Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lost FYC: myspace DHP

This would have been part 6 of my series on indy anthologies, spotlighting the then-fledgling myspace Dark Horse Presents, a return for the premiere black and white anthology from the 1990s. As with the previous post, the information in the Q&A will be slightly outdated, but if you like what you see here, go check out myspace DHP for free at the link in the column.


For Your Consideration: myspace/Dark Horse Presents
By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Dark Horse’s flagship title, Dark Horse Presents, returns for a new digital age at Myspace. With stories from creators such as Rick Geary, Joss Whedon, Fabio Moon, Kieron Dwyer, as well as newcomers discovered on Myspace, this is a great anthology worth checking out. And it’s FREE! So click on in and welcome back an old favorite in a new format, complete with an interview with Editor Scott Allie.

The 411:
Myspace/DHP (http://www.myspace.com/darkhorsepresents)
Edited by Scott Allie
FREE and in color
Dark Horse Comics (http://www.darkhorse.com/)

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

In 1986, Mike Richardson invested in a new comic publishing venture creating Dark Horse comics. The flagship title for this upstart publisher was the anthology aptly titled Dark Horse Presents. Featured on that first cover was Chris Warner’s Black Cross, but the real star of the issue was a new creation from Paul Chadwick, Concrete. Buoyed by the popularity of this very human drama of a man trapped in an alien body, Dark Horse Presents soon found a loyal following and from there, along with the inclusion of some significant licensed properties such as Aliens and Star Wars, things expanded quickly for Richardson and Dark Horse.

DHP, as the anthology came to be known, soon became the premiere black and white anthology in the comics medium, winning two Eisner awards as best anthology while showcasing the talents of creators like Matt Wagner, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Mark Verheiden, Doug Mahnke, and Bob Burden. For fifteen years, DHP was a book in which comic fans could find high-quality stories spanning a wide range of genres and storytelling styles. Many of the stories published during DHP’s fifteen-year run could be considered traditional in their presentation – which in no way demeans the quality inherent within them – while some creators pushed the envelope, experimenting with form as well as content. It was a fun mix, one always guaranteed to entertain any fan of the medium. But eventually its time passed, and in late 2000 with issue #157, Dark Horse Presents ceased publication.

But it’s hard to keep a good thing down. And with the advent of digital comics and the surge in popularity of social networking websites, the time was right for the return of Dark Horse’s seminal book. Myspace, with its new comic book community, came to an agreement with Dark Horse in order to offerDHP as a free online comic anthology. From a marketing standpoint, this makes complete sense. Dark Horse is able to bring back its flagship title in a form able to reach more people than it ever did as a print comic while Myspace provides its comic site legitimacy by showcasing a premiere comic anthology from a noteworthy publisher. But the big winners in all of this are the readers who get a new batch of free comics every month.

Like its initial iteration, Dark Horse Presents offers readers exciting stories from some of today’s best creators ranging from old-school science fiction tales to sharp, stinging romances. In its twenty-plus year history, Dark Horse has brought many giants of the industry under its publishing umbrella while also cultivating lesser-known talents as well. And with this new digital offering, they are continuing this practice. The first ten issues have included comics from respected creators like Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Gilbert Hernandez (Love & Rockets), and Peter Bagge (Hate), to name just a few. But something Dark Horse has also done is seek out untested creators from the pool of Myspace comickers and offer them a chance to create something new for myspace/DHP. This has afforded these aspiring creators a platform for their work that was previously unavailable while also giving readers a chance to discover something – and someone – new.

There have been many great stories in these first ten issues of myspace/DHP – including short stories featuring characters familiar to fans of Dark Horsesuch as Rick Remender’s and Tony Moore’s Fear Agent or Eric Powell’s the Goon (with one chapter penciled by comic legend Herb Trimpe) – but there are two stories that stand out for me to this point. One is from Ezra Claytan Daniels, one of Dark Horse’s new talent finds, and his story “A Circuit Closed,” which ran in the second issue. In this tale, a young girl is searching for her soulmate. Using a special helmet, she is able to see a tether of light that streams off from her to some indefinite point in the distance. Journeying alone through what appears to be the American Midwest, she eventually comes to a trailer park where the other end of the light, dubbed by her a streamer, is now visible. The person to whom she is attached lives in one of these trailers, and the girl is assured in her mind that when she approaches she will immediately know who it is. This, she believes, will somehow make her life complete. But when the climax arrives it’s not what readers might expect, proving the adage that life is full of surprises.

The second tale comes from Brazilian twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (Casanova, the Umbrella Academy). Though each had work published in the initial issue, it’s their collaboration in issue #7 “Wonder Twins Activate” that really stayed with me. This tale, unlike Sugarshock or the UmbrellaAcademy short from that first issue, is reminiscent of their work in the de:Tales anthology published by Dark Horse. The story opens with the two brothers hovering over their drawing boards as one of them puts brush to paper in order to begin their latest comic story. The final panel of this first page transitions into the fiction they are creating, wherein readers get three pages of a shadowed superhero saving a girl from a man armed with a gun. It’s dramatic and moody and as good as any comic out there, but as readers click to the next page the twins pull their audience back into the studio where the two artists act out the fight scene that would continue the comic story. As a result of the melee, one of the brothers ends up in the hospital, and the other takes a vacation on a beach with a beautiful woman. A quirky tale merging reality with fantasy in a way that only comics can do, this one has to be my favorite myspace/DHPstory to date. But with a new month just around the corner, who’s to say whether something new won’t come along and blow me away.

