Twenty-five years after its inception, "Dark Horse Presents" is once again looking to shake up comics storytelling.
Jeremy Atkins, director of publicity for Dark Horse Comics, introduced the panel to the crowd at Comic-Con International in San Diego, consisting of Dark Horse Comics founder and publisher Mike Richardson, "The Goon" creator Eric Powell, independent comics writer and artist Carla Speed McNeil and famed "Watchmen" artist Dave Gibbons.
A mystery guest was quickly teased as showing up later in the panel before Atkins jumped right into asking questions of his panelists.
Asked what will be coming up in the future, Mike Richardson responded first by describing the original impetus for Dark Horse Comics and its first publication, "Dark Horse Presents." Originally a small, black-and-white comic featuring creator-owned content because it was all the fledgling publisher could afford, the publication evolved to feature licensed properties and some of the most acclaimed comic stories in the industry, including Frank Miller's "Sin City," Mike Mignola's "Hellboy," Paul Chadwick's "Concrete" and Powell's "The Goon." The original title ran 157 issues before it was discontinued but enjoyed a revival with new content on MySpace. This year, Dark Horse officially brought the title back, in full color, with issues #1 and #2 already in stores.
The upcoming issue #3 will contain 24 extra pages at no extra cost, and will, as always, contain no ads or wasted pages. With this issue, "DHP" will go monthly. When rebooting the anthology, Richardson reached out to everyone he knew in the industry for material, and "No one said no."
Powell took a moment to discuss his new story in the series, titled "Isolation" and described as "Either a commentary on addiction or a robot learning to masturbate." A cross between "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone," the acerbic Powell jokingly claimed it would have "a happy ending."
McNeil's "Finder" will be anthologized in eight-page segments. The original story features a post-apocalyptic earth years after society's reconstruction, beginning with a man doing something as simple as walking an old lady across the street, leading to further drama. Richardson opined, "It just gets better and better."
The new story from Gibbons is an idea he has been kicking around for a while, but as he put it, "It's only an idea until you do something with it." The new story, titled "The Treatment," will be all digitally drawn, a first for Gibbons, and will feature a highly trained, private police force followed around by reality-TV cameras. The large capital "T" on their facemasks is the last thing any criminal wants to see.
The panelists were asked what their favorite "Dark Horse Presents" moments were, and Richardson began by sharing he has three, "One, when Eric came to Dark Horse; two, when Carla came aboard; and three, when Dave came aboard."
Powell enjoyed when established creators did unique and strange stories, referencing an obscure Mignola tale, "Rusty Razorclam, President of Neptune." McNeil's favorite moment was the "Concrete" serial. "The stories were good, [but] it was the art that kept bringing me back," she said.
Gibbons shared that he always gravitated to black-and-white anthology comic books, especially since he's from Britain and that's the standard form of comic publication. "Color can be very forgiving," he added, noting how in black and white, you can really see the lines and detail. He especially enjoyed "Sin City" as it evolved from the first few issues into a truly dark, shadowy black-and-white masterpiece.
McNeil revealed that her first mainstream publishing of "Finder" was the result of being at on a convention panel years back and someone asking her if she would ever ask to work for a major publisher. She had said no, but Richardson had been in the audience and raised his hand and asked, "Would you like to?" And here she is today.
Asked by a fan if Dark Horse will ever finish Matt Wagner's "The Aerialist," Richardson answered that there are no current plans, but he'd be happy to publish it if Wagner was still interested.
In response to a new question about collaborators on "The Goon," Powell mentioned that he just finished an issue with Evan Dorkin. Richardson made sure to add that "Evan has more projects coming" from Dark Horse, specifically a hardback, omnibus collection of Dorkin's "Milk and Cheese" in its entirety. As for the next "Finder" book, it will be out in September, an easy answer from McNeil.
With the panel winding down, the very special guest for the event was introduced as Jim Steranko, who took his place on the stage to loud applause. Richardson shared that "Jim and I have been trying to do this project since 1986" in discussing Steranko's original "visual novel" first published in 1976, "Chandler: Red Tide." The story will be re-colored digitally and featured in issue #3 of "Dark Horse Presents."
Steranko discussed his career and work, touching on various topics as with "Red Tide" acting as a springboard. In describing his career, he shared, "I learned to draw copying comic artists, I learned to read from comics."
When Steranko first got in the business, he believed "There had to be a way to make comics more suspenseful" like the films he would watch as a boy. Suspense being one of the reasons he did "Red Tide," Steranko went on to describe it as being not quite a comic book (there were no word balloons), and that each page was usually two-thirds art and one-third text. Steranko wanted to redesign the entire book, but Richardson preferred presenting in its original style, albeit with much improved coloring. An example was shown onscreen with an original page of the story displayed featuring old-style coloring, quickly followed by the newly colored version of the same page that was leaps and bounds better than the original. The art went from classic comic book style to looking highly realistic and natural, thanks to digital lighting effects.
Steranko explained, "It was never colored the way it was in my head," but with today’s technology, he was finally able to match it to how he originally envisioned the story.