This comics publisher has been standing up to Marvel and DC for almost 30 years -- and isn't slowing down

Buffy Season 8Dark Horse ComicsDark Horse Comics publishes a wide array of titles, from original series like ‘Hellboy’ to official sequels to movies and TV shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

On the eve of their 30th anniversary, Dark Horse Comics has a lot to celebrate. This past week, the independent publisher announced a huge cable TV deal headlined by a comic co-created by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. This came shortly after the news that its titles are finally going to be made available on digital retailer Comixology (the publisher’s titles had long been only available digitally on the company’s own storefront, which meant you had to use a separate app to buy and read them).

Dark Horse has long been a steady powerhouse in the comics industry — few publishers have managed to stick around as long as Dark Horse has while remaining independent. If you’ve read comics over the past three decades, chances are you’ve read a Dark Horse book, and rightfully so: From longstanding series like “Hellboy” and “Sin City” to more recent books like “Mind Mgmt” and “Lady Killer,” Dark Horse has long been home to excellent work.

“When I say ‘independent,’ I mean it in the truest sense of the word,” says Dark Horse co-founder and president Mike Richardson. “We still have the same people, the same owners, we are independent — although the word has been used in the comics business to mean ‘independent of Marvel and DC.'”

Hellboy volume 1Dark Horse ComicsMike Mignola’s ‘Hellboy,’ one of Dark Horse’s most enduring characters.

And independence, Richardson stresses, has worked out extremely well for Dark Horse, citing a solid three years of broken sales records and growth, likely bolstered by smart business decisions such as expanding into collectibles with its Dark Horse Deluxe line and reaching out to the book market via a recent partnership with Penguin Random House.

In a world where Marvel Studios has helped turn comic books from niche entertainment to movie powerhouses, Dark Horse still seems resolutely old school. The company’s current TV and film ambitions — which include the SyFy series “Dark Matter” and a “Tarzan” film slated for 2016 — don’t mimic the mad dash to build multimedia mega franchises and cinematic universes seen in other companies.

At least, not yet. San Diego Comic-Con has just begun, and big announcements are a vital part of every big convention.

“We’re a comics company, first and foremost, but for a long time our growth was sort of held up,” says Richardson. “When we sat down to discuss what we would do, there were a lot of great ideas that would come up and I would think ‘how do we do that as a comic?'”

Over the years, Richardson has pivoted from that stance. “Even though comics are the love and core of our company, we’re really a content company,” he says. “And content has different forms of expression.”

That’s not to say that Richardson is any less enthused to be in the comics business — on the contrary, he’s still pretty excited.

Dark Horse Comics‘Lady Killer,’ a recent miniseries by Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones

“When I was a kid comics were everywhere: They were in pharmacies and gas stations, they were in convenience stores. They were even in the meat market where my mum used to shop,” says Richardson. “That’s not the case anymore, you don’t see comics in very many places. So the digital distribution of comics puts them back in front of huge numbers of people, so if we can catch a tiny portion of those readers it actually makes a huge jump in the customer base for comics.”

And like any publisher, more readers is all Richardson really wants.

“Our ultimate goal is for Dark Horse to be available in every distribution channel, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in every country in the world that reads comics,” says Richardson. “That’s our long term goal.”

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