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Over in Milwaukie, Oregon, the Horsepower factory is firing on all cylinders. 2005 was a great year for Dark Horse, and this year is already shaping up to be another one to remember. With exciting new projects, including more Conan, more Hellboy and a slew of Hollywood tie-ins, there’s nothing much to complain about.

That’s why you won’t come across any grumbles in the following interview with Dark Horse editor Scott Allie.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Over the course of 2005, it seems Dark Horse has been building on its status quo: you continue to surround your handful of ongoing series with qualitative minis, while never getting in over your heads. Is that an accurate description of what 2005 was like for Dark Horse?

SCOTT ALLIE: I think so. Our focus is obviously the miniseries, and the series of miniseries, like B.P.R.D. We sort of look at those as equivalent to monthly series, but with breaks built in. You’re going to see more of that in 2006, with the Conan monthly, and two Star Wars monthlies, complemented by a heavy schedule of side miniseries for both properties.

BF: The current status quo also implies that Dark Horse’s quantitative output rarely exceeds 25 publications per month. Is that a direct consequence of the stranglehold Marvel and DC have on the direct market?

SA: I don’t think our publishing plan is a response to that. Obviously Marvel and DC are the biggest players, but it doesn’t limit what we can do. There’s no reason for us to try to do more and more and more titles, to further flood the market. With some of our books, because of the stories we want to tell and because of readers’ interest, we put out more comics than other titles, and some less. Each book or series has goals unique to that series, and considering that as well as the size of our staff, we publish the books that we want to do.

BF: Because you’ve already successfully carved out your niche in this industry, I assume Dark Horse didn’t really feel the negative effects House of M and Infinite Crisis have had on smaller publishers?

SA: I don’t think so. I don’t know what those negative effects are. Do they suck money out of the smaller publishers? I don’t even know if I believe that. I don’t think Blade of the Immortal or Eightball readers cancel their orders because there’s a new DC Crisis they need to buy. I guess retailers may do that to some degree, but I don’t think it touches us.

BF: Recently, a few upcoming changes have been announced that certainly make the future interesting. One of those was Timothy Truman’s takeover of Conan with issue #33, scheduled for an October 2006 release. How did Dark Horse get Truman to come onboard?

SA: Tim had come to me saying he wanted to do something with Conan, and we lined up a miniseries with his comics’ brother, Joe Lansdale. So we were already talking, and when Kurt announced he was leaving, I put a lot of thought into who should take over. A lot of writers were considered and approached, but Tim was the guy who I had the most faith in to faithfully bring Robert Howard’s stories to modern readers, which has been the goal all along.

We flew him out here, talked it over, met with Kurt, and somewhere in the midst of those conversations, face to face, I knew that this was the way to go. Tim didn’t necessarily have the job when he got off the plane in Portland, but sometime before he said to me, “So I have the job?”, I knew he did.

BF: Tim is also collaborating with Joe Lansdale on Conan: Songs of the Dead, a new five-issue mini. What can you tell us about that?

SA: It’s very much what you would expect from these guys, real irreverent, bizarre adventuring from a Conan who’s maybe a little more ruthless than usual. At first Joe suggested doing an adaptation of “Beyond the Black River” by Howard, but I wanted pure, unadulterated Lansdale in all his weirdness, and that’s what we got, no punches pulled.

BF: To clarify the situation: the writing change came about because outgoing writer Kurt Busiek wanted to pursue other creative opportunities [at DC], right?

SA: Other opportunities, yes. No hard feelings, but I think it’s up to Kurt to discuss his reasons.

BF: With a property as closely guarded as Conan, do writers really have much wiggle-room to put their own stamp on the Barbarian? 

SA: Absolutely. Howard wrote prose, so the effort of bringing it to comics leaves a lot of room to make your own mark. Also, he only wrote a couple dozen stories, spread over Conan’s thirty-year career. So a lot remains to be said. I just need to be careful about whose stamp gets put on this guy. There are certainly writers whose stamp better fits Howard and Conan. With Tim, he has a lot of room to entirely do his own thing, and never stray too far from what Howard himself may have done. Howard’s stamp is on Tim.

