Dark Horse's New York Comic-Con panel started out on a light note Friday evening, with a couple of new title announcements, the results of their "I love comics" contest and a tongue-in-cheek pro-democracy protest, before vice president of marketing Micha Hershman got down to the real business of the day, rolling out Dark Horse's new digital comics program.
The digital program, dubbed Dark Horse Bookshelf, will launch in January 2011 with about 150 titles, and Hershman said that new titles would be added at a rate of about 20 per month. Same day and date releases of new comics will begin in February.
Initially, comics will be available via the web, Hershman explained, and iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch apps will be available when the program launches, with an Android app to follow shortly. Readers can buy and download comics through the digital bookstore at digital.darkhorse.com, and the standard price will be $1.49 per issue, with multi-issue story arcs available for between $2.99 and $5.99.
"The big news here is that it's a proprietary system," Hershman said. "We built it ourselves." He cited two chief reasons: "There is no censorship," he said. "We don't have to submit our comics to Apple for approval. The other reason is for creators: If we are not paying licensing fees to Apple, we can pay our comics guys more money."
The comics lineup for the initial launch will include the horror anthology "Creepy," Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" and "B.P.R.D.," Joss Whedon's "Fray" and "Serenity," Felicia Day's "The Guild," BioWare's "Mass Effect," Robert E. Howard's "Conan," Gerard Way's "Umbrella Academy," and Eric Powell's "The Goon." Like other digital services, Dark Horse Bookshelf will offer a selection of comics for free. Beginning in February 2011, some comics will be released simultaneously in print and digital form.
Hershman also announced that eight Dark Horse titles are available for free through the iTunes story for this weekend only. Users can download free issues of "Beasts of Burden," "B.P.R.D.," "Conan," "Fray," "Serenity," "Terminator: 2029," "Troublemaker" and "Umbrella Academy" for free through October 10.
The program will also include exclusive content for retailers that is designed to lead customers to brick-and-mortar stores, Hershman said, although details of that will have to wait for now.
"We want to make sure nobody is turning their back on print," senior managing editor Scott Allie emphasized later in the panel. "We have a really diverse, complex industry. This is a moment when we are going to change it, but we don't want to burn anything down."
In addition to the big digital news, the panel included a number of new title announcements. The first was "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja," a print version of the webcomic by Chris Hastings, Benito Cereno and Les McClaine. The book will collect three story arcs from the long-running webcomic, "Monster Mart," "Death Volley" and "Doc Gets Rad," as well as one story that is exclusive to print, "Winter Wonderdome." The first three volumes of the comic were published through Topatoco.
Atkins announced that actor Danny McBride will co-write "Your Highness," a 48-page prequel to the movie of the same name. The comic is due out in March 2011.
Following the success of "Baltimore: The Plague Ships," by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, Dark Horse is launching a new five-issue miniseries by the same creative team, "Baltimore: The Curse Bells." The first issue will be part of Dark Horse's Free Comic Book day package in May.
Atkins also announced a relaunch of "Criminal Macabre" and a crossover with Eric Powell's "The Goon." "It will launch with an eight-page story on Free Comic Book Day and then roll into the Goon crossover and then some more one-shots," said senior managing editor Scott Allie.
Michael Gombos, director of Asian licensing, took the stage to announce three new Japanese licenses, all of them by creators already known to American audiences. The first is "Shinjuku Book II—Azul," written by mink and illustrated by "Vampire Hunter D" artist Yoshitaka Amano. This illustrated novel is the followup to the first volume of "Shinjuku," which was published earlier this year.
The other two Asian announcements are both manga: "Drifters," by "Hellsing" creator Kohta Hirano and "Bloodline Battlefront," by "Trigun" creator Yasuhiro Nightow.
Atkins said that the comic book treatment of Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" would continue. "This is something that Joss had gone back and forth on at different times," he said. "It started with us doing a small story to be inserted in the 'Dollhouse' season 2 DVD that got the ball rolling, and we will do a one-shot in April and a miniseries after that." The comic will be written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, the writers of the TV show, and will be set in a future Los Angeles after the Dollhouse technology has reduced the city to ruins.
Dark Horse will expand its DH:HD offerings on the USA Today website to include original eight-page comics that will be exclusive to that site. The first comic will be "Hellboy: The Whittier Legacy," written and drawn by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and it will be followed by "Serenity: Downtime," by Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee, "The Goon: An Irish Wake," by Eric Powell, "Conan: Kiss of the Undead," by Ron Marz and Bart Sears and "Mass Effect: Inquisition," by Mac Walters and Jean Diaz.
Atkins announced the winners of the "I Love Comics" Facebook campaign, in which fans were invited to take pictures of themselves with their comics. After Atkins announced the winner, Belle Cheri, Allie rose to read a statement from "Goon Show" creator Eric Powell. "Yet again, a large pair of breasts wins over a schlubby guy," the statement said as it went on to condemn the decline of democracy in the face of comely females who are willing to show their assets. Powell pledged to give the second-place entry, a male, a piece of original art, and concluded with "Let boobies bounce and freedom ring."