An in-depth interview with the men behind the new Dark Horse imprint where we learn what they have coming down the pipe in 2012 and 2013.
A couple of weeks back, we brought you news of Dark Horse Comics' upcoming OGN-focused imprint, Sequential Pulp Comics. I made a bit of speculation about the intent and direction of the line, particularly in the current comics publishing landscape that's still in the throes of dwindling monthly sales. But why make guesses when the president of SPC, Michael Hudson, Head Writer Martin Powell, and Dark Horse Editor, Patrick Thorpe were available to talk about the launch of the new line. In this look at the new imprint, we talk about some of the decisions that went into the publishing model as well as why adapting classics was the right move for this publishers. Best of all, we've got tons of preview art for a few of the books that are currently in the works for you to feast your eyes on.
MTV Geek: How would you describe the Sequential Pulp Comics?
Michael Hudson: Sequential Pulp comics is a company specializing in faithfully adapting classic pulp stories and novels into graphic novels for today’s audience. While our focus will always be on classic pulp we will be publishing some neo pulp such as Martin Powell’s The Halloween Legion and adapting some works that are not pulp simply because they were not written during the time frame of American “pulp.” Novels such as Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as adapted by Tim Conrad are not traditionally pulp but they fit very well within the framework of our vision for SPC.
Martin Powell: For me, it’s a place where readers will find great pulp fiction, both classic and new. To fans of Fredric Brown, Otis Adelbert Kline, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many more, SPC will feel just like home.
Patrick Thorpe: Sequential Pulp Comics is Michael Hudson’s vision. He approached Dark Horse with the idea of adapting American pulp novels into graphic novels. It was one of those ideas that seem so obvious that you can’t believe that it hasn’t been done before on a wide scale. Pulp novels are so visceral and exciting that they translate extremely well into comics.
Geek: Why did Dark Horse decide to make this a separate line?
Hudson: When we initially contracted with Dark Horse in 2009, our Agreement called for a separate imprint. After our year of hiatus in determining where the industry was going and how we were going to adjust to it, I came back to Mike Richardson and asked for an equal partnership on the projects we would produce and as an inducement we would be happy for our books to fall under the Dark Horse imprint. While I am a firm believer in branding, at this time I feel that it is much more important getting our books out than whether they are under the SPC imprint. The Dark Horse brand is a known commodity and it sells product.
My understanding is that Mike and I agreed the new books would come out under the standard Dark Horse imprint and Sequential Pulp would show up on the interior credits page as co-publisher. If Dark Horse chooses to utilize the Sequential Pulp imprint I’d be delighted but I am not positive that will happen this go around.
Geek: What was going on in the market that made this seem like the right move?
Hudson: Following the Top 300 monthly sales reports of both individual comics and graphic novels over the past three years was inspiration or a better word would be revelation that we needed to avoid single-issue comics due to the rapidly increasing downtrend in the marketplace. Graphic novel sales have remained steady.
As for actual inspiration I’d say Rob Hughes’ The Outlaw Prince which is adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Outlaw of Torn. The book sold out before the first printing hit store shelves. First off it’s 80 pages at $12.99. I see a very nice package at a good market value. Second, it’s pure pulp inspired by one of the same authors our books are being adapted from. Finally it is wonderfully adapted by Rob and masterfully illustrated by Wm. Michael Kaluta and Thomas Yeates. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to have a long talk with Rob.
That talk cemented in my mind that I was on the right path to success in going the graphic novel route.
Geek: Patrick, could you speak to why is this a good move for Dark Horse?
Thorpe: If you have the opportunity to publish a good story with the kind of talent that Sequential Pulp has lined up you have to take advantage of it. In recent years, Dark Horse has had great success publishing similar types of stories as graphic novels so there was no way we were going to pass this up.
Geek: Martin, how did you get involved with SPC?
Powell: That’s rather a long story. I promise to try and make it shorter. Michael Hudson had contacted me a few years ago to supply the box text for his company’s statue of the pulp hero The Spider, which I had been writing in both prose and comics. We discovered lots of mutual interests and became friends, staying in touch. A while later, Michael told me of his dream to create a new comics publishing company that would focus on classic pulp fiction adaptations as well as original concepts. I thought it was a fantastic idea. He and I had already discussed our love for Fredric Brown’s sci-fi dark comedy, Martians, Go Home, and Michael thought the novel would make a great comic book. I agreed, and now here we are, a dream come true!
Geek: In the press release SPC stressed that you wanted to provide readers with “complete stories.” What in the market has indicated that this is a direction in which audiences want to go?