BF: A second surprising announcement which I referred to earlier during the interview is Duncan Fegredo replacing Lee Bermejo as the artist on Hellboy: Darkness Calls. Can we expect Fegredo to remain on Hellboy-duty in the long term, or will Mike Mignola jump in and do a mini series or two again himself?

SA: We expect a lot from Duncan. A whole lot. He made some sacrifices to take this book, and that tells me he’s serious about it. And like Tim on Conan, Duncan can put his stamp on Hellboy, because his aesthetics—his drawing and his storytelling—have enough similarities to Mike’s. He’ll amplify some of the best things about the character. Mike will draw some smaller Hellboy stories, but we have three six-issues minis lined up for Duncan, and I believe he will stick around.

BF: Dark Horse has also been successful in publishing anthologies, with Dark Horse Book of the Dead and The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist coming to mind. Are there any new anthologies in the works for next year?

SA: We’ve got a long history with anthologies, which we’ll definitely continue, but we don’t have any new ones to announce right now.

BF: The publisher has always produced some great hardcover collections, with The Goon: Fancy Pants Edition and the two-part Sin City Library slipcase set being the most recent examples. Does Dark Horse seek to integrate more HC collections into its offerings in 2006?

SA: Well, we’ve been doing hardcovers nearly from the beginning, including the Usagi Yojimbo series—and the horror anthologies you mentioned. We’ve also always played around with formats over the years, so whenever we’re looking at a new project, we look at all options. The easiest, and least risky, is the standard-sized paperback, but we’ll be doing more hardcovers, including more deluxe presentations like the Sin City library.

BF: The motto that goes with many Dark Horse ads these days is ‘Drawing on your nightmares.’ In what ways will you be expanding on that motto in the next year?

SA:  There’s a whole new line of horror books coming from our Manga group—we’re already the leading U.S. publisher of horror manga. We have some plans to bring out some more high-profile licenses to fit into the horror line, and we’re increasing our Hellboy output—the Duncan Fegredo series, the Richard Corben mini, as well as some other things. And Steve Niles’ Cal McDonald is coming back to Dark Horse, where it started way back in Dark Horse Presents.

And we have some projects lined up with some notable Hollywood writers and directors. Our first big Conan side project of the new year is really a horror book, too, drawn by Kelley Jones. The Book of Thoth explores the really horrific magical uprising of Conan’s most famous adversary. So there’s going to be a lot happening in terms of scary books at Dark Horse.

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BF: Can you offer a hint as to who these Hollywood writers and directors you’re referring to are? And does it mean we’ll see more of Joss Whedon again?

SA: Joss is definitely working on some more stuff with us, including a new Buffy series he’s writing as the official continuation of the TV show—Season Eight, we’re calling it for now. Plus, we’re gearing up for more Serenity that he’ll be co-writing. There’s a project from John Landis called Teenaged Vampire, which he’s writing for us, and then a couple other things that aren’t ready to be announced yet.

BF: My favorite project to come out of Dark Horse in 2005 was, hands down, Eisner/Miller. What was yours?

SA: I should really mention something by another editor, but Dark Horse Book of the Dead was my favorite. Year in, year out, those anthologies have made me happiest. That and Hellboy: The Island. I’m so self-centered.

BF: Now that we’ve mentioned Eisner/Miller, is there any chance we’ll see another interview book soon? Given the success of Eisner/Miller, the public seems to like this sort of publications.

SA: That book sort of lacks good follow-up potential. Once you’ve had those two guys discuss the artform and the industry, who do you get to do a second one? Maybe we could get Alan Moore to talk to Harvey Kurtzman. Alan has some unusual skills that might make that sort of thing possible.

BF: Alan, if you happened to read this, drop Scott a call, ok? Say, Mike Richardson is probably reading along, so be careful… say DC or Marvel comes calling with the promise of a better payday, why will you turn down their offer?

SA: Already dealt with. [Laughs]

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