It was expected, but that did not make its coming any less shocking. Last week came word through a press release that Walt Disney Company, new owners of Lucasfilm, would be returning the license for Star Wars comic books over to Marvel, also owned by Disney, and away from Dark Horse in 2015.
Marvel published Star Wars comics for nine years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dark Horse Comics has held the license since 1991.
Quick to respond to the announcement, Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse, sent out a statement that said in part: “All things come to pass. So too do all license deals. ... It is ironic that this announcement comes at a time when Dark Horse is experiencing its most successful year ever. … 2014 may be our last year at the helm of the Star Wars comics franchise, but we plan to make it a memorable one. We know that fans of the franchise will expect no less. The Force is with us still.”
To get to the heart of what is coming up for Dark Horse, Cosmic Book News Managing Editor Byron Brewer exclusively discussed the brand with Richardson. This is that interview.
Cosmic Book News: Mike, to the comic book fan, what will be the marked difference between Dark Horse going forward and what they may have found in the past?
Mike Richardson: Well. obviously the growing influence of digital distribution looms over the industry. Content-wise, we will follow the same formula that has been historically successful for us. That formula includes a mix of creator owned, licensed, and company owned projects. In the coming year, you might see an increased emphasis on our creator owned projects. It is interesting to note that I spoke with the executive of another comics company who served as a consultant to comics publishers for several years. He told me that he studied the industry and settled on the Dark Horse strategy as the path for success for those publishers. Looking at the "indie" comic landscape, they must have listened.
Mike Richardson: Because of the diversity of our line, I'm not sure you can categorize the typical Dark Horse reader. A Hellboy reader might be very different from a Brain Boy reader, who in turn may not read Mind Management or Axe Cop, or the Clamp books. IF I had to generalize, I think we might appeal to those who've tired of standard Marvel or DC fare.
Mike Richardson: Tomb Raider, Halo, Project Black Sky . . . oh, you haven't heard of Project Black Sky? Keep your eyes peeled.
Mike Richardson: Captain Midnight aka Jim Albright is the center piece of the new launches. Ghost, Brain Boy, X, and BlackOut have all appeared and their stories will be affected by something known as Project Black Sky. Hey, that's the second time I've mentioned that. New characters as well as the reappearance of classic characters will all be part of the fun.
Mike Richardson: I think the term "pulp heroes" is getting thrown around a lot these days without any understanding of what it really means. The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Savage, and even Tarzan and Conan can rightly be called pulp heroes, since they appeared in the "pulps." The pulps were cheap magazines sold mainly in the first half of the 20th century and who derived their name from the type of paper they were printed on. Spicy Detective, Weird Tales, and Argosy were all prime examples and the characters named above all found their beginning in these types of magazine. Captain Midnight, on the other hand, was no more a pulp hero than Superman, Batman, or the Human Torch, all which found their origins in comic books. The Captain first appeared on radio, but become more super-heroish on his move into comics. As far as brushing the dust off old comic book characters, sure, we've got some ideas. A good character is a good character. Remember, Superman first appeared in 1938 and was created years prior to that date.
Mike Richardson: I don't think we ever count on one book to save our year. We have many stars in our line. Mike Mignola's books, of course, continue to be very important to us. This year will see two movies based on Frank Miller's evergreens, Sin City and 300, so sales will be strong there. Matt Kindt has new projects following his hit Mind Management series. Of course, Dark Horse Presents will continue to offer a diverse selection of established talent alone side talented newcomers.
Mike Richardson: Into the future, I guess. We just finished out most successful year in history. Our publishing line is expanding. In 2014, we have a new creator owned initiative and an ambitious company owned project. Did I mention Project Black Sky?
Mike Richardson: I'm a fan of all of the books we publish, but one of my favorite books right now is Brain Boy. The team of Fred Van Lente, R. B. Silva, and Rob Lean is knocking it out of the park. I better mention Rob Lean on colors and Ariel Olivetti's covers are sensational. We gave Josh Williamson a bagful of story problems to solve with Captain Midnight, and he's doing a great job. And if I'm talking about building a faithful core readership that is building, I have to point out Matt Kindt. Mind Management has really stood out . Matt is a unique and original talent, and we're excited that he has several new books coming out through Dark Horse.
Mike Richardson: It's very simple ... I'd like comics historians to say that Dark Horse was the best comics company in the world. That we worked with the best creators in the world and our concern for quality was evident in everything we did. That was the goal in the beginning, and that remains the goal today.
Cosmic Book News would like to thank Mike Richardson for answering our questions at an extremely busy time. We would also like to thank Dark Horse’s own Jeremy Atkins and Aub Driver who helped make this interview possible.