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Its a fantasy world, probably rooted in reality

by: JIM CLARK, 
Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson’s Milwaukie office is filled with paraphernalia from the company’s movies, comic books and graphic novels.

Mike Richardson lives in a fantasy world.

The 58-year-old president and founder of Dark Horse Comics was born in Milwaukie and lives in Lake Oswego. But his head, well, it's hard to tell where Richardson's head is at. Especially if you take a look around his office, stuffed with character masks, superhero posters and action figures.

Richardson was silk-screening at a Portland wood products company 28 years ago when he decided to open a store in Bend. He remembers that day well.

Peter Korn: How did you get into the comic book business?

Mike Richardson: My wife unexpectedly sent me a teddy bear with balloons that said, 'You're a dad.'

I went to my wife and said, 'Honey, I quit my job today. You told me you're pregnant, and what I want to do is move 150 miles away to a town where we don't know anybody. And I want to move out of the house we just built. I want to find a storefront, max out our credit cards and start a comic book shop. And I want you to quit your job as assistant to the president of the bankcard division of First Interstate Bank. And you can find a job as a waitress to support us.'

Korn: To which she said?

Richardson: OK.

Korn: And nothing else?

Richardson: She was actually happy to do it.

Korn: That's some wife. Still married to her?

Richardson: Yes, and now she's reaping the benefits of that 'OK.' She plays tennis five days a week.

Korn: And that's how Dark Horse started?

Richardson: Out of the retail store I met artists and writers and decided to start the publishing company. The publishing company started getting attention down in Hollywood, and people started calling me to option our characters (for movies), and I told them, 'That's great, but we want to produce with you.'

Korn: What's the worst idea for a comic anyone has ever pitched at you?

Richardson: We have a Joe file, named after someone who sent us a multipage list of properties he was willing to license us. There was Fly Man, with a list under his name. Powers: He flies. Suitable for television animation, action figures, but not hourlong dramas.

It was just this list in his weird head. There were dozens of characters that were identified in the same way: One name, powers, and what the character was suitable for. Every time we get something really out there we put it in the Joe file. Someday we want to publish the Joe file.

Korn: What's the biggest mistake you've made?

Richardson: 'X-Files.' Twentieth Century Fox was trying to get me to look at this property, and I was flooded with propositions and they kept calling me. I wasn't interested in adding another movie or TV-based comic to our line.

Finally, one Friday evening, I'm sitting at home and I've had this tape sitting there for months, and I stuck it in and it was the pilot for 'X-Files.' I called 20th Century Fox first thing Monday morning and told them, 'I'll do it. I love it.' They said, 'Oh, we signed a deal with Topps last Friday.' And it went on to be a best-selling series.

Korn: Quirky artists?

Richardson: We had one artist who worked in the desert, and he wouldn't turn in his work. He was way behind deadline. Finally he said, 'I was trying to get it out to you, but I had the window open because the air conditioning wouldn't work, and it was so hot that by the time I dipped my brush in ink, it dried before I could get it to the page.'

Everybody's trying to pitch my wife and me. When we go to dinner with people we don't know, we just wait for the shoe to drop because sooner or later the daughter's videotape, the son's script, the host's screenplay, sooner or later they're going to come.

We've had a banker come here and turn down a loan we were trying to get, and immediately after turning down the loan, offer me the script for a Civil War story he wrote.

Korn: That's probably not the best way to get a script accepted. What did you tell him?

Richardson: I gave him the same answer he gave me for the loan.

Korn: What's the most bizarre comic book you've published?

Richardson: Bob Burden's 'The Flaming Carrot.' It's about a guy who goes into his Uncle Billy's attic and reads 10,000 comics in a weekend. He comes out on Monday morning and he's wearing a giant carrot mask with flames on top, dedicated to fighting crime.

He battles things like Road Hogs from Outer Space who come to Earth and paralyze the entire planet because they have these big, fat convertible cars and like to cruise along our highways and shut down everything.

The Flaming Carrot gets rid of them when he explains the U.S. tax code to their leader and they flee because they won't stay in such a barbaric place.