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In an interview with ICv2 – and an email conversation with the Beat – Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson has revealed more details of the deal with Vanguard Visionary Associates, a Chinese company led by former Disney exec Stanley Cheung. The deal was announced late Friday, and involves major funding from VVA. It appears that VVA is now the majority owner of Dark Horse.

Speaking to ICv2, Richardson said he owns “a large chunk” of Dark Horse. Richardson characterized it as “a significant chunk” in an email to The Beat. Both statements were in response to whether he still owned a majority stake in the company.

This is a huge move for the direct sales market – Dark Horse is the third or fourth biggest consistently in the top five comics companies depending on how you measure it – but it is also a significant move for Dark Horse to grow.

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The deal will allow major expansion in Dark Horse projects to the Chinese market. Richardson told the Beat it will also allow Dark Horse to self-finance its own media adaptations, which can be a big advantage.

Icv2 had more details:

Asked about the genesis of the deal, Richardson told ICv2, “We started out working with them to build a film fund.  The deal expanded into other areas as we continued down that path.”  He was anxious to bat down speculation that the migration of some licenses over the last few years (Star Wars and Conan to Marvel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to BOOM! Studios) had necessitated the search for capital.  “I get tired of hearing that,” he told us.  “We are large enough and diverse enough that, while I don’t like losing them, those licenses were easily replaced from a financial perspective.”

Richardson also noted the scale of Dark Horse projects in the pipe for other media.  “At the same time, our film division is off the charts right now with two Netflix projects already filmed, a new SyFy series, a new Hellboy film set to be released shortly, a dozen other projects being developed,” he said.

The SyFy project Resident Alien starring Alan Tudyk; at Netflix the two projects are the eagerly awaited Umbrella Academy adaptation and a show based on Cullen Bunn’s Harrow County. Dark Horse has been forging a stronger relationship with NEtflix in the last 12 months, including the Stranger Things comics adaptation.

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Richardson, 68, is one of the true self made titans of the modern comics industry, and under his watch Dark Horse has expanded into manga, licensing, merchandise, retail, film, TV and just about every other media. Its licensed comics – Star Wars, Bufy and so many more – set the standard for modern comics licensing. Dark Horse also led the way for offbeat comics media adpatation with The Mask, back in the day, and Hellboy more recently.

In other words, Dark Horse has had an amazing past. Joining with a larger partner is part of the change it needed to make to move into the multi-national future.

What will the day to day effect by on Dark Horse? More to come on that.

CORRECTION: I initially said that Dark Horse was the 3rd or 4th biggest company but it was pointed out to me that Image has really been the #3 consistently for the better part of the decade. In the past Dark Horse ranked as high as #3 but is ually #5 these days.

 

 

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40 COMMENTS

  1. Aw man, that pic of the Mask got me hopeful they were going to reinvigorate the franchise. I liked the movie, but it would have been so much better if it stuck closer to the WB-style mayhem and violence and humor. They could do that much more easily these days.

  2. While I understand that a business has to add a partner sometimes to thrive in the market, a foreign majority ownership of an American company to me is a disgrace, American companies need to stay American majority owned. I had hoped that the comics industry was above this, but I guess greed takes first place again in America.

  3. This worked out great for Valiant. But maybe the new Chinese overlords won’t use their daughters as human shields when there’s a giant sexual predator on the payroll?

  4. Too bad. China is buying up a lot of American movie studios too. They have major censorship in their country that will affect our movies and now comics too.

  5. An American comics company sold to the Chinese. We’re all getting parceled up and sold off to foreign powers. Is this the part where America becomes Great Again?

  6. You’re forgetting culture is a two-way street. If the Chinese wealthy are investing in movies that have goods (like decency, freedom, etc.) that can be agreed on by US and Chinese alike (which presumably all of the Marvel and DC movies which have performed so well in China already) for both domestic and foreign consumption, then that’s a good thing. You’re actively promoting in an acceptable way small change – exporting US culture which everyone seems to like, in positive ways. Little spaces.

    Foreign investment and money too, spent in the US and therefore increasing GDP and jobs that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Lots of benefits all around to trade.

