It’s all right to be a little scared.
Dark Horse is hoping to revitalize the horror comic in 2003, and leading the charge is editor and occasional writer Scott Allie. In addition to handling all of Mike Mignola’s material for the company, he edits work from P. Craig Russell, Joss Whedon, and Sergio Aragones. Allie also moonlights as a comic writer, penning a few licensed properties for Dark Horse, most recently the first four issues of Star Wars: Empire. The busy DH staffer was kind enough to stop by Ambidextrous to chat about his upcoming series The Devil’s Footprints, the art of editing, Rocket Comics, and Dark Horse’s place within the industry.
Scott Allie: It just suits my personality and my interests to a tee. I’ve always loved putting together creative projects, whether it was as a technical director at a theatre, an assistant editor at a literary magazine, or as a self-publisher in the comics market. I worked for a magazine called Glimmer Train Stories before saving up a bunch of money and self-publishing my own horror comics, called Sick Smiles. Around the time that was wrapping up, Dark Horse asked me to come on board.
Thomas: You hooked up with Dark Horse through the comics you self-published?
Allie: Yeah. I led the small press activity in Portland with Sick Smiles. Shortly thereafter, Brett Warnock starting publishing Top Shelf here in town, and everyone knows how that took off.
Thomas: A certain mystique surrounds the role of a comic book editor. Walk us through a day in the life of Scott Allie.
Allie: I spend an hour or so in the morning answering e-mails, before usually calling Mike Mignola to talk for a while about Hellboy stories and whatever else we have going. Then I’ll have some scripts to read, and balloon placements to do. I’ll spend a lot of time chasing down Scott Lobdell, trying to get him to turn in whatever he’s supposed to be doing. There are layouts to look over and write notes on, and several phone calls to be made that keep the machine moving. There are promotional things to do throughout the day, which includes answering interviews like this. A lot of my day is spent responding to the next emergency, keeping up on the e-mails.
Thomas: Is there a certain technique that makes up the Allie editing process? Are you more hands-on in your approach, or do you prefer to just pick your creative teams and set them loose?
Allie: It varies A LOT. I’m generally very hands-on, but there are many books—like Groo, and The Ring of the Nibelung—where there’s nothing for me to do. With work-for-hire books, I tend to be pretty involved, and even with books like Hellboy, I really get involved on the creative level. Some creators want that. Mignola wants it, but Sergio doesn’t, so I try to give them what they want, and ultimately what the book needs.
Thomas: Along with the editing, you’ve picked up a few writing assignments here and there. You’ve got a new series called The Devil’s Footprints on the way. What are the devil’s footprints and what do they look like?
Allie: Little cloven footprints in a large flat stone. The Devil’s Footprint is a landmark in my hometown, and it was part of the inspiration for the comic that I’m doing with Paul Lee and Brian Horton. The devil allegedly came to my town back in 1740 or ’41, and left his mark on the stones in front of the old First Church. Our story is about a young man named Brandon Waite who studies witchcraft, and, because of some poor decisions on the part of his father, winds up having a showdown with a demon on Town Hill. It’s a nasty monster fight with realistic characters, lots of action, and plenty of authentic occult details.
Thomas: What occult literature became research material for the project?
Allie: The first thing was Eliphas Levi’s Transcendental Magic, which had a major influence. The main monster’s gimmick came from Manly Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages. After that, Dion Fortune’s Mystical Qabala had a big effect on me and I’ve been reading this sort of thing ever since.
Thomas: What do Paul Lee and Brian Horton bring to The Devil’s Footprints as illustrators and how does the creative process work between the three of you?
Allie: Paul and Brian are two really close friends who do a lot of their artwork together. Brian works for the video-game company The Collective, and Paul is a full-time freelancer. Both are crazy about comics. I first became aware of Paul about 10 years ago when I was working for Glimmer Train, and he sent in samples of his art. He wasn’t what they were looking for, but it stuck in my mind until a few years later when we hired him to do something in Dark Horse Presents, which I was assisting on at the time. Later I got to know Brian through other people, and the three of us eventually came back together when I wanted Brian to do an Angel story, and he wanted to work with Paul on it.
What they bring to The Devil’s Footprints is huge. They have had a lot of input on the story, from characterization to several other details. Brian designed most of the characters, and Paul’s sense of storytelling is enough like mine that the book is just how I pictured it while writing. Everything about the book is improved by their involvement. I couldn’t have done better as far as picking collaborators for this. They bring a lot of mood to it, through Paul’s pacing to Brian’s finishes.
Thomas: Is The Devil’s Footprints open-ended, or a four issue shot?
Allie: I do plan to return to some of the characters in The Devil’s Footprints as soon as possible. Brandon’s story will be told over quite a few years, if I have my way.
