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Dark Horse founder searches for modern superheroes

Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson started his comic book empire on a credit card in the 1980s, and today is one of the biggest names in the industry


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Mike Richardson, owner and founder of Dark Horse Comics, always has a project. He recently completed a new graphic novel, Atomic League with artist Bruce Zick. When Mike Richardson heard he was going to be a father, he quit his job, moved from Portland to Bend with his pregnant wife and started a business on a credit card. His decisions seemed so rash that his friends staged an intervention. They wanted him to take back his well paying, reliable job and let go of this comic book nonsense.

Thirty four years and a 55 country enterprise later, the Dark Horse Comics founder and president is glad he didn’t take the advice.

“I never wanted to be someone who spent my life waiting for 5 o’clock to come,” Richardson said. “I always knew I was going start my own business, I just didn’t know what it was going to be. And if you’re going to spend most of your life in a job, it might as well be something you really like to do.”

Who: Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics founder and president

What: Signing/meet and greet for new graphic novel "47 Ronin"

When: Wednesday, July 9, 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: Beaverton Things From Another World - 4390 S.W. Lloyd Ave.

Sitting in his Milwaukie office, the Oregon native is a block away from the corner he used to buy comic books on as a kid. He grew up reading everything and watching every movie he could. It’s not surprising, as his office walls are lined with posters and pictures and paintings and figurines of characters he’s both loved and created over the years. Behind his desk in the top left corner is a movie poster for “The Mask.” Through Richardson’s own characters and made-up world, the blockbuster hit put him on the map stars — Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - One of Mike Richardsons original ideas, The Mask, was a commercial success for Dark Horse. The blockbuster hit put him in the movie business along with his stars, Cameron Diaz and Jim Carrey.Today, Dark Horse has had its hand in over 30 movies and television series, as well as countless comic books and graphic novels. Recently, Richardson released the graphic novel “47 Ronin,” which he will be signing at Beaverton’s Things From Another World on July 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. Though he’s been contemplating pursuing the story for years, “a horrible movie that has nothing to do with the true event” finally propelled Richardson to write the book.

“It’s a true story, an amazing story,” he said. “I’ve been thinking of that project since I started Dark Horse...I thought ‘OK, I’ve gotta get this out.”

Since he was vying for comics as a young boy, Richardson has found that he’s always been drawn to the same kinds of tales—stories of heroism, of selflessness, of rising against all odds.

“The whole idea of ‘superhero’ continues the old Greek mythology. Those were heroes, too. Flawed, of course, but still we’ve been telling stories about heroes for as long as people have been on the planet. Before we had written words we were telling stories around campfires. Comics carry on a grand tradition,” Richardson said. “We’d all like to rise up to that. To think that we could sacrifice our own interests for others. I think that’s ennobling and we’d all like to think of ourselves that way. It’s surprising how few people do as you go through life, how self-interest seems to be the order of the day. So I think it’s good to tell these stories.”

And since he first opened Pegasus Books in Bend in 1980, Richardson has been achieving his goal. Today, the Dark Horse name ranges from publishing to toy production to entertainment to retail, and 64-year-old Richardson doesn’t plan on slowing down. “Why would I?” he asked, when posed with the question.

When Richardson started his business, nearly everything that had to do with comics took place on the east coast. Even his company’s name rose from the reality that a west coast comics endeavor was the only one of its kind. Richardson noted that the devoted and thriving comic book culture in Portland comes directly from Dark Horse.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Mike Richardson, president and founder of Dark Horse Comics, shows off the original artwork of one of his newest graphic novels, Atomic League, in his downtown Milwaukie office.“I think we’ve created a whole comics community here, probably the largest comics community in the country,” he said. “We were the catalyst. Obviously, we’re not responsible for everything that happens here, but we’re the one that started moving people here, started doing other things.”

For over half of his time in the business, Richardson has had a figurine of Looney Tunes cartoon character Michigan J. Frog on his desk. It was sent to him after an interview, where he told the story of the frog’s debut in “One Froggy Evening.” As the story goes, the singing and dancing amphibian was found by a man who took him from place to place hoping to show off his talents. But, once in front of an audience, the frog was silent.

“Well, what does that have to do with you?” asked Richardson’s interviewer.

“The frog always sings for me,” Richardson replied.

Two decades later, the frog is still singing on his desk, and a casual knock on wood by Richardson hopes to ensure some more good years.

“It was hard work, particularly in the early years because I didn’t have money...But because you’re building something and because you’re excited about what you’re doing, it’s exciting and fun to watch things grow. It’s energizing. I still get that same feeling as we continue to have success,” he said. “In this country, particularly when you don’t have that much, what are you risking? You’re gonna eat and you’re gonna have shelter, so what are you really risking? You’re risking a little. The rewards are large.”




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