Richardson on the Return of "Dark Horse Presents"

The enormously influential anthology series "Dark Horse Presents" is set to return in April, and over the past week Dark Horse has slowly revealed new details about the series, debuting two covers for issue #1 featuring Frank Miller's "Xerxes" and Paul Chadwick's "Concrete," as well as announcing some of the issue's other debuts including "Blood" by Neal Adams and "Marked Man" by Howard Chaykin. CBR News is pleased to exclusively announce the full creative lineup for the debut issue, as well as other new details and exclusive art from the series in an interview with Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson.

Back in 1986, "Dark Horse Presents" #1 marked the birth of a company that would grow into one of the premiere publishers in comics. "There were two of us when we started it. I called Randy Stradley and he came up from the 'LA Times,' and he and I put the first issue together on the counter of my retail store," Richardson said. Stradley remains a Dark Horse editor and writer to this day. All of the contributors to the original "DHP" #1 were members of APA 5, an amateur press association, a lineup that included Stradley, Chris Warner (also a current Dark Horse editor), Randy Emberlin, and the debut of Paul Chadwick's "Concrete." Throughout its 14-year, 157-issue run, "Dark Horse Presents" featured an incredible array of talent and now-classic titles, including the premieres of Frank Miller's "Sin City" and John Byrne's "Next Men" and chapters of Michael T. Gilbert's "Mr. Monster," Eddie Campbell's "Bacchus," Eric Powell's "The Goon" and many, many more.

With 2011 marking Dark Horse's 25th anniversary, the series is returning in a big way. Now 80 pages per issue and in full-color (up from 3-4 black and white stories per issue), "Dark Horse Presents" #1 will include work from many of the artists and writers who helped build the publishing house as well as some new and less-recognized creators. "We're looking for new talent, so I thought this would be a great place to find and present people who are young and talented; at the same time, we're looking to work with the best talent in the industry," Richardson told CBR. "We have a lot of people lined up who aren't in this first issue; in fact, I'm surprised, because virtually everyone I've spoken to about the book has wanted to be a part of it. It's also been rewarding to discover the esteem that the original series was held with."

In this regard -- finding new talent and showcasing established artists -- Richardson sees the new "DHP" as having a function very similar to the role it had played before. "One of the things it will achieve for us is getting creators who cannot really commit to a full-on series here at Dark Horse but still want to work with us, this will give them the chance to work in 8-page segments, in either one, two, three, four chapters, however long their story will take, and do it at a pace that makes sense for each particular artist or writer," he said.

Much like the original, the new "Dark Horse Presents" will also draw from the publisher's stable of licensed properties, including "Star Wars" in the very first issue. "We'll still have some of our licensed characters pop up in the book, as well as original characters and characters that haven't been seen for quite some time. It's going to be a true anthology, a real variety of different types of comics, and hopefully we'll be bringing the best in comics out through this book, with the best talent," Richardson added.

With the release of "DHP" #1's two cover images earlier this week, a change in the book's design is also apparent. The new covers are eye-catching in their simplicity, with Concrete and Xerxes set against a bright background and, notably, the series' title displayed prominently across the top, a departure from the previous incarnation which favored the lead story's logo over a "Dark Horse Presents" banner. "We wanted it to say 'comic book,' but we didn't want it to be a traditional cover," Richardson said of the thought behind the new cover treatment. "We definitely set out to catch people's attention on a crowded newsstand. We're looking more at a traditional magazine approach where you've got different features listed on the cover, give a little glimpse of what's inside. Because we have many features, one iconic cover image, without the additional text, might not give an indication of what's inside the book."

Since "Dark Horse Presents" will be perfect bound (meaning that it has a spine) and roughly the size of a graphic novel, CBR asked whether it might be distributed at book stores as well as comic shops. "It's starting out to be sold in comic shops. Obviously, it's perfect bound, which gives it the opportunity to be sold in book stores, but we're looking at these as a periodical, not as a trade paperback," Richardson said. He also gave further details on the series' format, including that the price will likely be $7.99 per issue. "It'll be a bimonthly series to start, hopefully sales will push it to a monthly, because we've got a lot of great material. I'm dying to talk about the people we've got coming right behind the first issue, but I'm going to hold that off because we want to create excitement as we announce all these people. We think that it can be the premiere anthology in the industry, as it was during its initial run, and we've got a lot of surprises and a lot of fun things.

"We're in our 25th year at Dark Horse, which is hard for me to believe, because I still feel like we're the new guys. But we're really looking to revitalize and strengthen our line in the next year, and in our next two-year publishing plan. We're very excited about all of the things we have coming up. A lot of these new projects that we're doing are going to first see the light of day inside the pages of 'Dark Horse Presents.' We're putting together a plan and an approach and we're looking to have a lot of fun over the next few years in comics."

