Given how utterly dominated the modern comic book industry is by the “Big Two” of Marvel and DC, it can be easy to forget just how many other publishers both big and small are out there fighting for the scraps these giants leave behind. Even seemingly large companies like indie juggernaut Image Comics struggle to pull even 10% of the market away from Marvel and DC.
Unfortunately, the razor thin margins these companies operate on make it simply impossible for all of these publishers to survive and thrive. Over the years we’ve lost countless publishing companies due to shifts in the market, poor business decisions or simply a struggle to stay relevant. Today, we’re taking a moment to look at 15 of these defunct comic book publishers. They may be gone, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.
Thankfully, WildStorm is back (sort of), but it’s probably the most well known publisher to publicly fold. Founded in 1992 by comic book legend Jim Lee and his long-time friend/writer Brandon Choi, WildStorm began as one of the eight independent studios that originally made up Image Comics. Pulling its name from two of the imprint’s flagship titles “WildC.A.T.S. and “Stormwatch,” WildStorm was best known for its self-titled “WildStorm Universe,” which spawned a number of popular superheroes.
WildStorm also published a number of creator-owned comics, like Brian K. Vaughn’s “Ex Machina,” as well as licensed comics based on popular video game and horror properties like “StarCraft” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” With comic sales beginning to decline in the mid ’90s and a desire to return his focus to his art, Jim Lee sold WildStorm to DC Comics in 1998, where it retained editorial independence and its California office until 2010 when DC closed the imprint down and brought the WildStorm characters into the DC Universe proper.
14. AWESOME COMICS
Another former Image co-founder, Rob Liefeld and his imprints Extreme Studios and Maximum Press split from Image in 1996 to become Awesome Comics. Finding new partners in writer/producer Jeph Loeb, Film Roman CEO John Hyde and Platinum Studios, Awesome continued the majority of Extreme’s most popular titles and launched new series by Loeb, Liefeld and a number of other creators. Perhaps most importantly, Liefeld hired legendary writer Alan Moore to reimagine many of the imprint’s characters, with the most popular being his work on “Supreme.”
Despite early success, the fledgling company folded in 2000, primarily due to artificially driving up sales from speculative collectors by releasing an insane number of variant covers (the relaunch of Liefeld’s “Youngblood” received 11 alternate covers). Internal strife among the company’s leadership and the loss of one of its primary investors led to inconsistent publishing schedules and an overall dip in quality that slowly bled the company dry.
13. ECLIPSE COMICS
One of the first independent comic publishers, Eclipse Comics was founded in 1977 by brothers Dean and Jan Mullaney to take advantage of the emerging “direct market” of comic book stores. Eclipse is most notable for 1978’s “Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species” by writer Don McGregor and artist Paul Gulacy, which was not only one of the first original graphic novels, but also the first to be sold at comic book stores.
Under the editorial leadership of Dean’s wife Cat Yronwode, the company expanded and released a number of superhero comics, most notably “Marvelman/Miracleman” written by Alan Moore and later Neil Gaiman. Eclipse also gained a reputation for championing creator’s rights long before organizations like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At its peak in the mid-80s, Eclipse was selling nearly half a million comics every month, and was third in the market behind only Marvel and DC. However, the company lost the majority of its back issue stock in a flood in 1986, which, along with the divorce of Mullaney and Yronwode, led to the company ceasing publication in 1994 before officially filing for bankruptcy the next year.
12. CALIBER COMICS
Looking to get in on the emerging creator-focused independent market, former comic book store owner Gary Reed launched Caliber Comics in 1989 after acquiring the rights to “Deadworld” and “The Realm” from Arrow Comics after their first closure. Among the company’s first offerings was “Calibur Presents” #1, which included the first appearance of James O’Barr’s “The Crow.” In the early ’90s, the company launched three imprints: Toms Press, which featured historical and biographical material; Gauntlet, which focused on action based comics; and Icongrafix, which published more experimental comics.
Caliber continued to grow at a healthy rate until the infamous crash the industry experienced in the ’90s ended the company after an unsuccessful attempt to create a collectible card game led to a lawsuit with the company responsible for printing the cards. The company released the last of its comics in 2000 (with popular titles like “Deadworld” and “Manman” finding new homes) before closing the doors. In 2015, Reed announced plans to relaunch Caliber and got as far as soliciting orders for new and returning comics before his sudden death in 2016.
Founded in 1982, Comico was one of the many small publishing companies to pop up after the explosion of the “direct market” system. The company’s first comic “Primer” introduced a number of characters by different creators in an attempt to launch a large line of original black-and-white comics, among them Sam Kieth’s “The Maxx” and the company’s flagship character, Matt Wagner’s “Grendel.” In 1984, the company ended its line of black-and-white comics in favor of its first set of color comics, most notably Wagner’s second series for the company, “Mage: The Hero Discovered.”
