In horse racing, you can tell a lot about a young horse by the pedigree of its parents. A prized champion horse is more likely to sire another in its image. The same could be said of the new anthology series coming out in April.
On April 20th, West Coast-based publisher Dark Horse will debut an all-new Dark Horse Presents series. Much like it’s original incarnation from the 80s and 90s that was the flagship of the long-time Top 5 comics publisher, Dark Horse Presents is setting itself up to be the place where Dark Horse icons – both in characters and creators – make their home. And to do it, they’re going back to the guy who started it all – founder Mike Richardson.The firs issue of the new Dark Horse Presents boasts an all-star line-up including Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, new stories by Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin and Richard Corben, the long-awaited third part in the Star Wars: Crimson Empire trilogy… and best of all: Frank Miller’s next big project. Frank Miller is returning to the title where he launched Sin City to give a first look at his next major comics work: a sequel to 300 titled Xerxes.
Last year we talked with Richardson just as this new series was being announced, and now we return to speak with the iconic publisher just one month shy of the series’ return.
Newsarama: Mike, when Dark Horse Presents first began life, it served as an avenue to highlight not just good stories – but good stories by cartoonists who were your informal stable of talent doing their own books separately. Can you tell us about that decision, and if the new series reflects that as well?
Mike Richardson: When Dark Horse Presents started in 1986, we were obviously a new company at the time. Many of the stories we launched with were stories done by a group of budding comic creators called APA 5, which I was a member. "APA" stands for "Amateur Press Alliance" and each creator would send in work that everyone would savage. It was a great exercise for people coming into the professional world. There was a lot of talent in that group when we started Dark Horse, and we used some of those people in Dark Horse Presents. Paul Chadwick was a member, as well as Randy Stradley, Chris Warner and Randy Emberlin – all APA 5 alumni. Along the way we had others join Dark Horse Presents like Frank Miller, Mark Badger and a number of other professionals.
When it started to look like Dark Horse Presents would survive, we created a list; a list of everybody we wanted to work with. We called every name on our list, and luckily a lot of them signed on. It was a chance for them to take part in a book where it was a given that the creators should have control of their creations. And as time went buy, we attracted more and more professionals. A big turning point for us was when Frank Miller brought his new books to us instead of Marvel or DC, and that persuaded others to dot he same.
Nrama: That list – wow. So now here in 2011 where you're bringing back Dark Horse Presents, did you come up with a new list?
Richardson: We have a list in progress, and we're looking at a lot of young guys; that's been one of the rewards with re-starting Dark Horse Presents. We're also trying to attract as many established big names as possible too. For the first issue we have long-time Dark Horse Presents contributor Paul Chadwick joined by Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Michael T. Gilbert bringing back Mr. Monster, Harlan Ellison, Richard Corben and indie favorites David Chelsea and Carla Speed McNeil.
Nrama: The Dark Horse Presents title was last seen as MDHP and serialized on Myspace.com before print collections. Do you have any plans for online or unique distribution of this new series in that same kind of way?
Richardson: There will definitely be a Dark Horse Presents presence online with some strips for free. We've been talking to Bob Burden about Mystery Men, and he has several pages ready to go as well as some other features to be put online. When we have our plans worked out, I'll definitely tell you. We're working actively on digital.
Nrama: What will the schedule for Dark Horse Presents be like?
Richardson: We're starting out bi-monthly to see how it goes, but our goal is to move monthly eventually. An 80-page book is difficult to do on a monthly basis, but with the amount of work coming in and people being so excited about it it's not impossible. It's been a pleasant surprise – once we told people about Dark Horse Presents returning, the work has been coming fast and everyone has wanted to take part. For Dark Horse, this series accomplishes a number of things – it allows creators who have other schedules to come in and do a single 8-page story or a series of 8 pagers over time. It's also a great place to launch new characters that someone wants to flesh out without launching into a full-blown series.
Nrama: In our interview during San Diego last year, you also said Mike Mignola is doing something for the series. Can you tell us about that, and when people can expect it?
