In Valiant’s The Craft of Comics panel at Baltimore Comic-Con, Mel Caylo, Karl Bollers, and Robert Meyers spoke about Valiant’s history and publishing consistency, never shipping late, and their wide roster of characters.
Talking about how comics are made, they focused first on pitching. They want to see “characters that are compelling and relatable” for their audience in pitches. That way the reader will “feel” the story more.
Caylo recommended that you tailor your pitches to certain publishers based on what they typically publish, and that’s true of Valiant, too.
If a pitch has been approved at Valiant, the next step is that they pair the writer with an artist, inker etc. Bollers pointed out that the style and tone are important in pairing people together, for instance serious-toned Ninjak versus humor-toned Quantum and Woody.
Meyers said that this is affected by who is available, too, and creating schedules are key to setting up a project. Finding artists and other creative team members is something Valiant often does at conventions, walking in artist’s alley, and if you’re not at a show and looking for people, there are a number of online platforms and resources that might help. Meyers also recommended talking to your local comic shop, too, since they might know people looking for work.
Publisher Fred Pierce also pointed out that you can reach out to local comic art schools since there are more these days to draw from. Valiant often talks to students from the Kubert School, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and more.
Once a team is “cast” on a project at Valiant, the next step in the process is to determine “format”. Will this be 4 issues, 6 issues, etc? Even binding, page count, and cover stock are part of deciding how the project will be presented to the public, Bollers added.
Valiant do “normal” comics, prestige format, which don’t have ads, and pre-order editions with inserts and extras in terms of formats.
The next step is a script delivered by a writer to an editor at Valiant. It should follow pretty closely the outline of the pitch, but something that Valiant focuses is “starting with a bang” in the first three pages, and if it’s not there, it’ll require revision. Meyers said that sometimes revision happens when there’s a great idea from a writer but it’s not yet fully expressed.
When the script is ready, it goes to the primary artist. They turn “blocky text” into “amazing art”, Meyers said. Sometimes the pencil artist does their own inks, but sometimes an inker picks up the work, enhancing the pencils and “creating the illusion of depth in the artwork”. Inkers tend to be “unsung heroes” according to Bollers.
Working with colorists comes next. Meyers explained that the colorist goes back to the inks and creates the whole effect of backgrounds. It helps readers understand setting and tone. Lighting, special effects and more create a “lived in world” thanks to the colorist.
At the lettering stage, word balloons, captions, thought balloons and more are added. Bollers said that one of the most important factors is “placement” where the captions and balloons go. You have to keep from covering the art, and the letterer is also “leading the eye”, Bollers said. There’s a snake-like pattern and you know that lettering is bad when it confuses you and loses the reader, Bollers add.
The lettered copy of the comic is sent back to the writer, lastly, in case they want to adjust the dialog or sound effects based on how they have been interpreted in context of the artwork.
Lastly, a massive PDF is uploaded to the printer.
Mel Caylo said that they work hard on the “accessibility” of their comics to make sure that new readers can pick up their books. They never assume that the reader is familiar with their characters, even their most popular ones, Bollers added. They “re-establish” the characters, their core beliefs and traits, frequently. Meyers said “respect for the reader” is very important, even in the context of continuity in their comics. They try to include both easter eggs for more seasoned readers and accessibility for new readers.
Keeping books coming out every time on time is key to Valiant, Bollers said, since if the reader turns up, they are determined to turn up, too. Keeping on schedule starts at the very beginning of this comic-creating process, and results in a book being on the shelf on time to satisfy reader expectations and create solid relationships.
They also like to break new talent, and they use conventions as “recruitment missions”, Caylo said, whether for up and coming or established creators.