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‘Dark Horse Presents’ New Howard Chaykin, Interview with Geof Darrow and More

Last year’s winner of the Eisner award for Best Anthology, Dark Horse Presents has been one of ComicsAlliance’s favorite titles since it was relaunched in 2011 to continue the classic and influential series’ tradition of showcasing emerging talent alongside some of the greatest writers, artists and cartoonists mainstream and underground comics has to offer. Each issue comes with quirky, undiluted excursions into the minds of uniquely talented creators, usually with immersive new serials or idiosyncratic short stories but also in the form of recurring, cult favorite characters and properties for which Dark Horse has served as caretaker for many years.

With issue #22 on sale today, we’re showing off pages by legendary cartoonist Howard Chaykin (American Flagg!, The Shadow, Black Kiss), who contributes a typically askew, sci-fi tinged retelling of “the middle years” of the life of George Armstrong Custer. Also in the new issue is a candid interview of master comic book artist, illustrator and designer Geof Darrow (Hard Boiled, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, The Matrix) about his career, conducted by none other than Dark Horse President Mike Richardson. You can read an excerpt below, not to mention preview new work by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber (new Alabaster!), Michael Avon Oeming (new The Victories!), Simon Roy (new Tiger Lung!), Shannon Wheeler (new Villain House!) and more.

Dark Horse Presents #22 cover by Geof Darrow

Dark Horse Presents assistant editor Jim Gibbons told ComicsAlliance a little about this issue:

Since issue #1, the inimitable Geof Darrow has been an integral part of the Dark Horse Presents relaunch. All but one issue has featured spot illustrations by Geof and his distinctive and much-loved style has helped define the look and feel of this unique 80-page monthly anthology. He’s been an ever present and indispensable piece of this book, so, as Mike Richardson says in his intro, “You could say this issue [#22] is dedicated to Geof, and you’d be right.” Seems about time we shined the spotlight fully onto Mr. Darrow! Issue #22 features Darrow’s second cover on DHP’s current run, as well as extra, never-before-seen spot illustrations, and the first half of an in-depth conversation about careers and comics with Mike Richardson. (The rest of which can be seen here at Comics Alliance and at DarkHorse.com.)

This issue also features Howard Chaykin’s return to DHP with a bit of speculative sci-fi historical fiction. On top of that, issue #22 focuses on some of the more (for lack of a better term) “indie” talent that DHP’s featured of the past 22 issues. Shannon Wheeler, Kel McDonald, Simon Roy, and Patrick Alexander all deliver excellent strips, alongside more mainstream mainstays like Oeming’s The Victories and Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Alabaster. Add Steve Moncuse’s Fish Police and Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris’ Journeymen to the mix and you have an issue headlined by Darrow that showcases a great range of comics art –each story distinctly different than the one that came before.

“George Armstrong Custer: The Middle Years” by Howard Chaykin

High-resolution spot illustration by Geof Darrow from the interview conducted by Mike Richardson
(click image to enlarge)

Geof Darrow: I started on The Matrix in ’97. And then when I finished up with it, I never thought it was going to get made.

Mike Richardson: But you never think any of those movies are going to get made. You never know.

GD: I would have given it a better chance than this unknown science fiction film. [The Wachowskis] were just so tenacious. They were offered everything. At one point Arnold wanted them to direct The Last Man on Earth. I remember reading the script, and it was really pretty neat. They said, “Make this movie, make this Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and if it’s a success, we’ll let you do your little science fiction film.” And they were like, “Hmmmm, no.” I thought it was pretty funny that they could say no to Arnold. But then they managed to get the star commitment from Keanu, and that’s what got it greenlit, Keanu coming aboard. They got it made. And the rest is history.

MR: The rest is history, as they say. It was during this time you were living in LA and . . .

GD: I was still living in France at this point.

MR: Was it? Wasn’t this about the time you had your dream car and you and Frank [Miller] went on your wild ride?

GD: That was during The Big Guy [and Rusty the Boy Robot]. That was way before.

MR: Tell us about that.

GD: I don’t want to talk about that.

MR: (laughs) No?

GD: No, no.

MR: After Matrix, then, where did you transition?

GD: Well, I was working on Shaolin Cowboy.

MR: And you were doing other work in between, though. You traveled to Japan regularly.

GD: Yeah, that was just for fun. I went to Japan because I liked going to Tokyo. I’d stopped working at Dark Horse.

MR: Yeah, those dark years. (laughs)

GD: But I lived in Japan for a year. I had written and was codirecting an animated version of The Shaolin Cowboy. Those were truly dark years. (laughs)

MR: Tough times.

