Daniel Kibblesmith and Derek Charm talk the comiXology original Valiant High

At New York Comic Con last year, comiXology announced a line of original digital comics from various publishers and featuring various genres. One collaboration was Valiant High, a new take on Valiant Entertainment‘s impressive line of characters.

Valiant High is a hilarious reimagining of Valiant’s award-winning superhero universe by writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist Derek! Before they became the world’s most formidable heroes, they were roaming the halls at a super-powered preparatory academy where Aric “X-O Manowar” Dacia is a record-setting running back, Colin “Ninjak” King is a debonair foreign exchange student, and Coach Bloodshot is way too into dodgeball! Now… Faith “Zephyr” Herbert is about to discover it all for the first time as the newest girl in school!

The first issue was an original fun take on the characters and second issue out this week! We got a chance to talk to Daniel Kibblesmith and Derek Charm about the series and some of its influences.

Graphic Policy: How did you come on board Valiant High?

Daniel Kibblesmith: I had done some miscellaneous work for Valiant, mostly humor shorts in anthology issues, like the amazing Unity #25. Then-Valiant editor Tom Brennan sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in pitching on a “teen soap opera,” without yet revealing what the idea was. It turns out Valiant and comiXology had both been circling the idea of doing Valiant High, and were looking for people to pitch on the concept.

Derek Charm: I was actually initially just brought on to do character designs and help visualize what High School versions of the Valiant heroes might look like. Originally I wasn’t sure I’d be able to draw the book, since I’ve already got a monthly deadline with Jughead, but the designs and back and forth process was so much fun it became something I really wanted to make time for.

GP: How much of it was fleshed out at that point as far as the characters and world?

DK: They had a few preliminary suggestions, all of which I ended up keeping, I think — Harada as the Principal, obviously. Bloodshot as the shouty dodgeball-obsessed gym coach. I also got to see some of Derek’s designs early enough in the process that I could get inspired by the choices he was making, and it helped me flesh out the backstories of characters like Ninjak, or Gilad, based on their look and attitude.

DC: I was sent Daniel’s original pitch document, but was left pretty much on my own to come up with everyone’s looks and how their super suits might transfer to something more casual while still retaining something of their iconic elements. I went back and forth a lot with Daniel and the editors to make sure every character was close to what they were envisioning.

GP: A thing that sticks out to me is that the characters are reduced to their basic self and they really fit the archetypes of teen high school movies. That wasn’t something I really thought about before reading this. Was that something that you noticed before this?

DK: Not until it was part of my job to think of the Valiant cast in terms of archetypes, and then map those archetypes onto OTHER archetypes of high school stories. But that was definitely the goal, same as any alternate universe story, to boil them down into their core character, so you could drop them in a new setting and it would still feel like “them.” Then the fun of it was seeing how all the jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together, like making the armored XO Manowar an “armored” football star, or figuring out Dr. Mirage would be a science teacher and not one of the students, hence being a “Dr.”

GP: The comic really plays for comedy, not just in the story, but the art as well. It could have easily been a teenage drama. Was there thought about approaching it as a drama?

DK: The key phrase for me was always “soap opera” — which means a variety of tones and feelings are in play. I think the most satisfying stories play a variety of notes, and obviously, I love writing the jokes. But I wanted all the emotions to feel real, and the stakes to seem as high as they are when you’re that age. Plus, I tried to put at least one fight in every issue, because at the end of the day, these are still Valiant superheroes. I think the premise is so inherently heightened that it has to be on the baseline of comedy, but I hope it’ll dredge up people’s actual teen angst as well.

DC: It’s pretty light for the most part, but there are definitely some dramatic and action-oriented moments that come up later on in the story that were a lot of fun to draw.

GP: It being a digital series, how does that impact you as a writer and artist. Is there any difference than a physical comic?

DK: I’m new enough to scripting comics in general that I don’t play with the medium too much, but I definitely had a few rules in mind for a digital-exclusive release. For one thing, there’s no double-page spreads, just single-page splashes. Part of that was needing the real estate for telling a story with so many characters, but I was also aware that it affects my reading experience when I have to turn the device sideways and adjust to new dimensions.

DC: It was something we talked about. For the most part, I’m treating them as regular comic pages, but definitely keeping comiXology’s Guided View in mind as I go.

GP: Have either of you thought about taking advantage of some of the things you can do with digital like panel flow?

DK: I didn’t write in anything in particular, but as a commuter, I was really excited to read it in Guided View on my phone for the first time.

DC: For sure, I’ve found jokes work really well with the Guided View pacing. There’s a lot of repeated panels and held expressions that underline punchlines when you can’t see what’s coming. It’s like every panel is a page-turn.

GP: Were there any Valiant characters you wanted to include but didn’t get a chance to?

DK: It’s such a huge cast that a few got cut for time, or were reduced to background extras. I don’t want to reveal who, because I’d love to do a follow-up where we get to expand the world a little. For now, we packed in as many heroes as we could fit, and there’s still more coming in the next few issues that haven’t been revealed yet. Stay tuned.

GP: Do you have any favorite teen movies or stories? Any influence this series?

DK: My major influences were other High School Alternate Universes, of course, like the X-Men: Evolution cartoon show, or the weird, self-contained world that is the Avengers Academy App. Other big ones, oddly enough, were Power Rangers, or even Saved By The Bell, in the way they had such a limited cast of characters outside of the heroes and kept the action more or less confined to one location. I came to it late, but Archie and The Riverdale universe was obviously an influence. The big difference being that for our first glimpse of Valiant High, it felt early to expand the world to include the kids’ parents, pets, bedrooms, etc. But the biggest influence, and not-at-all high school related, was Marvel’s 1602, which is another AU that turns everyone into archetypes and then looks for the way they click in another time and place (in this case, the Elizabethan era).

DC: Daria and Strangers With Candy are probably my top High School-comedy influences, not just for this series but for everything. A lot of accidental Daria References worked their way in to this series.

GP: What other projects do you have up this year?

DK: Reading everything drawn by Derek. And some things not yet confirmed, so the best way to keep up would be to follow me on Twitter at @Kibblesmith. And watch The Late Show With Stephen Colbert at 11:35 ET on CBS (after your local news).

DC: I’m still on Jughead through the rest of Ryan North’s run, and then the beginning of the next one with the new team. It’s been fun jumping between the sci-fi/super hero aspects of Valiant High and the more down to earth world of Riverdale.