ICv2 recently spoke with Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson to talk about comics and graphic novels, the economy, comics on the Web, creators rights, Clamp, the Dark Horse Emmy, and more. 


In Part Two, we talk about the different impacts of the economy on comics and graphic novels; Richardson’s take on the recently revived creator rights topic; and his thoughts on comics and the Web. 


In Part Three, we talk about the impact of illegal filesharing on comic sales; the role of social networking sites; Dark Horse’s Clamp project in 2009; and the role of anthologies. 


In Part Four, we discuss the Dark Horse Emmy, and its film and TV projects; Richardson also hints at a big announcement coming soon.


In Part One, we talk about the state of the graphic novel market; the future of the pamphlet; trends within the shojo market; and potential for attracting shojo fans to other material.


You mentioned the economy and how the pamphlet is under stress. Historically, the pamphlet product has been fairly recession resistant.  People always said that was because it was low retail price.  Do you think this time’s going to be different?  Can you talk about the differential effect on pamphlets vs. graphic novels in a potentially tough economy?

I don’t think the pamphlet has been resistant.  Just a couple of years ago not a single book sold over 100,000 copies, and that’s a number the big companies used to cancel at.  I think we’ve seen a steady decline in the sales of pamphlets over the years with a couple that bounced up for a variety of reasons, but they’ve always settled back down to a lower level.


I think when you start talking about $3.50, $4, or $4.50 for the traditional 32-page comic (with these days 22 pages of story, and some of them, the rest are ads), I just don’t know if there’s any perceived value for that.  I think that when somebody can buy a graphic novel, they’re much more willing to throw 10 to 20 bucks on a graphic novel as opposed to $3 or $4 on 20 pages of story.  And I think as we’re seeing this market change, maybe there’s not the nostalgic connection to the pamphlets that some of us have.  You and I grew up with comics, but a lot of the kids that are coming into comics these days have grown up with manga that does not come pre-packaged in comic book format.


Are you seeing any differences in the trends between comic book stores and bookstores in terms of their health and what you’re expecting for 2009?

Good comics stores seem to be doing well.  The people I talk to seem to be doing just fine.  I know that the bookstores are going through changes again. The traditional book stores are under the same market conditions that other businesses are.  In the last five years, Dark Horse has withstood several bankruptcies by distributors who distribute our books into that market.  We’re watching carefully what’s happening there.   Economic times are tough and money’s tight, so we all have to be careful. Being a retailer myself, I think we’re all watching things very carefully and you may see a tightening of the belt by publishers, distributors and retailers.  Everyone wants to be cautious and careful.


There’s been a discussion floating around the Web about creator-owned content and what role that will play in the future of comics.  Is that the place that the best content comes from?

You’re talking about the video that just came out recently with a creator who is calling people to arms.  To be honest I was pretty surprised by it.  I applaud what was said in the video, but of course it was said 22 years ago... that’s when Dark Horse was started.


The idea presented in the video that there is only Marvel and DC shows a very naïve look at the world of comics.  Frank Miller, very clearly one great example, and Mike Mignola another, Gerard Way, and Joss Whedon, and many others that we work with all took their own creations over the last 22 years and went out on their own to find great fame and success.  And there are certainly many more opportunities and choices out there now than there were 22 years ago, so I’m not sure why now suddenly the call’s come out, because the call’s been out there over those years.

As you know we’ve constantly talked about creator rights.  I know sometimes people new to the market think of Dark Horse as Star Wars and licensed material, but our bread and butter has always been the creator-owned books.  And we always put new titles on the schedule and we’re always working with new creators.  Many of the creators over the years have and continue to walk away from the big two companies in order to publish their own work, own it and control it.  And a great many of them have had great success.


Again I applaud what he’s saying, but welcome to the party.  I’m surprised that he doesn’t understand that that opportunity does exist and has existed pretty much his entire career.  It seems to me that he hasn’t been paying attention.


One of the things we talked about last time was Dark Horse’s continuing push to publish material that originally appeared on the Web.  Do you feel like the available properties are getting picked over, or is there more stuff bubbling up that’s going to make this a continuous growth area?

When everybody talked about the Internet initially, the discussion was taking comics and putting them on your computer, and I guess for some people that’s a satisfying experience but it certainly hasn’t been when I try to read comics on the computer.  It’s not the experience I’m used to.  Of course the kids coming up have had a whole different experience and maybe at some point that’s the way they’ll go. 


When you take a comic book and you make word balloons pop up and add a little bit of motion to it, that’s not really exciting comics, that’s just bad animation.  Comics are a particular kind of experience when you read them and I don’t think anyone’s found a successful way to present those on the Internet in a way that will draw large numbers of existing comics fans.  Of course, with the downloading and all of the new technology that’s coming along, new people to the market may come in and experience comics in a different way and that may be just fine for them.  We’ve played with that for years, we put our first comics online long, long ago for free and anybody going to our site can find them.


But there’s a great thing that the Internet is doing.  Traditionally comic book artists and writers had to go to New York if they wanted to be in the comics business and had to find a comics company that would publish them.  Because of the Internet and fax machines and the ability to transmit material, you no longer have to go anywhere, you can do comics at your home.  You don’t have to make any concessions to where you live if you’re talented and you’re lucky enough to get a publisher to notice your work then you can be published and once you’re published you can continue to work.


But now the Internet does something very different; just as with all other forms of distribution, it brings a form of anarchy to traditional forms of distribution, and anyone sitting in their home can put their work up online.  When you ask is it being picked over, well, there’s constantly new creators introducing new work onto the Internet and we think a lot of it is fun and great and unique.  It’s certainly allows the creators to be free of traditional commercial barriers to what they do, so you’re very likely to see very original types of work online.  We watch for the types of things we think are fun and that our readers would like.  Not only that, a lot of these creators who do have unique creations and are able to build a following, we find that those followings come along when the materials go to paper.


It’s interesting that everyone thought it was going to be paper to electrons, but in reality I think the most successful financial model--at least in our experience--is electrons to paper.


Click here for Part Three.