When Dark Horse comics first kicked off over twenty-five years ago one of its first releases was the title Dark Horse Presents, an anthology book that featured original creations by talent both new and established that broke new ground for the kind of comics that were being produced in America. Titles that have since become classic, such as Frank Miller’s Sin City, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, all got their start in the book but eventually, as Dark Horse started established more and more titles, interest in DHP slowly started to wane until its eventual cancellation.
About two years ago, Dark Horse honcho, Mike Richardson, decided that the current marketplace was becoming stale and was sorely missing a book like Dark Horse Presents so got to work putting together a DHP for a contemporary fan base, and to his credit the man has done a hell of a job.
As of this writing the new Dark Horse Presents is on issue fourteen and up to this point the series has held to the mission statement presented by Richardson in issue one with such gusto that not only is it the best value comic you can currently buy, but also the most innovative in almost every sense.
First let’s talk about the cost. While a $7.99 price tag may seem a little steep for a monthly book, consider that your average $3.99 Marvel or DC book runs at about twenty-two or twenty-four pages, but DHP has a usual page rate of around eighty, which means you’re getting the equivalent of about a comic and a half more for the equivalent amount of cash, but also add to this that the occasional issue of DHP will run up to a hundred and four pages for no extra cost… That’s like buying five comics for the price of two.
The value for money on a purely quantity of content basis would be neither here nor there however if the content was poor in quality, but this is where Richardson’s mission statement really took hold. The various strips in DHP are as varied in genre and presentation as the some-total of comic readership as a whole. Within its pages you’ll find humour, sci-fi, supernatural, crime, superheroes, espionage, war, thrillers, abstraction, slice of life and short prose, not to mention variations and amalgamations of all the above, so there isn’t a person out there in the comic reading community that can pick up an issue and not find several points of interest.
And then there’s the talent involved, which, again, is put together with an eye to pleasing a huge demographic. For fans of the guys who have become legendary within the industry, such creators as Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Richard Corban, Dave Gibbons and Geoff Darrow offer us brand new material. There is also new material by such current fan favourites as Eric Powell, Jill Thompson, Steve Niles, Fábio Moon, Duncan Fegredo and Brian Wood, as well as oodles of new strips from up and coming talent, a large number of which are most defiantly worth keeping an eye on.
If familiarity is your thing, DHP isn’t only about new characters, there are also stories featuring tried and tested properties like Hellboy, Nexus, Criminal Macabre, Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, Ghost, Lobster Johnson, Concrete and Usagi Yojimbo, and licensed properties such as Star wars, Aliens and Falling Skies.
Most admirable though is the general ethos of DHP and by extension Dark Horse Comics as a whole. While the book is a home for creators new and old that have very few opportunities in the mindset of the Big Two companies, despite their talent and standing in the industry and/or service to the industry over the years, nurturing blooming talents and properties that are eventually spring-boarded into their own series (and no doubt poached by the Big Two after critical success), there is noticeably a lack of that cynical outlook currently held by Marvel and DC to claim every last red cent from their fans on stories that, while mostly fun, are unnecessarily big and sprawl over too many issues.
DHP isn’t an attempt to get all your money; it’s a vehicle that illustrates just how many things can be done with the comics medium, and that wants to work in service of the medium in as many ways that it can while still being entertaining and all around the best book it can possibly be for a cost that belies the time it takes to read (which most months is a good few hours as opposed to the usual fifteen minute of a normal comic). It’s as indie as the most indie books out there while simultaneously as mainstream as a comic can get.
Give it a try some time, it’ll save you the effort and cost of trawling the racks for an indie book you’ll enjoy while giving you the sense that you’re actively helping out an industry that seems to be running itself into the ground once again, also you’ll love it because it’s brilliant!