GD: Yeah, you know, I’ve never shown it to you, but it would have been a hell of a thing. The thing is, it’s so odd and unique. In Japan they would shake their heads over it because they like archetypes, which really surprised me. I mean, if you look at their movies in the sixties . . . Zatoichi was this blind samurai.

MR: I know . . .

GD: Blind and kind of heavy, and that’s a little bit of where the inspiration for the Shaolin Cowboy comes from. He wasn’t your typical good-looking hero… They used to do movies like that. But in their animation it’s amazing. If you’re handsome, you’re a hero; if you’re ugly, you’re a villain. I remember sitting there with them [the producers] and them saying, “You know, he’s not very good looking.” And I said, “No, that’s what makes him interesting. Because he can do stuff you don’t expect him to do.” And they had a hard time wrapping their head around it. That was Maruyama. I remember sitting there having these discussions . . .

MR: Maruyama couldn’t get it?

GD: He couldn’t, but he finally kind of did. I guess it was because of the Wachowskis, and he was kind of swayed by my enthusiasm. He said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” And they had the money. I love Maruyama.

MR: You know, I love him, too.

GD: Madhouse, in my mind, kind of got the bad end of the stick with this deal.

MR: Maruyama always seems to land on his feet, though.

GD: Yeah, but they put their money into this movie, and the Americans didn’t put up their end, and they were left holding the bag on a movie that was, like, 50 percent finished that they can’t do anything with.

MR: Too bad.

GD: Yeah, on a personal level, it’s a weird thing to put in so much time and effort. I kept thinking that as hard as it was-and trust me, it was hard, because they did not like the idea of me being there-it was hard for them. And yet I kept thinking that in the end, at least I’d get this movie out of it.

MR: Well, maybe there are possibilities in the future.

GD: Yeah, I know . . .

MR: I’d like to see those Big Guy and Rusty episodes out. I think people would buy them. I said it before, I’m really proud of those. I think they came out with a lot of heart.

GD: Yeah, I think so too.

MR: So, Geof. What are you working on now?

GD: Right now? Actually, right now I’m working on this Wachowski project.

MR: That’s not what I’m talking about. You know what I’m talking about.

GD: I’m working on The Shaolin Cowboy.

MR: And we just released . . .

GD: Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine.

MR: And I’ll tell you, we were feeling a little worried, and all of a sudden the sales took off. I mean it. Good reorders and great reviews, and it looks like it’s going to be a steady seller for us, and so we’ve talked about a second one, right?

GD: Yeah. I’d like to do another one. I don’t know if Andrew wants to do another one, but I’d like to do one.

MR: The Magazine was your attempt to re-create the pulps. I think you did a pretty great job.

GD: I thought it would be neat to try and do a pulp magazine, and, I don’t know, I like novels and I like the old pulps they called hero pulps. It’s easier to do little spot illustrations than comic books. You can draw the fun stuff. You don’t have to draw the tedious stuff that comes in between. That was always my problem with — and I’m not going to mention names — certain artists that everything they did in between was crap, because the only thing they were interested in were the money shots, and that’s what makes comics so hard… Making the stuff in between interesting. And it is interesting once you get into it, but in the beginning you just want to draw the guy coming through the glass plate and hitting the guy in the jaw.

MR: Well, you’re the first artist, at least in the comic book industry, that when the guy comes through the glass, draws every single granule of glass.

GD: I was supposed to ink this cover that Frank had done for some collection of The Punisher and Daredevil. He didn’t have time and he gave me this rough that he had. I remember when I gave it back to him, he goes, “Wow, you really kind of made it your own.” (laughs) I had changed things. I thought, I guess I wasn’t supposed to do that.

MR: Well, a strong inker-illustrator is always going to overpower the pencils…

GD: Yeah, I didn’t know. As it was, I thought Marvel was so mad at the time, I didn’t sign it, but Frank signed our names, and they put something over my name. (laughs) So I got no credit for it.

MR: Put Kevin Nowlan on anyone’s pencils, it’s going to look like Kevin Nowlan.

GD: I always thought in the old days that guy was John Severin, no matter who you put him on… except for Jack Kirby. Gosh, John Severin just made everybody look good.

Continue reading this interview at DarkHorse.com!

“Alabaster: Boxcar Tales” part 5 by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber

“Arcade Boy” part 2 by Denis Medri

“Clark Collins and the Exponential Attraction” by Kel McDonald

“Fish Police” by Steve Moncuse

“Journeyman” part 3 by Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris

“Tiger Lung” part 2 by Simon Roy and Jason Wordie

“Villain House” part 2 by Shannon Wheeler

“The Victories: Babylon Working” part 3 by Michael Avon Oeming

Dark Horse Presents #22 is on sale now in finer comics shops and digitally from Dark Horse Digital.

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