An in-depth interview with the men behind the new Dark Horse imprint where we learn what they have coming down the pipe in 2012 and 2013.
A couple of weeks back, we brought you news of Dark Horse Comics’ upcoming OGN-focused imprint, Sequential Pulp Comics. I made a bit of speculation about the intent and direction of the line, particularly in the current comics publishing landscape that’s still in the throes of dwindling monthly sales. But why make guesses when the president of SPC, Michael Hudson, Head Writer Martin Powell, and Dark Horse Editor, Patrick Thorpe were available to talk about the launch of the new line. In this look at the new imprint, we talk about some of the decisions that went into the publishing model as well as why adapting classics was the right move for this publishers. Best of all, we’ve got tons of preview art for a few of the books that are currently in the works for you to feast your eyes on.
MTV Geek: How would you describe the Sequential Pulp Comics?
Michael Hudson: Sequential Pulp comics is a company specializing in faithfully adapting classic pulp stories and novels into graphic novels for today’s audience. While our focus will always be on classic pulp we will be publishing some neo pulp such as Martin Powell’s The Halloween Legion and adapting some works that are not pulp simply because they were not written during the time frame of American “pulp.” Novels such as Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as adapted by Tim Conrad are not traditionally pulp but they fit very well within the framework of our vision for SPC.
Martin Powell: For me, it’s a place where readers will find great pulp fiction, both classic and new. To fans of Fredric Brown, Otis Adelbert Kline, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many more, SPC will feel just like home.
Patrick Thorpe: Sequential Pulp Comics is Michael Hudson’s vision. He approached Dark Horse with the idea of adapting American pulp novels into graphic novels. It was one of those ideas that seem so obvious that you can’t believe that it hasn’t been done before on a wide scale. Pulp novels are so visceral and exciting that they translate extremely well into comics.
Geek: Why did Dark Horse decide to make this a separate line?
Hudson: When we initially contracted with Dark Horse in 2009, our Agreement called for a separate imprint. After our year of hiatus in determining where the industry was going and how we were going to adjust to it, I came back to Mike Richardson and asked for an equal partnership on the projects we would produce and as an inducement we would be happy for our books to fall under the Dark Horse imprint. While I am a firm believer in branding, at this time I feel that it is much more important getting our books out than whether they are under the SPC imprint. The Dark Horse brand is a known commodity and it sells product.
My understanding is that Mike and I agreed the new books would come out under the standard Dark Horse imprint and Sequential Pulp would show up on the interior credits page as co-publisher. If Dark Horse chooses to utilize the Sequential Pulp imprint I’d be delighted but I am not positive that will happen this go around.
Geek: What was going on in the market that made this seem like the right move?
Hudson: Following the Top 300 monthly sales reports of both individual comics and graphic novels over the past three years was inspiration or a better word would be revelation that we needed to avoid single-issue comics due to the rapidly increasing downtrend in the marketplace. Graphic novel sales have remained steady.
As for actual inspiration I’d say Rob Hughes’ The Outlaw Prince which is adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Outlaw of Torn. The book sold out before the first printing hit store shelves. First off it’s 80 pages at $12.99. I see a very nice package at a good market value. Second, it’s pure pulp inspired by one of the same authors our books are being adapted from. Finally it is wonderfully adapted by Rob and masterfully illustrated by Wm. Michael Kaluta and Thomas Yeates. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to have a long talk with Rob.
That talk cemented in my mind that I was on the right path to success in going the graphic novel route.
Geek: Patrick, could you speak to why is this a good move for Dark Horse?
Thorpe: If you have the opportunity to publish a good story with the kind of talent that Sequential Pulp has lined up you have to take advantage of it. In recent years, Dark Horse has had great success publishing similar types of stories as graphic novels so there was no way we were going to pass this up.
Geek: Martin, how did you get involved with SPC?
Powell: That’s rather a long story. I promise to try and make it shorter. Michael Hudson had contacted me a few years ago to supply the box text for his company’s statue of the pulp hero The Spider, which I had been writing in both prose and comics. We discovered lots of mutual interests and became friends, staying in touch. A while later, Michael told me of his dream to create a new comics publishing company that would focus on classic pulp fiction adaptations as well as original concepts. I thought it was a fantastic idea. He and I had already discussed our love for Fredric Brown’s sci-fi dark comedy, Martians, Go Home, and Michael thought the novel would make a great comic book. I agreed, and now here we are, a dream come true!
