After three consecutive years of increased sales for Dark Horse Comics, Publisher and founder Mike Richardson simply doesn’t understand why so many think Dark Horse is on the way out. In the wake of losing the “Star Wars” license, Dark Horse declared 2014 the “Year of the Horse” and has continued to put out new titles like Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club 2” and the return of fan-favorite series like “Barb Wire,” as well as announcing the biggest book on their upcoming schedule — a new original series from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” director and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon, entitled “Twist.”
Richardson returned to the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss Dark Horse as a whole with CBR TV’s Jonah Weiland, touching on all manner of subjects from “Twist” to life after “Star Wars” to selling a million copies of their “Legend of Zelda” hardcover. Richardson explains Dark Horse’s focus, its recent success, and even touches on backlash caused by certain projects with controversial content. And lest you think it’s all about the company’s success, Richardson explains that he doesn’t know everything, explaining how he decides what to publish and why a “My Little Pony” comic never materialized at Dark Horse.
Mike Richardson began the interview with a tease about “Twist,” the brand new Joss Whedon creation coming to Dark Horse that was announced at the show, and Richardson reiterated how excited he is to work with Joss, especially when he focuses his creative energies back on comics. The conversation then shifts to a frequent topic of conversation online, the presumed slow death of Dark Horse following the loss of the “Star Wars” license the company held since 1991. Richardson outlines the company’s record setting growth in numerous areas as well why the market share pie chart is a tool, but one that is easily manipulated and not always accurate.
On Joss Whedon’s new project, “Twist”:
Mike Richardson: I can say that it’s true, we’re really excited about it. He’ll be talking about it in the near future and so watch the skies. … Look, Joss has been tremendous with Dark Horse. He’s a tremendous talent. He’s, as you know, he’s conquered the entertainment world and every time that he focuses back on comics it’s an exciting event. We’re really excited because he’s focusing on a comic that’s at Dark Horse.
On Dark Horse’s current place in the industry, especially without the “Star Wars” license:
We haven’t had any down. People assume that, I guess, because of “Star Wars.” To be very honest, and I keep saying this, “Star Wars,” with all the attention, everything, was a resource-intensive project for us. People worry about our financials — we have just had the three consecutive best years we’ve ever had. We’ve broken all records in every division. We’re not just a publisher, we have other divisions. We have toys, we do “Game of Thrones” toys; we have films — I don’t know if you saw the news, we just announced just before the convention that we’ve done a new television deal with Universal. We announced four series and we have five others in negotiation, so we’re going into television in a big way with the good people at UCP [Universal Cable Productions] Universal. We’ve set records in our toy division, we’ve set records in the book store division, huge sales surge in the bookstore, and comics are doing great — Chuck [Palahniuk]’s “Fight Club 2,” over 100,000 copies. So when I hear these talks it’s like, it’s mystifying. We’ve got movies going, we’ve got a television series that just started — “Dark Matter” on Syfy — we’ve got a whole series of big comic book hits lately, but “Star Wars” seems to have been so ingrained with Dark Horse that people thinks it means something as far as our overall health. It really means — I hate to say it — very little to our financial success. We’re breaking records. Several years ago when we got the word that we were gonna lose “Star Wars,” that year we had a 30% increase in overall sales income for the company. There’s no down, we just keep going up. We’re bigger than ever.
In the second part of his conversation with CBR TV, Richardson delivers a post-mortem on the company’s recent super hero initiative, Project Black Sky, explaining his goals for the line and why it was never intended to compete with Marvel and DC’s heroes. From there, he discusses “Fight Club 2” and the company’s history with publishing controversial works, pointing out that they never censor creators. The conversation wraps with a look at the importance of certain licenses like “Legend of Zelda” and “Legend of Korra,” and the reason he passed on “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” which went on to become a huge hit at IDW.
On whether any of the company’s more risque projects have drawn backlash from readers or organizations:
We made one mistake, somebody talked to me, a series of fantasy books that were decidedly anti-feminist. We thought, “Well, let’s do a new spin on this,” sort of reverse it and have some fun with it. But we didn’t anticipate the amount of upset that would come with us publishing that book, and we backed out fast. We couldn’t get the message out, “No, we’re gonna flip this. We’re gonna have some fun.” We couldn’t get it out there.
We did a book years ago by Bill Wray, called “Big Blown Baby,” which was intended to offend everyone and pretty much did. So we’ve had some books that had some blowback. But look, if I decide to publish it I’ll stand behind it. We don’t really censor our creators, but the censorship I guess — and it’s not censorship — I decide if I don’t want to publish it, I don’t want to publish it. It’s not censorship it’s just the decision what we are or aren’t going to publish. Every once in a while we’ve run into some… unfortunate response. But Chuck’s book, there’s been none of that. And Chuck is very up front about it, I mean he brags that he wants to do a book that can’t be filmed.
On the importance of licenses like “Legend of Korra” and “Zelda” and not knowing — or getting — everything that’s out there:
Look at “Zelda.” Look at the market for that. When it comes up in discussion you go, “Yeah, of course.” It’s the same thing with “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Legend of Korra,” These are books — so how can we work with them? So we talk to the company, “What kind of books are you open to? What can we do? Can we work with the original creators?” And the fans respond to all of that, they love these books. These books — we talk about “Zelda” — these programs have been tremendously successful for us. We just did a history of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” that’s been a tremendous success for us, and it’s a fun book. Now He-Man isn’t exactly — I mean, for me, it’s not really, it was after the things that I loved, but there’s a market out there as we find for things like “My Little Pony” — we passed on “My Little Pony,” what a stupid person I am. If you would have told me — I never heard of Bronies — so I don’t know everything either. And we passed on it and of course IDW jumped on it and had a tremendous success with it. But I read the books… I don’t get it. 25-year-old guys love this book, so it’s outside my experience.
So none of us know everything is my point. Fans grow up with certain things in their head. For me, I’m old enough that they used to put on television the Fleischer brothers “Superman” cartoons, and then they go away. In those days you didn’t have anything. Once they went off the television they just [disappeared], and they were replaced by the Filmation “Superman.” So I was mad — I watched it as a kid — but I was mad the whole time, I wanted Fleischer brothers. So who knows. It just resonates in a way that — same thing, they used to run, when I was very young, the Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon,” then it was gone, it was the [Steve] Holland German “Flash Gordon” — made me mad all the time. Every generation has those touchpoints and we have to open and to discover those, you have to be open and listen to your staff and everything else.
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