Thomas: If you had to choose…is Scott Allie a writer or an editor?
Allie: I think writer, but I wouldn’t want to make my living writing comics, unless every job were like writing The Devil’s Footprints. Not every writing experience has been great, and the ones that weren’t were terribly depressing. Editing a book can be very rewarding, but never gets too disappointing because you don’t have to invest yourself as much when writing.
Thomas: From a writer’s standpoint, what project didn’t turn out the way you expected? On the other hand, what work are you most proud of?
Allie: So far all of them except this. The one I’m most proud of is Star Wars: Empire. Though it didn’t turn out quite how I’d planned, it got reviewed really well, and I received a lot of positive feedback on it. Some of it never completely clicked, but it WORKED, which I can’t say for all of my stories.
Thomas: Licensed comics or original properties. Do you have a preference?
Allie: I prefer original properties just because you have more freedom. Everyone knew, in my Empire series, that the coup against Vader and the Emperor would fail, because they were still in power in the original movies. What’s worse is that I can’t give Vader or the Emperor a certain line because someone ELSE thinks it doesn’t fit them. With The Devil’s Footprints, if I think it sounds like Brandon, it sounds like Brandon. If I think he’d do something, he’d do it. I don’t have any arbitrary limitations to what happens.
Thomas: Any other big projects coming from your office in ’03?
Allie: I have The Devil’s Footprints, followed by Blackburne Covenant and Cal McDonald, two more books in my horror line. Covenant and Cal are very different from one another, although they’re both dark and intelligent horror stories with lots of action and wild visuals. Then we’re launching The Goon, Eric Powell’s fantastic self-published book in June. In September and October I have some special horror events, including a reprint of Gary Gianni’s Monster Men, and a haunted house anthology which features a new Hellboy story—which will be the only new Hellboy you’ll see from Mignola this year. Oh, and I have about a billion other Hellboy projects coming from other people, including Jason Pearson, John Cassaday, Steve Lieber, Craig Russell…
Thomas: You’re apparently highly interested in the horror genre. In your opinion, what makes for an intelligent horror comic?
Allie: I like horror comics that don’t rely on gore or T&A. I think the best horror is the kind that really plays with things we care about. Ira Levin wrote great stories about fears that were prevalent in society at the time, but he made them intensely personal. Patrick McGrath writes really intensely about alienation and loneliness–he takes it to places where it just becomes completely surreal, but it’s based in very human emotions. I hope I’ve done a little of both in The Devil’s Footprints.
Thomas: Marvel and DC specialize in the superhero, and Image is the haven for independent work. What role does Dark Horse play in the overall industry landscape? What are you doing that no else can?
Allie: Dark Horse definitely suffers by having a reputation for such diversity that no one knows who we are. I’m trying to narrow my focus to genre stuff that’s influenced by the old pulps. If you look at what I’m doing this year—Conan, The Devil’s Footprints, Hellboy, Buffy, Cal, The Goon—I think you can see a push toward a real up-to-date version of the old pulp horror-adventure stories. Whenever anyone else does horror, it’s either really tame horror, like the majority of Vertigo books (except my favorite, Preacher) or real crude, lowest common denominator horror, like the stuff from Chaos. I want to do fun stuff with some wit and excitement.
Thomas: With all this is mind, will the upcoming Rocket Comics initiative further diversify Dark Horse’s line-up? You already have the licensed product, the manga, and the horror. Will Rocket ensure that DH has something for everyone?
Allie: Rocket is a really ambitious idea that Phil Amara put forward on Mike Richardson’s request, and which Dave Land is seeing through now. Phil, Dave and I had this idea about “premise fiction,” which was a way of talking about superheroes without limiting it to tights and capes. Rocket came out of that. I think what will be interesting about it is that most of the writers have very free range for developing these ideas.
Thomas: Is there any trepidation at dipping your toes into potentially unfriendly waters? The Diamond chart isn’t particularly kind to material that doesn’t come from the Big Two. How can Rocket make an impact?
Allie: Superhero comics, whether from the big two or the rest of us, are still the bread and butter of the comics market. A lot of readers read nothing else, so we’re hoping to get their attention with these things. I understand what you’re saying, but if we worried about the fact that Marvel and DC dominate the charts, it wouldn’t just preclude Rocket, it would preclude us publishing anything. We don’t need to compete with Marvel or DC in the Diamond market. We’re hardly likely to ever beat X-Men, but that’s not really the point. We’re doing the books we like, carving out our various niches.
Thomas: Good deal man. Best of luck in the upcoming year.
Scheduled for a March 2003 publication date, The Devil’s Footprints #1 is in the current Previews on page 20, and is order code JAN030064. As an added bonus, there’s a The Devil’s Footprints story in Dark Horse’s new anthology Reveal.
New Hotness will be back next week. Honest.