CCI: Dark Horse + MySpace = "MySpace Dark Horse Presents"

"[Developing new talent] was always part of the purpose of 'DHP,'" Dark Horse editor Scott Allie told CBR News. "And we're combing that purpose with the stated purposes of MySpace, which is to give new talent a place to get attention."

MySpace has in the last year launched a popular comic books portal called MySpace Comic Books. The project has served to spotlight new talents whose work has been featured on their MySpace profiles, and has also offered fans exclusive first looks at new projects and an unusual access to comics talent including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, who with MySpace Comic Books and Dark Horse created the "Buffy Essay Contest." Fans were invited to write in 250 words or less how "Buffy" had affected their life, and the winner was depicted in an issue of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8." The winner was selected by Joss Whedon himself.

Every digital issue of "MySpace Dark Horse Presents" will feature at least one story created or co-created by someone discovered on MySpace. "Every issue except #1," Scott Allie said, "because, frankly, it didn't make sense to let a newbie in on our biggest secret of the year. We needed to focus on our already trusted partners."

"MySpace Dark Horse Presents" is an effort to rekindle the spirit of innovation and raw talent that infused the original, highly influential "DHP." "Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson and I decided to start with an anthology because we knew a number of talented creators who wanted to do their own stories, as opposed to the stories they'd been doing for Marvel or DC," said Randy Stradley, Vice President of Publishing at Dark Horse and editor of the original "Dark Horse Presents" series. "We were wet behind the ears and we knew it, so we figured start slow with the anthology then, if sales warranted, let series spin-off from there. It turned out to be a good plan, and that's how we ended up published Paul Chadwick's Concret and Ron Randall's Trekker in our second year."

Indeed, "DHP" featured the first appearances and work of a number of comics creators who have gone on to become hugely influential industry leaders. "Chris Warner was known as an artist, but his 'Block Cross' series showed he could write as well," Stradley said. "Dave Johnson, Brandon Petersen, and Doug Mahnke all did their first work for 'DHP.' We used it to launch 'Aliens vs. Predator,' 'Hellboy,' and 'Sin City.' I ran as many Eddie Campbell stories as I could get my hands on. Charles Vess launched his Ballad' stories in our book. I got several early Ed Brubaker stories, and one of Frank Quietly's first stories. And we had our 'regulars,' like Paul Chadwick, Rick Geary, Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney, and so on."

Additionally, the final issue of "Dark Horse Presents" featured Eric Powell's the Goon in his first Dark Horse appearance, years before "The Goon" 1. "No one knew who Eric was then--he was doing little jobs for me in Buffy and Angel comics--and he feels responsible for bringing about the end of the book that launched 'Concrete' and 'Sin City.'"

"Dark Horse Presents" ended its legendary print run in 2000. "I wasn't there at the beginning, but I was there at the end," Scott Allie said. "I worked on some of the last issues. It ended ultimately, I think, because for a few years it was in a slump. At the end it was reenergized, but it was hard to reverse the slagging sales. A b&w anthology seemed a little like a dinosaur. I think it was no longer the most accurate way to represent who we were as a company. Also, the old one cost people money. I think people will agree that this is an improvement."

Indeed, "MySpace Dark Horse Presents" is completely free. The inspiration came from a breakfast meeting Allie had with Dark Horse Director of Publicity Jeremy Atkins and Sam Humphries of MySpace Comic Books. "We were talking about comics online, how a lot of online content is not quite what you're looking for, that there's not a great way to make money doing online content--a problem we've solved with the word free --talking about DH's history, how much we all missed 'DHP,' the ways in which I'd tried to bring it back; the vacuum it's left in the industry and the company. And the conversation snowballed. In that one meal, we figured it all out, including that we'd launch it at San Diego, during a panel ostensibly exploring the history of 'DHP.' I love anthologies. I think they're a vital part of the history of comics, and I've dedicated a lot of my time to them. And this feels like the best new thing I can be doing in that department."

"MySpace Dark Horse Presents" is not the first involvement the publisher has had with the social networking site. Together with Warner Bros., Dark Horse and MySpace launched a successful "Black Curtain Screening" of "300," weeks before the film was released to general audiences, free and exclusively for MySpace users.

