Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Valiant Comics (1991-1995)

After graduating from the University of Florida I attended two years at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.

I couldn’t afford to come back for the third year so Jose Delbo, one of my teachers at the school, set up an interview for me and fellow student Maria Beccari at a small comic book company called Valiant that was just starting to publish a line of books based on some old Gold Key characters. Jim Shooter, who’d had a long stint as writer on DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and later as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, was Valiant’s Editor-in-Chief. We were interviewed by Bob Layton (of Iron Man fame) and Don Perlin (former artist on The Defenders), who hired us on the spot.

Maria and I were the first of what became known as Knob Row, Valiant’s version of the Marvel bullpen. Under the guidance of the talented Jade Moede (unquestionably Valiant’s heart and soul) and the other artists employed there, including production guru Scott Friedlander, we learned how to be professional cartoonists. Before long, as the number of books published by Valiant increased, Knob Row was filled with other former Kubies—all of us pouring our heart and souls into our work.

It was a life-altering experience. While there we trained in a variety of skills—including penciling, inking, hand coloring, writing, and editing. Having joined the team as it was just getting off the ground, I was afforded the opportunity to familiarize myself with all different aspects of running a successful comic book company.

Looking back now, it’s amazing what we were able to achieve from such humble beginnings. It’s crazy to think that at one point Valiant Comics beat out DC and Marvel to win Diamond Comics Distributors’ Publisher of the Year award. This was certainly a highpoint in the list of Valiant’s many accomplishments…before the company and the industry itself began to unravel.

In the early days I did a lot of color work for Valiant. 

It all began with WWF Battlemania, starring the likes of Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man, Mountie, and the Million Dollar Man. Yes, that’s right. The WWF. Wrestling. In addition to the Nintendo license, early Valiant also had the license to do comic books based on the WWF. We even got treated to a free night of Wrestlemania—my first visit ever to Madison Square Garden.

WWF Battlemia turned out to be a bit of a nightmare because of the hassle of having to get approvals for all the likenesses. I remember us scrambling to color and cut and paste (this was long before the existence of Photoshop) little wrestler heads that had been redrawn by Bob before FedEx arrived to pick up pages going to the printer to get color separated.

One of things that helped put Valiant on the map is that we never missed a ship date—our books were always published on time. This often resulted in lots of last minute craziness—I recall us literally splitting a Solar page into thirds so that three of us could color the same page at the same time and get it finished before FedEx’s arrival.

The cool thing about the WWF book is that we got to ink the backgrounds and color artwork that had been drawn by Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. Later on we also got to work with Stan Drake, creator of the long-running comic strip The Heart of Juliet Jones. In an age filled with egomaniacal young wannabes who can’t even make their deadlines, it was refreshing to meet two giants in the industry who proved to be absolute gentlemen and consummate professionals.

My color work on the WWF book led to my coloring some pages of Solar: Man of the Atom, followed by X-O Manowar and the first couple of issues of Shadowman, Harbinger #0, and scattered pages of just about all our pre-Unity books.

There were many all-nighters spent at the office, made bearable by the stable of other artists stuck in the same boat. Lots of laughs (to accompany the blood, sweat, and tears) and late-night hijinks invariably ensued. Lifelong friendships were forged. A special tip of the hat to fellow partners in crime Mike Cavallaro and Maurice Fontenot.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. Through good times and bad, I learned some invaluable life lessons. 

Shadowman #13 was the first story I ever wrote for Valiant. I was psyched when my pitch was accepted.

The book featured a cool cover by Yvel Guichet and Randy Elliot. Yvel also penciled the interior pages, elevating my freshman efforts.

“Conan in a can.”

I remember being at Valiant’s old office sitting in on open meetings when Bob and Jim were first coming up with the X-O Manowar concept: Aric Dacia, a Visigoth from the 5th Century A.D., transplanted to modern times—wielder of a powerful sentient armor. It was all very exciting. I got a taste of what it must have been like back in the early days of the Marvel bullpen when they were coming up with new characters.

X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Rai were the first series published by Valiant based on original non-Gold Key characters. The launch of the Valiant Universe was underway.

Here are some samples of my color work from the first four interior pages of X-O Manowar #1, which became my first regular monthly assignment. Thankfully I was too young and naive to be completely intimidated by the fact that I would be coloring the artwork of renowned artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Barry, best known for his award-winning run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian back in the 1970’s, proved to be very generous with his knowledge. We were all like sponges trying to soak up as much as we could from him. 

