End of an Era: IDW Acquires Top Shelf

Top Shelf logo

Wow, this was some “holy s***” news to wake up to.

Leading comic book and graphic novel publisher IDW Publishing announced today that it has acquired Top Shelf Productions, the award-winning independent publisher of graphic novels, including the #1 New York Times and Washington Post bestseller March by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with Kevin O’Neill) and From Hell (with Eddie Campbell), Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole, and Jeff Lemire’s Essex County.

Top Shelf logo

“The acquisition of Top Shelf is a milestone for IDW,” said Ted Adams, IDW CEO and publisher. “We looked a very long time for a company that would complement our own publishing line-up, and in Top Shelf we found the ideal match. The addition of Top Shelf’s library further positions IDW’s leadership role among the top powerhouses in comics.”

Top Shelf will remain a distinct imprint within IDW and co-founder Chris Staros will join the company as Editor-in-Chief, Top Shelf Productions. Top Shelf’s fans can expect the same independent editorial approach that has garnered industry-wide awards and made it an envy among its peers.

“IDW is committed to preserving and growing the Top Shelf brand, which we’ve long admired” said IDW president and COO Greg Goldstein. “Chris and his team have built a great working relationship with creators, fans, and retailers alike, and IDW will work diligently to expand Top Shelf’s publishing capabilities and market reach while further developing those relationships.”

Founded in 1997, Top Shelf Productions offers a broad library of comic books and graphic novels from dozens of the industry’s top independent creators. Following the acquisition, Top Shelf’s headquarters will remain in Marietta, GA.

“Top Shelf and IDW complement each other perfectly,” said Top Shelf Productions co-founder and publisher Chris Staros. “We both started around the same time, and when I would watch IDW over the years, as a fellow publisher, I’d see them making smart move after smart move. Now I’m extremely excited to combine their talents and resources with Top Shelf’s award-winning literary approach to comics. And believe it or not, the idea to join forces hit us both at exactly the same time. Last year, as I was about to pitch Ted and Greg this ‘crazy’ idea, they approached me to suggest the same thing! How’s that for a good omen? Together, we’re going to be able to publish some incredible work. I’m really looking forward to this.”

It’s good to see that the goodwill and customer awareness Top Shelf has built up over the years will remain, as they’re going to maintain the brand as a separate imprint. Co-founder Brett Warnock, it was announced, “has decided to retire from the world of comics and explore business opportunities through his newly launched food and nature blog,” while Leigh Walton will stay on as publicist and marketing director.

IDW is promising that deals in place will stay the same but that IDW will help make sure the backlist stays in print and royalties are paid on time. Those are great things to assist with.

With this and Boom!’s acquisition of Archaia, this suggests to me that it’s a lot easier to be a critically acclaimed, boutique publisher of graphic novels if you also have an arm of the company that brings in eyeballs and shelf space with licensed titles, whether Adventure Time or Transformers or My Little Pony. Then again, that’s not new news — Fantagraphics, decades ago, funded their artistic works with a porn line. I guess branded titles are today’s porn? Nah, that’s just being silly.

After holding regular sales and fundraisers, I’m glad to see Top Shelf make a deal that will presumably provide more stable business underpinnings, because many of the works they published should be readily available at all times to readers and retailers. Since the company’s founding in 1997, they’ve been a trailblazer in putting out works that go far beyond the stereotypical assumption of what American comics are. They were one of the first non-superhero publishers I found and followed when I was looking for more in reading comics. Thank you, Top Shelf.

I realized that my title may sound a little apocalyptic, but an era ending isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the participants may go on to new and better heights. Here’s hoping for the best for both companies and all employees and creators affected.


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