Keeping up with comics can seem an impossible task. With hundreds of titles being released by dozens of companies, what is the comic book devotee to do?
The answer is Dark Horse Presents.
What is Dark Horse Presents?
It’s a comic book anthology from Dark Horse Publishing. Every month, readers are treated to a plethora of short tales from rising stars and comic book stalwarts. The Eisner Award-winning Concrete, John Byrne’s seminal Next Men, and most famously, Sin City, all got their start in Dark Horse Presents.
According to Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Presents “offers a wide view of the entire industry. It features young creators starting out as well as established industry ‘stars.’ Stories feature every genre, and all styles. You’ll find something for everyone within its pages and hopefully introduce readers to creators who they may not have noticed otherwise.” A quick look at the book’s latest issue demonstrates this breathtaking sweep. It opens with a tale about members of a girl band who moonlight as professional thieves and it ends with a story of apes being encouraged to undergo painful surgeries to make them into humans, and the ape that fights back. Between the two, readers will find dark fantasy, romance, and action stories.
Dark Horse Presents was the first book published by Dark Horse. Issue #1 premiered in July, 1986. A stern soldier standing athwart a pile of skulls glared off the cover at comic-buyers, as if daring them to buy the comic to discover to whom the skulls belonged. Since then, Dark Horse Presents has featured the works of a long and diverse list of comic greats, such as John Byrne, Harvey Pekar, Joe Sacco, Eddie Campbell, and Mike Mignola. And of all the books Mike Richardson could use his position as CEO to edit, he chooses to work on Dark Horse Presents, since he believes it is “the most representative of our identity and states clearly our desire to showcase comics creators. It’s a great launchpad for young talent as well as a home to projects and ideas from established creators.”
The anthology format, though unusual, is a real strength of the title. It exposes readers to a multitudinous parade of writers, artists, characters, and worlds, making Dark Horse Presents, in Richardson’s words, “a bleeding-edge, must-read book… Dark Horse Presents is a snapshot of the industry, and unlike some anthologies, does not devote itself to one particular look, movement, or genre… It’s a high profile book in which new talent can find recognition. It’s also a place where a busy creator can take a moment to give life to an idea with a well executed eight-page story. And all of the work is owned by those who create it, an idea [Dark Horse] was founded on.”
Let’s take a look at some of the classics that were first introduced in this colorful anthology.
Frank Miller’s neo-noir crime epic made its debut in Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special in 1991. For those who may have been encased in carbonite since then, Sin City is a series of interlocking tales of criminality, deviance, lust, greed, and corruption which all share the same setting: Basin City. The book has no single main character, but features hookers hard enough to cut diamonds, castrating cops, and the rare hero who will learn the price of doing good in a dirty world.
Mike Richardson remembers Frank Miller’s pitch for Sin City. He “heard [it] and immediately thought it would be a great comic. Frank works in a very cinematic way, making his comics very adaptable to film and television, so it was natural that film would come calling… Frank brought to Dark Horse his greatest creator-owned projects, and once again I will always be in his debt.”
Concrete was a revolution. It took an outrageous premise and handled it with realism and personality.
Ron Lithgow’s mind is transplanted into a giant stone body by aliens. On Earth, he has to deal with life as a powerful and ambulatory piece of rock. He breaks furniture, can’t handle doorknobs, and hires someone to write for him because he can’t manipulate a pen. The character premiered in Dark Horse Presents #1, and Richardson remembers it “was an immediate hit and garnered attention for our brand new publication. As praise for Paul’s work grew, numerous companies, including the so-called ‘big two,’ tried to persuade him to leave Dark Horse. Paul refused to leave… and for that I will be eternally grateful.” Concrete spun off into its own book, and won multiple Eisner Awards and a Harvey Award for for best new series.
Hellboy made his first appearance elsewhere, but he found his footing in Dark Horse Presents. Hellboy was the creation of Mike Mignola, but the first few Hellboy story arcs were penned by John Byrne. The first Hellboy tale told entirely by Mignola was The Wolves of Saint August, which ran in Dark Horse Presents. Mignola was turned down by DC when he pitched them Hellboy because it contained the word “hell” in the title. But he found a home at Dark Horse.
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All images courtesy Dark Horse Publishing. Feature image cover of Sin City The Hard Goodbye TPB Sin City® © Frank Miller, Inc.