Once in a while, when I go into the comics shop to snag my weekly pile, there will be something on the shelf that catches totally unaware. On Oct. 2, I was delighted to discover the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Liberty Annual 2013 (published by Image Comics). Given that all the proceeds from the book (previewed here at CBR) benefit the CBLDF, I wanted to interview Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie, who directed the project. While I had his attention, I couldn't pass up the chance to discuss some of the Dark Horse line as well.
Tim O'Shea: While seemingly an obvious question, I still think it worth asking: Why is it so important to you to volunteer your time for a project like the CBLDF Liberty Annual?
Scott Allie: Free speech is a near and dear cause, for me and for Dark Horse, and it's still an uphill battle for comics. There are preconceptions about this art form that invite attacks, and we need to work to defend against that. I want creators and publishers to be free to put out what they want to put out, and for retailers to sell it without fear of prosecution, for readers to travel with their books without fear of incarceration. The CBLDF isn't just about raising money in court cases. They're about educating the population about the art form we love, and I want to be a part of that.
The cover features an interracial couple, and as a native of the southern United States (and who still lives in the South), I am saddened to say there are still social circles around these parts where that image would still raise eyebrows. Can you discuss how that particular cover came about?
I can't remember! David Marquez did that. I commissioned four covers, and when we saw David's, me and the guys at Image and the CBLDF all agreed it was the most on-message and thus the main cover of the book, with the others being used as variants. I can't remember if Lady Liberty was my idea or David's, but it evolved. We bounced it around a bit. The detail you refer to was definitely him. When the cover was done, and Leah Sottile was writing her story ["Punk Rock is Out to Lunch" with art by Emi Lenox], I had her reference the cover in a panel description for Emi, because one panel seemed like a real sensible connection to the cover. I looked for ways to integrate the contents so it wasn't just random unrelated bits.
What themes did you want to explore in compiling the stories you featured in the annual? Did you choose to arrange the stories in a certain order (I love that the collection opened with Fabio Moon)?
I'd originally thought the Hack/Slash story would go first, but once Fabio did his piece I knew it had to come first, which jumbled the whole order. The order of stories was real important to me. I tried to create a flow, and a buildup of ideas. I asked for stories along a couple related themes. Real life heroes was part of it, as well as artists needing to be free to speak the truth as they saw it in order to tell stories that were worthwhile. That was the initial invitation to the creators, and it evolved — I didn't invite everyone all at once, but started with a few, and then refined the invite based on what I was getting.
How were you able to convince Richard Corben to tackle "Dun's Return"?
I am lucky enough to have a pretty good relationship with Mr Corben, and it was much easier to get him on board than even I thought it would be.
Had you known about Thomas Edison's Motion Pictures Patents Company before reading Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko's "The Shoot"? The inclusion of stories like that one in the annual proved quite educational for me, to be honest.
I knew a little about it, but not as much as those guys. They're real film buffs. One of the themes that I suggested to writers was real life heroes, and the good and the bad, the imperfect, in them. Edison is a national hero, but a villain in some stories. So I liked that aspect of this. And it showed the way corporations can try to stop artists from having a voice, and how artists never stop fighting back.
I loved the creative choice in Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra's story "A Mustache At My Heels" to produce the pages in a manner that made it looked like a distressed copy of a 1940s comic. Who suggested it be done that way?
That was all Juan. Well, Paul suggested doing it in the style of an EC story, but it was Juan who decided to have it aged and torn and out of register. Most of the imagery was Paul's idea, but the stylistic choices were Juan.
While interviewing you, I would be remiss not to ask a few questions about the Dark Horse line. Speaking of Tobin and Ferreyra, the collection of their series Colder was just released. What interested you in bringing that series to Dark Horse?
As I got to know Paul, I'd asked to see some pitches for creator owned work, and Colder was always the one I was drawn to. He and I were doing the Falling Skies comics, based on the show, and Juan was the artist. Those guys sort of put up with a certain amount of hassle on those books, but they worked together beautifully. I wanted to reward their hard work with a better creative opportunity, and so we pulled Colder together. Now they're working on Prometheus together, and then rolling into Colder II. I think they did a short together in Bandette, Paul's webcomic. I love when a team comes together well, and when you see two guys who work together well, you try to keep them together, like Chris Gage and Rebekah Isaacs, who did Angel & Faith, and now moved over Buffy together. I'll keep looking for chances to put Paul and Juan together.
October 9 saw the release of Abe Sapien #6; as the series co-writer, what's the most creatively satisfying aspect of getting to give the character his own solo ongoing series?
Abe's a character I've known for a very long time, worked very closely on him for ages. I love him as a character, and I want to put him through some real tests, some real agony in this book. Right now he's running from the question of what he really is — of whether or not he's the monster who'll end the human race. But I won't let him run from it for long, and soon he's really going to come face to face with it.
Ron Chan drew one of my favorite stories in the Liberty Annual, the Josh Williamson-written "What If Wertham Was Right?" He's also the artist on Dark Horse's Plants Vs Zombies comics. How did Dark Horse land that popular video game-related property?
We're kicking ass with the video game stuff. It's just like licensed comics. No one took them seriously until we did. With video game comics, other publishers were putting out low quality books trying to capitalize on the popularity of the games, but not trying to really make great comics. There were exceptions, like Bendis and Maleev on Halo. But when we got into it with Mass Effect we had the passion for the property and we made a great comic, and that started attracting more and more game companies. With Plants Vs Zombies, I knew the game because of my kid, and I was excited when someone else in our company, the licensing guy who spearheads a lot of this stuff, brought it in. Normally I don't have much to do with the video game stuff, it's mostly Dave Marshall and Nick McWhorter, but with PvZ I suggested Paul [Tobin] and Ron, knowing they'd' be perfect together on it.
What do you think is it about Tim Seeley's writing (he contributed a Hack/Slash story to the Liberty Annual, and Dark Horse recently collected his Ex Sanguine series in trade paperback) that clearly connects with so many readers?
The first thing that drew me into Hack/Slash was some covers, like Joe Quinones's cover for issue #12. Great stuff. But I assumed it was just a T&A book, and I was never into that sort of horror. Then my wife introduced me to Tim at a convention, and he became one of my best friends right away. So I started reading the book, and I realized the trick with the book was that he really loved the characters, he didn't treat any of them as plot devices, which is so often the problem with that genre. That's why I was so excited for Revival, and why I asked him to write The Occultist, and why I wanted a creator-owned book for him, which wound up being Ex Sanguine. The pitch for that — Buffy & Angel Meets Natural Born Killers — could be terrible in someone else's hands. Tim can make it as schlocky as it needs to be while giving it real heart. That, I think, is what makes him such a good comics writer. He makes it fun, but he makes it smart.
What do you enjoy most about working in comics?
I like working with creative people. I love just living in this creative space. I have a lot of responsibilities that take me away from that — budgets and schedules and managing staff and thinking about marketing. But I never get that far away from the real creative core of it, and over the years I find more and more ways to access that, and to work with the people I want to work with.