Universal, Dark Horse ink deal


UPDATED 6:50 p.m. PT March 16

Universal and Dark Horse Entertainment have signed a three-year production and distribution agreement, making Universal the studio home of Dark Horse, one of the biggest independent comic book companies outside of Marvel and DC.

The deal gives Universal access to all Dark Horse characters and properties as well as any material that Dark Horse might acquire on its own and want to develop as a motion picture.

By working with Universal, Dark Horse can finance projects that are ensured of distribution.

Universal co-chairman David Linde and president of production Donna Langley spearheaded the deal on the studio side.

Many Dark Horse comics already have been adapted for the screen, including "The Mask" from New Line and "Barb Wire" from PolyGram. Universal adapted "Timecop" in 1994 and "Mystery Men" in 1999 and is behind the latest Dark Horse comic movie, this summer's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." (Revolution made the first one in 2004.)

Dark Horse, which is based in Portland, Ore., put the gears into motion in the summer when its president Mike Richardson talked to his agents at Endeavor.

"Ari Emanuel asked us where we wanted to go, and I told him the best place for Dark Horse is Universal," he said. He cited the company's history with the studio and relationships with the executives as factors.

"They certainly get the kind of genre pictures that we do," Richardson added. "They understand the comic book world. Since so many of our projects come from comics and graphic novels, that certainly is a big advantage for us."

Universal, through the deal, basically gets its own R&D deparment.

"What was exciting about sitting down with Mike was the breadth of what it is that he is doing," Linde said. "This is a guy who is thinking about ideas coming from Japan, he is thinking of ideas that are coming from a rock band, he is thinking of ideas that are coming traditional comic book writers.

"To be able to have one place where you've got guys who are really embracing ideas is an incredible opportunity for a studio. We as a studio can't possibly do ourselves what Dark Horse is doing every day."

Universal will also be able to use Dark Horse as a promotional platform.

Dark Horse already is preparing several projects to take into Universal.

"We have a number of projects that we've had early discussions about, and I have definite ideas of the films I want to introduce into the deal and start working on," Richardson said. "We'll sit down and talk and see which one they agree with me on."

Universal is in development on "R.I.P.D.," based on the comic by Peter Lenkov, about a ghost-busting police force composed of ghosts. David Dobkin is attached to direct.

The partnership makes Universal the third studio to have guaranteed access to the deep well of comic book properties and stories, one of the biggest sources for movie material. Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, and Paramount has teamed with Marvel for projects the comics firm hasn't licensed elsewhere.

Dark Horse Entertainment additionally is repped by the Gotham Group.