C2E2: Dark Horse Video Games & Comics

The ever-popular "Mass Effect" franchise claimed the spotlight during the "Video Games and Comics with Dark Horse" panel at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo on Friday. The publisher brought a small team to their discussion about game-based comics and what lies ahead, but their optimistic outlook on the state of the genre came hitched to an announcement that they will release a new, unnamed "Mass Effect" title based on the popular BioWare franchise.

"We are going to publish another 'Mass Effect' series later this year," Dark Horse Director of Publicity Jeremy Atkins said. He declined to give further details on when the unnamed title would ship and how it fits in to the universe shared by their books and BioWare's games, but he did predict big things for the franchise's future and their new mystery comic.

"I can tell you it's going to be awesome," Atkins said. The comic will join Dark Horse's growing library of games-based books, which already includes "Mass Effect: Evolution" and "Mass Effect: Retribution," as well as a graphic novel for "Fallout: New Vegas" and comics based on id Software's "Rage."

Dark Horse editor David Marshall, who was accompanied on stage by writer John Jackson Miller, praised the potential of the "Mass Effect" universe and compared it to his company's other major license, "Star Wars."

"We're still seeing those first stories unfold, but I think that a year from now, a few years from now, 'Mass Effect,' I think, is going to be a big and very complete universe in the same way that 'Star Wars' is."

Marshall and Miller addressed the challenges of working with licensed properties and their approaches to spinning stories out of universes where games publishers already have plans and sequels in the works.

"It's a little bit easier to write prequels," Miller admitted. He also joked about his desire to kill characters and the difficulties involved in asking a licensor for a list of characters that don't matter.

He enjoys the impact that his stories have, thanks to their place in the property's evolving world, however.

"Here, if we kill a character in the comics, that character's dead in the video games," Miller said.

On the marketing side of comics publishing, all three of Dark Horse's representatives agreed that the extra marketing support from the ad buys that games companies make can help out sales, both digitally and in stores. Atkins went as far as to say that some "Mass Effect" digital issues have outsold some "Star Wars" comics in Dark Horse's digital offerings.

"Culture is changing," he said. "Comics and video games -- lines blur." Atkins continued, expressing his hope to see that trend continue, a sentiment with which Marshall concurred.

Marshall indicated that game companies have approached Dark Horse about trying new strategies with ideas that include interactive storytelling, and he hopes to see new opportunities arise from such projects.

As for other video game based comics, Marshall expressed envy over IDW's "Dragon Age" license and said he wished that he could work on "Red Dead Redemption" books. He also touted Dark Horse's own upcoming "Dungeon Siege III" webcomic.

One game license that's not likely to make it over to Dark Horse anytime soon, however, is the "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" series from EA Sports -- though that didn't stifle a few remarks at the panel when the topic came up.

"There might be more sex in that game than 'Mass Effect,'" Atkins told the audience with a laugh.

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