Warren Simons has had an amazing career to date in the comics industry. At Marvel Comics he was the Editor for The Invincible Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Daredevil, and The Immortal Iron Fist. Simons has recently left Marvel Comics and will now be the Executive Editor of Valiant Comics.
Nicholas Yanes: First and foremost, 2012 is the year many people believe the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end. How do you think this will affect Valiant publishing comics? Also, is Valiant currently doing anything to stop this apocalypse?
Warren Simons: Well, I can tell you that one of those people who is absolutely obsessed with the Mayan Apocalypse is Valiant’s CEO, Jason Kothari. He’s spent the last few months walking around the office in a bathrobe, mumbling about the challenges of “market share” in a “post-apocalyptic environment.” Freaked me out my first day – very disconcerting – but everyone told me to take it in stride. Heavy is the head, you know? Anyway, I take comfort in knowing that this is where the Universe wants us, and this is where we are.
Yanes: On a more serious note, every comic book fan dreams of working in the comics industry. How did you manage to get your foot in the door? And do you feel that people wanting to become comic creators would benefit from any type of specific education?
WS: I got my foot in the door via the Internet. I was working as a journalist and managing editor and applied for an opening at Marvel through Monster.com. After interviewing with the good folks in Marvel editorial and HR, I was hired in 2002.
As for creators benefitting from a specific education – that’s a good question, and a bit trickier. If you want to work in editorial – and you should only do this if you are a psychopath – a formal education is usually required. If you’re looking to break into the medium as a writer or artist, a formal education can be beneficial. It can put you in a classroom with 20 or 30 other students and may help you to understand a bit more about the process. It can help you get feedback from an instructor who might also be working as a professional. And it can also help you make contacts, so you might find an inker or colorist or collaborator this way. But a formal education is most certainly not required. I’ve worked with many brilliant writers and artists who didn’t spend a day in college, and they’ve produced some of the most influential works in our medium in the past few decades. But, that’s usually the exception to the rule. I’m a big proponent of education — I know being trained and working as a journalist helped me approach writing in a whole new light — but formal training is not a prerequisite to success in the field.
Yanes: You have managed to work with some of the most respected and popular creators in the industry. In your opinion, what separates someone who is merely talented at writing and drawing vs. someone who can make a career in the comic book industry?
WS: Despite all of the technological innovations, creating comics is still a manual and labor-intensive process, and it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to create even a single issue. While the guys and gals who stick around tend to be incredibly talented, I think they also treat this as a job, and they put the time in at their desks. Many freelancers I’ve worked with spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day at their desks, 6 or 7 days a week. That requires an incredible level of self-discipline, especially over the long haul. There are definitely some savants out there, but most of the writers and artists I know who have a sustained level of success have gotten there through years and years of hard work.
I read an interview with the musician Ani Difranco years ago, and she had a great quote: “The idea of being a rock star is adolescent fantasy, and the idea of being a working musician is a ****ing job.” The creators who act professionally, hit deadlines, care about the end product, and treat it like a job – those seem to be the folks that thrive.
Yanes: Now to Valiant. Valiant Comics has an incredible variety of great characters and stories (my two favorites being Doctor Mirage and Harbinger). What are some of the specific Valiant characters that you not only enjoy, but would love to put the spotlight on?
WS: I absolutely love Archer & Armstrong. I think Barry Windsor-Smith is a genius, and the amazing art in those issues is equaled only by his writing. And even though he’s not credited as the writer in the first few issues, you can see his thumbprints all over them. Those characters feel fresh and vibrant 20 years later, and it’s my favorite of his many exceptional works.
I think the high concepts driving X-O and Harbinger are terrific, and have resonated with fans for a reason. I also have quite an affinity for Bloodshot and Rai. And I think there’s an enormous amount of potential with Eternal Warrior and Shadowman. I really see a world of potential in the characters and the larger tapestry of the Universe.
Yanes: While the Valiant Universe has not been around as long as DC or Marvel, it still has a rich history. What are some of the difficulties of making Valiant characters feel fresh without ignoring some of the great stories that have come before?
WS: Well, the challenge is to tap into those great stories and the core concepts driving the characters and modernize them so they’re relevant to the current marketplace. We want to mine that rich history, not ignore it, but by the same token we’re not performing an exercise in continuity here.
Yanes: In general, the comics industry tends to suck at making titles that appeal to young women. Given that Valiant has a cool array of female characters, are there any plans to highlight them in the hopes of getting more women to read comics?
WS: We were just talking about this in the office last week — the role of female characters in some of our titles. There are some characters that I’m extremely excited about updating and reworking. We need to approach this in an organic way, though, and not just assume a female protagonist will lead to a female readership. But yeah, I would definitely like to see more women reading comics. I would like to be able to hand my wife more monthly comics to read.
Yanes: On the topic of over looked demographics, there seems to be fewer and fewer kids reading comics. And as an Uncle, there are only a few books I feel comfortable buying for my niece or nephews. Are there any plans at Valiant to make titles for kids?
WS: I definitely hear where you’re coming from. I think that the industry has tried to make a more concerted effort over the last decade to build comics aimed specifically for a younger demographic. It might not necessarily be reflected in the content of mainstream, monthly titles, but there has been a lot of material produced with younger readers in mind over the past few years. In time, I would definitely like to see a crossover with X-O Manowar and Kevin from Up.
Yanes: It seems that many comic book companies are beginning to look at their titles as a cheap source of Research & Development for television, film, and videogame projects. How do you feel viewing books as R&D affects the creative process?
WS: At Marvel, many of the books I worked on were turned into movies or video games, but the monthly comics also had to sell if they were to survive. If they didn’t hit their numbers or make their margins, they went away. It’s the same thing at Valiant. While we have ambitious plans for the work in other media, we’re a comic book company first and foremost. Our goal is to make the best comics every single month.
Yanes: I’m sure there are many things going on at Valiant that you can’t talk about yet, but what are some of the things being developed that you can talk about and that fans need to look out for?
WS: We have some terrific announcements coming up, so check back with me in a few months and you’ll get the update. We believe that we’re going to make some noise come 2012 by focusing on amazing creative. Hang tight — we’re on our way.