Geek: In the press release SPC stressed that you wanted to provide readers with “complete stories.” What in the market has indicated that this is a direction in which audiences want to go?
Thorpe: Serialized 22-page comic books read differently than the graphic novel, obviously. A comic has to be a self-contained story as well as relate to an overall arc. We don’t want to force the material that Sequential Pulp is adapting into that format because that changes the nature of the story. A lot of these have subtle storytelling that builds on itself and is more enjoyable to read in a sitting or two. The 22-page model, oftentimes, is open ended. Sequential Pulp wants to tell stories that develop characters, build to exciting crescendos, and end. We’ve had great success with similar forays into the direct-to-graphic-novel model. The Outlaw Prince springs directly to mind. It’s just satisfying to sit down with that beautiful hardcover and be transported to a different place and feel like you’ve gotten a complete experience.
Powell: Sadly, the hard fact is that most people in this country don’t visit comic book shops. Most aren’t even aware such places exist. When I was a kid comics were in drug stores, department stores, convenient stores—they seemed to be everywhere. And they were always affordable. You’d find dinosaur tales, outer space adventures, mysteries, superheroes—terrific stuff and all for mere pocket change. No more. Most people shopping for books go to bookstores, both in person and online and electronic editions are currently quite the rage, too. Clearly, this is where the book readers are buying what they want to read. We knew we had to have a strong presence there, too.
Hudson: I think there are two factors: one is the Top 300 monthly sales reports I mentioned above. The second determining factor for me was what I am hearing from the public. I am a part of a lot of online groups that focus on comics, pulps and genre books. I’ve been reading them daily for many years. Specifically what I am hearing is that people want shorter story arcs that do not go on and on forever. They want a beginning, middle and an end to stories. I’m sure you are aware that over the past year or so story arcs, in many cases, have gone from around eight issues down to four per arc. I’ve also heard so many people state that they are not buying single-issue comics any more. Instead, they are opting for the compilations because they are generally packaged much nicer and they’re all in one place. I honestly think there are a lot of factors for this trend.
One may be that super hero characters change or evolve so much that continuity kind of becomes a joke. Another factor might be a bi-product of our times. We want what we want now. We don’t want to wait. Graphic novels do just that. We are gratified without waiting for the following month or three or four for the next chapter in the story.
This does not necessarily address any of your questions but I feel it is pertinent to what we are talking about so I’m including it here. A film producer friend told me something rather profound a few weeks back. She said so many films are being made from graphic novels because the producers and directors will not take the time to read a book but will look at words and pictures that can serve as a storyboard springboard for them. They can quickly visualize a film through the reading of a graphic novel.
Geek: Why can’t we just abandon the monthly 22-page story model outright?
Hudson: Well I’d hate to see that happen for one thing. Charles, this is a scenario that would rock my world. For three years I’ve live directly across the street from a small convenience store. You would not believe the number of kids who visit that store on a daily basis. I’d love to see a spinner rack in that store full or rather not so full of comics. I’d love to see comics for kids in the hands of kids. I love mature audience stories but I think there is room in this world for both. It boils down to marketing and distribution. I should preface all this with a big “Thank God” for Diamond Distribution. Where would we be without them? But I know that tons of Moms and Dads are not going to take their child to a comic book shop. If comics were in neighborhood convenience stores kids would be buying comics. They would just like they buy energy drinks and candy.
The 22-page story model is also serving as an advertising platform for the companies that still sell them. I think oft times the books are merely serving to perpetuate the films that are coming from various companies. Is this a bad thing? No… but I personally still enjoy reading a comic or GN for the sake of reading. Not in viewing it as ancillary or support material for a film.
Powell: Well, I can’t speak everyone, but that’s certainly what I want. I can’t imagine anything quite as frustrating to readers than to spend four or five bucks on a single twenty-two page comic book, taking two minutes to read it, and having almost nothing happen in the issue. This current fad of decompressed story-telling seems very lazy to me, and is quite unfair to the reader. Lots of fans, sometimes myself included, tend to wait for the trade paperback compilations, anyway. Michael and Dark Horse figured that our trademark should be graphic novels right from the start. That way we’re also in the bookstore market and remain on sale, and in print, much longer. Makes sense to me. Much as I hate to say it, I suspect the days of the single issue comics are rapidly becoming extinct. I hope that’s not the case.