Around this time, the company began acquiring the rights to popular licensed properties like”Robotech” and “Johnny Quest.” Despite becoming a major contender in the industry, the company’s decision to also distribute its comics to newsstands turned out to be a major financial mistake. The company attempted to solve the problem by also selling comics in bookstores and partnering with DC to increase distribution, but Comico never rebounded and by 1990, the company had ceased all publication. It was then sold to a businessman named Andrew Rev, who unsuccessfully attempted to relaunch the company and managed to continue sporadically publishing until 1997.
10. DEFIANT COMICS
Proving that sometimes having the right talent isn’t enough, Defiant Comics was founded in 1993 by the former editor-in-chief of both Marvel and Valiant Comics, Jim Shooter. After being forced out of Valiant and failing to retain partial ownership of its parent company Voyager Communications, Shooter founded Defiant Comics along with some of Valiant’s former staff.
The publisher saw some success with its initial offerings and allegedly even had a shared Defiant Universe planned. However, a lawsuit from Marvel claiming the title of Defiant’s first comic “Plasm” violated the trademark for the comic book character Plasmer, would ultimately spell the end for the publisher. Despite changing the comic’s title to “Warriors of Plasm” in an attempt to appease Marvel and the court ultimately ruling in their favor anyway, the case had cost Defiant over $300,000 in legal fees and sent the company into bankruptcy, forcing them to close their doors after just 13 months.
9. MALIBU COMICS
Founded in 1986, Malibu Comics got its start publishing black-and-white creator owned comics before making a name for itself releasing comics based on licensed properties and classic characters, like Sherlock Holmes. By 1989, Malibu had effectively diversified its offerings by acquiring smaller publishers Eternity Comics, Aircel Comics and Adventure Publications as imprints. In 1992, the company continued to expand, first launching a new line of comics based on Golden Age superheroes from Centaur Publications and then by acquiring video game publisher Acme Interactive to form Malibu Interactive.
During this time, Malibu also acted as publisher for Image Comics, which led to Malibu briefly pulling ahead of DC in market share. After Image became stable enough to leave Malibu the following year, the publisher launched its popular Ultraverse line of superhero comics to fill the gap and soon after began publishing comics about rock bands through their Rock-It Comics imprint. Another victim of the comics bubble burst of the ’90s, Malibu was purchased by Marvel in 1994 and after an attempted relaunch for its most popular Ultraverse titles failed, its characters fell into obscurity.
8. PACIFIC COMICS
Founded in 1971 by brothers Steven and Bill Schanes, Pacific Comics began as a mail-order company selling comics through ads in the Comics Buyer’s Guide. By 1974, the Schanes owned their own comic book store and established a local distribution system to move more merchandise. By the end of the ’70s, the Schanes sold their four shops in San Diego to take their distribution business nationwide before making their first foray into publishing. Pacific partnered with Jack Kirby for his first comic since 1977, “Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers” in 1981.
The success of their work with Kirby led to Pacific collaborating with talent from across the industry on creator-owned titles not affected by the Comics Code. The company began to falter after an unsuccessful foray into 3D comics and the loss of key talent to competitors like First Comics. By the mid-80s Pacific had serious cash flow issues and its distribution network began to suffer as publishing competitors pulled out. Deeply in debt, the company finally folded in 1984, with the majority of its creator-owned series finding a new home at Eclipse.
7. HARVEY COMICS
Harvey Comics was founded in 1941 by Alfred Harvey (who was soon joined by his brothers Leon and Robert) after the acquisition of a failing comic called “Speed Comics” from another publisher. After mixed results at launching comics staring original characters, the publisher shifted its focus toward licensed comics after acquiring the comic rights for the radio character Green Hornet. This success led Harvey to create comics based on popular newspaper strip characters like Blondie and Dick Tracy.
However, it wasn’t until the ’50s when Harvey acquired the rights to cartoon characters created by Paramount Pictures’ Famous Studios like Casper the Friendly Ghost that Harvey really made a name for itself. By the end of the decade, Harvey had bought the rights to the Famous Studios cartoons outright and the Casper family of characters became Harvey’s biggest sellers. Just a year later in 1960, Harvey debuted its most enduring original character, Richie Rich. As sales began to suffer during the ’80s, the company had secured a deal with Marvel to continue the publication of some of its characters, but Harvey pulled out at the last minute due to internal disagreements over the deal and instead ceased publication in 1982.
6. CHARLTON COMICS
Despite earning a nasty reputation for paying some of the lowest rates in the industry and cannibalizing unpublished material from defunct competitors, Charlton managed to etch out a significant chunk of the market during its 40 year publication history. Founded in 1944, the company published under five different names before settling on Charlton in 1946. The company began to find an audience thanks largely to the work of industry legends like writer Joe Gill and artist/Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
During the Silver Age, the company reached new heights of success thanks to superhero characters like Gill and Ditko’s Captain Atom, as well as the revamping of Blue Beetle as a comedic character by Gill and artists Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico. However, by the late ’60s the company had shifted its focus toward licensed comics, and by the ’80s was in full decline. A number of attempts were made to revitalize the publisher’s offerings and inject some much-needed capital to fix the company’s aging printing presses, but by 1985 it officially closed after selling off the majority of its superheroes to DC in 1983.
