“MySpace Dark Horse Presents,” which has provided free short stories by some of Dark Horse’s top creators and fresh talent online each month for the past three years, concludes with the July issue. The webcomics series, which had revived the publisher’s famous long-running anthology that had debuted some of its most successful properties, allowed Dark Horse mainstays like Mike Mignola, Guy Davis, and Eric Powell, as well as special guests like Joss Whedon, David Malki ! and Kate Beaton, to experiment with quirky one-off stories or reveal shorter adventures of their popular characters. July’s final issue will feature “The Ramble” by Jason Little; “Forever Adrift” by Frank Stockton; “Mass Effect: Incursion” by Mac Walters and Eduardo Francisco; and “Con-CERNed” by writers LeVar Burton and Mark Wolfe and artist and David Hahn.
While Dark Horse will continue to publish original comics on its own web site, in 2011 “Dark Horse Presents” itself is set for another relaunch in print. CBR News spoke with editor Scott Allie about the end of “MySpace Dark Horse Presents,” highlights of the run, and what’s next for the publisher’s digital comics. Plus, read an exclusive strip from the final issue before it debuts on “MDHP.”
CBR News: Let’s begin with the end. What led to the decision to end “MySpace Dark Horse Presents?”
Scott Allie: MySpace has shifted its focus toward music, so it’s not the broad entertainment source it was for a hot minute there. When we launched “MDHP,” MySpace was the world’s leading website, at a time that you could actually have a clear-cut world’s leading website, and we felt that we had the opportunity to do something exciting and new. MySpace was the perfect place to get tons of attention. We had a great partner there, in Sam Humphries. Later, Sam moved on, everyone else we knew moved on, and it didn’t really fit their goals to give us the sort of promotion they’d originally given us. We still felt there was a value in having free content on their site, even as we were getting fewer hits. But after a while, we decided we should end the current incarnation and put the efforts elsewhere.
I understand the anthology will be relaunching in print at some time, though I’m not clear to what degree this has been announced. Are you able to share any details at this time as to when the new series might launch, who’s in charge and what sort of talent or stories are in store for the debut issue?
The new print version is coming next year, and [Dark Horse Publisher] Mike Richardson’s editing it himself. He’s lining up some pretty significant talent, some of the biggest Dark Horse mainstays, some people we haven’t done much with before.
We’ve talked previously about some of the differences between iPhone-styled comics and the sort of comic-sized webcomics represented by “MDHP.” With “MDHP” going away, is Dark Horse planning any new online venues for original or existing material? Is there still a benefit to offering short comic stories for free online?
Absolutely, there is a huge value to free online content. I still think the basic idea behind “MDHP” was perfect, and for a moment it was the perfect place to do it. I’ve seen some things online saying that we’re simply continuing “MDHP” to our own site, but that’s not accurate. I was either misquoted or misinterpreted. There will be some more online comics on our site, but we’re not doing anything quite like “MDHP” on darkhorse.com. We’re working on another new approach to free online content, and our site will be a part of that. More to come on that later.
Does Dark Horse’s new partnership with Toshiba and USA Today fit into replacing “MDHP” at all? It’s not been entirely clear so far what DH:HD involves, though it strikes me there could be some correlation.
Sort of. Without “MDHP,” we need to do things like DH:HD. But it’s just one piece. DH:HD will feature some original, exclusive online content and get our work out to a new audience. That was the point of “MDHP.” So I want to see us find other places like that.
Looking back over “MDHP’s” three years, what were some highlights of the run?
I loved the Christmas story Mignola and Guy Davis did. “Sugarshock” was the most exciting thing, because it was first, and because it was Joss Whedon doing something wholly unique, something only he could do, and the most original thing he’d done in comics to date. Getting some work out of Kristian Donaldson, who’s a favorite of mine. “MDHP” gave Patric Reynolds and Jeff Wamester their first paying comics work, and a few other artists that I’m proud to have given a boost. Personally, the most creatively rewarding thing was the “Solomon Kane” story I wrote that Guy Davis drew, because Guy did an amazing job, really improved upon what I wrote.
What were some of the learning experiences along the way? Was there something you thought would work really well, that really didn’t? Or was there an experiment that paid off?
I dunno, I’m a slow learner. If I learned anything from “MDHP,” I probably won’t know it for another couple years. I can’t really talk about failures, because I’m afraid that would reflect more on the creators of any stories I mentioned than on me, myself. My favorite experiment, probably the most experimental thing we did, was the “Goon” issue, where we did the exquisite corpse thing, let four creators work at putting a story together one chapter at a time.
Most issues of “MDHP” featured the work of new or new-ish creators. Will the upcoming print edition follow suit? If not, will Dark Horse have some other forum to showcase new talent?
Not sure. That’s a real concern. Since slotting the final stories in “MDHP,” I’ve met people I would have hired in a heartbeat if I’d had something small to try them out on. Can’t just throw the new guy on Buffy and hope he delivers.
You’ve also featured the work of established creators like Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Mike Mignola, Joss Whedon and so forth, and I’d expect that would continue in the new volume. What have you found the big-name creators enjoy about this sort of short-form storytelling?
Usually I think it’s the chance to do something quick, weird, quirky, that doesn’t necessarily need to sell itself. When you put a big name like that in your anthology, it lifts the whole thing, gets the anthology some attention without the creator necessarily needing to do something commercial in and of itself. I’d certainly say Joss and Mignola felt liberated when they did “Sugarshock” and the Christmas Story, respectively. There was no pressure on them to create their next great property – they just wanted to have some low-pressure fun. And that’s where the best stuff happens.
“Dark Horse Presents” obviously has a history, with some now-very-famous series like “Concrete” and “Sin City” having come out of it, and of course the online version debuted the first “Dr. Horrible” strips. As the series once again enters a new phase, I’m hoping you can talk a bit about what makes this anthology series “work,” whether in print or online, as well as how changes in and around comics in the 20+ years since “DHP” first hit stands might affect Dark Horse’s approach to the title this time around.
An anthology works best when it has real variety to it, but a vision that unifies that variety – it’s not just a crapshoot, and it’s not a bunch of the same crap over and over on every page. It’s a dynamic combination of material. Look at Diana Schutz’s “Noir” anthology, the crime book. It has a vision behind it, both in terms of Diana’s aesthetics and the crime genre, but it has a lot of range. It’s not just straight-forward hard-boiled crime stories. The reason “DHP” works, the reason “Noir” and “The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings” work, is that that dynamic combination is our whole publishing vision. That’s what the whole company is. Dark Horse doesn’t do fifty books about muscled guys in tights fighting other muscled guys in tights; nor do we just do whatever shows up. At its best, “DHP” boils that company vision down into each issue or volume or what have you.
When we started out, with the original “DHP,” the variety we offered made us unique in the industry. No one else did it. Now, a lot of companies have emerged trying to do the same thing, a similar mix of material. I think what Mike’s setting up with the new “DHP” will be a really ambitious expression of that dynamic combination. It’s the perfect time to do it, when there are all these other companies doing something along the lines of what we do. “MDHP” was a brand new way of expressing the vision. Mike’s new “DHP” will refresh the vision again.