Thorpe: I think the 22-page format works for some types of titles. For others, it doesn’t make sense. The market is changing drastically, and I think you’ll see a reduction of the 22-page story in the future, but I don’t think it will ever go away. I’m a Wednesday comic kind of guy. I love going into the store on Wednesday, browsing the racks, picking up mainstays as well as being surprised by new titles. There is something very appealing about that weekly experience. But I’m always on the lookout for self-contained graphic novels as well. I think that there is a balance to be struck between the two and it should always come down to what is best for the story—can it be an exciting serialized comic that grabs you week in and week out like a Walking Dead, or does it need to be digested like Asterios Polyp?
Geek: With the shuttering of Borders and the challenges with other brick and mortar booksellers, was there any trepidation about being a line specifically focused on OGNs?
Hudson: Do these things bother me? Yes, a great deal! I’ve had thoughts of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 cross my mind more than once over the past couple of years. It rends my heart to see Borders become a thing of the past. Many Mom and Pop local comic book shops are hurting as well. Our entire U.S. economy is hurting. But we’re not going to talk politics but rather our specific market, which is comics and books.
First off we have to embrace the digital market and Dark Horse tells me that their digital market is doing very well. Is that my cup of tea? No. I enjoy holding a real book in my hands and I enjoy seeing it with many, many others on a bookshelf. The majority of our younger audience does not share that same sentimentality. And that’s fine. So we meet their particular demand which is books to go via the digital market. I believe there will always be a market for well told, well-illustrated and well packaged books. I think as our market continues to evolve we will see more of a resurgence from the independent comics sector. A sector that specializes in genre areas the big Two are not giving their audience at present or at least not in large doses. Time will tell if I am right or not. I hope I am and I do believe in my vision. Thankfully others do too! If I didn’t try I’d regret it for the remainder of my life.
Geek: What are your plans for digital distribution of your titles? I was a little uncertain whether it would be simultaneous with the print release.
Hudson: Part of our agreement package with Dark Horse calls for our books to be made available digitally. Patrick tells me that their digital sales are doing very well. I’ve not seen any supporting industry figures. I’m also not sure how Dark Horse operates their digital lines. In other words, I don’t know if the digital edition will hit the market as soon as the paper graphic novel will or not. Patrick will better be able to answer this question.
On a side note, I will say that a select few of our books will come out in a standard and a deluxe edition format. The deluxe editions are planned to be signed and extremely limited and will contain ancillary scholarly and editorial material not found in the regular editions.
Geek: Are there any plans to write for digital? That is, to craft stories that are tailored to the e-reader format?
Powell: I haven’t done that yet, for SPC, although I’ve had some experience writing in that format with other publishers. It’s new and innovative, and that’s why folks are excited by it. While we have no current plans to specifically create books tailored to e-reader format, I’m a book-in-my-hands kind of guy myself, I would imagine our entire line will be available electronically, as well. I do think the e-book market holds a lot of promise and is almost certainly the way of the future.
Geek: Martin, in our initial conversation, Michael described you as the line’s Head Writer—does that mean you’ll be working with a bullpen model of publication with a regular crew of creators?
Powell: Well, that seems to be what’s happening, although I don’t think either Michael or I consciously planned it that way. I’m nobody’s boss, that’s for sure. Our writers and artists are a real dream team, creative folks I’ve admired and been inspired by for years. They’re here not only because of their talent, which is prodigious, but also because they really love this form of graphic story-telling. Comics and sequential art is in their blood, same as me. It’s a privilege being in the same group with these guys.
Geek: Martin and Patrick—what’s your working relationship been like?
Powell: Patrick’s great. He’s been an enthusiastic supporter of our entire line of books, right from the start, being especially encouraging of my vision for Martians, Go Home. I’m anxious to begin working with him with my various other projects, too.
Thorpe: This is probably a better question for Michael since he brought Martin on board. Martin is one of those guys who “gets” it. He knows the potential that pulp fiction has in the comic book medium and it translates to the page.
Geek: Patrick, could you tell us a little about some of the art talent that will be working on the books? Is there a particular style that you’re looking for on these books?
Thorpe: The way our partnership works with Sequential Pulp is that they assemble the teams on the books, which is a bit different than the way we normally work. So this might be a better question for Michael. But I can speak to the level of talent that he has lined up—unbelievable.
It’s really a thrill to see Tim Conrad’s new work. I’ve been a long time fan of his especially his Robert E. Howard related work. But I think that the stuff that he has turned in so far is even better. Will Meugniot, Tom Floyd, Tom Grindberg—there is definitely a theme of the classic American comic-book look, with a style that each of these gentlemen bring that makes them perfect for the particular book they are working on.
