The deal, expected to close in 2022, gives the publisher financial stability while offering owner Embracer access to new IP.
Ahead of Christmas, news broke that Dark Horse Comics, one of the largest independent comic book publishers in the Western industry, would be acquired by video game company Embracer Group. Rumors of Dark Horse looking for a buyer had been circulating for some time, but the news itself nonetheless came as a surprise, due both to its holiday season timing and the identity of the Oregon-based company’s new owner.
The sale, announced just before Christmas and expected to close in early 2022, is the latest in a line of acquisitions for the Swedish gaming giant this year; earlier this month, the company had announced deals to purchase French gaming company Asmodee, as well as the American arm of Chinese gaming company Perfect World.
Embracer “seems to be going all-in on the trend of IP consolidation,” game industry expert Matt Kim tells The Hollywood Reporter. “With Dark Horse, Embracer very quickly has its hands in a lot of different businesses that can all cross over with each other. It’s not hard to imagine Dark Horse publishing a line of Saints Row comics, or Asmodee putting out a Hellboy board game, or a Settlers of Catan TV show all operating under the Embracer banner.”
Certainly, the deal has obvious synergistic appeal for Dark Horse as a publisher; the company has made significant inroads with video game material in the past, including critically acclaimed titles based on everything from Cyberpunk 2077 and The Last of Us to Minecraft and Plants vs. Zombies. Although the announcement of the deal mentioned the 300-plus pieces of intellectual property in the Dark Horse catalog, much of its publishing history is made up of titles either owned by its creators (Hellboy, The Umbrella Academy, Sin City), or else licensed from movie and gaming companies; the new deal gives Dark Horse access to a wider range of material for future exploration in a market that few other comic publishers are managing to serve.
Additionally, sharing a corporate parent with potential licensees means that any comic project has greater long-term stability than previous licenses that the company has found success with; unlike such properties as Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Aliens, there’ll be little chance of intellectual property owned by Dark Horse’s parent company being taken to an outside publisher after decades of work.
For Embracer, Dark Horse provides not just an opportunity to expand properties into comics, but other media. Dark Horse’s ongoing relationship with media companies through current and future adaptations and the Dark Horse Entertainment subsidiary open up the potential for Embracer to push projects outside of the video game arena. Dark Horse isn’t simply the fourth-largest comic book publisher in the U.S. industry, after all; it’s also a company with a first-look deal with Netflix, as well as an ongoing relationship with Universal Content Productions courtesy of the Syfy adaptation of its Resident Alien series.
Beyond access to new licenses and intellectual property to adapt and expand, Dark Horse benefits considerably from the deal. Sources close to the publisher say that founder and CEO Mike Richardson maintains creative control over Dark Horse under the terms of the deal, while the company receives a level of financial stability it hasn’t previously enjoyed as an independent entity, even as it separates from its deal with Chinese pop culture company Vanguard Visionary Associates — something that remains a priority in turbulent times for the comic book industry.
Further, Dark Horse announced plans for a gaming and digital division this summer, with the intention of creating games based on Dark Horse properties as well as all-new multimedia animated and digital/webcomic formats. The new Embracer deal means that Dark Horse now has access to talent and technology that allows it to explore these plans in a way it never was able to before — something that is likely to become increasingly important as comic-reading audiences continue to fragment across platforms and formats.
The deal, then, could be a win for both companies. What remains to be seen is what practical effect this will have on Dark Horse’s published output — whether fans should expect more comics and books from this new incarnation of the company, and whether more creators will place projects there now — and what effect, if any, the Embracer acquisition will have on other independent comics publishers. If this is a sign of what’s to come for comics, it’s going to be a very interesting 2022.