With the launch of Book of Death, Valiant Comics are seeing some of their biggest sales numbers to date. That’s not surprising considering that Valiant’s line of comics are some of the best books on the stands. To celebrate the release of Book of Death and the general awesomeness of Valiant, we sat down with the series writer, Robert Venditti, to discuss X-O Manowar, Eternal Warrior, and the greatest hero of all time, Ninjak.
Nerdist: You are obviously known for your work on the amazing X-O Manowar, but it was just announced that you’d be handling a new Eternal Warrior series as well. What’s it like taking over a character who has such a huge history in the Valiant universe?
Robert Venditti: I really just try to think of who the character is as a character and then write good stories with [them]. I love the idea of being a part of a larger tapestry, putting toys in the toy box and working with other people who are also putting toys in. Like Dr. Mirage, who I use in the X-O Manowar wedding issue, and it’s all from character stuff that Jen Van Meter (writer of The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage) put in the toy box that I took out and used. That’s the fun of being in a shared universe and getting in a writer’s room with [a] bunch of different creators who all have different backgrounds and different processes and different ways of writing. I think we are all unique voices, but we can get in a room and learn from each other and build off each other.
N: You’ve been on X-O Manowar for nearly 50 issues now, which is no small feat in today’s market. What’s it like handling such a long run?
RV: Yeah, the just announced X-O Manowar #50. It’s certainly longer than I thought I’d be on the book, not because I wanted to leave, but it’s the first monthly series I did. In my head I thought, “Man, if I can make it a year, that’d be great.” To be here now, four years later and plotted out even beyond that, I feel super fortunate. In the industry, where we are at now, to do fifty issues of a run is rare. It’s way more than I thought I’d get to do.
N: Valiant does superhero events better than anybody. You’ve worked on a few at this point, how has that experience been?
RV: Book of Death is my second event, I did Armor Hunters for them last year, and I remember Warren Simons (Editor-in-Chief at Valiant) says that events are the hardest things to do in comics, which made me want to run right at it. I always want to challenge myself with things I’ve never done before and hopefully get better as a writer. It is enormously challenging and takes a ton of time and coordination.
In some way, it suits me, I don’t know exactly why, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but for some reason I seem to be able to make the pieces fit. That’s a skill set I didn’t know I had until I started working at Valiant. The first time I noticed it was on my second arc of X-O Manowar when they came to me and said “we want to put Ninjak in this arc, what ideas do you have for that character?” My immediate reaction was “I have no idea what I would do with that character, it’s a ridiculous character. How is a ninja gonna end up in my X-O Manowar series?” Then, I thought for a half an hour and I knew what I wanted to do. It ended up being one of my favorite things I’ve written and now I love Ninjak as a character.
N: So, would you say writing creator-owned comic books is like putting a puzzle together, as well? Or is that something exclusive to working in shared universes?
RV: In the industry, there can sometimes be a lot of debut about creator-owned versus work-for-hire and which is better. For me, I’ve done both. When you do creator-owned it’s wide open, a blank slate. Whatever you want to do you do. When you work in a shared universe or existing IP there are constrains put on you, whether it’s the continuity or just the character it self. X-O Manowar was a big constraint, a Visigoth in suit of alien armor is a pretty big constraint. There’s a school of thought that constraints breed creativity. They put you in a book and force you to come up with ideas that you never would have had otherwise, Ninjak being a perfect example. If they had never come to me and told me to use that character, I would not have used him, but when they put that constraint on me I had to work with it and come up with something new.
N: As a life long Valiant fan who has read everything you guys have put out, I truly believe that the single greatest moment in the company’s history is when Ninjak is outside the MI:6 building and suddenly disappears. He’s there on panel and he next he is just gone.
RV: He pulls that move in the wedding issue in the buffet line. We also made him the only character who shows up to the wedding in full costume. Everyone is in street clothes and Ninjak is there dressed in all his ninja gear.
I think that’s what is great about him as a character. He is super serious in the actual stories, but he is so funny to write. He’s such pompous jerk, there’s something so appealing about him. Certainly in Book of Death he was fun to play off of. He’s almost like the straight man.
N: Let’s talk about your newly announced Eternal Warrior series. How familiar do readers need to be with the character’s history? Do they need to read stuff like The Valiant?
RV: In terms of what you need to read Book of Death or Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, we try to make every issue new reader friendly. I remember when I first got into comics, walking into a shop and being intimidated by all the continuity, so I’m doubly motivated to make it new reader friendly because I remember what it was like to be a new reader. Nothing at Valiant requires you to read anything else, we try very hard to make that a reality.
N: Do you see yourself sticking around Valiant for a long time? You already done fifty issues on one of their series, can we expect fifty more?
RV: One of the hard parts of the job for me is that there is no security. Anything could change at any time. I’m thankful for where I am and what I have been able to do so far. If I have to go back to work in a warehouse or pumping gas, nobody can take all things I’ve done away from me. I certainly don’t want to go back and do those things, but everyday you get to work on comics is a gift. I just try to put one foot in front of the other and hope I stay around.
N: As they guy who wrote the first issue of the re-launched Valiant line, does it trip you out to see how big things have gotten? They are constantly announcing new books from new superstar creative teams.
RV: I wrote the first book they published, but I was in no way the founder of the new line. It was just the way the publishing schedule worked out. I don’t feel that Matt Kindt launching Ninjak is because I launched X-O Manowar. I feel super fortunate to just be a part of the universe that we all contribute to. It’s funny, because I started working in a warehouse at Top Shelf packing comics, and I was there when Kindt did Pistolwhip and Jeff Lemire did Essex County. Now, thirteen years later and I’m sitting in a room with these guys writing stories.
N: Are there are any Valiant characters you haven’t had a chance to write yet that you’d like to take a crack at?
RV: When Warren Simons first came to me and asked me to pitch on X-O Manowar, I had to tell him I didn’t know who the character was at all. I wasn’t familiar with Valiant, they had already come and gone by the time I got into comic books. Warren told me that was exactly what they wanted, a fresh take. So, for me, there are still a lot of characters I’m not all that familiar with. I love when somebody just throws something at me, “what would you do with Ninjak?”
One of the cool things about Book of Death is it has all the characters you’d expect, but also lots of new appearances about old Valiant concepts and all newly created characters. There are pages where every panel is a first appearance of someone or something.
N: Book of Death is going to be huge for you guys, is there anything you want folks who are picking it up to know?
RV: It’s a challenging read, it’s big and we really pushed ourselves. I’m thankful to everyone who takes a shot on it and I hope they enjoy it. There’s lots of cool stuff coming up.
Check out a preview of Book of Death below and then get your butt to the comic shop and buy some comics.