A Look at Dark Horse

Dark Horse Comics gets a puffy profile in the NY Times, emphasizing their media tie-ins. For some reason, the long-lived company is positioned as an underdog.

By nurturing and backing a quirky, brooding, and inventive stable of writers and artists, Dark Horse has spent the last 20 years carving out and maintaining its place as a scrappy comic book franchise in an industry dominated by Marvel Entertainment and DC Comics.

Dark Horse, which is privately held, has endured in an industry where many small publishers last less than a year. It has thrived, its owners say, by sharing financial success with its artists and taking its role as an independent publisher very, very seriously. “Every comic we do, whether we ask to share the film or toy rights or not, we publish because we think it’s a great comic,” said Mike Richardson, who founded Dark Horse 20 years ago and is the company’s president. “We want to survive far into the future, but we also want to leave a legacy.”

The Dark Horse approach calls for protecting the creative and financial rights of its contributors — including giving them a cut of the profits — and publishing comics that are well out of the mainstream (meaning fewer capes and cowls).

Yet the article is titled “A Quirky Superhero of the Comics Trade”.

Dark Horse is later praised for being a manga pioneer and reprinting manga without alteration, but the focus of the article is clearly American comics only.

Today, Dark Horse is the third-largest publisher, behind the much larger Marvel and DC, in the direct market, which includes the specialty shops that cater to comic book fans…. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comics, Marvel had 36.9 percent of the market last year and DC (owned by Time Warner) had 32.9 percent; Dark Horse came in at 5.6 percent.

Ok, they’re leaving out the manga publishers, but what about Image? Have they really sunk that far?

Much of the rest of the article is a profile of Mike Richardson, company president, and the loyalty he engenders in the creators who publish with him. They also discuss Dark Horse’s moneymaker:

To fill the sales gaps caused by unpredictable publication, Dark Horse licenses characters from popular films, novels and video games and builds comic books around them. Attention to quality played a role in this business strategy, too. Dark Horse discovered “a way to do licensed comics successfully,” Mr. Griepp said. “Marvel and DC haven’t found a formula that worked. It never really clicked.”

Update: Mark Evanier has some additional thoughts on the benefits of working with a one-man-led company.

I go to Mike Richardson, the guy who owns the company, and if he says he wants to proceed with something, that’s it. End of discussion. I can’t tell you how refreshing that can be.

3 Responses to “A Look at Dark Horse”

  1. Paul O'Brien Says:

    “Ok, they’re leaving out the manga publishers, but what about Image? Have they really sunk that far? ”

    Short answer: yes. They’re at about the same level. In September, Dark Horse had a dollar share of 3.55%, and Image had 3.51%. Image had the edge in unit share, for whatever that’s worth. But it’s been like this for years; Image stopped being a major commercial force years ago (hardly surprising when you lose Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee’s studios, and replace them with a sort of super-indie small press operation).

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for doing the research I was too lazy to look up. Wow.

  3. hostile17 Says:

    I don’t care what they say about both Dark Horse and Image, they are still publishing some of the best comics outside of the two giants (Marvel/DC) it will be interesting to see if they can gain ground on them in the future. As the third largest publisher I would not call them an “indy” publisher though




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