For nearly fifteen years, Dark Horse Presents was the premiere anthology in the comic book industry. Premiering everything from Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, to Frank Miller’s Sin City, DHP set the industry standard, and put Dark Horse on the map as a publisher. After a brief stint online, and a short break, the comic is back in April – this time in full color, eighty pages long, and featuring… Paul Chadwick and Frank Miller. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In order to find more about the title’s release, we chatted with Dark House founder Mike Richardson about what to expect from the rebooted comic, why its important to bring it back now, and got some teases about a few surprising favorites that might be coming back with a new look.
MTV Geek: So let's get right into it… In a lot of ways, I feel like this has almost been a signature book of Dark Horse.
Mike Richardson: Well, I think it's probably true in a lot of different senses. I mean, first of all, it's a book that we launched with the company back in 1986. It's a book that was very different then... When we first signed Dark Horse I was told that anthologies don't sell and yet we lasted with 157 issues - and could have continued to last with, or continued on with the series if we had chosen to. It’s also the book from which we launched many of our popular series, from Aliens, to Sin City, and many others… Concrete, Hellboy, to name a few. I mean just a lot of the series that we’ve published started in Dark Horse Presents.
Also, you know, when we try to get in business with a lot of the creators out there in the comic industry, many of them don't have the time, or are under contract to do other series - but can find time or can find exclusions to come and do an 8 page story. So it gives us access to people we might not have access to otherwise, and we were able to build up strong relationship a lot of those people.
Geek: You said it was your choice to stop publishing it back in 2000. Why was that?
MR: Anthologies like that, as you might guess, are a lot of work, bringing in different stories - and at the time, the sales had reached a point where the profits are marginal. So we decided to stop. My idea always was to bring it back at a time in the future. And you know, time goes by faster than you expect… As we approached the 25th anniversary, I decided to bring it back, but bring it back in a bigger way. So while it will be Dark Horse Presents with all the same intentions that the original book had, it will be full color and, this time it will be 80 pages - giving us a lot of leeway that we didn't have in the first version of the book.
Geek: In between that, DHP showed up on MySpace. How did that come and about and looking back at that, what work and what didn't work about that partnership?
MR: Well, we were a 100 percent happy with that partnership. I mean, we've been very much involved with media and all of its aspects and you know, the social media outlets are important to us. Certainly these days, particularly in marketing our product and connecting with our fans, the people who read our books. But that particular version of Dark Horse Presents gave us the opportunity to work with some new creators. It gave us the opportunity to put new properties out in front of a large audience. And you know, there were 20 million people involved per month with MySpace at one point. I think most of them probably were not comic readers, so it gave us the opportunity to show our books to people who may not see them otherwise. So it's a big success for us, and we launched some successful series out of those electronic pages.
Geek: So, why stop then?
MR: Well, times changed and you know… You stayed up with what's going on with MySpace. I think their interest went elsewhere, and as a result we thought that our time was better spent in other areas. But as far as working with them, and whether we're successful or not as a partnership, we think it was 100% successful. We really enjoyed the relationship and it worked out real well for us. All good things come to an end, and so did that particular part of our publishing phase.
Geek: But you’re not giving up on digital entirely, right?
MR: We've announced that we will have digital downloads. We will have special content. Also that you can come and get downloads that can only get from your local comics retailer. While the industry moves into this publishing world, we want to make sure that we support the retail community that's out there, and trying to make a living during the transition, also.
Geek: Let's talk about the content of the new Dark Horse Presents. You really pack the first issue with a new Concrete story and a sneak peek Xerxes. How difficult was it to make sure that both of those would show up in the first issue?
MR: Not hard and all. In fact, I announced that the book was bi-monthly, and it appears that we're gonna have to go monthly maybe sooner than I expected. It's been surprising, because virtually everyone I've asked has wanted to take part in the book. And I think that the book has a status. We always knew that it was an important book, but I didn't realize, I guess, to the extent that it had affected so many creative people in the comics community.
And virtually everyone has been excited to be a part. The first issue we lead off with Concrete, which seemed only appropriate since it was Concrete was in our very first book we ever published, and was the very first creator that I ever talked to about being involved with Dark Horse. We have Howard Chaykin. We have Neal Adams' Blood, coming up, I think that’s gonna look amazing. Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder. Carla is someone who has been around for a while, and I think she’s a creator who should get greater notice. We're hoping to really promote her and her series.
As you said, we have the Frank Miller project. I couldn’t relaunch without having Frank part of it, since he's been such a important part of Dark Horse history. And we have an interest in two page interview that I did with him, where he talks about the series and his plans.
We have the return of Mr. Monster by Michael Gilbert, which hasn't been around from some time. We have a short story by Harlan Ellison. We have Richard Corben doing Murphy World. We have the return of Crimson Empire. It was always meant to be a trilogy, and it’s one of our best selling Star Wars books - we're finally gonna get around and finished the story. And we have David Chelsea, who is very different than your typical Marvel or DC artists and has a quite a following of his own.
So the first book is loaded; but every issue will be launching some new creator both young and established; creators that with some amazing material. We have enough material right now for six 80 page issues, and more coming in. We have some exciting announcements about name creators also coming up.
Geek: Anyone you can tease us with?
MR: Well, we have Dave Gibbons doing a treatment. That's one that I don't know if we put out a press release yet. He’s got a new property that will appear here first. Character, property, series… what do you say? He's got a new story that he's gonna start out in pages of Dark Horse Presents.