Thorpe: Serialized 22-page comic books read differently than the graphic novel, obviously. A comic has to be a self-contained story as well as relate to an overall arc. We don’t want to force the material that Sequential Pulp is adapting into that format because that changes the nature of the story. A lot of these have subtle storytelling that builds on itself and is more enjoyable to read in a sitting or two. The 22-page model, oftentimes, is open ended. Sequential Pulp wants to tell stories that develop characters, build to exciting crescendos, and end. We’ve had great success with similar forays into the direct-to-graphic-novel model. The Outlaw Prince springs directly to mind. It’s just satisfying to sit down with that beautiful hardcover and be transported to a different place and feel like you’ve gotten a complete experience.
Powell: Sadly, the hard fact is that most people in this country don’t visit comic book shops. Most aren’t even aware such places exist. When I was a kid comics were in drug stores, department stores, convenient stores—they seemed to be everywhere. And they were always affordable. You’d find dinosaur tales, outer space adventures, mysteries, superheroes—terrific stuff and all for mere pocket change. No more. Most people shopping for books go to bookstores, both in person and online and electronic editions are currently quite the rage, too. Clearly, this is where the book readers are buying what they want to read. We knew we had to have a strong presence there, too.
Hudson: I think there are two factors: one is the Top 300 monthly sales reports I mentioned above. The second determining factor for me was what I am hearing from the public. I am a part of a lot of online groups that focus on comics, pulps and genre books. I’ve been reading them daily for many years. Specifically what I am hearing is that people want shorter story arcs that do not go on and on forever. They want a beginning, middle and an end to stories. I’m sure you are aware that over the past year or so story arcs, in many cases, have gone from around eight issues down to four per arc. I’ve also heard so many people state that they are not buying single-issue comics any more. Instead, they are opting for the compilations because they are generally packaged much nicer and they’re all in one place. I honestly think there are a lot of factors for this trend.
One may be that super hero characters change or evolve so much that continuity kind of becomes a joke. Another factor might be a bi-product of our times. We want what we want now. We don’t want to wait. Graphic novels do just that. We are gratified without waiting for the following month or three or four for the next chapter in the story.
This does not necessarily address any of your questions but I feel it is pertinent to what we are talking about so I’m including it here. A film producer friend told me something rather profound a few weeks back. She said so many films are being made from graphic novels because the producers and directors will not take the time to read a book but will look at words and pictures that can serve as a storyboard springboard for them. They can quickly visualize a film through the reading of a graphic novel.
Geek: Why can’t we just abandon the monthly 22-page story model outright?
Hudson: Well I’d hate to see that happen for one thing. Charles, this is a scenario that would rock my world. For three years I’ve live directly across the street from a small convenience store. You would not believe the number of kids who visit that store on a daily basis. I’d love to see a spinner rack in that store full or rather not so full of comics. I’d love to see comics for kids in the hands of kids. I love mature audience stories but I think there is room in this world for both. It boils down to marketing and distribution. I should preface all this with a big “Thank God” for Diamond Distribution. Where would we be without them? But I know that tons of Moms and Dads are not going to take their child to a comic book shop. If comics were in neighborhood convenience stores kids would be buying comics. They would just like they buy energy drinks and candy.
The 22-page story model is also serving as an advertising platform for the companies that still sell them. I think oft times the books are merely serving to perpetuate the films that are coming from various companies. Is this a bad thing? No… but I personally still enjoy reading a comic or GN for the sake of reading. Not in viewing it as ancillary or support material for a film.
Powell: Well, I can’t speak everyone, but that’s certainly what I want. I can’t imagine anything quite as frustrating to readers than to spend four or five bucks on a single twenty-two page comic book, taking two minutes to read it, and having almost nothing happen in the issue. This current fad of decompressed story-telling seems very lazy to me, and is quite unfair to the reader. Lots of fans, sometimes myself included, tend to wait for the trade paperback compilations, anyway. Michael and Dark Horse figured that our trademark should be graphic novels right from the start. That way we’re also in the bookstore market and remain on sale, and in print, much longer. Makes sense to me. Much as I hate to say it, I suspect the days of the single issue comics are rapidly becoming extinct. I hope that’s not the case.
Thorpe: I think the 22-page format works for some types of titles. For others, it doesn’t make sense. The market is changing drastically, and I think you’ll see a reduction of the 22-page story in the future, but I don’t think it will ever go away. I’m a Wednesday comic kind of guy. I love going into the store on Wednesday, browsing the racks, picking up mainstays as well as being surprised by new titles. There is something very appealing about that weekly experience. But I’m always on the lookout for self-contained graphic novels as well. I think that there is a balance to be struck between the two and it should always come down to what is best for the story—can it be an exciting serialized comic that grabs you week in and week out like a Walking Dead, or does it need to be digested like Asterios Polyp?