For the better part of the past two decades, Scott Allie has been a key part of Dark Horse Comics. From his position as lead editor on blockbuster franchises like Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” and Joss Whedon’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” to writing stints on books like “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Pickens County Horror” to “Solomon Kane,” Allie’s style and interests are well known to readers.
But starting this week, those readers will know him by a different name: Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse Comics. Today, the publisher announced Allie’s promotion to the top Editorial spot at the company where he’ll continue to work with Publisher Mike Richardson and the rest of the Dark Horse team to take the company into 2013 and beyond.
CBR News spoke with the newly minted Editor-in-Chief about the new gig, and below, Allie discusses his humble beginnings at the publisher, how his title will and won’t change the comics readers see in the stores on Wednesday, what he wants to see most out of Dark Horse in the future and how digital will impact the comics publishing game in general.
CBR News: Scott, let’s start with the long road to this point. You started at Dark Horse in 1994. What was your first position with the company?
Scott Allie: I was like the guy at the front desk opening packages and making photocopies. I was an Editorial Assistant, and Diana Schutz hired me, and I was the lowest-ranking guy in the department.
You hear these stories about guys in Hollywood who start in the mail room, and here you are starting at the front desk. I guess you can really rise through the ranks. Tell us about how this came about. How did the gig come to you over the past few months?
Over the last few years, I’ve been stepping into more management responsibilities. I can’t remember when it was, but like five or six years ago, Mike [Richardson] had me start coming to budgeting meetings — the meetings where we determine what books we’re going to do and set the budgets for them. He had me start coming to those meetings which gave me a voice in the company in a way that I hadn’t had before. I’d been the editor of “Hellboy” since 1994 and “Buffy” since 1996, so I was involved in some key books. But as an editor, you’ve got oversight over the books you put together. As you move more into a management position, you have more of an impact on books you’re not specifically editing yourself. And that was a more slow progression for me — moving from just having an eye on my own stuff to working with other editors, having more of a supervisory position and being involved in some of the higher level decisions at the company. That’s probably been the last five years, and I had a title — Senior Managing Editor — over the last four years or so that was meant to reflect that. But now it’s morphed into this.
As you step into this new role, how do you want things or how might you plan to shake things up at Dark Horse?
Well, it doesn’t feel like much of a shake up because I’ve been doing most of the responsibilities that come with this job for a while. There’s what we call the Editorial Core, which is Mike, Randy Stradley who is VP of Publishing, myself and Davey Estrada who’s the Editorial Director. And the four of us in various ways manage the department. Ultimately, Mike makes the decisions about the department, and the four of us work together to talk about issues and plans. So mostly, it’s continuing in that capacity with having an increased opportunities to work with the other editors in the department — to supervise the trainees and to troubleshoot. Troubleshooting is where I fell like I’m going to put the most energy into — just helping to make sure other editors are handling their problems and getting the books out on time to make the best choices they can. There’s been a sort of unofficial structure to things that’s given me a lot of opportunities to work with the other editors, but this makes it a more clear position.
From inside the industry, there’s a perception that Dark Horse is broken into clearly defined groups. There’s the Scott Allie group that takes care of things like “Hellboy” and “Buffy” and horror books. There’s the “Star Wars” group. There’s Diana Schutz covering “Usagi Yojimbo” and Frank Miller’s projects. Is there a need or will there be an attempt to bring all these groups together in some way, or does that kind of a change really need to be done?
Mike has wanted to bring the department together for a while in certain ways. It’s funny. The groups that you mention include me and the various books I work on, but there’s also “Star Wars” which is all ultimately under Randy Stradley who’s been with Dark Horse literally from the beginning and is the Senior Editor and VP of Publishing and other titles. And so you’ve got a very experienced eye looking over those books whether he edits it or Dave Marshall edits it and Randy has his eye in the sky on it. And then with Diana, you’ve got a very experienced editor working with creators who really know their stuff. Stan [Sakai] and Frank know what they’re going to do, and we just want to do as much of it as they can or want to. So those books don’t require any messing with from me. They don’t require much supervision to coordinate with whatever else we’re doing. But we can promote “Usagi” alongside other similar books, and that’s a role I can play as Editor-in-Chief — coordinating a publishing schedule with Mike and Davey Estrada to know that if a big event is happening in “Usagi” it’s not just happening in a vacuum or being glossed over. And it won’t be competing with 20 other things happening in the same month. That will happen sometimes when you have your key publishing events all stacking up, and then you get three months of radio silence. You can’t have that. But for the most part, the actual creation for books like “Usagi” and all the stuff Diana does is taken care of, and there’s no need to change that.
But there is a lot of other stuff. We recently brought back “Ghost.” We’ve got other Dark Horse superheroes coming. There’s not so much a line of books but a group of new books that benefit from some co-planning and cross marketing that are being edited by a bunch of different editors who are at a lower experience level — associate editors or newer editors. Making sure that there’s some plan for those books to be published in harmony is important. And by “published in harmony,” I mean that sometimes stories need to synch up but also we need to make sure that the scheduling lines up and that sort of thing. We’re doing a lot more with video game comics, and I think we’re having unique successes with the video game stuff that we’re doing. Dave Marshall is a spearhead for most of that, but he doesn’t edit all those books. So the department needs some management that helps make sure those projects aren’t conflicting with each other, that they’re supporting each other and that they’re being done as well as they can be.
