happy to promote their work. What’s good for them is good for us.

DS: This is about building a concentrated fanbase.

AF: In order to sell something that’s not being marketed by Disney and Warner Bros., you really have to have someone that’s hand-selling it. To have someone in shops saying, “This is awesome. You should read it”. The biggest asset we have are the people who work in comic shops, not just the owners. We need their time and attention, and the time they spend with fans.

HMS: I can definitely confirm that my entry point into comics, when I came back to comics as an adult, was through author and artist groupings on shelves that I found in shops. I would read everything by a particular creator, and in the process, I would discover things that led me to branch out. It helps retailers make money, for sure, and it grows fandoms.

Part of what I’m hearing here is the level of organization you’re bringing to each area of marketing. You’re organizing your information in a way that can be easily learned and known by retailers and fans. It seems like you’re bringing that into the new cover schematics, too, right? You’re now going to codify exactly how many covers launch and in what vein for new series?

With Bloodshot Salvation, there’ll be a standard cover, a villains cover, a battle damaged cover, a pre-order cover, an interlocking cover, an icons cover, and lastly, a brushed metal cover.

Will that keep rolling out down the line, meaning “This is how Valiant will do their covers from now on?”

FP: That’s the kind of thing that works for some titles and not for others.

HG: That really goes back to the story, and looking at the overarching themes of a particular series. With X-O Manowar, we had some new points we wanted to make clear to fans, like our three-issue arcs on that series, and a consistent cover strategy helped that resonate.

Similarly, that several points of interest in Bloodshot Salvation that  Jeff Lemire is creating – principally, a new cast of villains, like Rampage, like Magic’s father Daddy, and Omen, so we’ll be spotlighting one of them with a specific cover across the first arc. Then there’s the violence inherent in this book, both psychological and physical.

That will be heading to a new level in this book, really showing the toll of being a living weapon, and the “battle damaged” covers will showcase that as well. Not to mention the incredible Kenneth Rocafort on the A covers for each issue, which conveys month-in, month-out consistency. Covers on a basic level express what a book is about, and are usually the first to bring readers in, so Bloodshot Salvation’s cover themes are built to reflect those nuances here.

DS: When publishers have so many covers, that can be very confusing for fans, so we’re keeping things basic. Games to get shelf space and market share—we’re not about that. We’re about building a fanbase. This cover program has been built for Bloodshot Salvation and it’s about keeping it simple. We build the main cover to represent the book, keeping the art team the same. But the villains and the violence are components we want to get across in the other covers.

Bloodshot Reborn is a very emotional and character-driven book, with this father-daughter theme, asking what lengths you’d go through for your child, and you’ll see that in the covers.

Because it’s a major number one, we’ll also be doing a brushed metal variant, which people went gaga for on X-O Manowar #1.

HMS: Yes, can you speak any further on that brushed metal variant cover?

DS: Well, what we did for X-O Manowar is that we printed the cover on actual brushed aluminum, had it shipped in from Germany, and it looked incredible. It became a big, collectible item and fans loved it. The initial instinct was to do something different for each series, but we had such a crazy demand on X-O Manowar that doing one on Bloodshot Salvation made sense. We have an amazing one from Mico Suayan, where you can see the blood and cartilage on Bloodshot’s face, and if you look closely, you might even be able to see the microscopic nanites, which are made of metal.

We had a meeting with the printer in Chicago and we talked about potentially doing another metal cover. They had been busy thinking of another way to do this at a dramatically cheaper cost, which has enabled us to build a program where qualifying is easier. It’s half as arduous a program as it was for X-O Manowar.

We try to hit all the demographics on the covers, though. We have the cover for the high-end collectors, for the people who want basic covers, and we try to keep the program as lean as possible. We want people to be able to plan and budget throughout the year for these covers.

HMS: Do you think you’ll see other publishers experimenting with brushed metal covers now that you’ve been successful with them?

FP: It’s a wonderful form of flattery when that happens. The way we work, it’s one idea, then on to the next idea. We help each other out.

HMS: Well, yes. If you innovate, I guess you better be prepared for people changing and using new methods because of you.

To get back to the actual story of Bloodshot Salvation for a moment, does it feel like you’re tapping into the zeitgeist with this story featuring militia men and separatist groups?

WS: This group led by Magic’s father Daddy, they’re basically zealots. This goes far back into Magic’s past, within her history. Ray learns about it, and it’s the kind of thing he can’t leave alone, since he’s Ray. There’s a great line in the movie True Romance, from Christian Slater, where he says something like, “Just knowing that that guy’s out there makes my skin itch”. What Ray uncovers about them is a little chilling in upcoming issues, but it’s not a metaphor for modern society or anything along those lines.

HMS: For about 10 years now, in TV and film, separatist groups have been of interest to the public, not just recently. Groups in isolated societies with core belief systems that create difference and perhaps causes conflict.

For instance, Brian Wood and Mack Chater have the comic Briggs Land running at Dark Horse about a separatist community. It’s something that fascinates people right now, but also people are aware of the dangers of that. So, it’s interesting that the rise of one of the biggest villains in Bloodshot’s experience is coming out of that tradition. It’s certainly going to speak to people.

DS: Jeff is reflecting the world outside of our window, which is something he does very well. It’s something that Valiant has done right from the beginning, too, in diversity of thought, but also in Rising Spirit, and technological aspects of the comics. There’s diversity, varied body types, and other real-world elements in our comics and that’s something that Valiant was built to do. To be a more accurate reflection of the world in our storytelling.