Geek: Let's talk about Concrete a little bit because I'm a huge fan of Concrete. Human Dilemma seems like it would be pretty hard to top... What's Paul tackling this time?
MR: The interesting thing about Paul is that a few years back, before that series, I said to Paul, “You know, we've got to move the story line forward. Concrete is still in exactly the same situation as we started it back in 1986. So it's time to - like any story, people move on. Things happen.” And he said, with Paul's typical understatement, he said, “That's food for thought.”
And then of course, everything happened. Concrete got pregnant. He had a baby, which would have been the last thing anyone expected. Larry got in trouble. Everything changed, and I am really excited with the new series because Paul’s changed as well. So now we're actually gonna see what happens as time moves along with the characters. And if you'd been following it from the beginning, if you've read all the Concrete series… I mean, Paul has a great way with character and it's just been a real pleasure to read this new series as it comes in.
Geek: And let's talk about Xerxes. I understand it's just a sneak peek?
MR: Yeah it is. It's a sneak peek, so people can see what Frank is doing. There’s an interview, so he can talk about his plans and maybe whet everyone's appetite. I will say that the pages are gorgeous. Frank’s really pouring himself into this, and he is having a blast doing it. I mean, he's really feeling energized by it. Even in the interview itself… He’s doing some exciting things, and he lets us know about them.
Geek: Will we see more Xerxes in DHP?
MR: No. It's coming out as it's own book. I mean, he's got two full issues and are already on the third. I think the third one is about to come in.
Geek: Is there something either from the past or present that you wanted to have in this version of Dark Horse Presents that just didn't pan out for whatever reason?
MR: Not necessarily for Dark Horse Presents. I mean, we've had some series that we wanted to put in, in the first run that went, maybe went to another publisher - or we didn't make the deal for some reason or another. For this new version, I'm not kidding when I say everyone I've asked had said yes. Sort of surprising because, you know, you ask twenty people and you expect seven of them to say yes. Five of them to say, yes but not now. And rest will say, well maybe or no, and you can't worry about them until they're ready to go.
Everyone has said yes. Not only have they said yes, most of them had been turning in their work fast. And there's some exciting people for me. I mean, when I started Dark Horse, there are a number of people that as creators I put on a list. I was determined to work with them sooner or later, and we worked with most of those people in the first issue of Dark Horse Presents, the new Dark Horse Presents. Neal Adams is working with us, which is the first time ever and the stuff he's doing is absolutely amazing.
Geek: Is there any chance we'll see some new stories about The Mask?
MR: I would say, well… See now you're starting to go where some of our future announcements are. I would say, you'll see probably see a revamping of the character, yes. You will see a number of company characters that will show up from time to time in the book. The Mask being one of them.
Geek: You touched on this a little bit before, but anthologies, at least now, don't seem to be catching on as well. Why will this version of Dark Horse Presents be different?
MR: You sound exactly like the people that said that to me when I started my company. I started with an anthology, and people told me, “Anthologies don't sell. You're nuts.” And of course, it sold extremely well. At that time we are hoping to sell 10,000 copies and break even. And we sold 50,000 and it stayed at that level, between 50 and 30, pretty much throughout its run. These days, you’d die to have 50,000, you know. The comic market has changed dramatically. There's a lot of pressure coming from other mediums and other forms of entertainment that have undercut the sales and other forms of distribution. And like I say, you'd love to have those sales but, you know, I believe that quality always wins out in the end. It depends what the anthology is. I'm determined to have the people in this anthology that will ensure its success.
And so far… I really, really, really wish that I could tell you all the people we have signed up to do this because whatever excitement you have for this book… If you do, it would increase ten-fold. But if I start saying this, my marketing department will kill me, because they've got it all planned up to make announcements. There are some sequels to some very big books was started out in Dark Horse Presents. There are some creators, the biggest creators in the industry that will appear.
The idea is to have one or one of these projects in every issue. So there is always something new and that's what we used to do. In the old days, we were limited by what we could do because there were three 8-page stories and that was the book. So you're sort of limited to what you could put into it, with the formats and the number of pages that people could use but, in this book, it's 80 pages. So it gives us a lot of room to play around with different lengths, and different number of chapters, and so on.
Geek: Before I let you go, I just had to ask... You wrote Timecop?
MR: Yeah, the original, I had the idea for it... We actually pitched it before we pitched the Mask over at New Line. They liked the Mask, which is a character I created that I used to draw in something called Amplify. When we started Dark Horse, I brought some creators on, and I told them my ideas, and I let them flesh out the character. First was a Marvel artist at that time by the name of Mark Badger who sort of went in into a different direction that I was hoping. So we pulled it back, and then did some work with John Arcudi for the comic series.
The version that John and Doug Mahnke did was seen by New Line. So I took the project there, and we ended up making the film, working with my pal Mark Verheiden. At the same time as when the Mask was purchased or picked up by New Line, I worked with Mark over on the Timecop project for Larry Gordon over at Universal. So the two of us worked on of those.
I wasn't smart enough to get them to say Mike Richardson’s The Mask, but if you ever watch Timecop, I made up for it. At least, I think my name, or the Dark Horse name was up like six times – I was overreacting to not knowing what to do on The Mask. Legally, that is.
The new "Dark Horse Presents" hits stands in April!