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Milwaukie comic company to offer favorites on the Web

Dark Horse to make three of its popular 1980s comic books available online

The stereotype of comic book connoisseurs storing their collections of mint-condition issues in boxes packed conspicuously around apartments and bedrooms may eventually go the way of the CD tower to the music enthusiast since the advent of iTunes.

Milwaukie's Dark Horse Comics last month released three of its original comic book series from the late '80s- 'Aliens,' 'Aliens Vs. Predator' and 'Predator' - in a downloadable PDF format, allowing fans to purchase individual comics for $1.99 each, read it on the computer, store it on a hard drive and even print it out if they want.

'I think it gives us a unique position,' said Nick McWhorter, special projects manager for Dark Horse Comics' Custom Publishing program.

While other comic book companies are exploring digital media - Marvel comics, for example, has released DVDs containing 40 years worth of X-Men and Spiderman comics - Dark Horse is one of the first companies to release them on a single-issue, downloadable basis.

At the Web site, direct2drive.com, you can now see the covers of various issues and even read the first four pages before buying it and downloading the comic as a pdf.

'A lot of it had to do with timing,' McWhorter said. 'The new 'Aliens Vs. Predator' film hit theaters in December, the DVD's coming out next month, and next year's the 30-year anniversary of the original 'Alien' film and we found a great partnership in IGN,' the company that runs direct2drive.com. 'It's a great place to bring people who are interested in film, video games, comics.'

McWhorter said the company hopes to attract new readers, but that the project doesn't necessarily need a certain amount of users to continue.

'Really it is to find new readers,' he said. 'People that get on Direct2drive, a majority of what they're going there for is to download video games and movies, and maybe they're going there to download 'Alien Vs. Predator' movies and they see that there are comics when they never realized there were. And then maybe when they're out at Barnes and Noble they see the 'Alien Vs. Predator' omnibus,' 300-page, black-and-white collections of the company's older series, and they'll pick that up. 'We're definitively expecting to get some new interest and new readers, but we're not looking at it as something that we wouldn't do if we didn't get 100,000 readers.'

Online benefits

While McWhorter admitted that reading a comic on the computer isn't the same as holding the physical copy, it's convenient to buy and to store.

'Reading something on the screen is never going to be the same as holding something in your hands, giving it to your friends, taking it on the airplane,' he said. 'But they'll be able to have that on their hard drive.'

'I think the people that are going to buy the comic online are maybe not the people out there going to the comic stores,' he said, but people with an initial interest can download one and see if they want to get into the series more before heading down to a comic shop.

He also said the online releases currently available are special because they're the only place you can get the comics, which are out of print except in Omnibus form, in their original form.

'I think the ones that we currently have out on the site are the original 'Aliens' and 'Aliens vs. Predator' series, so you're getting them in the original form, with the original covers,' he said. 'Really it's the only way you can get those original comics in that original format.'

Dark Horse's other online project, which predates this one, is an agreement with Myspace.com.

'Our successful venture right now is our 'Myspace Presents' monthly feature,' he said.

At the site, myspace.com/darkhorsepresents, readers can view sections from over 30 comics, allowing them to get a taste for various writers and artists without having to purchase the book or even go down to the comic store.

'So that's a perfect place to market our different comics and our different artists.'