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Interview – Scott Allie – Dark Horse Comics

 

With the behemoth that is Comic-con landing on the shores of Melbourne this weekend, there was no question that we wished to cover the event. One of the most exciting fields of art that is emerging into popular culture these days are comic books; the movie industry is full of comic adaptations, and the iconography, characters and super heroic characters are an everyday part of our cultural experience. Scratch the surface of any one of the artists that we follow here on this ‘zine, and of many that we discover in our constant research, and you’ll most often than not find a love of the illustrative narrative art form. The walls our cities are adorned with the artists borrowed imaginings, and the sea of talent that creates the worlds that they inhabit is constantly surging beyond its shores.

Dark Horse comics forms an essential, ubiquitous part of this creative tsunami. With a huge number of already published series, and a vast number that we are sure will descend upon us in the years to come, their stable crosses all formats, traversing a multiverse of stories both heroic and tragic, horror filled and fantastical. Names such as Star Wars, Hellboy, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Mass Effect and Conan are day to day lingo within their walls, and it is people such as Scott Allie that not only help create these worlds with his own writing, but also helps to guide their enormous flows of narrative and artistic strands to cohesion.

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Growing up in North-Eastern Massachusetts, Scott Allie was fostered on an environment seemingly built for the creation of stories with vast, hidden echoes – his hometown of Ipswitch is the epitome of a coastal New England township. I know this personally, because I spent several years living a stones throw from Ipswitch, in the neighbouring towns of Newburyport and Amesbury, and I can easily put myself in the mindset and cultural, geographical context of a young writer and artist growing up in the area.

“It’s a really good town,” he replied when I told him of my own personal connection to the area. “I was thinking about it a lot this weekend and writing about it - a blog post. When I was really young I started reading a lot of Stephen King, and I didn’t understand that he wasn’t writing about my home town – all of his books felt like that area.”

No, if you’ve seen one coastal New England town you haven’t seen them all, but there is a definite cultural undertone between them all. These are the towns from Kings movies – the green, leafy environs steeped in history and tradition, and though it was from Kings wellspring of influential stories that Allie first drew from, he quickly discovered the workings of a writer who produced incredible tales set in his own back yard.

“It was through King I discovered Lovecraft,” he explained, “ and lo and behold he had written about my area – Newburyport and Ipswitch. That made a big impression on me. I felt a real, visceral connection to Lovecraft and King, and, early on, that definitely guided my interests in a big way.”

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As both an artist and a writer of comics, with a particular penchant for horror, the road towards becoming the Senior Managing Editor at Dark Horse Comics was one of hard work, determination and the oft do-it-yourself ethos that leads artists of all genres to success. From an early point, it was his passion for telling stories of the macabre that put him in good stead. As with many comic book artists, it was self publishing his own work that enabled him to garner the attention of the industry and fans at large.

“The first job that I had out of college was writing for a literary magazine,” he reminisced.” It was all very academic. In the meantime, though, I was working on my own comics and that job allowed me to start self publishing and that was heavily skewed towards the horror side of things.”

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The much maligned clichéd ethos of “write what you know” was not only a formulate part of his early days of self publishing, but also continues to play a big part in the work he does to this day, the solid foundations of independence and personal history writing their own narrative within his journey.

“Back then, I did an anthology called Six Miles, all written by me, partly drawn by me and other local artists,” he remarked. “At that point, I was working out a lot of my Ipswitch demons, a lot of my stories were set there, particularly early on – that kind of continues to this day.”

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One would think, that like most companies, that Dark Horse would run like a clockwork factory, with all the formal trappings of business and the corporate fiefdoms that it entails, but the world of comics relies upon a versatility, and from the small glimpses in the conversation, Dark Horse sounds anything but your typical publishing house – I mean, how could it? Without the flexibility to pursue different avenues between the many creative avenues before them the strength of their output wouldn’t be as evident as it is. Creative people require a different way of being managed, and although Dark Horse is as serious a publishing house as they come, Allie believes that without the flexibility and often randomness that the job of editing the many storylines that encompass their range entails, that the work, and the material that Dark Horse publishes, wouldn’t hold such an exciting edge.

“I have way too many formal office meetings set up,” he admitted, somewhat forlornly, “but its really chaotic in a way that I like. From day to day I’m doing very different asks. One of the constants for me is the Hellboy stuff, I’ve been working on that for all eighteen years I’ve been at Dark Horse, and working really closely with Mike Mignola and talking to him on the phone every day. Besides that, which has evolved a lot, it’s still the consentient part of my job.

Everything changes a lot, from day to day and year to year, and it keeps the job really interesting.”

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Allies editorial style is one that should be a template for all editors across the land of graphical storytelling. Tempered by decades of experience with collaborative works, his gentle coaxing of the various projects to bring excellence to the fore is an admirable guideline for would be editors. His wish to allow the creative individuals he works with to flourish under their own imaginative sojourns is a respectful lesson in artistic management.

“The editor shouldn’t be too influential on the story or the package,” he explains, when asked on his editing techniques. “ You want to bring the best out of the people but you don’t want everyone to do it your way. With comics, the fun thing is that is such a collaborative industry and art form, and the fresh thing about that, is that everyone you work with inspires you to work differently. So if Mike Minola is doing a project with John Arcudi over here, and Chris Golden and Ben Stenbeck overt here, well you get a really different Mike Mignola project. You don’t try to make it all fit the same boiler plate, you let the individuality come out in the project, and as an editor I have to do that, and bring all of that out rather than repress it.”

