Come convention season, Dark Horse Comics is ready to dazzle, usually boasting some great new projects and special guest appearances that are sure to have fans talking. At this year's C2E2 (Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo), we had the privilege of chatting with Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie. As one of the most prominent editors in the comics industry, Allie has earned the respect of fellow creators and fans all over the world. During our brief but revealing interview, we learned more than we could have ever imagined about the inner workings of one of the biggest comic book publishers on the planet.
STARBURST: As Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse, what do you find most challenging about being in charge? What does that entail for you?
Scott Allie: We're really a team, but Mike is really in charge. I'm very involved in helping all the editors get their projects going and keep their projects on track, so the challenge is juggling a lot of conflicting responsibilities. I still edit a lot of books, about twice as many books as most of the staff, so keeping on top of that is bananas.
What do you find most rewarding about it? There's got to be a reason for you to keep going, even in the midst of your hefty workload.
Overall, the most rewarding thing about my job is getting into new creative territory, like any time I get to do something creatively that I don't feel like I've done before. That's the most rewarding thing. Right now, this whole Aliens, Predator, Prometheus, AVP thing we're doing is exciting. The thing to me that is most exciting about it is we hired all these local writers, five writers in the Portland area, and we're all jammin' out the story together. Each writer goes home and writes their own script, but the overall direction of the whole thing, the interconnectedness of it all, comes from these writers brainstorming together, coming up with ideas, and managing that process. My job isn't so much coming up with the ideas as it is managing the process, keeping everybody motivated and collaborating. It's really fun, and it's similar to things I've done before, like the writer's summits that we've done for Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Joss Whedon, but this is taking it to a different level and it's an amazing challenge. Being Editor-in-Chief allows me to put these pieces in place to do it, so if I was just an editor or a senior editor I wouldn't have the room to orchestrate this sort of thing.
What genre of comics did you find yourself reading most as a kid?
Horror comics have always been the main thing for me. I love scary stuff, I love monsters, and I love drawing that evokes a lot of mystery and atmosphere. That's the stuff I've always loved the best. I read a lot of superhero comics as a teenager, but I don't read them so much anymore unless there's a creator I particularly love who I want to follow.
When did you decide you wanted to work in the comic book industry? When did it hit you as something you wanted to do for a living?
It happened gradually. I loved comics and I made comics all through high school and college. In sophomore year of college, when it was time to declare a major, I asked myself, “Do I do art? Do I do literature? Do I do writing? What am I going to do?” Not my advisor, but another faculty member said, “Why don't you combine the two and create your own major in comics?” I was going to college in the late '80s, and there weren't really programs for comics at that time, but this one faculty member said, “Why don't you do this? You should come up with your own thing.” That was a big step toward taking comics seriously and making it not just the thing that I was most interested in but the thing I was actually working toward. When I did my senior project, which was like this 70 page comic, and presented it, some woman sitting in the front row said, “When you leave here, are you going to work in comics?” I laughed at her, because I knew it was what I wanted to do but I wasn't banking on it. But when she asked me that question, I realized maybe it is as simple as that. I just need to decide I'm doing this and really focus my energy not just on making comics for my own enjoyment but turning it into a career. The first step was knowing I wanted to get a job in publishing, which was my first conquest in 1991. Then, a few years later, I got into Dark Horse.
That's awesome! Forgive the basic question, but who was your favorite comic creator growing up? It's always interesting to know which creators like and influence a fellow creator's work.
Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Harvey Kurtzman were the main three who convinced me to do this more than anyone. I was so blown away by what Alan, Frank, and Harvey did that I said to myself, “I have to figure this out. I have to figure out how these guys do it.”
You kind of touched on this a minute ago, but what about the industry, if anything, was surprising to you when you first broke into comics?
I remember I was at a store in San Francisco and Matt Wagner (who at the time was doing Batman and drawing Sandman with Neil Gaiman) was doing a signing there. I was about to graduate from college, and I asked him, “So, do you make a living doing comics?” He just laughed and said, “Yeah, I make a living doing this.” Still, at that point, I didn't really understand that this was an industry, that it was more than a hobbyist kind of thing. So finding out that you could work hard and make a good living out of it was surprising. I really like the community of the comic industry and how people know and support each other. I don't think it's a backstabbing kind of industry. It's competitive, but people are supportive, and I love that.
What do you feel sets Dark Horse apart from other indie comic publishers?
Every publisher has their own flavor, but I think one of the things about Dark Horse is that we specialize in a lot of different things. Some companies just do creator owned, some companies focus more on kids' stuff or don't do any kids' stuff at all. We try to do a lot of different things because we believe readers, like ourselves, don't just consume one thing. I know that for me, I love horror movies, but I also really love dramas, I really love comedies, and I watch a lot of different things. My favorite TV shows have been Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, and some really different things. That's because I like different experiences, just like everybody else.
Are there any upcoming projects you'd like to tease that haven't had a lot of press or a lot of attention yet? There has to be something!
I'm really excited about the whole Aliens/Prometheus thing. We're doing something really unique with that, and we're taking licensed comics into new territory. Hellboy just hit its 20th anniversary, so we've got some really crazy things going on with that and its related books (BPRD and Abe Sapien). We've got a new Mignola book that we're launching at the end of the year that we haven't announced yet. I'm very jazzed about that.
In closing, do you have any advice for aspiring comic creators?
You need to do tons of work. You don't succeed in any creative field without being great at it and without working your ass off. Nobody's going to notice you if you don't work to the point where your work has actually gotten good. What it really comes down to is doing the work over and over again until you're genuinely good at it. If you don't manage to create something exciting, you might not break in. So keep challenging yourself to get better and do something awesome.