I remained the colorist on the book for almost two years. I had occasional help whenever the dreaded deadline doom made it impossible for me to complete an issue by myself. Issue #4 was a fill-in, as were #s 16, 17, and 18. I colored all the covers on the book up to issue #23 except for issues #1, 5, 7, and 8.

Janet Jackson colored the covers for issues #7 and 8, which were drawn by Frank Miller and Walt Simonson, respectively. In fact, she colored all of Valiant’s covers those two months—covers that came together to form two posters promoting the company-wide Unity event.

Issue #21 was the last issue I colored. By then I’d also assumed the writing duties on the book, and the dual responsibilities became too much to sustain. Once I was offered additional writing assignments I pretty much stopped coloring altogether.

Issue #16 was the first X-O story I wrote. It remains a doubly special issue for me since it was drawn by long-time Wonder Woman artist Jose Delbo. Jose, as I mentioned earlier, had been one of my best teachers at the Kubert School and had also been responsible for my working at Valiant.

With issue #17 I became the regular writer on the book. Writing issues #18-23 was the most fun I had at Valiant, perhaps even the most fun in my whole time in comics. Chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm—long before jaded cynicism fueled by marketing directives and universe-wide “events” intruded on the joy of telling good character-driven stories.

I remained the writer on X-O Manowar till issue #43, ending my three-and-a-half year association the book.

X-O Manowar #0, powerfully drawn by artist Joe Quesada, gave us an opportunity to explore Aric’s origins in greater detail—depicting the events that led up to issue #1. I felt lucky to be a part of it. Bob co-plotted the story with me and provided the script.

Of all the comic books I’ve written I think X-O Manowar Yearbook is the single issue I’m most proud of. I haven’t read it in years, so it probably doesn’t hold up as well as I remember, but I recall it with fondness.

Spinning directly out of events in X-O Manowar #25 came Armorines. I wrote all twelve issues of the short-lived series except for issue #8.

I watched Jaws in the theater when it first came out back in the summer of 1975. I was eight years old at the time. It had a big impact on me, and remains one of my all-time favorite films. When the deep sea became the setting for the Armorines’ opening storyline, I couldn’t resist pitting the boys against giant mutated sharks. 

Issue #2 sported a great cover by Jim Calafiore, who was the regular artist on the book.

Issue 9 was one of the issues I enjoyed most since it allowed us to focus more on the Armorines outside their armors. I loved the fact that the four main characters were all minorities.

That issue had another great cover by Jim Calafiore, beautifully colored by Eric Lusk.

Issues #10-12 provided a welcome opportunity to once again work with my former teacher Jose Delbo.

The final issue of Armorines was graced with one of my favorite covers for the series—an homage to the classic cover from Uncanny X-Men #138. Cover art by Tom Ryder.

Leading up to their monthly series the Armorines made a guest appearance in issues #17 and 18 of The H.A.R.D. Corps, which I got to write. 

Turok Dinosaur Hunter came out during the peak of speculator frenzy. I colored the first two issues, including the covers. The deadline was hell, with several back-to-back all-nighters required in order to make the shipping date. But it was worth it. Issue #1 sold a million copies. Valiant was the only company at the time that gave royalties to their colorists. My royalty check for the first issue alone was more than I’d earned the entire previous year. Crazy times. Total non-reality.

Not surprisingly, the speculator boom that had swept the comic book industry in the mid 1990’s didn’t last long. When the bubble finally burst, so did Valiant.


  1. Thx for the memories, I loved valiant and happy to see they have made a comeback.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Yuhannes. It's great to hear from you. Valiant was a very special time in my life. And I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. We were blessed to have such loyal readers. Wishing you all the best.

  3. Thanks for sharing your memories on Valiant's days of yore. Your X-O stories are particular favorites of mine. In addition to Aric and Turok, you took Ken Clarkson and Randy Cartier on interesting personal journeys. Nor am I alone: your name is regularly mentioned, and your stories praised, in the Valiant Comic Fans group on Facebook.

    Best of luck in the animation world, or whatever you're doing now.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Dragon Dave. Much appreciated. X-O was a real labor of love for me, so it heartens me to hear from fans who share a love for those characters. Best wishes. Cheers!