There’s no reason not to check out the return of Dark Horse Presents over at Myspace. It’s free and it’s great. For pure horror – with no fantastic creatures evident – check out Hayden Blackman’s and Cary Nord’s “The Axeman,” or if you’d rather enjoy a farcical superhero adventure, Adam Warren’s“Empowered: Who Da Ubermensch?” is for you. Regardless, all fans of the comic medium will be able to find something at myspace/DHP, especially with all of the back issues available for perusal as well. And if you need a permanent collection of these stories, check out your comic shops soon for the first collection, bringing together the first six issues of the online anthology.

An Interview with Scott Allie:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Allie: It's always been the artform that spoke to me the most. There's an untapped potential here, and a unique language, a unique way of conveying ideas in this combination of words and pictures. It always sort of meant more to me than film, or music, or prose. I love those forms, but I didn't feel as much a part of them as I did comics, since about high school.

Beckett: How has the response to Dark Horse Presents on Myspace been, and are there any plans for a print edition?

Allie: We have a print edition of the first six issues coming later this year—September. We're expecting it to be pretty big, because the online comic generated a lot of attention, a real enthusiastic response from readers. It's the best presentation of this sort of comics online—I think there's a whole new genre of webcomics, which play by a different set of rules and appeal to a different sort of readership, but no one's beat us at what we've set out to do with MDHP.

Beckett: How did Dark Horse come to the decision to bring Dark Horse Presents back in a digital form, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of producing DHP digitally rather than for print?

Allie: Last year at New York Comicon, Dark Horse's publicist, Jeremy Atkins introduced me to Sam Humphries, who runs the comics realm on Myspace. The three of us had breakfast one morning in the East Village, and we were talking about comics, specifically books we grew up on and missed, and talking about what Sam wanted for Myspace. Over the course of breakfast, and the cab ride back to my hotel, we were spinning a million ideas, and somewhere in there Dark Horse Presents on Myspace started sounding real. We figured out how to make it work, and decided it would be the main thing we took away from the show.
The benefit of doing it on Myspace is that you reach more people than you could reach doing it anywhere else. One of the reasons for that is that it's free, so the drawback is that we're paying good money for the work, to get it from some of our best creators—but we have no income off it yet. Myspace doesn't pay us; we don't charge anyone to read it, so we pay a lot of money to get these comics out there in this way. I think getting great comics into the hands of so many people is worth it, because maybe you're turning new people onto the artform, or at least our books. But if the accountants were measuring the value, we wouldn't be doing it.

Beckett: How do you see the ascension of the internet as a means of distributing – as well as pirating – comics affecting Dark Horse in the future and is Myspace Dark Horse Presents a way to begin laying the groundwork for the digital evolution that people say is coming to the medium?

Allie: Yeah, I suppose MDHP is laying the groundwork for the next step, but it's not like we're figuring out how to turn this into a money making exercise. No one has really cracked the nut of selling comics online, electronically—like iTunes, rather than Amazon. Everyone's real excited to get their stuff online, but the revenue hasn't been worked out. The guys who do it out of their basements, they can make it work; but the corporate entities who want to do it have not figured it out, how to get the stuff out there and bring in enough money to make it worthwhile. I think that's the nature of comics meeting the nature of the internet. They're both real democratic; they're both by nature meant to be of the people. I imagine MDHP will be part of the future model of success, but it does not gonna be me figuring out how to turn MDHP into a profitable enterprise. I want to see someone work that out, but this is not the first step in some plan, like it would be if Fox had launched it. We're just trying to innovate and get people reading.
As for pirating, distributing, I don't know. We use the internet successfully to sell and ship printed books, but we haven't devoted ourselves to the other part, like I say. I don't pay a lot of attention to the pirating. The quality of what I have seen is so terrible; I can't imagine people wanting it. Maybe the quality has improved. I hope we don't get our asses kicked like the music industry has.

Beckett: The stories thus far on Myspace Dark Horse Presents appear to be formatted so that there would be an easy transition to a print edition. Are there any plans to try and bring content to DHP that might take advantage of the differences between the digital experience of a comic page and a printed page, or will things remain fairly standard for the foreseeable future?

Allie: Things on MDHP will remain fairly standard. I'm old fashioned. I'm not turned off by the limitation of the page. It's part of the form. I am working on an online feature, separate from MDHP, for which we're talking about a more interactive aspect. But the concept with MDHP is simply to make comics, the comics I love, available for free on the internet. If I hand the book off to another editor maybe that person would be more adventurous.

Beckett: What can people look forward to in Myspace Dark Horse Presents in the coming year?

Allie: Some Mignola-related stuff to tie into the movie, and hopefully an all Robert E Howard issue to tie into the relaunch of Conan and some launches of other titles. And come October I want to do a major Halloween event in the book. One of the great things about MDHP not having to go to the printer is that we work pretty close to the bone. So the fact is I don't even know what's gonna be happening in a few months. I kind of like that spontaneity.

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