Dark Horse Entertainment Chief Mike Richardson: ‘We’ve Never Really Tried to Fit Inside That Marvel Box’

Company founder talks adapting comics for screen in new edition of TheWrap’s “Office With a View”

Last Updated: June 10, 2015 @ 1:34 PM

Dark Horse Comics has spawned cult favorite comics-to-film properties like “Hellboy,” “Sin City,” early Jim Carrey vehicle “The Mask,” “Timecop,” “Mystery Men,” “American Splendor” and more under the production arm of the company, Dark Horse Entertainment, led by company founder Mike Richardson.

The company, along with Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow, is producing live-action version of “Tarzan” starring Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou and John Hurt. The movie is slated for a July 2016 release.

And on TV, Dark Horse’s “Dark Matter” premieres on Friday on the Syfy Channel. The series follows a group of people who awake on a spaceship bound for a mining colony with no memory of who they are. The project was created Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. Dark Horse first released “Dark Matter” as a graphic novel before adapting it for the small screen.

Richardson started the comics brand in 1986 and expanded into film and TV production in 1992.

The industry heavyweight spoke with TheWrap about how making comic book movies has changed in the past 25 years, what influence Marvel and DC Comics’ success in film and TV adaptations has had on choosing projects and how Dark Horse fits into the recent boom in comic adaptations.

TheWrap: With all the comic book movies on the market currently, how does Dark Horse Entertainment differentiate itself?
Mike Richardson
: Well I think a good majority of the comic book adaptations are based on superheroes. When I look down the list there’s an astonishing amount of superhero material in development. At Dark Horse Entertainment, we have a wide variety of projects that cover different genres. Very few of them are actually superhero books.

How has adapting comic books to the screen changed in the last 20 years?
When I first started doing that in the late ’80s, bringing comic books into studios for adaptation was more of a unique experience. I think studios really hadn’t thought about comics to any degree or to the level that they look at them now. Back then there were very few comic movies, so I think we were on the beginning of the wave that was coming. In fact, I know a lot of the people bringing projects into the studios now sort of were inspired by what Dark Horse was doing back in those days. We had a lot of success and quite a few films made, and I think now it’s pretty standard fare for not just creators bringing their comics to studios or production companies, but also for studios and production companies to scour the comics market for material and new movies. Certainly the success that some of these films has had has certainly drawn a lot of attention to our industry.

I think as far as the development process, it’s pretty much the same. I just think we get a lot more credibility with the comics material as it becomes more and more ingrained in the pop culture. For a long time, comics were seen as juvenile material and not given much creative respect. And certainly since Dark Horse has started and a number of other companies have started, there’s been a change in the subject matter and the age that it’s aimed at. I think now that the comics industry gets as much if not more respect than every other medium.

Does a comic’s adaptability to film or TV influence what kinds of books you publish now?
Well there’s two ways to look at it: The first is, our bottom line is we’re looking for good comics. And we do enough, see enough pitches and create enough new material that some of the projects we do that are great comics lend themselves very easily to translation into film.

At the same time, through the entertainment office, you know [SVP of production Keith Goldberg] hears and they come up with ideas that might make great comics and also great films. It’s always about the idea and who the characters are. And we do have to say we’re doing it more now than we’ve done it in the past, but we have several series that started as ideas that were then translated into comics and then into television. One of the recent things that went that route is a project called “Dark Matter,” which we’re doing on Syfy Channel. Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, that was an idea they talked to Keith about as far as bringing it as a comic first, and, of course, we have a graphic novel out on the market now.

Has Marvel’s success in any way influenced the projects Dark Horse greenlights?
I think that it’s made us more aware of some of the types of things that are being made into films, but I don’t think it’s changed our overall strategy. We never really tried to fit inside the entertainment side of our company. We’ve done something like 30 films and television projects since our first one in 1992, “Dr. Giggles,” and we’ve never really tried to fit inside that Marvel box, these superhero-style movies. We think we’re much better off having a broader spectrum of content and pitching a variety of content. Although we’re not against doing those types of films.

So we’re certainly aware of the success that Marvel — and to some extent DC — has had, but that seems to us like a very crowded space. So with the right project, we’ll present it with the right writer and the right director, we would be interested in moving in there. Right now the projects that we have, and we have quite a few in development, but we’re not really in that space right now.

Could “comic book fatigue” become a problem?
Well, not comic book fatigue, because when you’re talking about comic book fatigue you’re talking about “A History of Violence,” a great movie that has not much to do with the current boom in superhero films. But when you sit back and look at the superhero genre films — I think I saw something, some number that there’s something like 42 in development right now — I think that it’s inevitable that at some point we’ll have seen it all. I think there’s a certain sameness to them that’s already setting in.

When you ask us, “Is Dark Horse going to move into this space?” Well, it would take us two to three years to get a film up and distributed. And we run the risk of that superhero fatigue having hit. So if we do go in there, it’s got to be something very original with great filmmakers so that it can attract attention and not be ignored because people are tired of that particular boom that we’re experiencing right now.