  7. No surprise here. The American entertainment industry, particularly movies, is now aimed primarily at Asian audiences, and especially at Chinese audiences. That’s where the money has been, ever since the collapse of video stores and DVD sales a decade ago.

    The problem, Kaleb, is that most Americans have no interest in Chinese culture and entertainment. But they sure want our entertainment, especially if it’s a bombastic spectacle with lots of CGI monsters and explosions. It’s not a two-way street.

    “They have major censorship in their country that will affect our movies and now comics too.”

    Gay characters are usually not allowed in movies shown in China (or in Russia or India) unless they’re depicted as evil. Nudity and sex scenes are also no-nos in China, a big reason why there’s so little nudity in mainstream Hollywood movies today. (When I saw the new “Halloween,” I couldn’t help noticing that the only nude scene is a clip from the 1978 original.)

  8. “You’re forgetting culture is a two-way street.”

    Yes, but as has been pointed out, that means Chinese values are in the process of dictating content in American films. And as for trade, China recently backslid into one-man dictatorship. That’s basically THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what the last 20 years of trade and engagement by the West was supposed to produce.

    Mike

  9. MBunge, the US remains the biggest market for films worldwide. Make a bad movie, i.e. one that US audiences will not culturally like, then you stand to lose an awful lot of money. (And, just having read Heidi’s interview with the head of Valiant, yeah, where’s the oppression there exactly…) George, culture is always fluid. You just can’t watch a movie that stars an investigative reporter like Lois Lane or Clark Kent, and have it not connect with ideas like Truth that resonate. Agree with the sentiment about spectacle and censorship, but more opening is better.

    No-one else other than the Chinese can do anything about one party rule, unless you want start a decimating war for both sides to do something directly about it. Or perhaps you want to exclude, limit, restrict, belittle and humiliate China politically and economically over the coming decades to achieve an end; which is what the world powers did to Japan in the 50 years prior to WW2. That just antagonised a power and contributted to making it hostile. Try not to repeat history’s mistakes.

  10. “MBunge, the US remains the biggest market for films worldwide.”

    Uh…I don’t want to be insulting but can you actually count?

    U.S. population – 326 million
    China population – 1.4 billion

    The last Transformers movie made $130 million in the U.S. It made $228 million in China.

    You are completely avoiding my point. The last 20+ years of China policy in the West, both diplomatically and economically, was supposed to produce certain results. It has, but those results ARE THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what we were told they were going to be. Policies that were promoted as resulting in X have actually resulted in Not X.

    WHAT WE’VE BEEN DOING WITH CHINA HAS NOT BEEN WORKING. That is not an opinion. That is observable fact. Now, we can certainly argue about what to do next but that won’t happen if people refuse to accept reality.

    Mike

  11. “we’re all entitled to our political opinions”

    And we’re all entitled to run away when we can’t support those opinions with either logic or fact.

    Mike

  12. Not true, MBunge. There’s just too many assumptions you have made that I find so completely distasteful that I can’t be bothered, and there’s no point. But go ahead, you win.

  13. Isn’t saying that culture is a two-way street basically means that USA is bound to become more authoritarian than it is now as more and more companies are being bought by China?

  14. No, but being open to aspects of Chinese culture such as its cuisine is desirable, I would have thought. That’s culture, changing, and being more open and cosmopolitan. That’s an example. I hope you can see that cultures change, and optimism stems from that fact.

  15. Actually, you’re not wrong. With the success of China economically, there’s been a lot of discourse about whether democracy is essential to a successful society. I don’t believe it, but if enough young people no longer care about democracy in favour of something more direct… you decide whether that constitutes cultural change (or just happening to vote someone like Trump in and not caring about all the usual warning signs). You tell me.

  16. Kaleb said: “Make a bad movie, i.e. one that US audiences will not culturally like, then you stand to lose an awful lot of money.”

    That’s utterly untrue. “Pacific Rim” flopped in the U.S., but was a massive hit in Asia. So we got a sequel. It also flopped in the U.S. but was, again, a massive hit in Asia. So we’ll probably get a third “Pacific Rim” movie.

