One of the biggest names in American indie comics has been acquired by a Swedish video game holding company.
The Embracer Group announced Tuesday that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Dark Horse Comics, headquartered in Portland, Ore. Embracer’s stated plan is to make Dark Horse into its tenth operative group, alongside several video game developers and a French board game publisher, in order to “strengthen its transmedia capabilities.”
The financial details behind the deal have not been disclosed at time of writing. Dark Horse will retain its current CEO, Mike Richardson, and existing management.
Dark Horse, founded in 1986 by Richardson in Bend, Ore., is one of the largest comic publishers in the U.S. While its monthly sales are a relative fraction of Marvel’s or DC’s (independent trackers put Dark Horse as controlling roughly 3% of the overall market), Dark Horse has occupied a successful niche for decades as a publisher of both original and licensed comics, as well as one of the earliest translators of Japanese comics (manga) for an English-speaking audience.
Embracer’s original release notes that Dark Horse owns or controls the rights to over 300 intellectual properties, “many of which are attractive for future transmedia exploitation, including the creation of new video games.”
If a typical geek knows Dark Horse for anything, it may be its time as the primary publisher for the official Star Wars comics, many of which were set in the old, pre-Disney Expanded Universe. Dark Horse put out multiple Star Wars books between 1991 and 2015, before Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm forced the comics’ rights to revert to Marvel.
Dark Horse also published a long run of assorted miniseries set in the shared universe of the Aliens and Predator film franchises, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conan the Barbarian, and The Terminator. Its current licensed comics include one that’s based on the Netflix series Stranger Things, several volumes that expand the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a line of books set in the campaign world of the Dungeons & Dragons live-play show Critical Role.
In the video game world, Dark Horse is the typical publisher behind a series of coffee table books that display the designs and concept art for various mainstream releases. This line includes The Last of Us, Apex Legends, Far Cry, and on Dec. 15, Halo Infinite.
What seems to have motivated Embracer’s acquisition, however, is Dark Horse’s position as one of the primary publishers for original, creator-owned comics, many of which have been made into high-profile Hollywood films over the years.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, about a Nazi-punching paranormal investigator who also happens to be a big red demon,is about as close as Dark Horse comes to a single flagship franchise. It’s also the current publisher for big indie books like Evan Dorkin’s Beasts of Burden, Frank Miller’s Sin City, John Arcudi’s The Mask, Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy, and Matt Wagner’s Grendel, any or all of which could be ripe material for a video game adaptation, and all of which have been licensed for film/TV.
“I can’t express the excitement I feel as Dark Horse moves into this new chapter in our history,” Richardson wrote in a press release. “The synergies that exist with the Embracer network promise exciting new opportunities not only for Dark Horse, but also for the creators and companies we work with. I have to say, the future for our company has never looked brighter.”
The Embracer Group, headquartered in Karlstad, Sweden, was founded in 2008 as a publishing subsidiary of the retail chain Game Outlet Europe. It got on the games industry’s radar in 2014 by acquiring the trademarks from the defunct publisher/developer THQ, whereupon it rebranded its operation to “THQ Nordic.” It rebranded again in 2019 to Embracer Group, while the THQ Nordic name is currently used by a subsidiary LLC.
Embracer is currently on a borderline-manic acquisitions spree. Earlier this year, Embracer acquired Gearbox Entertainment, the developer behind the Borderlands game franchise, for $1.3 billion.
On the same day that Embracer announced its acquisition of Dark Horse, it also announced that it had plans to acquire the Hungarian animation studio DIGIC, the French board game company Asmodee, the North American subsidiary of the Chinese company Perfect World, the Miami-based games developer Shiver Entertainment (co-founded by former Xbox Live head John Schappert), and the German advertising firm Spotfilm.