Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dark Horse Comics, Why Must You Make Me Love You So?

Remember when all Dark Horse Comics had going for it were Dark Horse Presents and Aliens comics? And when they did adaptations of things like the horror movie Dr. Giggles?

I sure do. I put them at roughly the same level as the pre-Ultraverse Malibu Comics-- black and white comics featuring properties that held absolutely no interest for me. Then came the early 90's color boom and Dark Horse started publishing Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus, John Byrne's John Byrne's Next Men and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. Of course Nexus and Next Men went on to become mega-blockbuster Hollywood hit movies with multiple Academy Award nominations and wins, and spawned entire cottage industries of Horatio Hellpop and Sundra clothes lines, a long-running TV series (Jasmine Loves Jack) and theme parks around the world. Just last week I visited Tokyo Ylum and bopped to the music of Mezz, a minor character especially beloved here in Japan.

Poor Hellboy just seemed to vanish without a trace. Whatever happened to Mike Mignola anyway? Is he still drawing?

Publisher loyalty is a concept that's foreign to me. I tend to buy books based on whether or not I like the creators involved or the characters rather than what logo is in the upper left corner. But increasingly I find myself enjoying Dark Horse's product. Their various Conan series, Hellboy and BPRD, their Nexus Archives and the Creepy/Eerie books as well. It hasn't escaped my attention they publish thousands of Star Wars-related books a month, either. They dared issue Ito Junji's sickening horror comics. For that alone they deserve praise. But they also reprinted Marvel's old Conan the Barbarian comic in full color, plus Savage Sword of Conan in an affordable "phone book" volume.

A few months ago, one of my students saw me reading an American comic and wanted to borrow some to practice her English. I chose a selection I thought might interest her and also give her an idea of the various genres and companies we have in the States. Batgirl, Astro City and Hellboy and BPRD. I really thought she'd dig Astro City, but it made almost no impact on her. Instead, she went gaga for BPRD. She loves Guy Davis' art and simply cannot get enough of Abe Sapien and Panya. As a matter of fact, Panya is her favorite comic book character now!

But it gets even better for the Horse and its readers. Just recently, the Onion A/V Club listed their "Best Comics of the 00's" and I ripped into them for not including Japanese comics. But it's interesting Dark Horse Comics managed to place three titles on that list: Achewood, The Goon and Usagi Yojimbo. Amazingly, I haven't read any of them. The Goon and Usagi Yojimbo have been on my "as soon as I get around to them" list for years now. Perhaps now is the time. Dark Horse has also won the most Eisners of any publisher two years in a row now. Hellboy: The Crooked Man certainly deserved its award; that mini just oozed quality, from Mignola's spare, moody script to Richard Corben's lush, disturbing artwork.

And get this-- Dark Horse has also re-vamped Creepy as a comic book-sized quarterly. From the pics I've seen online, this book looks gorgeous. The new Creepy is something (if I could actually buy it here in Japan) I'd be looking forward to with sweaty palms and heart palpitations for the full three months between issues. I checked out the online previews and it's everything I'd hoped when I learned they were doing this. Eric Powell's covers are appropriately Frazetta-esque, perfectly lurid and grotesque; The background colors-- especially the vivid red on the first issue-- are very reminiscent of the original magazine and even the cover copy has the correct typeface. They bring back that weird feeling from the days when both Creepy and Eerie lurked there on the bottom of the magazine shelf near the comic book spinner at the Kwickee store. Just a fleeting glimpse was often enough to send a chill down my spine or inspire nightmares. Forty-eight pages of black and white horror in the Warren Publications tradition-- they've even got Angelo Torres and Russ Heath!

That's what inspired this Dark Horse celebration. A little epiphany inspired by the existence of the new Creepy. I suddenly realized it was impossible for me to dislike a company that puts out Creepy? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized my apartment here is overflowing with comics, the bulk of which happen to have the Dark Horse logo. I'd honestly never really considered that before. Apparently, I like Dark Horse Comics.

A lot.

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