For the past three years, Dark Horse has been releasing online comics free for readers through a partnership with social networking site MySpace.com. Under the historic banner title of Dark Horse Presents, a long-running anthology book Dark Horse published for 14 years, MySpace Dark Horse Presents has seen new work from all-star talents like Joss Whedon, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Ron Marz and Eric Canete, as well as newcomers like the most recent issue’s S.H.O.O.T. First short by Justin Aclin and Ben Bates. But as Dark Horse editor Scott Allie tells us, the upcoming July 2010 issue on MySpace will be its last.
But there’s more to it than that.
While MySpace Dark Horse Presents will be ending its run on MySpace.com with July’s issue #36, the title will live once again at the mothership of DarkHorse.com. In the wake of Facebook and Twitter’s popularity, MySpace has reorganized itself as a music-focused social networking site and diminished their focus on comics. With this in mind, Dark Horse has taken the opportunity to move it back to their own website for future issues. The series, which has been collected in several print volumes, is as strong as ever — and editor Allie is here to talk about it, plus share exclusive pages from a comic by Frank Stockton, which will appear in issue #36.
Nrama: So the news coming to us here at Newsarama that MDHP is no more. What can you tell us, Scott?
Allie: Yeah, we're wrapping up. MySpace's popularity has waned a bit, and they've moved their focus to music, which makes so much sense for their demographic. We are going to move our online comics to our own website, as well as bring DHP back to print; at C2E2 we mentioned that the anthology will be coming back as a print series edited by Mike Richardson. We’ll have more information on this at San Diego. So we're changing our approach significantly, but none of it is really going away. DHP will rise again. And again.
Nrama: Excellent — DHP is just losing the "M" and moving back to the mothership of DarkHorse.com. But I hear you have one final issue you'll be putting out on MySpace.com in the first week of July; can you tell us what'll be in it?
Allie: I think we're going out with a bang. Jason Little, who did Shutterbug Follies and the upcoming Motel Art Improvement Service, has a story with Bee, the character from the two books. I didn't read Shutterbug, but when Diana Schutz brought Motel Art Improvement Service into the company I read it and LOVED it. Great book, so I'm glad to have him in the book. Then LeVar Burton, his writing and producing partner Mark Wolfe, and David Hahn, creator of Private Beach, team up for a brand-new thing. Mac Walters, the lead writer for Mass Effect II, the game, and co-writer of our series, has his first solo comics writing gig with a short Mass Effect story. And Frank Stockton, who did one of the covers for Serenity: Float Out as well as IDW's Last Unicorn, does the two-page strip this issue.
Nrama: You’re not the only one editing this; you mentioned Diana Schutz guiding Jason Little’s Bee story, and isn’t Sierra Hahn doing some too?
Allie: Actually, I didn’t directly edit any of these. You got Diana, then Sierra Hahn edited LeVar and Frank's stories, and then Dave Marshall edited the Mass Effect story. So it's weird to go out on one where I literally did nothing, but it definitely reflects the teamwork. And Sierra, who edited the book for a bit under a year when I was busy doing other things, it's great to have her take the reins again, to some degree, for the send off.
Nrama: What would you say you’ve learned in doing MDHP over the past few years, and the online strategy?
Allie: Part of the gimmick with MDHP was that we didn't ask for money. It's hard to sell an anthology, blah blah blah, that's the common wisdom. But we wanted to do an anthology, so we said, hell with it, we won't try to sell it, we'll give it away. At the time, I felt a sense of urgency to get content online, but I felt like no one had cracked the nut of how to monetize comics online. Things have changed, so it's time to change our strategy. Certainly things have changed with MSspace, to affect our approach.
Nrama: Doing an anthology in today’s market seems like a hard thing to do on a consistent basis — just by judging on the lack of others out there. But MDHP has made it work, especially in this new age of computers — with the online iteration building up attention and the collected editions, four in number so far — doing quite well. Can you tell us about the challenges you faced putting this together and keeping it going for over three years now?
Allie: The trick with an anthology is that you're only asking for two or eight pages of story at a time, so anyone can find the time for it. Which is great, and opens doors. But the hard thing is that in editing it, each story is a piece unto itself. To edit a comic, there's a bunch of things you need to do. A good many of those need to be done for every single story, four per month, in an issue of DHP. So an anthology is hard, and it's easy. It requires a consistent, heavy level of attention to keep it rolling, and you have to be able to roll with the punches and know that someone is gonna blow it, and that you're gonna have to cover. Part of the challenge of how I've run DHP, too, is that when we're doing a Cal McDonald story, for instance, I get Shawna Gore, the Cal editor, to edit the story. So less work for me, but more trusting in other people, and more management.
Nrama: MDHP has carried on a long tradition for Dark Horse – with its original version, Dark Horse Presents, being the publisher’s first comic and being the spot where many of DH’s more popular series got their first start — including Sin City. What is it about doing the anthology that seems to almost constantly be the backbone of DH?
Allie: Dark Horse thrives on variety — we don't have a one-size-fits-all approach to story, but an appetite for different genres and different styles. In a way, that grew out of the anthology. I love DHP — it's what brought me into Dark Horse as a reader in the first place, with that first Sin City story — but then Eddie Campbell's Deadface became my favorite Dark Horse book for a while. That's the variety of DHP, the variety of Dark Horse, and that is the backbone of what we are as a company.
Nrama: I mentioned previous things that have spun out of DHP like Sin City, and also Concrete got his start there. Any plans to spin-off any stories from the new DHP series into their own books?
Allie: Well, we started Dr. Horrible in DHP, and that got a one-shot and now a trade paperback, with hopefully more to come. But of course Dr. Horrible is a pre-existing property. I don't know if we're spinning any of these other things out from the shorts in DHP, but it's likely.
Nrama: For DHP, you accumulated an impressive list of big talent like Joss Whedon and Eric Canete and some great newcomers as well. How do you go about seeing who’s right for the book, and the story they want to tell is appropriate?
Allie: To some degree, you start by going after the people you want most, and then whatever you get from them helps to define what the book is. Like Sugarshock. I gave Joss the full-court press, he came through with this bizarre thing, and it helped to shape what the new incarnation of the book was gonna be. Eric Canete, since you mention him, he's got the kind of distinct, edgy, but broad-appeal art style that fit the character of what the book was by then shaping up to be. So he was a real score for the series. Each person who's come into the book has served the overall mission in a different way, and they've helped to develop the identity of the book.