So I’ll continue to edit all the [Joss] Whedon books with Sierra Hahn, and I’ll continue to edit all the Mignola books, and those fit nicely under one editor or a team of editors. But for a lot of the other stuff we’re doing where you get multiple editors working on those books, you need some coordination and teamwork. When you’ve got a company as big as Dark Horse — I think we’ve got 130 employees at this point — it does require management to make sure that there’s coordination between the different levels of staff.
Dark Horse currently publishes a wide variety of books whether it be “Star Wars” which is considered one of the great gems of licenses in comics to working with guys like Guillermo del Toro on “The Strain” or big name creators like Frank Miller. There’s Buffy and Hellboy, and now the old school Dark Horse heroes like Ghost and X. It’s a competitive market out there, and I’m curious what you see as the thing Dark Horse needs to do to stay competitive and remain one of the top five publishers in the industry?
I think a big part of it, in my mind, is focusing on our strengths. I think we’re uniquely excellent at doing creator-owned books and building a world around a creator-owned book. We need to continue to do that and invest in talent and allow them to do their own thing — whether that’s Brian Wood or Mike Mignola or the new guys we’ve got coming on. That’s an important part of who we are. I think the creator-owned space in publishing is one of the most exciting parts of the business because it’s original stuff. People really want original stories. They want something brand new, and creator-owned is the best way to make that happen.
With the licensed stuff, I think hands down we’re the best publisher of licensed comics. We’ve got an incredible track record with Buffy and Star Wars, and we’ve got some others — Aliens and Predator and all that stuff — which are a key part of our history. We’re going to be doing more with that in the near future, and now the video game stuff is becoming more and more crucial. For a long time, the common wisdom was that video game comics don’t sell, and I feel like we changed that. I think what we did with “Mass Effect” was just what we did with Buffy and Star Wars. We said, “We’re going to make these the best comics we can make them and not rely on the trademark to sell it.” I think we’ve done a great job, and we need to continue to do that and get some new and exciting licenses in with which to do it. We’ll be announcing some new ones and pushing harder on those in the near future.
So there’s building on those strengths, and then we’ve got to keep doing completely new things. We’ve got to keep a fresh eye out there and look towards our younger staff in Editorial who have new ideas that might be different from what me or Mike or Randy will bring to the table, but to let their fresh eyes combine with our experience to make some great comics.
You’ve been writing comics for Dark Horse since around 2003. Will anything change there? Can you keep writing as you step into the Editor-in-Chief role?
I’ll continue to do a similar load of writing to what I’ve been doing. I’ll mostly be focused on continuing to contribute to the Buffy books and the Mignola books — probably more the Mignola books. I love working on Buffy, and I feel like I’ve learned more about writing while working on Joss’ books than anything else, but we’re cooking up our plans for “Season 10” right now, and at this point I don’t see myself having much of a part as a writer in that. Managing it is so complicated, and I think I may end up writing some parts of “Season 10,” but I don’t know. With Mignola, I’ve got a two-part series that Mike and I wrote together for an artist named James Harren focusing on the B.P.R.D., and I’m going to have some new stuff for 2013 that Mike and I are doing together which is really, really the most exciting writing project I’ve ever had. It’s both from working with Mike and because of the artist we have on board, but we’re saving that to announce for a little while. But that’s where the bulk of my writing is going to be.
Finishing up, digital is growing at every publisher, and the few numbers I’ve seen have been very encouraging. Dark Horse is really the only publisher doing it on their own. How important is digital for the bottom line, and how soon do you see there being a point where digital can overtake print?
I think it’s a long time before it’s going to overtake print. I feel like it’s probably inevitable, but it’s a long ways away. If you believe the numbers you hear from the other digital players like comiXology, it’s still a long way from stepping out in front of print. But it has been really important, and it’s been a key contributor to our bottom line this year. Every month sales are going up, and every month it’s becoming a more significant part of what we do. We’ve seen an increase in print sales this year, which is exciting and life saving after a pretty scary recession — I say “after” hopefully that we can look at that in the past tense. But it’s great to see print sales bouncing back a little bit with digital sales adding to that. And making the app for ourselves was an important part of how Mike sees Dark Horse. We’re a company that can do all these different things, and that’s why he wanted his own store.
So we’re doing it on our own, but we’re also working with iTunes and with a lot of the other devices. Frankly, I can’t remember what we’ve announced and what we haven’t announced yet, but most of the major digital devices, we’re working to get on them. So we’re not just doing things through the Dark Horse store, but that store is a key part of it. In working with those companies that get us into more customers hands, it shows that you’re only really in the digital space if you’ve got multiple points of entry. So we’re working with a lot of other partners, but having our own store means that as the digital landscape keeps changing, we haven’t given away the farm. Having your own means of distribution is a really powerful thing.
Stay tuned to CBR for more Dark Horse news out of New York Comic Con this weekend!