Monday, October 31, 2011

PULPTACULAR | Dark Horse



For the next couple of weeks we’re going to turn our attention from prose (and audio) to comics, a medium with extremely close ties to classic pulp. The most famous pulp heroes have enough in common with superheroes to be indistinguishable from them for all practical purposes. And it was pulp characters that directly inspired many of today’s most popular superheroes. The Black Bat of course shares some very similar characteristics with Batman, but since his secret identity is a blind lawyer, he’s even closer to Daredevil. Another example is Iron Man, who owes a great deal to the villains of a classic Spider story.

But like pulps, comics cover many more genres than just costumed heroes. There are as many comics genres as there are sections in a bookstore, many of them falling under the category of pulp. And one of the biggest publishers of non-superhero pulp comics is Dark Horse.

Dark Horse didn’t respond to my interview request for this article, but their history is well-documented enough that we can get by without talking to them directly. They were formed in 1986 by comics retailer Mike Richardson who started the company with two titles: the dark parody comic Boris the Bear (in the first issue he "slaughters the Teenage Radioactive Black Belt Mutant Ninja Critters," if that gives you any idea about the target of the book’s humor) and the anthology title Dark Horse Presents. DHP quickly became popular for including Paul Chadwick’s stories about Concrete, a man trapped in a stone body by aliens (a pulpy concept if ever there was one) and went on to feature other stories like Frank Miller’s extremely pulp-inspired crime thriller Sin City.

In 1988, Dark Horse added licensed comics to their plate, starting with the very pulpy space-horror Aliens and Predator. When Star Wars followed in 1990, the company not only revived the all-but-dead Star Wars franchise (Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy came a couple of years later), they also secured their own future as a successful licensor of comics about pulp films. Today, their publishing schedule is still dominated by pulp comics of all genres.

It’s cool that we’re talking about Dark Horse on Halloween, because they’re especially good with horror in several subgenres. If Lovecraftian horror is your thing, Hellboy and BPRD are the best comics to ever touch that style. If you like your scares mixed with a bit more fantasy, they’ve got you covered with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For horror-comedy, it doesn’t get any better than The Goon, and if you want some noir in there, Criminal Macabre is the series for you.

If sword-and-sorcery is more your thing, Dark Horse has an entire line devoted to the father of the genre, Robert E Howard. And of course they’re still going strong with Star Wars, the most famous space pulp series in the galaxy. They’ve even got those pre-WWII costumed heroes if that’s what you want.

Dark Horse has always published pulp and it continues to overshadow their output, but they’re also starting a new imprint called Sequential Pulp that puts the influence right there in its title. We’ll take a closer look at that later in this series and see how it differentiates itself from the rest of the company.

2 comments:

  1. Hey, Michael, were you aware LOBSTER JOHNSON, THE SATAN FACTORY actually won the first ever Pulp Factory Award for Best Pulp Novel? I met Tom shortly after he'd received the award and he was pleased as punch. It sits on a shelf prominently displayed in his office.

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  2. I didn't know that. That's awesome!

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