The room where the Dark Horse panel would take place was empty when I arrived, and since there were no convention ushers around, I slipped inside and grabbed a seat from which I could take photos of both the projection screen and the panelists.
The room started to fill up shortly afterward. Dark Horse publishes a sizable list of titles, including Buffy, so I was not surprised to find a few frantic Buffy fans in the row in front of me. They were asking others seated near them if they knew what had happened in the most recent issue. They had not purchased it because they expected to buy it at the convention, but had then discovered it was not available. Failing to find someone who could fill them in, one of them got on his cell phone and started making some calls. While I was watching the guy pace back and forth, announcing loudly into his phone that he would put his friend on the line so she could get the summary for all of them, I noticed a couple make its way toward the front with an adorable little girl. This being Dark Horse, the publisher of comics like Hellboy, Sinfest, and Solomon Kane, the family seemed a little out of place.
The panel, made up of Dark Horse president Mike Richardson, Dark Horse publicist Jeremy Atkins, and Goon creator and writer Eric Powell, filed in and launched into their presentation. Richardson opened with a little Goon history. The comic’s first issue was originally published in March 1999 by Avatar. Powell left Avatar shortly thereafter and began to self-publish it. Richardson took notice, and although Dark Horse had originally passed on the comic, picked up the title in 2003. The comic’s paranormal slant and violent story lines make it an ideal Dark Horse title. The tenth-anniversary issue, which hits comic shops in March 2009, will be a reissue of the March 1999 cover.
When asked about story lines, Powell said that he prefers to tell stories visually instead of relying too much on narrative. He believes that the less you say, the better. Indeed, Powell came across as a rather quiet man, though a friendly one, as I discovered a few hours after the panel had finished, when I approached his booth with a friend of mine who requested a sketch and an autograph.
Richardson and Atkins then took a few non-Goon-related questions, most of which ended up coming from the Buffy fans. The guy who had been pacing back and forth with his cell phone tried hard to get spoilers, but did not succeed. Richardson said, “My, you’re inquisitive,” at which point Atkins directed the audience’s attention to the screen. We enjoyed a great slideshow of the different titles Dark Horse publishes, including Rapture, Domo, Umbrella Academy, BPRD, Witchfinder, Conan, Kull, and Beasts of Burden.
Beasts of Burden was the last slide in the presentation. Though it was art from the book, rather than the cover, it showed only the book’s canine characters. Written by Evan Dorkin (of Milk and Cheese fame) and drawn by Jill Thompson, Beasts is a four-issue series that tells the story of stray dogs and cats that fight supernatural powers. Richardson then called our attention to the family of three I’d noticed before the panelists arrived. Turns out it was Dorkin with his wife and little daughter.
Invited to join the panelists, Dorkin made his way up and effectively stole the show with his deadpan humor. He talked a little about Beasts, and pointed out that Thompson’s paintings of the animals are meant to be realistic and ordinary, not anthropomorphic. He also explained that when the strays fight against monsters, things get very, very bloody. Not surprisingly, and to the delight of most of the room, he talked a little about Milk and Cheese, and then busted our chops for not buying it often enough to keep him going.
When Richardson started talking a little more about Beasts of Burden I found myself still watching Dorkin (and tuning Richardson out). Dorkin was mouthing “I love you” and making funny faces at his little girl. Here was this personable and funny man, who was sharing a delightfully warm and sweet moment with his little girl—the same man who gave us the Dairy Products Gone Bad. Dorkin then turned to Richardson and asked him how much Dark Horse would charge for Beasts of Burden. Before Richardson could respond, Dorkin added: “Are you charging regular prices, or are you going to rip them off the way Marvel does?” When the audience laughed, me included, Dorkin turned to us and without missing a beat said, “Oh, shut up. You all paid four dollars for those books.” Not to worry, Marvel sympathizers. Dorkin did not leave DC out. “The Flash comes back and all is ruined. Thanks A LOT, DC!”
When the panel ended, I found myself wanting to get my hands on a copy of Beasts of Burden more than I wanted to go see Eric Powell sketch. I loitered for only a minute or two, watching Dorkin lean in chat with Powell and the Dark Horse guys—his wife and daughter already standing by and waiting. What had been a pretty mellow panel had been injected with a nice dose of humor and energy. It was a pleasant surprise for me, and for the better part of the audience.