    To give another example: Tom Cruise’s first Jack Reacher movie did so-so business in the U.S., and the sequel was an outright bomb here. But both movies were huge hits overseas. So don’t be surprised if there’s a third Reacher movie, even if nobody in this country wants to see it.

    Franchises like “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” will probably run indefinitely because they still make money overseas, even though Americans have lost interest.

    A lot of Americans have a hard time accepting that American movies (at the big-budget, franchise blockbuster level) are no longer made primarily for Americans. That’s probably because Americans are used to being the center of the universe. But we no longer are. The studios now make 70 percent of their money overseas (in the 1970s, it was only 30 percent).

  17. “I don’t believe it, but if enough young people no longer care about democracy in favour of something more direct… you decide whether that constitutes cultural change (or just happening to vote someone like Trump in and not caring about all the usual warning signs).”

    It’s actually older white people, in their 50s and up, who worship Trump. Those are the most faithful voters and they usually decide elections.

    Young people wanted Bernie Sanders for president. I didn’t agree with them, but at this point anyone is preferable to Trump. Just my opinion.

    BTW, the median age of Fox News viewers is 65, which means half their viewers are OLDER than 65. And that’s the favorite “news” source for conservative Trump fans. (CNN’s median viewer age is “only” 60.)

  18. George, I find your focus on box-office receipts of fairy-floss movies to be patently absurd. But keep going. You’re only proving the initial point of substance that I made, namely that audiences outside the US like US movies, and therefore your culture. And as to my numbers, the US domestic market for film in 2017 was $10.24b, whereas the second closest market in the Chinese came in at approx $8.5b. Just to be pedantic about my initial reference.

    And I don’t give two shits about identity representation in popcorn movies, which you seem to think as the issue of most concern to everyone, eveywhere. There are bigger and higher aims of art and I’ve seen some of the most incredible, humanistic cinema from some of those censorous societies, like Iran and Russia and China. They produced interesting cinema within the censors, and at times breaking them. So, by all means, keep raging on about things of scope I have little interest in. There are things of larger scope at stake. And I’m interested on what pretext, in a country with codes of law, you start excluding Chinese capital on your flimsy pretexts and concerns.

    As to the young, there had been a whole range of surveys in Britain, Australia and US in the lead up to the vote on Brexit and the 2016 election, that showed that young people are disengaged from politics and the democratic process. They are going to be demographic that turns out least, generally, in your coming mid-terms (whereas most elderly voters aged 55+ are expected to turn out in the highest numbers, which shows they are engaged). It is a cultural observation noted in the West, probably because democratic processes have not served the young well. Look it up.

    Rage on, MacDuff… (culture tends to aggravate people

  19. The demographics in Asia dwarf any form of ‘entitled’ consumer- bigot/’American’, regardless of whether one is ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or white, Hispanic, or black in ethnicity here… :
    -Dark Horse is now run by Chinese company Vanguard Visionary
    Associates. So we additionally have:
    -Warner Bros. chairman and chief executive Kevin Tsujihara
    -Chinese company DMG owns Valiant Comics

    C.B. Cebulski was apparently chosen as the current EiC at Marvel in large part for his work in Asia, but How Long Until Marvel’s EiC is Indian or Chinese…? Isn’t it like if you are under the age of 12 in ‘America’, and you are NOT Hispanic, then you are a minority in ‘America’, for that age range 1 -12? >So it would be nice if we started to have more Latin-American Senor Management and Editors at DC and Marvel, along with more Latin-American character-based assets, but the money and power are in India and China…

    In 2014 Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, is from India… Who else from the former-USA has executives from, or is about to be bought by Indians or Chinese???

    How long until people just start paying attention to their own LOCAL TALENT, local publishers and hand-made works, and stop paying $4+/comic for comics that will soon be published to cater to the censorship standards, and demographics of India and China???

  20. I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but currently China only allows 34 films per year from the U.S. to be released on the mainland. If you’re worried that this will significantly alter the output of an industry that releases 800 films (or so) per year, then I’m not sure what to tell you…

    I suppose you’d still have a point if you thought that the singular artistic visions we’ve come to expect from superhero and giant robot movies might be replaced by a profit driven superhero and giant robot movies designed for return on investment, but I don’t think that’s what’s at work here.

