Dark Horse goes digital

After a seven-year absence, Dark Horse Presents is back, this time on MySpace. The Dark Horse folks sprung the announcement at the San Diego Comic-Con, in a panel ostensibly devoted to the history of Dark Horse Presents, and it’s good news for everyone: Readers get free comics by acclaimed creators such as Joss Whedon, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Ba, and creators get the opportunity to be discovered—but only if they are posting their work on MySpace.

Dark Horse Presents was Dark Horse’s debut title when the company launched in 1986. The editors conceived the black-and-white anthology as a vehicle for new talent, and over the years it served as a launching pad for successful series, including Hellboy and Sin City, and gave early exposure to creators such as Eddie Campbell, Ed Brubaker, and Doug Mahnke. After a few years of slack sales, Dark Horse ended the title in 2000.

The new version will showcase an artist discovered on MySpace, Dark Horse editors told Andy Khouri in this interview for Comic Book Resources. The first issue is the exception, because of the secrecy around the launch. The DH editors were clear on one point, though:

“All I want to say is don’t call us, we’ll call you,” Scott Allie said. “I know that sounds shitty, but I can imagine getting three thousand messages tomorrow, and I could never get caught up. So we’ve got a crack team of people from MySpace and DH looking at comics profiles, seeing what appeals. We think this is more efficient than submissions.

So pimp that MySpace page! One important criterion: Newly discovered creators can’t have had their work published by a “recognized” comics publisher, although self-publishing probably doesn’t count.

And how are the comics? Issue 1 features four titles. Sugarshock, by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, is an off-the-wall tale of musicians and robots and aliens. Of the four featured comics, it is the only one that is obviously a first episode; the other three are self-contained. The Umbrella Academy: Safe & Sound is a spin-off of the comic written by Gerard Way, of My Chemical Romance, and Gabriel Ba. The story is quick, with lots of violence and a twist at the end, but it feels slight because it is so short. Samurai Heaven and Earth: The Forest, by Ron Marz and Luke Ross, is the most beautifully drawn of the comics. The story is short, focusing mainly on a fight, but it has some depth to it and the art is just awesome. The last comic, Rick Geary’s The Comic-Con Murder Case, is intentionally small-scale, the sort of cute, funny little strip that an anthology holds quite comfortably.

The presentation is straightforward and easy to use. The comic is embedded in the page, with its own scroll bar, and is read vertically. Unfortunately, this shrinks the comic a bit and doesn’t allow for permalinks; only Sugarshock has its own page. On the plus side, there are no blinking banners to distract you. The page layout is cluttered but the colors are muted enough to keep it readable. One question that isn’t clear from this first issue is whether previous issues will remain online. We’ll find out soon enough: Issue 2 is due on Sept. 5.

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