Studio, company ink 3-year distribution pact

Universal and Dark Horse Entertainment have inked a three-year production and distribution deal that will give comicbook publisher Dark Horse an outlet for even more bigscreen projects and U access to a stable of properties that has proved lucrative in the past.

Deal comes as U prepares “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” for release on July 11, based on the “Hellboy” graphic novels created by Mike Mignola and published by Dark Horse.

Dark Horse founder and prexy Mike Richardson admitted that their experiences on the sequel helped pave the way for the deal.

“Obviously, that had a lot to do with it,” Richardson said, noting that U upped the budget after acquiring the property from Revolution, which released the first installment in 2004.

Previously, Dark Horse had set up projects like “300” and “The Mask” at Warner Bros. and New Line on a case-by-case basis, but execs started liking the “idea of having a specific home where we could make our films,” Richardson said.

Company’s entertainment arm has produced 22 film or TV projects since it was founded in 1993.

In addition to the “Hellboy” sequel, it has co-produced “Mystery Men,” “Virus” and “Time Cop” with U. Elsewhere, it recently had “30 Days of Night” at Sony and “Alien vs. Predator” at Fox.

“We’ve done a number of pictures with Universal over the years, and we have a lot of relationships with the people there,” Richardson said. “Since they get the particular genre, it makes sense to go with them.”

Universal is currently developing “R.I.P.D.” for David Dobkin to direct.

Under the pact, U gains creative access to all Dark Horse characters and properties; Dark Horse gets a distribution outlet for any movies it may self-finance and ready access to producers based on the lot.

In the past, Dark Horse has distributed direct-to-DVD projects through Image Entertainment, but now such projects would likely go through Universal’s homevid arm. Dark Horse may also eventually expand its relationship with U to include TV projects as well.

U chair Marc Shmuger and co-chair David Linde lauded Dark Horse for its innovative brand and supportive environment for storytelling, noting its “unique connection to youth culture.”

Dark Horse, based in Portland, Ore., differs from Marvel and DC Comics in that it does not rely on superhero characters. Its artists include Frank Miller, who created “Sin City” and “300,” as well as Mignola, Neil Gaiman, Gerard Way and Will Eisner; it’s also published comics based on properties such as “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Emily the Strange.”

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