  21. Kaleb, you know absolutely NOTHING about movies, and you reveal your ignorance every time you pontificate on them. Why do you insist on demonstrating your lack of knowledge and understanding?

    “Fairy floss” movies are the only movies that matter to Hollywood today. (The studios have pretty much killed off the mid-budget dramas and comedies that were aimed at adults. Those have largely migrated to TV and streaming.) And those “fairly floss” movies are the ones that global audiences, especially in Asia, want to see. Global tastes are driving the movies that Hollywood makes.

    Even if the U.S. is still the world’s largest movie market, nobody expects it to remain that way for much longer. Everyone who works in Hollywood assumes that China will soon be the world’s largest economy — and the biggest market for movies. They’re getting ready for that shift.

    You seem to be living in a fantasy world that has no resemblance to reality. Turn off your computer and step outside your door. You might be surprised by what you see.

  22. And you ignore most of my actual points — that Hollywood movies can flop in the U.S. and still make big profits overseas, resulting in expensive sequels that most Americans don’t want to see. And that the American movie studios now make 70 percent of their profits outside North America.

    I know that most fanboys have awful taste in art and entertainment, including movies. So the people here probably have no problem with brain-dead movies about superheroes, giant robots, and giant monsters. Congratulations, fanboys! You’re getting the movies you want (and deserve).

  23. George,
    Hollywood has always made the majority of its profits from a minority of its films (the same is true of most entertainment industries), so that 70% measure might be true but it doesn’t mean that 70% of movies are being made with overseas audiences in mind. I’ll grant that almost any big budget “tentpole” “blockbuster” movie is made with an eye to earning big money (or recouping money) overseas, but as you imply these were never going to be high art. If you’re saying that were it not for overseas markets Hollywood studios would be making intellectually engaging, aesthetically challenging blockbusters then I’m not sure what to tell you.

    Bill,
    You might want to think twice about conflating Chinese government policy and Chinese culture. The two aren’t unrelated, but by treating them as the same is to indulge in some seriously sloppy thinking.

  24. George, it’s you that seems xenophobically- challenged by that prospect. I know! (and this is sarcasm): why doesn’t the US exclude all foreign investment from your movie industry! Then, presumably, the movie industry can get back to producing the type of movies you want to see (with US cultural purity, or whatever the fuck you think is beneficial there).

    Here’s a thought (and I’m resorting to your pathetic tactics of citing case examples, rather focusing on industry and policy specifics for outcomes that produce goods in society): if Asia is so at odds with US culture – if its various censors, as you say, will so modify the nature of films in unnacceptable and adverse ways to US audiences – then why was a film like Black Panther let into those countries at all, and why did it succeed wildly? Why did a film like Pacific Rim Uprising, which stars a black actor like John Boyega, a fierce young girl protagonist, and international cast and context, succeed (I actually like Pacific Rim Uprising, like most Steven DeKnight product). Where are all your unfounded concerns? The basis upon which…

    I think your opinions slip over into xenophobia and at the least cultural intransigence. It is founded in the basis of fear and you have no trust in the capacity of your cultural institutions to deliver any worthwhile product (or to negotiate a marketplace, etc). You prefer to wallow in the painful nostalgia of yesteryear, without sophistication on how to cope with anything outside of your own personal taste. There are excellent movies made the world over and would suggest expanding your standards. Booyah!

  25. … and before you tell me again that I haven’t addressed all your points; from all that I’ve written here, across my various posts, I believe you should be able to piece it all together – bad luck if you can’t (you and others, on the other hand, have disregarded mine.

    I really took the high road on this one. Will look forward to your rage, George

  26. Kaleb wrote: “…why doesn’t the US exclude all foreign investment from your movie industry!”

    I noticed that after several passionate and vigorous posts defending Chinese acquisition of US companies, Kaleb referred to the our US movie industry as “YOUR movie industry”, which sounds like Kaleb isn’t even an American. Why are non-Americans so often the ones cheering the loudest for distasteful US domestic situations? It’s almost as though someone’s trying to create discord within our country. To which I can only say… Da, Comrade.

