Scott Allie has been helping to lead Dark Horse Comics as its Editor-In-Chief since October 2012, and has been part of the company for more than a decade. Under his leadership, Dark Horse has changed considerably over the past three years. Comics Bulletin critic Chase Magnett sat down with Allie at San Diego Comic-Con in order to discuss what’s happening at Dark Horse and where its future lies.
Chase Magnett for Comics Bulletin: The last year Dark Horse has seen a lot of big changes with new titles launching and old titles leaving. Is that constant sense of motion invigorating?
Allie: It can be. You are partly referring to Star Wars leaving, right?
Magnett: That’s certainly part of it.
Allie: That wasn’t a thing we would have chosen, but it did have an invigorating effect. It was like, “Okay, we’ve been somewhat defined by this thing for many years and it has been a really great crutch to have. It has been a great thing to always be able to count on and lean on. So we won’t be that publisher anymore. We will be something different.”
It became an opportunity to redefine ourselves in certain ways. That is an evolutionary thing. You are constantly redefining yourself, but a change as big as that is very noticeable. It is not that the departure of Star Wars led to a bunch of sudden changes. It is more like, “Okay, that is gone.”
It helps put a bigger spotlight on this massive video game program that we have developed and the art books we are doing, the He-Man art book that was tremendous for us for example, and the creator-owned stuff. The Mignola line of books is a big part of what we are doing. When you look at the departure of Star Wars, which was a tight-knit, complex line of books, Mignola is the other one we have like that.
So the focus falls to different areas. The editors have been really energetic about going after a lot of cool creator-owned materials. We have a lot of original series that we have been launching. I think we get better and better at doing that. We had great launches with Lady Killer and Ei8ht, and even stronger launches with Rebels and Harrow County. Then Fight Club was in a class of its own.
Magnett: With all of this happening and all of these great new titles being brought in, how would you describe the mood in the offices right now?
Allie: Too busy is the main thing. That’s the number one pervasive mood. Everybody just has too much. We are doing a lot of work. We are publishing a lot of books, and it seems like more all the time. We just promoted a bunch of people in editorial and we brought in somebody new. We are bringing in another assistant editor very soon. We are staffing up a little bit to deal with this workload. I think looking at the way the next year looks in terms of the volume of books we are putting out, I could see the editorial department continuing to grow. Get new blood in there and move people up.
Magnett: What do you look for when you are trying to grow an editorial department? What do you think is significant in trying to shape the company with the staff?
Allie: It is important to promote from within. In the years since I have been doing this part of it, there have been a few times I tried to recruit an editor from another company and it typically hasn’t happened. For the most part, I put my energy into hiring at the bottom level, new people that we can really train and shape how they do their job, and then move people along that way.
We’ve got a great group of senior editors. Recently Philip Simon and Dave Marshall were promoted to senior editor. They are engaged in training the incoming people and the mid-level people. You are hoping to build strength. You are hoping to see the talents of the individual editors emerge. Their particular talents shape where we are going. Dave Marshall is the guy who really put the greatest amount of effort into bringing in all this video game stuff and growing that.
When Nick McWhorter in licensing pushed for us to do Mass Effect, the common wisdom in the company, and probably in the industry, is that video game books don’t sell. We had experience with it in the past. I think there hadn’t been a lot of success. I think in the industry the quality of the video game books weren’t that good. Dave, who had learned a lot working with Randy Stradley on Star Wars, approached Mass Effect with the same level of quality that he had done on the Star Wars books. You treat everything you are working on like it is first class book. I think we’ve managed to get video game books to be taken seriously in a way that they weren’t just a few years ago.
We’ve gone a lot of different directions. Very recently we’ve announced that Brian Wood is writing Eve, Larry Hama is writing Call of Duty, and Greg Rucka is writing Dragon Age. We’re putting out world-class writing. That goes back to Gail Simone doing Tomb Raider for a while. So bringing first class talent to the video game stuff makes the video game material really worthwhile and then everybody takes it seriously. It changes what it is, and that is Dave. If he wasn’t in the department, if he hadn’t come up the way he did, then video game books wouldn’t be a big part of what we are doing.
Si the department evolves through the evolution of the individual editors. The company evolves through the vision of the editors and other people, too. There are lots of levels of the company, but the thing that is most exciting about watching editors evolve and grow into their roles is the kind of books that they become really good at bringing in and executing.
Magnett: I was talking to Patrick Thorpe a little bit in Kansas City this year about the video game line, specifically his Legend of Zelda book. Do you think that those books, in addition to finding the right talent and putting out a good product, help expand the market at all?
Allie: That’s a thing that has always been important to Dark Horse. I think we have always done a great job, not every day, but over the years we have made significant moves to bring in a great, new audience. When giving video game players really high quality stories set in their world, at minimum who you are appealing to is the overlap between video game players and comics readers. There is a big overlap there, but hopefully you are expanding that.
Hopefully you are finding fans of Call of Duty or whatever else who maybe don’t read comics, but will say, “I’ll give this a try.” Whether it is Buffy or Fight Club or Umbrella Academy, we have worked with creators and worked on properties that have uniquely driven new people into the direct market. That is a high priority for us and a quest. It’s an important thing for us to give other audiences a really compelling reason to come to a comic shop and then hoping that they find other stuff there.
I think Umbrella Academy was uniquely successful in that way. Fans of My Chemical Romance and Gerard Way maybe didn’t know anything about comics, but they knew that Gerard was a fan of comics, wanted to read Gerard’s book. That led them to read other books. Maybe not Dark Horse books, maybe X-Men or Grant Morrison. But it opened them up to this world and we created life-long readers. With Fight Club, obviously we are seeing a lot of people who haven’t picked up a comic before seeking this comic out. It will probably be even more true when the collection comes out because they are used to buying books, not serials. So expanding the audience through the content is something I think we have been great at doing. I think it is something all of the publishers need to be thinking about, and they all do in their different ways.
Magnett: Touching on that broader place of Dark Horse within the comics industry. How do you see Dark Horse’s role in the direct market right now.?
Allie: Every company has a different personality. When a lot of new companies, like IDW and BOOM!, came along they started with a model very much like ours. They wound up specializing and narrowing their focus more than we have. I think we are unique in our ability to do many different things really well rather than focusing.
I admire Image for their absolute focus on creator-owned, original series. They have one thing that they do and they do it really well. Valiant has one thing that they do and they do it really well. BOOM! and IDW have a little more range and a little bit more diversity, but none of them have the breadth of what we do.
Having this really healthy, growing video game category, we are the guys. We are the ones who do that. We have these great, historic creators like Mignola, Geof Darrow, Eric Powell, and Brian Wood that continue to do either all or just a significant amount of their original work here. We are really aggressive with the comics lit kind of books. This fall we have The New Deal, Two Brothers, and Nanjing coming out, which are amazing personal graphic novels that occupy a real different place than Spider-Man or Call of Duty. We bring a really, really high and consistent level of quality to a variety of things because we think that readers in most areas of our lives don’t just read one thing.
We don’t just watch one thing. Marvel only doing Marvel universe books? That’s great. Why wouldn’t you do that? That’s awesome. But it wouldn’t make sense to me. Are there serious movie viewers that only watch romantic comedies or only watch horror movies? I am a horror buff. I don’t only watch horror movies. I watch different things that appeal to me. My tastes are a weird mix. I think the average reader probably likes a number of different things. With what we do, they can find all of that in one place. Well, maybe not all of it, but they can find a number of their different sweet spots by paying attention to what we are doing. We are the only ones doing that to that degree. I don’t think that’s really who IDW is. I don’t think that’s really who Dynamite is. That’s who we are.