Dark Horse Comics Publisher Mike Richardson and “Captain Midnight” writer Joshua Williamson visited the world famous CBR Tiki Room at New York Comic Con to discuss resurrecting the pulp serial hero in the modern day, the company’s revival of other classic heroes like Ghost and X and the publisher’s future in light of a landmark 2012 and the changing face of both pop culture and technology.
Williamson on resurrecting Golden Age hero Captain Midnight at Dark Horse: I already knew about Captain Midnight because I love old movie serials and old pulp characters. So when they came to me and started talking about it I was like, “I’ll do that. That would be awesome to do.” … So I sat down with Mike and started talking about what exactly he wanted to do. We kind of came up with this new take on it that we’re really excited about. We’re taking the old character from the old serials and we’re moving him into the present day and telling the story about why he’s in the present day and what brought him here.
Richardson on his history with Captain Midnight: He was a well known character at one time. I think Ovaltine sponsored the television series and you actually got a decoder ring in Ovaltine. I missed all that — I’m not quite that old — but I did see the reruns. And since Ovaltine — I believe this is how it works — since Ovaltine no longer sponsored it they couldn’t use the name Captain Midnight anymore. All I remember is this television show where whenever he said “Captain Midnight” his mouth said “Captain Midnight” but this voice would come out “Jett Jackson.”
If you google Captain Midnight you can see all the covers from the past and they’re the most amazing, intriguing covers. You get into the history, the character started out basically as a pilot, then you find out he was an inventor also. Then he sort of evolved into a super hero through the super hero craze and WWII and all of that — and then later on began fighting aliens in the early ’50s after the war was over. He had this great evolution so I was just intrigued by him.
Richardson on the character’s adjustment to the 21st Century: The one thing that we’re doing that’s very different than [what’s] been done with this kind of a book before — this is a guy from the ’40s, and you don’t just plop him down in the 21st Century and then he just, everything’s good. This guy doesn’t know about Miranda [rights], he doesn’t know how things have changed with women. He has to go through this big learning curve because he doesn’t understand. Just think if you were from 1938 and suddenly you’re put in 2013, you’re gonna have a real hard time with the culture.
Williamson on the unique spin they’re putting on the man from the past transported to a modern setting: [Today’s world] is complicated, and I don’t think he looks at it like that — to him, if he sees a crime being committed, you go take care of that. A lot of times when characters come from the past into the the future they’re always in awe — like always in awe. But he’s kind of disappointed in what he’s seeing. All this stuff is confusing to him at first, but as he starts getting more and more into it he starts getting more disappointed in the future. He was a genius. He was an inventor. So back then he was making all this crazy stuff and he comes to the present day and he sees that it’s not what he thought it was gonna be like. He’s really like, “Where’s my jetpack?” That’s really something for him, like, “Where is this stuff? I was an inventing these things, we were doing this stuff with technology, where is that stuff at?”
Richardson on why now is the right time for Dark Horse to revive other classic super heroes like X and Ghost: Several of the series — they were all tremendously successful at the beginning but we had sort of poor timing the first time [Dark Horse published the characters]. We didn’t want to compete directly with Marvel or DC when I started the company so we sort of held off on the super heroes. We had super heroes, but they were always sort of eccentric… and they sort of made a coherent group of books for us. But then we decided, let’s get into the characters that we really wanted to do in the super hero area and we launched in the hundreds of thousands. And the problem was, all the sudden everybody else launched. Suddenly there’s a glut of — now it’s a bad word — “universes.”
We’ve let that all go, we’ve sort of got over the taint of that, not just outside in the marketplace, but with ourselves. … Now it’s time to get back in and we have some fun surprises. We’ve built a complex storyline, there’s gonna be threads that go around but you’re gonna have to pay attention and you’ll see things. It’s been a lot of fun and conspiracy, there’s gonna be lots of conspiracy.
Richardson on Dark Horse’s outlook for the future of print and digital: We have some major projects that we’re launching, we have some major lines that we’re launching. Comics are good right now. I think digital, clearly, changes things. The amazing thing about digital is, from a publisher standpoint, we have the opportunity to present our entire library, worldwide, 24/7. Anyone who wants to get a Dark Horse comic will be able to get a comic at some point, and it’s our goal to put them out in multiple languages, too. We can have a worldwide reach.
Some people have been worried that will be the end of paper if digital succeeds, but it’s not true. We just had the best month we’ve ever had in print, and it was the best month of digital we’ve ever had.
Richardson on the changing face of American pop culture: American pop culture — I call it the new culture — is very different than it’s been in the past. Comics aren’t in the background. If you walk through a movie theater, for instance, you don’t see “All About Eve” or “Gone With the Wind” or “Lawrence of Arabia” on the posters, you see comic book movie, comic book movie, animated film, animated film, movie based on game. It’s all fantasy, it’s all science fiction, it’s all genre. Walk through and look. In a way it’s sort of sad, but it’s good for our business. That’s where the culture is and there’s a lot of reasons.
We have lots of free time these days. Grown men, like me, play video games. I can’t even imagine my dad playing a video game. [Laughs] We have time to play video games, we have time to read comics, we go to movies. We have leisure time. … Comics are just part of the culture and now they’re getting more attention than ever because of the films that are doing well. It’s not just the films — for a long time films came out based on comics and you didn’t see a bump in the comics. But now you are seeing some connection because it’s spreading into the consciousness of the population in general.