Earlier this year at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Dark Horse announced this partnership with USA Today and Toshiba. Dubbed DH: HD, it was described as a program to “bring comics to your desktop, doorstep and digital TV”. Previews of various DH titles have run both in the print and online editions of USA Today, and this weekend at New York Comic Con the Milwaukee-based publisher announced the next effort in this ongoing partnership.
Beginning this week, USAToday.com will feature new exclusive comics from DH’s stable of titles including Hellboy, Serenity, the Goon, Conan and Mass Effect. This effort, which is scheduled to run for ten weeks, will bring Dark Horse’s diverse array of original and licensed properties in front of a whole new audience. Newsarama recently spoke with DH Editor Scott Allie about this initiative and new stories.
Newsarama: Scott, I’ve been told that you're the editor leading the charge on DH's digital comics now. Can you tell me your approach on that, and how it might differ from print comics?
Scott Allie: Well, not unlike DC's Wednesday Comics and our own Myspace Dark Horse Presents (MDHP), the basic model for these is print comics. 7x10 pages, some of our most recognizable characters. One major difference is that we've tried to stick with what we know works in print comics while adapting for the serialized nature of the web, without making it drag out. So we're doing 8-page stories like on MDHP, but we're breaking them in half, to get the serialized, return-visitor thing that works on line, and serializing them within the same week, so there's not a long wait after a small taste. Also, everyone has written their stories not as two 4-page chapters, but so that there's a break that works after page 4, while still telling a single 8-page story. One page at a time is too little content to give people, a week at a time is too long to wait, but we think this is a pretty effective way to tell a quickie story.
Nrama: This next wave of DH:HD has exclusive comics running on USA Today's website over a ten-week period starting this week. How'd you go about picking the right titles and teams to do these windows into the Dark Horse world?
Allie: We discussed with USA Today what they were gonna want, and they wanted our more recognizable stuff, series that were more established in the mainstream and in bookstores. We didn't want that to just mean media tie-ins, so we made sure to have some original DH characters in there, with Hellboy and Goon. In terms of the licensed stuff, there are cross-corporation deals in place that affected us. With Toshiba sponsoring, we couldn't include properties that have sponsorship deals with Toshiba's competitors. That doesn't come from Toshiba, by the way, but by the other sponsor of the property. It might sound ugly and shitty, but it's just sort of the nature of big media, and it was all very amicable, figuring that out. But it is something we normally don't have to think about. For some of our characters that were in the running for this, scheduling was an issue, and that ruled a couple things out. But we think this is a pretty good representation of what we do.
Nrama: I know it's a bit premature, but do you think these exclusive stories will be exclusive to USA Today's website forever or do you think they might end up in a collection or something down the road?
Allie: No, it won't be forever. At the very least, the stories will eventually see print in the appropriate trade paperbacks. Probably not a Wednesday Comics model, where they're all collected together.
Nrama If things go well, could you foresee DH and USA Today doing more of this after the end of this ten-week run?
Nrama: What are the real goals Dark Horse is hoping to achieve with this partnership and this 10-week run on USAToday.com in particular?
Allie: The main thing is to expose our artists and writers to new audiences. Expose comics to new audiences. We're determined to grow the audience for comics, and bring new people into comics’ shops. Some people say the comics’ audience is shrinking, and if that's true, it's partly because some comics are made to exclude new readers. A lot of comics, even I can't read because I don't have enough years of history with the characters or universes. But comics are more a part of the mainstream than ever, the idea of reading comics way more generally accepted than it was when I was a kid. We put a lot of effort into bringing in writers, artists, and properties that will get new people reading comics. That was part of the point of MDHP. Star Wars comics achieve this, as does Buffy, Gerard Way, Joss Whedon, Janet Evanovich. Until the day that every single person who saw the Hellboy movie has bought every BPRD collection, there are easy ways to grow the readership of comics.
Nrama: Can you give us a little rundown about what each of the stories will be about, or at least the first couple?
Allie: Oy. Yeah, although I didn't edit all of them, just the ones I usually do. We kick off with Hellboy, dealing with a family legacy of witchcraft. And there are talking skeletons, which our panel of experts—John Arcudi, Duncan Fegredo, and Guy Davis—says are big with USA Today readers. The Serenity story is sort of a teaser for the upcoming Shepherd's Tale graphic novel, in that it's done by the creative team of Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee and Dave Stewart—but we wanted the whole cast of characters, not just Book. And Zack did an AMAZING job, in eight pages, of getting nine characters across. I advised him to go a little light on plot, to make room for the amazing character interaction between these guys, and he nailed it, with a sweet little bit of action around River and Book. Mac Walters, the writer for the Mass Effect game, wrote this story on his own, I think the first time he's done a comic without a co-writer. Ron Marz and Bart Sears are doing a balls-to-the-wall Conan story—Bart has a lot to offer Conan. And Powell is doing The Goon. He wanted to do Satan's Sodomy Baby, but the paper had certain concerns.
Allie: That's a joke, Internet. Don't freak out.
Nrama: How do you see digital comics fitting into DH's portfolio today, and fast-forwarding to five or ten years from now?
Allie: Today? Growing quickly. We did something unique with MDHP. We've tested the waters on iTunes and the iPhone and all that, and now we're taking a significant next step. That's today. I don't think we can very accurately imagine FIVE years from now. Digital comics are going to be increasingly important to our bottom line. I'm an old-fashioned, paper-lovin' reader—I love books. I don't like reading stuff on line. I have someone print things out for me. I want comics in my hands, and I want to make sure paper always has a place in what we do. I think our lives are gonna be radically different TWO years from now, and we need to be working boldly toward that.