Twenty years ago, in 1986, to be exact, Dark Horse Comics published a black and white anthology called Dark Horse Presents. Back then, there was a phenomenon in the North American comic book industry called the Black and White comic book boom. Several small publishers had risen and offered an alternative to products offered by then largest publishers, Marvel and DC Comics.
The products offered by these alternate publishers were crude, but the topics they raised cultivated an increasingly older comic book audience seeking mature products, complex storytelling and stories outside of the super hero’s genre. With an anthology title, Dark Horse’s offer more than met demand.
Dark Horse officially celebrates its 20th year in 2007. Partly because of that and to highlight the contribution the publisher has made in the North American comic book industry and entertainment, in general, The Comic Book Bin dedicates a month to Dark Horse Comics. What pushed me to propose this was the many similarities I found with Dark Horse and The Comic Book Bin, in general.
Dark Horse proposes a wide variety of contents and genre to its audience, just like The Comic Book Bin. Dark Horse is not the most significant player of its industry but has an accumulated roster of hits and misses. Most of all, what makes me relate the most to Dark Horse Comics, as the publisher of The Comic Book Bin, is its unsung nature.
Dark Horse is not a media darling. Respected because it has published some of the heavy weights’ contents in the North American industry which led to several film adaptations, like Frank Miller’s 300, the publisher still does not get the amount of coverage its library should command. While new publishers come and go, while Marvel and DC Comics pull their newest event mega thriller crossovers, Dark Horse Comics continues to deliver comics that should reach a wider audience.
It’s easy to overlook what Dark Horse is doing these days. Super star hits like Mike Mignola are rare. Dark Horse’s business model is not based on promoting house brands, like Batman or Spider-man. Every new comic book is a new experience for the reader and a new venture for the publisher. It’s not easy to score every time. This is so similar to The Comic Book Bin.
At The Comic Book Bin, we seek to be an impartial and fair source of information on comic books and related industries. We’re definitely not the most popular guys in town. In fact, many people mistakenly think we started about a year ago, instead of the half decade we have under our belt. Check out our Internet Archives for a look at the early version of the site. Our main problem is sustaining a constant stream of high quality articles that will attract you, our reader, day after day. We try to do our best with limited resources.
This is what I like about Dark Horse. When it started, it was raw, untested, and over the years, it became refined and transformed into one of the trend setters in the comic book industry. For example, when I first read The Mask trade paperback, over a decade ago, artist Doug Mahnke’s work showed promise but was clearly immature. Over the course of the four issue mini-series, it evolved and by the end of the run, it expressed all the wackiness and energy associated with The Mask to this day. Dark Horse took a chance on a new talent, and it paid off.
Although the industry seems stable and capable of offering more diverse contents than ever before, the North American angle of things is dominated by marketing properties. If it’s not marketed as part of a universe, like the DC Universe, The Batman Family, Ultimate Marvel or Marvel Knights, a comic book series has less chance of breaking out. Comic book readers have become lazy and only trust brands they know.
To survive in such a difficult industry, Dark Horse has had to use brands too. Well, it borrows most of them. Star Wars, Buffy, Aliens, Predator, these are some of the brands a comic book reader can associate with Dark Horse. But Dark Horse does not own these brands, and although the ultimate goal is to attract a readership that spans beyond the current borders of the current comic book market, it’s a different proposition.
Keeping stocks of books is hard on the cash flow of any publishers. How can Dark Horse know how much stock to keep? Yet, the publisher, using brands that it does not own has succeeded in leaving its mark. For example, the recent Alien vs Predator blockbuster film was directly inspired by the comic book series published by Dark Horse years before. It’s difficult to play with other people’s toys, yet Dark Horse gets it right most of the time.
Speaking of toys, it's something we at The Comic Book Bin are very found of. Dark Horse has its own merchandising unit, creating props and action figures based on properties it publishes and others. Are they doing a good job on that front? How does this merchandising unit help in keeping the parent company solvent? These are some of the questions the dedicated staff at The Comic Book Bin will try to answer.
Dark Horse Month will run roughly from June 22, 2007 to July 21, 2007. Depending on the amount of material we can publish, we may overlap onto the San Diego Convention week. Making this month possible is of course, the many girls and boys who write for The Comic Book Bin. Unlike other sites, none of us gets paid. This is something we do out of love. And that’s why, I’d like to thank all of the writers and editors at The Comic Book Bin, for taking up this challenge.
But most of all, this month has been possible through the collaboration of Dark Horse Comics. In particular, we have worked with their behind the scenes’ department, headed by Jeremy Atkins and Krystin Overstreet. Many other editors and Dark Horse creators are also landing a hand to make this theme month possible. I would like to thank all of them.
One caveat. I know most of you, reading this have no idea who I am or what I stand for. No need to apologize. I have strong personal beliefs about how a site like The Comic Book Bin has to do its job. I believe in the strict separation of the press from the industries and people it covers. Dark Horse Comics has no oversight over the contents we will publish about them. They may hint at a direction, but we make the final call. That’s my promise to you, our reader.
That means that you can learn more about a publisher that you may have overlooked or are already passionate about. We certainly won’t limit ourselves to covering Sin City and Hellboy, although you can expect some of that too. I have a special fondness for Concrete. I want to share this passion and the one I have for other Dark Horse properties with you.