When Valiant Comics launched the superhero title Faith earlier this year, it was far from a sure thing. The character was created in 1992 as part of the series Harbinger, and during the company’s early run as an upstart superhero publisher, she was an important, core member of the team–but Valiant’s fortunes turned not long after, and Harbinger spent nearly two decades on the shelf until the 2012 reboot of the Valiant line.
From there, though, Faith took off. She’s an unlikely hero–she’s got blonde hair and wears a cape, but she’s also a plus-sized hero who’s as interested in reading comic books herself as she is in fighting villains–but in 2016, more women read superhero comics than ever, and publishers are increasingly catering to fans who are more interested in diversity in terms of what their heroes look like and the sort of adventures they get into. (The first issue of Faith sold out through five printings.) Valiant has a five-film “shared universe” deal with Sony Pictures, with Harbinger as one of the franchises planned for the big-screen treatment.
Now, she’s also the official comics spokesman for Keep A Breast, the cancer nonprofit that caters to millennials and helps raise breast cancer awareness among young audiences in partnership with real-world figures ranging from Katy Perry to Shepard Fairey to Iggy Pop. And this partnership isn’t a one-off promo for the New York Comic-Con (where it’ll be debuting with new fundraising initiatives)–it’s an ongoing plan for both Keep A Breast and Valiant, to tie Faith to cancer awareness for the foreseeable future.
“We rarely do one-off partnerships,” Keep A Breast founder and CCO Shaney Jo Darden says. “We’re a relatively small organization with a large reach, and we want to get into relationships that are long term, so we’re really looking at Faith becoming part of our family.” What that means in practical terms is getting the organization space at conventions to provide information about breast health to fans–and getting Faith into spaces that Keep A Breast already has a presence, like the Vans Warped Tour. As part of the ongoing relationship between the organizations, Valiant President of Licensing, Promotions, and Ad Sales Russell A. Brown joined the board of Keep A Breast at Darden’s urging.
A comic book spokesperson for a cancer nonprofit isn’t entirely intuitive–especially one like Faith, who doesn’t have the market saturation of, say, Wonder Woman or Black Widow. That’s something that makes the partnership appealing to both organizations, though. For Keep A Breast, it’s a chance to reach fans who are very passionate about this particular character, and the Valiant Universe–and who will be excited to see those characters in spaces outside of Valiant Comics. “This is our first real introduction to this incredible community of passionate people,” she says. “Comic fans are passionate about comics, they’re passionate about art, and for us, it’s a whole new opening for us that we’re really excited about.”
Darden was a fashion designer for years, and Keep A Breast has worked with figures in that world, and in music, as ambassadors for the brand and the cause. Faith is a departure from that, but it means that she can be a part of the campaign in ways that real people can’t. Fans who pick up Faith #3 at the New York Comic-Con can get a Keep A Breast #CheckYourselfie variant cover, and the partnership is working on a custom comic book with a custom story that pairs the character with the Keep A Breast message in ways that, say, Katy Perry is ill-equipped to.
“The list is long–because this isn’t a one-off, there are a lot of ways to do this, and we haven’t explored them all yet,” Brown says.
For Valiant, the partnership is a way to increase awareness of its characters and its properties–including characters beyond Faith, if all goes as planned over the next year–among an audience who might not currently be buying their comics. Faith will be a presence in the Keep A Breast app starting in October, reminding people to give themselves self-exams (the app will also be promoted via house-ads in Valiant comics, and at conventions), and familiarizing that audience with the character has potential benefits to Valiant beyond the public-service element.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to reach new audiences with our content, and introducing people who know Keep A Breast well to Faith is beneficial to us, of course,” Gavin Cuneo, Valiant’s CFO and COO, says. “We’re sure those who don’t know Faith already, she will resonate with those people.”
There are a lot of synergies going on in the partnership. Valiant, which is published internationally in Japan, France, Chile, and more, has secured a commitment to get the Keep A Breast content into those markets, while Keep A Breast’s ongoing relationship with Vans is something that Brown notes as something Valiant would like to tap into, as well. Valiant has licensing deals with almost a hundred licensees worldwide, and Brown’s excited to bring Keep A Breast into that, too.
All of this makes sense, given the current state of comics and the part that Valiant and its properties are looking to play in a world increasingly obsessed with superheroes. They get an opportunity to put Faith and its other characters in front of people who may not be regular comics readers, while Keep A Breast gets to bring its message to an audience that’s increasingly made up of its core demographic.
“If you were to go to Comic-Con 10 or 20 years ago, you would see 90% men there. If you go to San Diego Comic-Con, which we were out at a few months ago, or New York Comic-Con coming up in October, you’ll see about it’s about 50% female,” Cuneo says. “So our audience is increasingly female, and for Valiant itself, we had a major introduction with Faith, which has really resonated, especially with our female fans, and so our audience was becoming increasingly, rapidly female at just the right time.”