Richardson: Mike's definitely going to be involved, but his work is going to be after the first issue. Dave Gibbons also has a strip coming, as well as Eric Powell, Sanford Greene and Bob Burden who I previously mentioned.
Nrama: I think we can both agree that the big draw for a lot of people in the first issue is getting the first real glimpse at Frank Miller’s Xerxes. Can you tell us about the decision to premiere it here, and your conversations with Frank?
Richardson: I think Frank wanted to be involved, and I definitely wanted him to be involved. He was such a big part of our earlier history, and lately he's been putting all of his focus on the Xerxes book and having a blast doing it. I had an idea of doing a preview of Xerxes in our first issue, plus an interview with him that I'm doing.
Nrama: Oftentimes you’ve been the first reader of Frank Miller’s recent work – even before it goes to print. What’s that been like, and do you ever read something and realize how big it's going to be?
Richardson: Well, obviously anytime Frank works on a series I'm excited to see it. But how could he follow-up 300, which was in my mind his greatest work. That was my big question, but when those early pages of Xerxes started coming in it was amazing; Frank's at the top of his form.
Nrama: You and Frank have been through a lot together – from back when you were an upstart new publisher and he was a superhero cartoonist who wanted to do something different – something he owned. What’s it like now with you two at the heights of your careers but returning back to where it started?
Richardson: Obviously I can't speak for Frank, but he probably shares my feeling in that we enjoy what we're doing. We're both very interested in the comics’ medium and the industry, and decided together years ago to advance creators' rights and push that movement forward.
Nrama: Another luminary from Dark Horse Presents’ past joining you is Paul Chadwick and his character Concrete. I’ve been jonesing for new stories on Concrete --- can you tell us what we can expect?
Richardson: With Paul, he takes a unique approach to it. Paul has these fantastical characters facing real-world issues; situations that any of us could get in. In the past he's done stories about Farm-Aid, using Concrete's celebrity status and Hollywood. He always comes up with an unusual but obvious take on things. In the last story he did, he really threw in everything but the kitchen sink. This story in the new Dark Horse Presents follows that up, so it's very interesting to see what's in store.
Nrama: You’ve also got a new story by Howard Chaykin called Marked Man – what is it about?
Richardson: It's typical Chaykin – Howard at his best. It's firmly within the genre that he likes to work. When you look at the magazine you'll see guys like Chaykin, Adams, Corben and newcomers like Carla working on what they want to do most. We've got a completely new cartoonist, Patrick Alexander, coming from Australia. I really enjoy his strips, and it's a great addition to the book.
Nrama: How'd you discover Patrick?
Richardson: Someone found one of his strips online and posted it on a window in the Dark Horse offices. I walked by and laughed so hard at it that we had to track him down. We told him, "We've got to have you in this book!" He's going to be our ongoing cartoonist in every issue, doing one to eight page strips.
Nrama: In addition to creator-owned work which Dark Horse and Dark Horse Presents has always championed, the other pillar in the DH formula – licensed comics done right – is in it.
Richardson: Right. Randy [Stradley] and I are doing the third part of our Star Wars; Crimson Empire trilogy in Dark Horse Presents with Paul Gulacy. It's been great to finally come back and tell the final part of this; with Star Wars: Crimson Empire II we in-advertently treaded on ground that was movie ground and anticipated some of the things that were going to happen in the then-upcoming new movie trilogy. The great thing about this time around is that we don't have those roadblocks; we know the layout of the Star Wars universe and are able to tie up those loose ends, fix the inconsistencies, and tell a great story like the previous two.
Nrama: When it first started, Dark Horse Presents acted as the de facto backbone to all of DH’s publishing line. Do you see that re-assuming that kind of thing --- kind of the one-stop shop to get a barometer of what DH is doing?
Richardson: I think that vibe is something that will return with the new series. We're using it to work with existing creators or as an avenue for new creators to the fold to start out. Each issue will be a good picture of our company.
We've been going through a lot of soul-searching at Dark Horse recently. We do it every few years; step back and take a hard look at the line and re-invent it to set up the vision for where we want to go in the future, and the new Dark Horse Presents represents that.