Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Horse: A Company That Cares



In the world of comics, it seems each company is taking on a clearer and more defined image that would equate to characters right out of their own books. In essence, some publishers have become the good guys, some have become the Swiss (they're just neutral), and unfortunately, at least one of them has become something of a villain with a nasty streak to match Dr. Doom. That last publisher would of course, be Marvel.
Marvel has been in the comics news a lot in the last few months involved in battles over creator rights and compensations, what they are legally obligated to do vs. what they should ethically do, and wrestling with studios over movie rights they sold or leased out on characters. But this isn't a "bash-Marvel" post (which is hard to believe if you've read this far, I know, just bear with me, okay?). Instead I want to talk about one of the good guys of the business- Dark Horse Comics.
Started in 1986 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse has a track record of looking at things the comics industry has usually seen as competition and instead decided to find a way to make it belong. The company took that approach with movie franchises like Alien and Predator. They took characters that had bounced around to different publishers and had become "old" and found a way to keep them going. Characters like Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian. Dark Horse saw the coming tide of manga and decided to help distribute it and create new manga material instead of belittling or ignoring it. Dark Horse has an appreciation of the industry's roots, and they every so often re-release a set of comics done by another publisher to a whole new audience. I don't know how they pull it off, but they do- and the product isn't just reprinted, but it is restored- looking brighter, cleaner and clearer than the original work. Dark Horse also takes chances on what to publish. Who would've thought a story about a congressional speech writer who turns into a creature of living concrete would be a hit? But Concrete was a hit with comics fans and with critics. The Goon? Sin City? Emily Strange? They were all successes even though they may not have been the sort of material a Marvel or DC would have gone with.
But Dark Horse is much more than that. Dark Horse works so hard to support the growth of comics, both in finding new readers and in trying to keep current readers.
When our library started building a graphic novel collection Dark Horse jumped in and sent two big boxes of graphic novels- about 40 books- to help get us started. For free. There wasn't even a note or a name on the box to give credit to. No conditions or strings attached. Just an offer of goodwill kept very low-key.
When we began our Cartooning Club, Dark Horse responded again by sending a case full of comics, posters, decals, etc. All kinds of neat things to get kids and teens excited about comics. When we held our first mini-con and our second mini-con Dark Horse sent us more swag for the event- books, comics, pins, posters, decals and other things to give out to the kids. In our mini-con's third year, economic times were bad for many and even Dark Horse was not able to send anything to us. Didn't matter- they had sent so much stuff the second year we still had a lot left to hand out in year three!
Recently, Bleedingcool.com put up the transcript of Richardson's address to comics retailers at the ComicsPRO event in Dallas, TX. Read it for yourself and see if Richardson is concerned about comics retail shops, keeping customers happy, growing and finding new customers, and keeping the comics industry healthy and moving in a proactive direction for the future. I really believe he is genuine. Richardson himself was a comics shop owner. He is now a publisher dependent on shops to sell his product. He has his family involved in his business just as many shop owners do with theirs. Dark Horse is not the mega giant that DC (with the backing of Warner Brothers) or Marvel (with the backing of Disney) is. Dark Horse is tied to their success coming from people buying comics, and so Richardson has been dedicated to reaching out in ways the big two won't. Again, read Richardson's transcript. Then go out and buy some Dark Horse f'gosh sakes, because such efforts should be rewarded.

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