These days, you seemingly can’t enter a movie cinema without seeing an adaptation of one form or another, and visa versa. Movie adaptations of series, series adaptations of movies and books, the growing popular interest in comic book stories is a double edged sword. With many of them now licensed and playing on the big screen, one would assume that this would have a major impact on the work going on with Dark Horse, however, the oxymoron here is that not all of this popularity has necessarily fed back into the industry. It was my, somewhat presumptuous assumption, that the celebrity aspect of this had helped to reinforce and bring in new readers, and to some degree it has, yet possibly not as much as I had thought.

“You know … comics aren’t exactly selling better than they were 20 years ago when Hollywood didn’t care about us,” Allie humbly corrected, as he explained the positioning of “celebrity” within the industry. “There are certain things you have to deal with, that you have to deal with in terms of the celebrity element. I’m lucky enough that most of the real celebrities that I deal with are pretty decent guys, so the celebrity thing doesn’t affect things. It can certainly impact sales, for example, when Joss Whedon is writing a comic it will impact sales – but it’s just like working with Mike or Kurt Busiek – in a good way. The good ones act like people, and the bad ones don’t – you try and stay away from that.”

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Of course, amongst the cornucopia of work that Allie has done, one of the largest audiences outside of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Hellboy is held by the multifaceted, deeply rich realm of Star Wars – an entity that is “celebrity” unto itself. With several movies, and a massive, sprawling Extended Universe, and legions of fans, I wondered at Allies approach to working within a realm  containing so many different strands of continuity – and his approach, as with the response to many of the questions I asked, was pragmatic; something that I noticed infused much of his outwards philosophy.

“I think you just carve out a little corner and you hang out there,” he explained as my mind attempted to grasp the entirety of the continuity strands within the Star Wars. “ When I did the Darth Vader series, I don’t think that all six movies , were even out. So there were several movies, and then endless expanded universe stuff – and I just didn’t dip too much into it. I knew what the movies were about and the timelines and all that, but I didn’t get too lost in it. So my involvement with it all has been pretty limited, i couldn’t imagine how people John Jackson who has done so much with it, can deal with the continuity – I’d definitely get overwhelmed, I’m not great with continuity and trivia, so you know, I’d blow it!”

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It was around that point in the conversation that I realised that Allie was not only a pragmatist, but that he was a realist – and a humble one at that, and my preconceived notions of a firm handed individual with and otherworldly omniscience in terms of universe continuity were bypassed and transformed into something a lot more tangible. His, is a creative mind that just doesn’t hold to boundaries – he incorporates them, and is highly aware of them, and yet he never allows them to stymie his and others imaginations.

Although there are many varied approaches to both writing and editing comics, Allies style certainly seems to have worked, and continues to be liberally applied in grand swaths to the Dark Horse multiverse. I can’t count or find figures on exactly how many various different series Dark Horse publishes, but it certainly has to be in the hundreds – and getting a glimpse into the work that is to come is, well, pretty damn cool.

“The Buffy series is ongoing – all the titles were doing now were working on four books simultaneously between Buffy, Angel and Faith, and the upcoming willow and spike series, he tells me. “The correspondence between the four series is a unique new challenge for me, and I’ve never done anything like this before. Its kinda exciting and its fun, and its kinda hard!”

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“The Minola stuff is also getting a bigger grander scale than before,” he continues, “and I’m writing more of it than before. We’re bringing in one amazing artists after another – we’re hitting it out of really the park in terms of talent with it.”

Of course, being the advocate and lover of horror as he is, it’s no surprise that this will also feature heavily in near future Dark Horse releases schedule.

“The other big thing that I’m extremely excited and focused on right now,” he enthused, “is that at the end of the year were doing a big push for a horror line, which like most things on at Dark Horse kinda happened organically. I basically looked at the schedule and thought ‘Jesus Christ we have a lot of horror stuff at the end of the year, so lets do a big horror campaign!’ – so we’ve got all these books lined up and we’re going to do a really coordinated, well thought out push for them – if there’s a horror market within the comics market, I think we’re going to own it in the fourth quarter this year.”

When Allie talks of markets, he refers, of course, to the Dark Horse fan base – yet the fan market is a highly different beast than other commercial markets. Shifting as it does with taste and popularism mixed in with the hard core, lifelong lovers of their lines, interacting with this fan base is an important part of the Dark Horse business, and an important part of Allies over all strategy. This relationship with their fans is also at the core of Dark Horses success – they are no aloof publishing entity and their hands on approach is widely known. Events across the world such as Comic-con allow them to directly interact with their core market, and the feedback that they garner, from Allies perspective, is an essential part of the companys outlook.

“For me the biggest part about going to shows it to learn about audiences in different places,” he tells me, as we’re wrapping up the interview. “I have to go to San Diego every year and see the same crew every year, and I think I know what that audience is about, I enjoy New York Comic-con and there’s a good show in Seattle, but when you travel to different places you get to know different audiences. I know that there is a big comic audience in Australia, and a big Buffy audience. So I’m excited about meeting some people and seeing what their take on Season 9 is, and how they experience Dark Horse. One of the interesting things about Dark Horse is that it’s very different to other comic companies in a lot of ways. In one way, people see us as the home of creator owned books like Sin City and Hellboy, others see us as a home for licensed stuff like Buffy and Star Wars – but manga is also a big part of what we do, as well as horror.”

For Allie, who has been in the industry for so long, and who has created, edited, and worked so diligently to share both his own, and other artists worlds with us, Melbourne Comic-con is another link in the chain towards strengthening the relationship that he, and Dark Horse, have with their fans.

“Its educational for me to see how people perceives us,” he humbly enthuses, “and how they perceive our books – mostly I just get to experience that in the States.

That’s what I’m most excited about, really, just seeing what this audience thinks Dark Horse is, and what they like – or don’t like – about us.”

Check out Scott Allies website, and, of course, Dark Horse Comics, as well as the OZ Comic-con website for more info!

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