Richardson then spoke exclusively with CBR about the full lineup for "Dark Horse Presents" #1.

Paul Chadwick, "Concrete: Intersection" -- "It all depends on Paul," Richardson said about his hopes for "Concrete" becoming a mainstay in the new "Dark Horse Presents." "Of course 'Concrete' was a regular feature back in the day, and we'd love to have Concrete involved in as many issues as Paul can feel comfortable delivering," Richardson told CBR. "Intersection" will run several issues and Chadwick is also planning a standalone miniseries.

Randy Stradley, Paul Gulacy, Michael Heisler, "Star Wars: Crimson Empire" -- One of Dark Horse's most revered "Star Wars" titles returns in a prelude to "Crimson Empire 3." "We did the first two parts of what was planned to be a trilogy years ago," Richardson explained, referring to the 1997 and 1998 series he co-wrote with Stradley, also with Gulacy on art. "They actually were two of our best-selling Star Wars series, so it's been one of the most-requested series we've had over the years. During the course of writing, because of the new movies ['Phantom Menace' was released in 1999], we unintentionally kept stepping on the storyline and in the course of storytelling we kept having to constantly change it. It's hard when you have basic building blocks in your story and they're being pulled out one by one. So there's a lot of changes we had to make in the first set of books, and many more in the second. Suddenly, we were sort of covering for holes in the story because we couldn't use certain things.

"Now, after all these years, we're going back, and it's always kind of been in the back of our minds. So Randy is doing a recap story for 'Crimson Empire,' putting everything back into context since we've been away for a while. We're in the process, the original team, of putting together the final chapter in that series."

Frank Miller, "Xerxes" Preview and Interview -- Unlike the other titles in the anthology, this will not be full story but will feature the first look at interior art for Miller's hotly-anticipated prequel to "300." Richardson also conducted an interview with Miller that will appear in the issue.

Neal Adams, "Blood" -- "Neal and I have been talking about him coming to Dark Horse, and this seemed like a good way to make his debut," Richardson said of the acclaimed artist of "Batman," "Green Lantern/Green Arrow," and "X-Men." "He's got lots of ideas, he's a fantastic creator and he wanted to step out on some creator-owned stuff and thought we would be the place to go. Neal was always somebody I wanted to see do work at Dark Horse, so it's very exciting for me to finally get him over here."

Richard Corben, "Murky World" -- Corben, of course, has done a number of "Hellboy" projects with Mike Mignola, but here the legendary horror artist will be crafting his own standalone story. "We have a great relationship with Richard and I was excited that he wanted to be part of the book," Richardson said. "It's a short story done in the traditional Corben style. Fans of Corben won't be disappointed."

Carla Speed McNeil (colored by Bill Mudron and Jen Manley-Lee), "Finder: Third World" -- Dark Horse begins collecting McNeil's long-running self-published and web series "Finder" in 2011 and will release the original graphic novel "Finder: Voice" in February. "Finder's" presence at Dark Horse will continue to grow as new strips appear in "Dark Horse Presents," Richardson said. "Carla's been working for years, and I don't think she's ever really got the attention she deserves. I'm really excited, because we're going to promote her very heavily and I think she's an amazing talent. Immediately I wanted her in the first issue of 'Dark Horse Presents.' I just think she's going to be a discovery for a lot of people and will end up on a lot of must-read lists. Not that she isn't right now -- people who are really into the comics scene know who she is and know her work. We want to bring her to a much broader audience.

"We want to put a lot of resources behind Carla. This is similar to finding creators we wanted to work with back in the early days of Dark Horse," Richardson continued. "Even though she's been around, I suppose I was somewhat aware of her but one of our editors, Katie Moody, brought in one of her books and said 'take a look at this,' and immediately I said 'we need to be in business with her.'"

Patrick Alexander, humor strips -- Australian cartoonist Patrick Alexander is perhaps the clearest example of new talent in the first issue. "He's another guy who I think is amazing, and I don't think a lot of people know who he is but hopefully they will after this," Richardson said. "Some of his strips are so funny. He has one of the funniest one-page strips I've ever seen called 'Aaaaaaaaaaa.' We're going to not only be reprinting some of those strips inside 'Dark Horse Presents,' he's going to be doing some original work for us also."

Asked how he recruited Alexander for "DHP," Richardson said, "Somebody had one of his gags up on the wall here and I laughed out loud, so I looked him up and got ahold of him and said, 'look, we want you to be involved in this.' He was eager."

