In one of the comments, Mark asked a question about the Aliens and Predator books that both Brian and Jeff wrote. Brian is traveling right now, so I thought I’d take a crack at answering the question. I was the Dark Horse editor on both of the series. Managing the license, and figuring out how it worked, was one of the most interesting duties I had while an employee there.
Regarding Brian and Jeff, I wanted them to write these books because I’m super interested in literary cross-pollination. Licensed books provide an incredible opportunity to watch multiple literary minds approaching the narrative of the license in very different ways. The idea was as exciting to me as reading Li Po’s “The River Merchant’s Wife,” and then reading Elliott’s version.
I didn’t know this before, but big media companies have a binder of properties that are available for licensing. The properties include everything from, like, A.L.F., to Happy Days, to My Little Pony. Most things that can be for sale are for sale.
The publisher, in this case Dark Horse, licenses the rights to produce novels on the given property. The licenses sell for either a flat fee per book or per property, or as a fee and a royalty, or as a royalty. The contracts typically have an end point: either number of books or time of license. Dark Horse was a shoe-in for the Aliens and Predator novels because they had done Aliens and Predator comics for years (decades). But on Hellboy, for instance, which was another Dark Horse comic, the novel rights went to Pocket Books. We eventually got it back, but we had to wait a couple years…
So, we have the license. And with the license comes a “bible” of timelines, rules, and anything else that orders the universe. A lot of my actual editing work involved making sure the story written conformed to the rules of the universe. For instance, I spent a whole afternoon once trying to track down the native state of the Predator’s eyes. Are their visors infrared, or do they see in infrared naturally? It’s important, because one of the things that happens with licensed properties is that their purity is diluted over time. When their purity goes, their reputation goes. The more confusing the universe, the more difficult and less convincing the license is.
Which leads to some interesting things, from a story perspective. In the new Conan comics, for instance, the writer put in a montage at the start of the comic that represented time passing. If any other big story arcs happen in the Conan universe, they can pretty easily slot the doings into that montage. From a narrative perspective, it’s infinitly expandable.
Once we have the license, we approach authors we’d like to work with. Sometimes that’s as simple as “this person has done one of these novels before, and it’s sold well.” But sometimes, as with Brian and Jeff, it was “this person ROCKS, and I really, really, really want to read what they come up with.”
Oh, and, we spent many, many days trying to come up with the little tag lines on the covers of the book. They have to be snappy, they have to fit with the other tag lines, and they have to be short. I tried to make them grammatically similar to their predecessors. Which sometimes happened, and sometimes didn’t…