Reversing the usual trend, Dark Horse Books, an independent comics publisher, launched two conventional book imprints in 2004 in an effort to broaden its publishing program. Two years later, the imprints—DH Press, specializing in pop culture art books and prose, and M Press, focused on prose fiction and nonfiction—have released nearly 30 books, from original novels to books on health and movie tie-ins.
Based in Milwaukie, Ore., Dark Horse is best known for publishing the bestselling graphic novels of Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Frank Miller (Sin City). DH senior editor Rob Simpson, who has worked for DC Comics and Marvel as well as Bantam Books, said the two imprints were launched "to change perceptions of the house. We want to be able to do all kinds of publishing." And, Simpson said, the imprints are working: "We've been able to reach out beyond the graphic novel buyers at the stores and expand their understanding of the books we want to do."
The biggest success, said Simpson, has been the Vampire Hunter D series, prose novels originally published in Japan, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. DH Press has published five titles in the series and plans three a year until all 25 books in the line have been released in English. "We're getting return customers, and sales haven't dropped off as more volumes are released," said Simpson. The house has also done well with diabetes activist Gloria Loring's Living with Type 2 Diabetes. "It's not just a medical book," said Simpson, noting that Loring's son has diabetes. "She has a personal story to tell."
The house is also doing well with novels based on movie franchises like Scarface, Alien and Predator, as well as with classic Universal Studio monster movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy. "We've swapped ads with the Scarface videogame producers," said Simpson. "This gets our titles in front of millions of potential readers. And the Universal novels are generating excitement among fans with new movies coming based on the Wolfman and Creature from the Black Lagoon."
They Played the Game, a sports collection featuring interviews with the likes of Brett Favre and Derek Jeter, was released in June; it's the first book in DH's deal with Playboy to publish themed hardcover and paperback anthologies of the magazine's interviews. Simpson said there are plans for at least nine volumes of Playboy interviews; The Directors is due in October. And set for December is Bottom Feeder, a first novel by comics artist Bob Fingerman. "It's a slice of New York life that's getting good buzz," Simpson said.
Next year Simpson expects the two imprints to publish as many as 24 books. Already set are a reprint of Harlan Ellison's Spider Kiss (originally called Rockabilly) and Saffron and Brimstones, a story collection by fantasy author Elizabeth Hand. "People just want stories—prose books, manga, movies," Simpson said. "We're interested in finding the best way to get them to readers."
But Dark Horse is a comics publisher and DH Press is "still a bit of a marriage between the visual and words," said Simpson, pointing to prose and art books like Kong: King of Skull Island, a lavishly illustrated novel by Joe Devito and Brad Strickland, and Pin Up: The Illegitimate Art by Jim Silke. "We think we can reach a wider audience for these books under DH Press."