Dark Horse CEO brings 'Umbrella Academy' to Netflix
Eagle-eyed viewers of Netflix's "The Umbrella Academy" might have spotted a familiar name listed as executive producer of the series — Mike Richardson, founder and president of Milwaukie-based Dark Horse Comics and CEO of Dark Horse Media, its parent company.
So, questions arise: What does being an executive producer really mean, what's "The Umbrella Academy" about, and what's next for Dark Horse?
"An executive producer on a series such as 'The Umbrella Academy' is generally involved at the project's earliest stages," Richardson said. "He might find the property, engage the writer, work on script, identify talent, be involved with casting, select directors, and in other words, help develop the show from the beginning."
"The Umbrella Academy" is an American comic-book series created and written by Gerard Way, illustrated by Gabriel Bá and produced by Dark Horse Comics.
"I worked with Gerard from the beginning," Richardson said. "His band My Chemical Romance was in town, and he contacted us looking to pitch an idea for a comic series. I heard the pitch, and that was that. He's incredibly creative, and his concept was unique."
Richardson said they tried for seven or eight years to turn "The Umbrella Academy" into a movie.
"That process forced us to cut a dense story down to two hours, and we couldn't get past that," Richardson said. "We finally realized it needed to be a series; we could never have done the project justice as a film."
The corporate headquarters of Dark Horse Comics is in downtown Milwaukie, where its retail offices and one of its stores are located under the name Things From Another World. Its TV and movie properties are developed at Dark Horse Entertainment, which is located in Los Angeles.
All three companies are part of Dark Horse Media, and Richardson frequently flies to California to oversee operations.
The overall plot of the "The Umbrella Academy" follows the story of seven children with superpowers who are adopted by millionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The children are part of a group of 43 infants who were born to women all over the world who showed no previous signs of pregnancy. Hargreeves encourages the children to develop their superpowers so they can "save the world" and he names them the Umbrella Academy. The team breaks up as the children become adults, and the TV show begins as they reluctantly reunite after the death of Hargreeves.
Shows about superheroes are everywhere these days, so what sets "The Umbrella Academy" apart?
"It is not formulaic superhero fare. The characters don't act in the way you might expect, leading to constant surprises for the viewer," Richardson said. "Really, this is the story of a dysfunctional family in competition with each other; angry with each other, and jealous of each other."
Richardson added there is a mystery to solve as to why the characters are here, where they came from and what they are going to do with their special abilities. He plans to return to Toronto in a few weeks, as the filming of the second season of the show continues.
On the horizon
Netflix has been "great to work with," Richardson said, adding that Dark Horse Entertainment and Netflix now have a "first-look" deal. Just as it sounds, the deal means that Netflix will get first refusal on any Dark Horse-owned property intended for development as a film or series.
"We also have a second-look deal with Universal (UCP) for those projects Netflix passes on," Richardson said. He noted that Dark Horse Entertainment has about a dozen projects in development, including several animated projects.
One he is excited about is "Resident Alien," based on the Dark Horse comic series of the same name by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. Richardson is executive producer on the series, which will air on the SyFy Channel sometime in 2020.
"The story is about an alien hiding in plain sight in the countryside who is pulled into a murder mystery," Richardson said.
The series stars Alan Tudyk, who is best remembered as Wash in "Firefly" and as Steve the Pirate in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."
Another project Richardson is looking forward to is "Coyote," with Michael Chiklis, a 10-episode series for the Paramount Network that he will executive produce. He is not able to release details at this time, other than to say that, unlike most other TV shows or movies from Dark Horse Entertainment, "Coyote" did not start out as print property.
Dark Horse Media
"The Dark Horse world differs from Marvel and DC Comics because, while those companies focus almost entirely on superheroes, "our brand is represented by a variety of genres," Richardson said.
Thus, in addition to superheroes, Dark Horse projects include science fiction, horror and fantasy. Richardson even produced an Emmy-winning documentary on the life of Don Rickles, a well-known American stand-up comedian and actor who died in 2017 at age 90.
Richardson started Dark Horse back in 1986 with an unusual idea — that comic-book writers and artists were treated as partners and would be allowed to control their own creations.
"When (TV and movie) studios noticed us and started calling to option our intellectual properties, I insisted that any deal would include me as a producer," Richardson said. "It was the only way to protect us and our creators in what everyone knows is a tough business."
While studios and producers balked at first, he credits legendary producer Lawrence Gordon for helping him get started in the film business. The company's first entertainment deal was signed in 1989, leading to the establishment of Dark Horse Entertainment in 1992.
Finding and creating intellectual properties both inside the company and out has been a successful strategy he noted, saying that the films "The Mask" and "Timecop," (two of his creations), opened to huge acclaim in 1994, and paved the way for the company's success in the entertainment world.
"We've built an amazing company with amazing people. I get to work with talented, bright people every day," Richardson said. "I think we've built something very special, and the credit goes to every single person in the company, along with the talented creators who bring their projects to Dark Horse."
To learn more about Dark Horse Comics, visit darkhorse.com.
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