"For a long time we were the biggest publisher profile on MySpace," Allie said. "And for a brief stint the biggest profile--in terms of most friends--of any comics profile on MySpace. The 'Buffy' contest we did in the spring was huge for us, and we feel it's partly responsible for the massive success of that book. The contest helped make sure everyone knew we were doing the book with Joss. We worked with MySpace a little on the '300' movie, and our publicist Jeremy was working with MySpace on a lot of what led to MySpace Comic Books."

"I got my own MySpace page started without any knowledge of what other people at Dark Horse were doing," confessed Randy Stradley. "Jeremy Atkins and Scott Allie probably didn't think to mention it to me because, being an old guy, they were probably sure that I wouldn't understand what 'MySpace' was. Don't worry, they'll get theirs."

Just as the original "Dark Horse Presents" featured new talents as well as established creators, so too will "MySpace DHP." Among them are Ron Marz and Luke Ross, whose Dark Horse series "Samurai: Heaven and Earth" will be a part of "MySpace DHP."

"The opportunity to reach a wider audience made it a real no-brainer," Ron Marz told CBR News, referring the fact that MySpace is among the world's most popular English-language websites. "'Samurai' does well enough in the direct market, but let's face it, the direct market is dominated by superheroes. 'Samurai' seems to have more appeal beyond the usual comic audience than anything I've ever done, so we're really looking forward to getting it in front of the kind of audience MySpace can bring."

Marz has created a new short story especially for "MySpace Dark Horse Presents," having found the format ideal for telling 'Samurai' tales he's had in the back of his head for some time. "In the first volume of 'Samurai,' issue #2 ends in China, and issue #3 opens in Paris. A pretty big jump in locales, obviously. In the interest of moving the story ahead, we encapsulated Shiro's adventures on that journey from east to west in a montage sequence, leaving a lot of stories untold. So what we want to do with these short stories is go back and tell some of those adventures.

"The first one, the one going up on MySpace today, is a vignette from the beginning of Shiro's journey, when he's still in China. I don't want to give away much more than that, because people can go read it for themselves, though I will say that it's a pretty self-explanatory. I wrote it with the expectation that a lot of new readers would be checking it out, so everything you need to know is right in the story. I'll also say that it's some of the most beautiful work Luke Ross has ever done."

Additional works by established Dark Horse creators include "Sugarshock" by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, as well as new Umbrella Academy, Fear Agent, BRPD, and Goon stories. "Ian Edginton and D'israeli are gonna do something new," Allie revealed, adding that "newbies" Ezra Clayton Daniels and Brian Churilla will be contributing work as well. "Steve Niles is gonna work with Churilla--Niles has given a lot of guys their first break after seeing their work online. I think we got Tony Millionaire and Gilbert Hernandez on board, too."

For new creators hoping to see their first professional work in "MySpace Dark Horse Presents," the mechanics of doing so are remarkably simple. "All I want to say is don't call us, we'll call you," Scott Allie said. "I know that sounds shitty, but I can imagine getting three thousand messages tomorrow, and I could never get caught up. So we've got a crack team of people from MySpace and DH looking at comics profiles, seeing what appeals. We think this is more efficient than submissions.

"The criteria needs to be explained," Allie continued. "The people selected for these spots must be unpublished --but in the modern world of comics, what does that mean? In this case, it means not published by a recognized comics company. Today, a staffer brought me someone real good, and said, 'Does a publisher called DDP count as published?' And I said, yeah, they do. Congratulations, DDP. Sorry, artist guy.

"But ashcans don't count. A self-published book that sold a thousand copies probably doesn't count. And, of course, you have to have good work on your MySpace profile that will catch our eye. When we pick someone, then one of the DH editors, me or Dave Land or Sierra, probably, will contact them and ask for a pitch. We generally won't be taking something already sitting on their site, and we won't be taking portions of stories. We need stories that stand completely on their own, and for which we can get the rights to print the story in a proposed collection of this stuff, down the road."

"MySpace Dark Horse Presents" will be updated the first Wednesday of every month, and will eventually include some form of a letter column and other interactive elements. The first issue is online now at myspace.com/darkhorsepresents.

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