Geek: Martin, you have several titles in the works for the coming year—what attracted you to the material? Why were they a good fit for SPC?
Powell: Well, Michael decides if they fit, not me. I’ve made a few suggestions, here and there, you know, things I’d like to do or see other writers do. In all my twenty-plus years as a professional writer one of the most valuable things I learned early on was that if I could be enough of a chameleon, cross over into other genres, and continue to make all my deadlines, I could actually make a living. Although I have written some Superman and Batman stories, I’ve purposely avoided the super-hero genre for the most part. I love that stuff, especially the Silver Age comics I grew up with, but I’ve never been very interested in writing it.
Something like Martians, Go Home is so much more up my alley. It’s one of the smartest, sexiest, alien invasion adventures ever, but Brown left a lot open to the interpretation of the reader. That’s actually been great for this sort of comics re-telling because it also gives me room to play inside his darkly comedic universe. I honestly feel like this is more of collaboration with Fredric Brown than an ordinary adaptation. In fact, there’s nothing ordinary about it. It’s like he’s here in my studio with me, whispering over my shoulder as I write.
Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get more exciting, Michael told me he was interested in going for some of the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs (as Dark Horse has the licenses) and I had to pause to catch my breath. Burroughs has been one of my all-time favorite authors since I was a kid, ever since my Dad brought me home a paperback copy of The Moon Men, and I was watching old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies with my older brothers on Saturday afternoons. The chance to spend some creative time in the imaginative worlds of ERB is enormously thrilling. I’ve always thought of Burroughs as the godfather of our entire industry. If not for Tarzan, there’d be no Doc Savage, without Doc there’d be no Superman, and without him the comics business, as we know it, wouldn’t exist.
Also, I’m writing a classic Sherlock Holmes adaption and a grand Gothic horror werewolf book. I’m feeling either very spoiled or a bit out of my mind to take all this on. Both, probably.
Geek: A healthy amount of your focus seems to be on adaptations—what was the decision behind this?
Hudson: Classic stories are timeless. I never get tired of them just as I never get tired of classic films. I am betting that many others feel the same way. There is a pulp resurgence taking place in the U.S. A lot of old pulp hero characters are seeing new life as well as a number of neo pulp characters. I’m thrilled to see Will Murray writing new licensed Doc Savage material. I’m thankful for the pulp facsimiles and compilations coming from such noted companies as Adventure House, Sanctum Books, Girasol, Wildside Press and Black Dog Books to name a few. You’ve got new pulp coming from the gang at Airship 27. I’ve been enjoying The Spider through Moonstone Books and a number of their other pulp titles. Dark Horse has been putting out Edgar Rice Burroughs’ product for years and they continue to do so. IDW is scoring big with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations of Donald Westlake material.
It was King Solomon who so aptly said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” When I was twenty I would never have believed those words. At a “relatively young” middle age I see the wisdom and truth in those sage words. A much later proverb states, “Old things are passed away. All things are become new.” While the implication is much different I think the words apply so much to my vision with adaptations. These old stories and novels from the pulp era may have passed away. True there was a lot of hack writing in the pulps. But there was also a ton of wonderfully written tales in many different genres. We are taking the cream of the crop and giving it renewed life to today’s audience who for the most part is not familiar with the original works. If you tell a great story; if you illustrate it well; if you package it all in a compellingly attractive package then people will flock to read it. Someone once said something similar about a baseball field in a Midwestern corn patch.
Geek: Along the same lines, what goes into the deciding what title is worth bringing to the SPC?
Powell: Again, Michael can answer this much better than me. Pretty much we get our eyes on something, and then pursue the license. Mainly, I suppose, we’re really just selecting stuff we love.
Hudson: The flip of a coin! (laughs) First off what is chosen primarily has come from what writer Martin Powell and I enjoy. We do ask questions about the work. Has the story stood the test of time? Does it still hold up today? Is it marketable? Is it entertaining? Will the social norms of the day be an issue for today’s reader? Can we obtain the license? What team will be right for the book? Will Dark Horse support this book? We ask lots and lots of questions. Sometimes it just boils down to intuition. You just know it’s going to be good!
You may also find it interesting that writers wanting to adapt the work brought two of our projects to us. In one case the writer supplied his own artist and in the other I had to hunt for the right artist but providentially the right man showed up at the right time. These projects are still in licensing but I am very excited about them both.