WS: There’s something fascinating about that, and I think that’s part of what attracts readers to Valiant.

DS: Omen’s a good example of that, the splinter group of Rising Spirit in Bloodshot Salvation. In a comic from another publisher, they’d be building moon bases or something unrealistic, but here within the Valiant Universe, they are a company who is concerned with making money. They realize they have assets out there in the wild, like Generation Zero, who have been shut down, and ask why those assets are not making money for them.

They decided to go back to the business of being a business, and there’s something refreshingly evil about that. Also, it’s scary, because it’s real. We can look out our windows and see companies doing that.

So, you take these elements, and juxtapose that with the story of a soldier who has been mistreated and lied to, and has finally found a semblance of a life with his girlfriend and baby daughter, and if you start to take things away from him, it’s a fascinating, emotional story.

But we get to take this story further in future arcs, into the Deadside, and into 4001, where the nanites that once inhabited Bloodshot are still alive. We tell the story of Bloodshot from today meeting the nanites from 4001. I’m excite to see Jeff tackle that.

HMS: So, in the “future” set storyline of this arc, are Magic and Jessie then being chased by Omen because Jessie is seen as their property, their asset? Since she’s inherited Bloodshot’s abilities?

WS: They view her as an asset as something derived from Bloodshot, so they want to get ahold of her.

HMS: When the news was released that this storyline would feature Bloodshot’s daughter, that was momentous, because this is the first time Valiant has really done something generational in building on your line of heroes.

DS: That’s something we’re careful about, since it’s a big step to take. We don’t want a child version of every characters, an ultimate version of every character, a frog version of every character…

HMS: But everyone should have a Bloodsquirt version of their character, right? Clearly we need this.

WS: I believe we will see Bloodsquirt somewhere in Bloodshot Salvation.

HMS: Awesome.

WS: One of the things that’s really great about Valiant is that the books don’t go out until they are ready. There’s no pressure on us to get things out the door, so we can perfect things and make sure they are ready to go.

But the point about Omen is that Jeff, Matt [Kindt], and others are close with each other, and creating these elements and changing the status quo by shutting down Project Rising Spirit becomes something that everyone is involved in, and it never feels like one person is changing the other peoples’ work.

DS: It can be complex to make these big changes, but when we do them, we won’t be going back. That’s it, Project Rising Spirit is gone. Omen is what we’re getting.

WS: It’s the same issue we were talking about with Bloodshot’s daughter. We aren’t going to now have every character in the Valiant Universe with a daughter. Part of the genius of The Simpsons is that he’s still Bart, and Lisa is still Lisa. The continuity holds. We are trying to do that here, also. The reason for Jessie being involved is that she’s a reflection of who Ray is, and the story helps convey who he is. The book is not about Jessie, and her character doesn’t cause us to lose sight of Ray.

HMS: Sure. You’re not a publisher who’s in a position where you have to think generationally. You have so much room in your universe, one that is still being written. Unlike Marvel and DC who are both doing generational events.

To ask some spoilery questions you probably won’t answer, can you tell us anything more about the fact that Bloodshot doesn’t appear to be “there” in the future storyline in Bloodshot Salvation?

WS: I think that’s part of the mystery of the book, something that really answers the question, “What would a father do for his daughter?” And it’s a universal theme we can all relate to. You can hand that comic to anyone in the world and no matter what culture they’re from, or where they are geographically, they’ll have an understanding of how that question makes them feel.

HMS: Ok, well, can you speak to the fact that this arc is titled “The Book of Revenge”?

WS: Well, this arc is about where Ray ends up through keeping his word. He’s an honorable guy, and a noble guy. In the first issue, you see him discover that someone is calling Magic, and finding out who that person is. That brings things into conflict. What he does to save Jessie over the course of the first arc may not just be the vengeance he’s seeking. In the first year, we’ll see that the theme of vengeance will run throughout those arcs, and it’s intrinsic to the character.

HMS: So, it’s really a year-long theme?

WS: The three Vs here are “villains,” building out a rogues gallery for the first time for Bloodshot, “violence” with tons of action, and then the theme of “vengeance,” running through the first year.

FP: It’s our perfect Valiant alliteration of Villains, Violence, and Vengeance.

HMS: Last question: Is Bloodshot Salvation essential reading for the lead up to Harbinger Wars 2, since he’s a character who’s going to play a part in that? Will his journey here effect his role there?

WS: I would say this is essential reading just to get through life! Are you kidding me? If you don’t read this book, you are really just doing yourself a disservice (laughter).

DS: Agreed. But, and much of our readership knows this, we work very hard at Valiant to make sure many of our storylines do not require prior reading. You don’t have to have read Bloodshot Reborn to read Bloodshot Salvation. In the same way, you don’t have to have read anything to read Harbinger Wars 2. If you read Bloodshot Salvation, Secret Weapons, and then Harbinger, it’ll be a fuller experience, but you will not miss out on anything essential if you just read Harbinger Wars 2.

HMS: Right, good to know.

Massive thanks to Hunter Gorinson, Dinesh Shamdasani, Fred Pierce, Warren Simons, and Atom! Freeman for taking part in this roundtable interview on Bloodshot Salvation.

Bloodshot Salvation will be offered as part of a Pre-Order Bundle to fans who would like to reserve the comic’s full run, and by doing so, receive the pre-order editions of each comic, containing extra material, and the standalone exclusive comic Bloodshot Salvation Rampage Redux, which will not be available for retail sale. You can check out the order form for the Pre-Order Bundle below.