The story of two Indian American entrepreneurs who are redefining the global comics industry
The global comic-book industry has traditionally been dominated by two big names, Marvel, whose major characters joined forces on-screen this summer for The Avengers, currently the third highest-grossing film in history, and DC Comics, whose roster includes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. New York-based Valiant Entertainment, co-founded by Indian Americans Jason Kothari, 31, and Dinesh Shamdasani, 31, is attempting to add a third name to the mix. In an interview with Global India Newswire, Shamdasani and Kothari talk about their venture.
Tell us about how you ended up buying Valiant. You were still in college when you bought it.
Kothari: Yes, indeed. Dinesh and I are childhood friends and we were both big fans of comics, particularly Valiant. A few years ago, the parent company of Valiant, former NASDAQ-listed video game company Acclaim Entertainment shuttered due to the lack of success of its core video game business, so we took the opportunity to acquire all the rights to the Valiant library of characters from them.
Shamdasani: We were part of that generationâ€¦. We loved the characters. We just wanted to be involved.
Kothari: In the 1990s, Valiant was one of the fastest growing companies in the entertainment industry, and it was predicted to become the next Marvel. After video game company Acclaim Entertainment acquired Valiant in 1994 and focused on video games based on the characters, changing the company's business and creative strategy, Valiant's potential was never reached. We acquired it with the intention of putting it back on track in order to fully realise that enormous potential.
Q: Could you tell us about your background?
Kothari: We both grew up as expats in Hong Kong and then came to the U.S. for further education. Dinesh [who was born in Dubai and moved to Hong Kong when he was four] went to USC School of Cinema-Television, and I went to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Q: At the moment there are a few big players in the comic-book industry, and you are taking them on. How do you plan to do that?
Kothari: Valiant was a major player in the worldwide comic book industry in the 1990s, selling 80 million comic books and becoming one of the three great libraries of comic book characters after Marvel and DC Comics. Valiant has a library of 1,500 characters. These are not new characters, these are characters that already have a large passionate fan base that we are reactivating.
Q: How optimistic are you about being a top player in the movie business?
Kothari: We have the key ingredients to be a major force in the film industry, as we own and control a large high-quality content library in the most successful film genre, have best-in class partners and access to large-scale capital. Peter Cuneo, the former CEO and Vice Chairman of Marvel, is Valiant's Chairman. During his tenure, Marvel created the most successful track record in Hollywood history, including the creation of their own movie studio, Marvel Studios. In addition, some of our other key investors were early investors in Legendary Pictures, which was responsible for The Dark Knight trilogy, also one of the most successful film companies in history.
We have five major motion pictures currently in the pipeline, and we have partnered with top producers in the industry for each project. For example, Neal Moritz, the producer of the Fast and the Furious franchise, Doug Davison, the producer of Oscar winner The Departed, Sean Daniel, the producer of The Mummy franchise, and Brett Ratner, the director of X-Men III.
Q: What are the challenges you will be facing? You don't have a super hero with big name recognition.
Kothari: We don't have a superhero that has the mainstream appeal of a character like Spiderman, but we have a number of characters that are comparable to Iron Man, Captain America and Thor prior to their movies â€“ not known to the general public but very well-known in the comic book community.
Shamdasani: Within the industry, the Valiant characters are very, very popular. We were at the San Diego Comic-Con International, which is the biggest convention in the field. A couple of hundred thousand people per day attended it over five days. At the convention, it was amazing to see the turnout, the passion for some of our characters. Within the industry, our characters are very, very popular characters. That's the base we are building from.
Kothari: At their peak, Valiant's key characters outsold characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. In addition, Valiant's top ten characters each have greater total sales than two-thirds of comic book characters that have been made into movies, which gives you an idea about Valiant's potential for multiple film franchises.
Q: You want to replicate the Marvel experience?
Kothari: I will tell you that we are certainly putting the pieces together to maximize the probability of achieving Marvel 2.0. Marvel was one of the most successful turnarounds in entertainment history, coming out of bankruptcy in 1999 and being sold in 2009 to Disney for $4.5 billion. Many of the key people responsible for that turnaround are working with us, helping us and guiding us. Similar to the creation of Marvel Studios, which allowed them to self-finance their movies, starting with the Iron Man, which obviously was a huge success, we will be raising independent film financing of a few hundred million dollars to self-finance our movies as well. After all, comic book-based movies have the most successful track record in Hollywood history, so it's not surprising we have been approached by a number of investors eager to finance our movies. We have finally decided to start the process of creating an investment vehicle to allow them to finance or co-finance our films.
Kothari: We are lucky to have Peter Cuneo, the former CEO of Marvel; we have a couple of editors from Marvel. We have several former Marvel executives helping build our company. That's where the comparisons are coming. And of course, the characters have at one point challenged Marvel's, and have a very passionate following. We are very fortunate to have the Valiant characters. They have one of the most passionate fan bases in comic book history and this passion is more valuable today than ever before with the prevalence of social media.
Q: You are also focusing on the publishing side as well?
Kothari: We re-launched our publishing business in May, and it has been extremely successful. We re-launched a number of our major characters, and they are consistently bestsellers and critically acclaimed. Our publishing team is very talented. Our comics are also available digitally worldwide on comiXology, the leading digital comics platform.
Q: What are your expectations on digital comic?
Kothari: Digital comic market is growing rapidly. Its growth is forecasted to triple next year over this year; if its growth continues like that, in a relatively short amount of time, it could eclipse print. The data has shown that digital comics are also only additive to print comics, so this has become an exciting driver of growth in the industry.
Shamdasani: It is still early days, and it is very exciting.
Q: You both are Indian Americans. Any comic characters based on Indian mythology of culture?
Shamdasani: In Harbinger#2, there is a very, very exciting character called Darpan. Harbinger #2 has a sequence based in Calcutta. Definitely, we are going to play with a lot of Indian mythology and a lot of Indian characters. One of the reasons, Valiant was so successful is because it is expanding to different ethnicities. Valiant has a very prominent biracial character, a very prominent Asian character. Now we are adding Indian to the mix as well.
Q: Bloodshot has been mentioned as Valiant's first likely movie. What stage is it in?
Shamdasani: The script has been rewritten. In Neal Moritz, we have one of the best producers in business. Sony Pictures is our partner. We are moving forward.
Q: When do you expect it to hit the theatre?
Kothari: We are expecting Bloodshot to go into production next year and to be released in 2014.
(In arrangement with Global India Newswire)