Howard Chaykin, "Marked Man" -- Another of the big names announced earlier this week was "American Flagg!" and "Bite Club" creator Howard Chaykin on the hard-boiled crime serial "Marked Man." "Howard and I have known each other for many many years, and we've been on the verge of doing something for many, many years, but for one reason or another we could never get anything off the ground," Richardson said. "'Dark Horse Presents' made it easier. 8-pages is a bit easier than 20-22 pages per month so that worked out fine." Asked whether "Marked Man" might expand into a miniseries after its "Dark Horse Presents" run concludes, Richardson said, "Yeah, we'd like it to. He has a run to go in this and we'll see how it goes afterwards. Any of these creators will be open to doing continuing stories if it makes sense, depending on the story and the inclination of the creator."

Michael T. Gilbert, "Mr. Monster" -- "Very early on in Dark Horse history, Michael was there. And when I approached him about bringing the character back, he was very excited," Richardson said. Gilbert's Mr. Monster, who first appeared in 1984, is an outlandish superhero who hates monsters with a fiery passion. His most recent appearance was 2005's "Mr. Monster: Who Watches the Garbagemen?" from Atomeka Press. The new "Dark Horse Presents" serial will be "as crazy and wacky as any of the early Mr. Monster stories," Richardson said. "He'll be running several issues and [Gilbert is] already working on a second story cycle for 'Dark Horse Presents.'"

David Chelsea, "Snow Angel" -- "David is a really talented creator, probably more alternative comics. I've just always admired his work," Richardson said. Chelsea's art has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications and his work in comics includes "David Chelsea In Love," "Welcome To The Zone," and "Perspective! For Comic Book Artists." He is also keenly interested in the 24-hour comic book format, and "Snow Angel" is adapted from such a project. "He'll bring a very different voice to the pages of 'Dark Horse Presents,' and again we want to have a variety of creators and styles to make the book interesting," Richardson said. "I was very happy when David was interested in being involved. In fact, he was the first person to get his story in, he turned in his chapter very quickly, so I know he's enthused."

Harlan Ellison, "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" (Prose) -- Multiple Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Harlan Ellison is no stranger to comics, having published "Dream Corridor" with Dark Horse and, more recently, "Phoenix Without Ashes" at IDW and a short "Spirit" story for DC, as well as other works. "Harlan's always been a comics fan. This is a prose story of course. Harlan's a dear friend of mine, I wanted Harlan to be involved in the first issue, and he kindly gave us permission to run one of his stories," Richardson said. "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" was first published in the February 2010 issue of "Realms of Fantasy." "I hadn't read it before, I'd missed it. But it's a story that fit nicely into the book and we're happy to have it," Richardson said.

Geof Darrow, spot illustrations -- Last but not least, "Big Guy and Rusty the Robot" and "Shaolin Cowboy" artist Geof Darrow returns to "Dark Horse Presents." "I edited a book years ago called 'Cheval Noir,' which was sort of the international version of 'Dark Horse Presents.' 'Cheval Noir' was about as close as I could get to 'Dark Horse' in French," Richardson said. "We printed strips from creators around the world. Geof was living in France at the time and one of the people I wanted involved in the book. He really didn't want to do a strip but he was able to do spot illos for us. Basically, that's what he's done here for 'Dark Horse Presents.' Not sure how we'll be using them, but you'll be seeing his illos on a regular basis in every issue."

Given the diverse range of creators and concepts, CBR asked Richardson how he goes about arranging the various pieces into a cohesive anthology. "I try to look at the content of each story and try to put them in a way that gives a nice flow to the book, mixing it up in styles and genres and types of creators. You know, just trying to make it an interesting run through the book," he said. "All of the stories are so well done that it's not hard to put them in any particular order."

Richardson concluded our discussion with a few final thoughts on how the reemergence of "Dark Horse Presents" will affect his company moving forward. "'Dark Horse Presents' is going to be a key publication in our comics line, and will have ramifications for our whole publishing schedule," he told CBR. "I think it's important to renew ourselves in our 25th year with the book and approach we started with in the first place. Dark Horse has always been a company that's committed to creator rights, we publish many new and exciting creator-owned projects every year. While the licensed books have often got more attention here, it's just because we do those well, too. 'Dark Horse Presents' is going to embody all of the things we find interesting in comics, meaning creator-owned work and the best licensed properties. It's a combination that's kept us around for 25 years. Very few comic companies have lasted 25 years, if you look through the history of comics. What we've done, if I say so myself, is pretty amazing, and we want to be around for the next 25."

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