5. FOX COMICS
Founded by Victor Fox in 1939, Fox Comics was a contender during the Golden Age of Comics. When the company launched, Fox had no artists or writers on staff so he contracted Eisner & Iger, a comic book “packager” owned by industry legend Will Eisner and partner Jerry Iger, which produced comics on demand for publishers looking to enter the emerging industry. At Fox’s request, Eisner created the superhero Wonder Man to mimic the breakout success of Superman earlier that year.
However, after being sued by National Periodical Publications (one of DC’s predecessors) for outright copying Superman, Fox stopped working with Eisner & Iger to hire his own stable of creators. One of these new hires was a young Jack Kirby, who briefly worked on the newspaper strip incarnation of Fox Syndicate’s most significant contribution to the industry, the superhero/detective called “The Blue Beetle.” After superheroes waned in popularity following WWII, Fox notoriously shifted its focus to crime and horror comics, but went out of business (and sold the rights to The Blue Beetle to Charlton Comics) after the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in the ’50s put a target on their back.
4. EC COMICS
Originally called Educational Comics, the company was founded in 1944 by Max Gaines after his previous company All-American Publications merged with DC earlier that year. The original vision for the company was to market comics about science, history and the Bible to schools and churches, but when Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947, his son William inherited the company and rebranded it as Entertaining Comics, shifting the company’s focus to horror, crime, satire and science fiction.
The company was best known for its horror series “Tales from the Crypt,” which was later adapted to both a film series as well as three separate TV series, and the satirical “Mad” magazine, which actually began as a comic. EC and Gaines famously clashed with the Comics Code in an attempt to keep his books free from censorship, but ultimately lost. After the incredibly strict code forced all of the publisher’s most popular books out of production, EC tried to restructure itself, but financial pressures would eventually force Gaines to cancel everything but “Mad” (which had, by this point, become a magazine to avoid dealing with the Comics Code), effectively ending EC Comics.
3. QUALITY COMICS
Noticing the exploding popularity of comics in the late ’30s, Everett “Busy” Arnold founded the company now known as Quality Comics in 1937. Arnold began publishing colored reprints of popular newspaper comics featuring a small number of original comics created by the company’s staff or freelancers like Eisner & Iger. By 1939, Quality was publishing comics with entirely original material and began commissioning Eisner & Iger to create comics starring original characters like the superhero Plastic Man and the aviator Blackhawk.
However, Quality’s biggest contribution to comics is easily pulling Will Eisner away from Eisner & Iger to work on “The Spirit” full time. Arnold had brokered a deal with Sunday newspapers looking to compete with the emerging comic book medium to feature comics about The Spirit every week for the papers, with Quality republishing them as standard comics. Despite their contributions, by the mid-50s, the popularity of television hit the comics industry hard and Quality struggled to rebound from the superhero genre’s decline in popularity. After failing to branch out into the more popular genres of humor, romance and horror, the company published its last comics in 1956.
2. FAWCETT COMICS
Launching as a publisher for children’s magazines in 1919, Fawcett Publications made its debut in the blossoming comic industry in 1940 with the publication of “Thrill Comics” by writer Bill Parker and artist C. C. Beck. The issue’s content was reworked later that year for Fawcett’s second attempt, “Whiz Comics” #2, which contained the first appearance of Captain Marvel, the company’s flagship character. Though Fawcett’s superhero characters were big sellers, the company made history by publishing the first ongoing romance comic “Sweethearts.”
Captain Marvel and supporting characters proved so popular, they actually ended up outselling the character who inspired them, Superman. This led to a lawsuit with DC Predecessor National Comics, which alleged the character violated their copyright on Superman. Though Fawcett ultimately won the case on a technicality, the costs of the lawsuit coupled with a waning market that was quickly losing interest in superheroes forced Fawcett to cancel its ongoing books and sell a majority of its assets to Charlton. The company returned to the industry in the ’70s to publish “Dennis the Menace” comics briefly, but ultimately licensed and later sold the rights to Captain Marvel and its other superheroes to DC before ceasing publication forever.
1. DELL COMICS
Founded in 1929, Dell Comics was not only the publisher responsible for the first original American comics, but at its peak was the largest and most successful American company in the industry. Its first title, “The Funnies,” was the first original American comic, but since it was published in a tabloid format vs. the now traditionally recognized comic format, Dell’s 1934 collaboration with Eastern Color Printing, “Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics” is generally accepted as the first American comic book.
However, Dell didn’t truly come into prominence until a 1938 partnership saw the company agree to finance and distribute comics by Western Publishing. Many of the titles sold millions of copies monthly, and by the mid-50s Dell controlled nearly a third of the American comics market, despite only publishing around 15% of its books. However, the end of its partnership with Western in 1968 meant the loss of the majority of its vital creative talent and licensed properties (specifically cartoon characters from major animation studios like Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera). Dell managed to stay afloat for another 11 years by publishing comics based on popular movie and television franchises before finally shutting down in 1974.
What defunct publishers do you think should have made the list? Let us know in the comments below!
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