Geek: What’s the appeal of adapting classics in the short, single volume format as you’re doing here?
Thorpe: The best part is introducing these classic stories to a new generation. Take Conan for example, it seems like each generation has it’s defining Conan entry points—whether it be the Frazetta-graced Lancer books, the Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith comics, the Schwarzenegger movies, or Dark Horse’s relaunch with Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. Some stories are timeless. It’s just a matter of putting out the right entry point for a new audience and making the experience as enjoyable as possible for them. When you have somebody like Michael who is excited about the material and is assembling some extremely talented teams, it’s a safe bet that the end result is going to be fantastic and accessible.
Geek: How often do you plan on rolling out new books?
Hudson: We plan to put out four to five graphic novels per year to start. We have ten projects under way.
These are all scheduled for 2012 and 2013 solicitation. We will be turning Tim Conrad’s Hunchback of Notre Dame over to Dark Horse for lettering in September of this year. It should be our first book out of the gate. We have five additional properties of which I am not at liberty to name as they are still in licensing at present. But the creative teams are spectacular and they are chomping at the bits to get their hands on the material.
Geek: What’s the title each of you is most excited about in the coming months?
Powell: They all draw me in, beckoning to me. All of them are projects I love and truly want to write. If I had to choose a favorite, that would be my graphic novel of The Halloween Legion, with artist Thomas Boatwright. They’re a little group of weirdos I originally dreamed up many years ago, way back in high school. I’ve always loved the autumn season, and Halloween in particular. I yearned to capture that feeling of magic and mystery, the sort of thrill you got as a kid when the falling orange and yellow leaves seem to follow you down the street. It’s paradise. I wanted to have that feeling with me always. The Halloween Legion is my solution to that problem.
Thorpe: I’m excited about all of them for different reasons. I know that sounds like a copout, but it’s true! There’s action, drama, comedy, science fiction, you name it, all written and drawn by incredible talent. What’s not to like? I must say though, on a personal level, I am excited to see Tim Conrad’s art back on the shelves. It’s been far too long!
Hudson: Oh gee, that’s a hard one because each story and every team on them is special to me. Obviously hearing the joy in Tim Conrad’s voice and seeing his wonderful art again is so much fun. But Martin Powell’s adaptation of Fredric Brown’s Classic Sci-fi paranoia novel, Martians Go Home is simply amazing! We just picked up A. Merritt’s Seven Footprint to Satan as licensed through the Estate. Mark Ellis will be handling the adaptation and Jeff Slemons will be handling the illustrations. I’ve spent three years trying to obtain this license and fruition came through today. I am enthralled with our Burroughs’ artists. I feel the need to name every project and every single artist and writer because each one is perfect for the material they are on. We all encourage one another and push each other to be the best we can be. Plus we are all having fun! I know that all of this will show in our material. We could not be more fortunate than to have Mike Richardson, our awesome editor, Patrick Thorpe and the incredibly supportive team at Dark Horse in our corner. I may not be getting a lot of sleep but I am certainly living my life’s dream.
Bonus: Tim Conrad tells us a little about his return to comics!
What was it about Sequential Pulp that brought you back to creating comics?
Tim Conrad: Michael Hudson brought me the perfect offer at the perfect time. I’ve been out of the business of comics for so long and was wanting to get back into it.
Geek: How did you decide to adapt Hunchback?
Conrad: I was originally commissioned 20 years ago by a company that was intending to recreate all the Classics Illustrated books. Shortly after the script was completed they went bankrupt so I never had a chance to finish it. Michael approached me with A. Merritt’s Metal Monster, and when I mentioned Hunchback to him he suggested that it should be my reentry into the world of comics. It’s lain dormant in the back of my head and in script form for far too many years. I’m thrilled that I’ll get to see it in print.
Geek: What was your approach to the material, particularly with regards to getting it down to the 40-odd page format?
Conrad: I adapted from the actual novel. I wanted to do it as true to the original as possible because the original story is far more intense than the filmed versions. As to the length I am not sure what guided me.
Geek: Could you tell us about any other work you have on the horizon?
Conrad: I’m working on an adaptation of A. Merritt’s Metal Monster for Sequential Pulp. I will be approaching it with the same style I used in illustrating Hunchback. Our plans are to use a cream/off white background on all pages but I will be working with Prismacolor pencils once again.
You can find out more about Sequential Pulp Comics on their site.