The TSL Comic Book Convo features insightful conversations with some of the smartest, brightest and most innovative minds in the comic book industry. This week we spoke with Dinesh Shamdasani, CEO and Chief Creative Officer at the reimagined independent comic book publisher Valiant Comics. As most comic book heads know, Valiant has its roots firmly planted in the genealogy of Marvel Comics by way of Jim Shooter. During our discussion with Dinesh he told The Shadow League about his company’s past, present and future as far as character diversification is concerned.
“Valiant was founded by a group of ex-Marvel employees, including the former editor-in-chief of Marvel- a man named Jim Shooter. He’s is a very famous man in comics and was handpicked by Stan Lee to help Marvel reinvent themselves. He left Marvel and took some of the best creators over there, came over here, formed Valiant and was wildly successful. 80,000,000 comic books sold. Huge brand.”
But just because a brand is successful doesn’t necessarily mean it will be allowed to remain in an untampered state and in 1994 Valiant’s top investor sold the company to video game company Acclaim Entertainment, who eventually went out of business in 2004. This caused Valiant to cease publishing for a short period of time, but that departure from the marketplace was short lived as Dinesh Shamdashini and business partner Jason Kothari restarted the company the following year.
It would seem that 2014 is the year of diversity in comics and part of our charter at TSL Comic Book Convo is to further that concept. Dinesh tells us that diversity is and always has been a part of the Valiant charter as well.
“The benefit that we have is Valiant was created more recently in the 90's so was more accurately able to represent the diversity in real culture through pop culture. So if you take a look at our characters you can see that,” said Dinesh.
“For instance, our Avengers, our Justice League is Unity. Unity is made up of Toyo Harada, he’s Japanese, Livewire, he’s African American, Ninjak is Eurasian, Eternal Warrior was born in ancient Mesopotamia, X-O Manowar is a Visigoth from the 4th century. It’s very diversified. We also have characters like Faith, who represents a diversity from the stereotype of what the media tells people they need to look like. People have been going ga-ga for Faith. She’s an amazing character. Quantum and Woody; again, biracial characters. So you see that throughout the universe. Harbinger Wars features a bunch of new characters and one of the standout characters that I love the most is a character named Monica Jim.”
Though many different comic book publishers would imagine themselves as a champion of diversity in the pages of comic books and in their offices as well, Valiant appears to be putting their money where their mouth is with Monica aka Animalia. Some might hear the name and immediately think of Vixen, the hero of African descent from DC Comics. However, the only thing these two have in common is their skin color. That’s about it.
“She’s an African American little girl who is trained by the government to be a child soldier. She has the power to bring to life hard structures that mimic animals. Because she was brought up in a government facility, the only animals she’s ever seen were in children’s books. So, she ends up creating these giant cartoon animals.”
Sometimes it’s very difficult for an entertainment company to invest time and money into diversity because not only does said enterprise have to appeal to a particular segment of society but to a significant portion of the greater population as well. Valiant appears to have struck that tenuous balance with this character.
“She was so popular that we a special issue just on her. A solo issue, Harbinger #17, which got fantastic reviews. It’s just about her back story. It opens with basically a Wile E. Coyote moment. She’s chasing a roadrunner and she has these other characters; Samurai Sue who is a cat Samurai, and Humble Bumble. Up until this issue, she would become the characters. In this issue, she’s trapped in her own mind and they spring out of her mind. They’re actual real characters now. They’re walking around and they come and help free her. So, people have really fallen in love with those characters.”
Valiant has overcome adversity, embraced diversity and is continuing to blaze a path of success in the comic book world.