Since its foundation in 1986, Dark Horse Comics has offered an eclectic array of memorable comics - to say the least. A very short and woefully inadequate Dark Horse highlight reel would still have to contain the early Frank Miller classics like "Sin City," "Give Me Liberty" and "300;" pioneering manga in the United States with "3x3 Eyes," "Ah! My Goddess" and others; staking its claim to major licenses like "Star Wars," "Conan" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer;" and maintaining its reputation as an ambitious publishing house with original work like "The Umbrella Academy," the continuing adventures of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" and "B.P.R.D.," and the webcomics anthology "MySpace Dark Horse Presents."
So what does it take to bring readers such a diverse array of comics, to develop great stories, to work with creators and to make sure each release is the best it can be? To learn the answers of those questions, CBR News brings you a series of interviews with the Dark Horse editorial staff, kicking off today with Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie.
With a workload that currently includes "Umbrella Academy," "Buffy," "Rex Mundi," "B.P.R.D.," "The Goon," "Hellboy" and "Serenity," Scott Allie is a busy man. He also consults on Dark Horse's Robert E. Howard line and "MySpace Dark Horse Presents." And though Allie told CBR that consulting on other editors' series leaves him with fewer titles, he also saidthe new year will see him working on additional Hellboy/B.P.R.D. spinoff books, including a new Lobster Johnson series. Additionally, Allie will edit further installments of Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin's dog and cats stories, which first appeared in "The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings."
Scott Allie began his career in comics as a political cartoonist for the Salem Evening News in Massachusetts in 1991, a role that found him "mostly making fun of the first Iraq War." He then moved on to Portland, Oregon, to take a position as an assistant editor at Glimmer Train Stories, a literary magazine. "I moved out here not knowing Dark Horse was in the suburbs. Oregon's such an enormous state compared to Massachusetts, I figured Milwaukie could be 500 miles away," Allie told CBR News. "So I worked at Glimmer Train, saved some money, and started self-publishing a horror comic called 'Sick Smiles' in 1994, using the knowledge I'd picked up about publishing at Glimmer Train. So I started as a self-publisher, which I think is reflected in the way I blur the line between writer and editor now, and why I'm as hands-on as I am on the various aspects of the job--because I started out having to do everything."
Though this self-publishing streak was somewhat less than lucrative, Allie's comics put him on Dark Horse's radar. "Right when I was running out of cash [to self-publish], they needed an editor, and it worked out," he said. "The fact that I was in Portland was a total coincidence. A very lucky one. Had I been publishing in Seattle, who knows what I'd be doing today."
Allie listed as some of his editing career highlights the opportunity work with Sergio Aragones, Kelley Jones and Craig Russell. "It's disappointing when you work with someone for a long time, and then you get so busy that you can't keep working with all the same people," he said. "I wish I still did all Sergio's stuff, I wish I had more work with Kelley and Craig, but there's only so much time. But as far as the biggest highlights of my career as an editor, I really think they're the work I'm still doing with Joss [Whedon], Mignola, Gerard Way, and that initial launch of 'Conan.' Getting 'Conan' off the ground after it had languished at the end at Marvel, that felt like I was contributing to a tremendous legacy. I'll always have a lot of affection for the work I did with Kurt [Busiek] and Cary [Nord] and Dave [Stewart] because it was bringing this great thing back to life."
As to current and upcoming series, the editor hinted there is a big project coming up which he cannot yet discuss, but was happy to talk about developments on a popular current title. "The thing I'm most excited about this minute is 'Umbrella Academy: Dallas' #5, because we're struggling with the script and it's really turning into something amazing, after feeling like it was maybe going a little astray. Gerard pulled it back from the brink, and that's exciting."
The process of "pulling a comic back from the brink," though, is a bit harder to define, and depends on the particulars of the comic or title itself. What a comic requires, Allie said, is a "vision," and this will guide everything else. "It needs to be a worthwhile vision," he said. "And whether the vision comes wholly from the writer/artist, as on 'Hellboy,' or from a pre-existing property as understood by a single person, as with Kurt on my run on 'Conan,' or wherever it comes from, it needs to originate with some confidence and light. And I honestly believe that the measure of that vision, along with the ability all involved have to pull it off, will determine the book's success -- creatively and commercially.
"If the vision is scattered, if people aren't on board, a good team can do a bad book. Anything can go wrong--everything can go wrong. It's so hard to make a good comic. You really need to hedge your bets."
The task of editing itself also can vary depending on the creators involved, though Allie said he usually begins with an outline from the writer-- "sometimes that's just a conversation, or a lot of conversations" -- followed by two to four drafts of a script. While there are often minor revisions to artwork, most of Allie's feedback comes at the layout stage. "I try to load whatever feedback I'm going to do into the layouts--give them the feedback on their scratchy scrawlings, so that by the time they're really drawing, it's all agreed upon." Allie explained. "I'd prefer no one has to redraw a finished drawing. So I compare layouts to script, make sure the info's all there, there's room for text, it tells the story as effectively as possible. On certain books I might redraw a layout for an artist sometimes, but that's infrequent, and only if the artist and I have an understanding where that doesn't come off as a slam.
"I want to push people, but I want to be respectful. So I try to have very few notes on the pencils, generally none on the inks--if I couldn't get him to get it right before he inked it, that's my failure, and I should suck it up. Then colors, usually by Dave Stewart -- praise God -- come as JPEGs. If it's Dave, not a lot of notes--again, you want to front-load feedback, so some sort of input would have gone to Dave with the script and the art, either from me or the artist, usually."
Though he has always enjoyed balloon placements, which show the letterer where speech balloons, captions and sound effects should appear, Scott Allie's current workload requires him to delegate this task to assistants. "I miss it, because it's the moment when words and pictures first really synch up. Final decisions about pacing and rhythm are being made," he said. However, Allie does retain replacement duties on "Umbrella Academy" and all of his own stories.
Unlike many publishers, Dark Horse has initiatives in place to recruit new talent, featuring a new creator each month on "MySpace Dark Horse Presents" and reviewing portfolios at Portland's Stumptown Comics Festival. Even so, Allie said, finding the next superstar writers and artists is no easy task. "Finding new people is real hard, which is why I started the newbie thing on 'MDHP' and why I combined that with Stumptown last year," the editor explained. "It's hard to find people, but there's so many great people working, those are the ones you focus on. So it's far harder for new people who are trying to get found. I sympathize. I wouldn't be an editor had I known how to get found as a writer in 1994."
Allie continued, "One guy I'm real excited about is Lukas Ketner. He does a book called 'Witch Doctor' with Brandon Seifert. It's a great book, and they have a lot of talent." Ketner's "Creepy" short story, "Om Nom Nom," appeared in the November issue of "MySpace Dark Horse Presents." "Lukas interned at Dark Horse a long time ago, and I don't think I ever talked to him. Then one of the editors sent around a link to his new work, and I loved it at first sight. He's got a fantastic horror style in the vein of Wrightson, Ingels and Powell."
Many of Allie's talent finds come through recommendations, but even in these cases he is highly selective in who he works with. Said the editor, "I haven't given that many people their first job, but I've given a lot of people their big break."