  27. True dude, Australian as, which I’ve been open and honest about since I started posting on this site over a year ago. Let that influence/dustract in the range of ideas if you want (can’t help if it does).

    Just, relevant in a discussion of US culture, I have numerous friends and relatives who express opinions resenting the US expressions of power; a common opinion in Europe, Asia, Mid-East, etc. However, all my friends and relatives love to consume US cultural products, like music, movies, comics, media, art, clothes, etc. I point out those contadictions to them – that the US is a great power, with a terrific and history of ideas and values, with associated cultural products that I consume. I believe in the peace and stability that the US has created – and I believe that greatness and international rules-based order should continue.

    So, I would like to know, in real-time Foreign Policy scenario: would you exclude the Chinese from buying Darkhorse comics/another media company? That’s the singular point I want addressed (because it seems to me that even the Trump Administration is allowing this; so, if you did regulate, you would be on the Right of the current regulation settings/US Government’s position…). Put yourself on the side of that point. To those that would, you can pester your Representative and try to change the policy setting….

    [not sure how my nationality affects the viability of all that… hmmn]

  28. Funny, you don’t write like a native English speaker. I don’t think I’ve ever once commented anywhere, even in private, about Australian affairs, but either way, yeah, if it was up to me I wouldn’t allow foreign ownership of US companies, I wouldn’t allow foreign ownership of US real estate, and I wouldn’t allow foreign governments or corporations to donate money to US political causes. That sh*t would be over!

    And believe me, I’m no where near the right of Donald Trump, who’s the very poster child for multi-national corporation über alles! Trump would sell this whole damn place to the highest bidder regardless of national interest.

  29. No fear here, Jim. in real-time, what you propose would be disastrous for the US economy. That is why no one in their right mind would vote for such a platform (voice it, anywhere, to anyone

  30. LOL! Have you seen some of the stuff we’ve voted for? It’s pretty easy to see that we are clearly not in our right minds–especially at the moment! And I don’t mean this in any personal way, but the one thing that all Americans have in common, left or right, is that we don’t give one single damn about what anyone outside America thinks of our country.

  31. It is only my opinion, Jim. Good luck with your platform and I hope human dignity and decency prevails over your particular brand of politics. Always.

  32. Actually, this is my first time in encountering someone such as you Jim. You’ve given me stuff to think about. But I precisely wish you no luck with anything, and I trust people will always be there to curb your real-world behaviour and excesses, with your repugnancies. Little point in being civil or maintaing dialogue with a person such as you. My sensitivities, you see.

  33. “I hope human dignity and decency prevails over your particular brand of politics.”

    I have to admit, this kind of person fascinates me. Not that he’s obviously writing about stuff he doesn’t understand. Let’s be honest, we all do that from time to time. It’s the bizarre narcissism of someone making excuses for a repressive totalitarian dictatorship while claiming the moral high ground.

    It’s possible he’s just trolling but it’s a pretty convincing job of it if he is.

    Mike

  34. “namely that audiences outside the US like US movies”

    Thought I can’t let this bit of stupidity go.

    Foreign audiences DON’T necessarily like US movies. Solo: A Star Wars Story actually made more in the US than it did the rest of the world combined. The new Halloween is going to make about twice as much in the US as the rest of the world. A Wrinkle in Time made THREE TIMES as much in the US as the rest of the globe put together. Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 made about the same in the US but Avengers made TWICE AS MUCH internationally.

    What defines the global movie audience is that they freakin’ love big budget special effects extravaganzas, even when they suck so hard that lowbrow American moviegoers reject them. Dwayne Johnson came out in two utterly forgettable action flicks this year that combined to make about $165 million in America, but they made nearly $560 million worldwide.

    Mike

  35. I’ve never known an Australian who wrote with Kaleb’s particular English-as-a-second-language style before. That, combined with the weird personal attacks and passionate defense of China’s dictatorship that MBunge points out, makes me wonder if foreign trolls are also on comics news sites?

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