For the last six years, this category has been a staple of our best-of lists. Last year, when ten different publishers were nominated, it was noteworthy. We took it as not only an indicator of growth in the industry, but also as a sign that there was a growing hunger for diversity in comics. So imagine our surprise when our staff nominated twenty different comics publishers this year! Of course the Big 2 were present, but other, smaller companies like Alternative and Nowbrow made strong showings as well. And things got international with the inclusion of 2000 AD, Humanoids and Viz. So, with a new personal record in place, we decided that 2015 was the year to expand this category. Every year we’ve called out the top three vote-earners, but in an effort to better reflect the growth we’ve seen, below you will find the top five.
Did we cover your favorites? Got a company in mind we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!
5. Marvel Comics
(Alice W. Castle) There’s a strange irony to the fact that I’m writing about Marvel as one of the best publishers of the year despite the fact that I spent most of it slagging them off for how poorly constructed “Secret Wars” was and how, even after all of the tie-ins have finished, the main event series still won’t be over until next year.
But this isn’t about that. This is about why they placed on our Best Of list for this year. Truth be told, this wasn’t Marvel’s best year as you could figure by their fifth place ranking, but things like the new Star Wars comics and the All-New, All-Different Marvel bringing us Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo on “Doctor Strange” and the amazing looking “Scarlet Witch” series shows that even when Marvel are off their game they can still put out some game-changing stuff.
3. (TIE) BOOM! Studios
(Vince Ostrowski) BOOM! Studios launched its way to #2 on our “Best Publisher” list last year – and with good reason! After all, there’s not a company out there that can boast a better mix of unique, creator-owned properties and popular franchise-type stuff. BOOM! is head-and-shoulders above everyone else when it comes to fostering budding creators and their labors of love and top-notch titles based on popular cartoons that feel like anything but cheaply thrown together franchise tie-ins. Let’s look at “Adventure Time” – whether it’s one of the most popular cartoon franchises ever or not – that book stands on its own and delivers an independently operating comic book each and every month. On the creator-owned side of things, BOOM! is committed to allowing artists to get weird and get what’s in their hearts onto the page and into our hands. Books like “Lumberjanes” and “Help Us! Great Warrior” carve out their own path and allow for the types of stories that you don’t find anywhere else. BOOM! somehow manages to have a homespun aesthetic, without feeling cheap or anything less than professional, no matter what it is they put out.
3. (TIE) Dark Horse Comics
(Drew Bradley) Dark Horse is hard to pigeon hole. What makes a book a Dark Horse book? Looking at their line up, there’s no clear artistic style, genre, theme, or even format. They seem to embrace comics of all types, be it an OGN, a monthly book done in water colors, a reprint of genuinely classic material, or licensed material. Near as I can tell, there’s only one unifying factor: Dark Horse publishes (and promotes) the kind of comics they want to see succeed – not books they already know will be successful. Nowhere is that more apparent that their continuous efforts to promote monthly anthologies.
By valuing quality over commercial trends, Dark Horse continues to take chances on books and creators without an established audience and push the medium forward. They’ve been doing it for so long, so consistently, and so quietly, it’s easy to be distracted by other publishers that rely on massive marketing and hype. If there’s a downside to Dark Horse’s publishing scheme, it’s that their large catalog is so varied that it’s almost impossible to image one customer who would be interested in every book (aside from Mike Richardson, perhaps). But does that matter? I don’t think Dark Horse wants their whole catalog to appeal to one person. They’re not after an army of “Dark Horse Zombies”. They want at least one thing in their catalog to appeal to every person. In 2015, I think they met that goal, even if not everyone has realized it yet.Continued below
2. DC Comics
(Keith Dooley) Creativity, a sense of excitement, and just plain great storytelling are just some of the reasons why DC Comics was my favorite publisher of the year. 2015 not only brought us some excellent new series, but the continuation of some great ones as well. Batman and the Bat-related books dominated, with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continuing their streak of giving us the best book of every year since 2011 with “Batman”. By shaking things up and putting Commissioner Gordon in the Bat-suit, Snyder and Capullo proved that no matter how bold the idea, the love and care that you bring to your tale’s execution is all that matters. There was a boldness and brilliance in such Bat-books as “Grayson”, “Gotham Academy”, “Batgirl”, “We Are Robin”, and “Robin, Son of Batman”. Geoff Johns gave us and continues to give us one of his greatest “Justice League” stories so far with “Darkseid War”. New books such as “Black Canary”, “Midnighter”, and “Omega Men” had such unique voices and were proof that when you think of DC, you think of diverse storylines that strive to always entertain and to sometimes provoke discussion and soul-searching (as “Batman” #44 did so perfectly).
DC was able to attract great talent with unique voices that promises an even more notable 2016. Writer Tom King was one of 2015’s biggest breakouts. With the continuing “Grayson” and the new “Omega Men” (which is a title that is criminally under-read), King has proven himself as a master storyteller. “Martian Manhunter”, by Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows, was a surprising revelation. Writer Steve Orlando’s exuberance for the title character “Midnighter” brought a vitality to the new series. Sonny Liew’s stunning artwork graced the “Doctor Fate” book. Veteran talent, such as Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder, continued to demonstrate their integral roles at DC. The biggest and most anticipated book for me this year was “Dark Knight III: The Master Race”, which was an example of veterans at their best. The first issue, by the iconic Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, and Brad Anderson went beyond expectations to become one of the best issues of the year. With the promise of a big shake-up of the DC universe and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” finally being released (which had an amazingly promising and addictive trailer that made me joyfully drop a few tears), DC is looking to conquer 2016.
1. Image Comics
(Jess Camacho) Is it really any surprise that Image is our #1 publisher of the year? It shouldn’t be. For all the love we have for superheroes, creator owned projects completely built up from scratch hold something special that Marvel and DC comics don’t always have. While both DC and Marvel deserve credit for their publications in 2015, Image continued to do what makes them so important in comics, they give creators an outlet to do projects that may not have existed otherwise. This year Image put out more ongoing series, more hardcovers and more merchandise for fan favorite series like “The Wicked + The Divine”. On top of this, Image made many #1’s available for $1 in print and held multiple sales on Comixology to help further their reach. They saw a rise in bookstore sales and many series were optioned for television shows and movies. Some of the new launches this year included the critically praised “I Hate Fairyland”, “8House” (personal favorite), “We Stand On Guard” and “Descender” and next year will see even more creators join the Image lineup including Gail Simone and Ron Wimberly. Image has made crafting a pull list almost impossibly difficult because of the high quality series coming out every month and the attention to comic books has been increased thanks to series breaking into the mainstream like “Saga” and “The Walking Dead”. 2015 was another year where DC and Marvel got bogged down for months in wild and expensive crossover events like “Secret Wars” but Image remained strong and offered readers an alternative to all of that and I know I was grateful for it. Image shows no signs of slowing down and is poised to take over 2016.Continued below
Mike Romeo – Am I surprised that Image snagged the top spot again this year? Nah. Was I expecting BOOM! to rank higher that Marvel for the second year in a row? No, not really. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the ranking. But to see a smaller publisher hold steady against waves of Secret Wars and “All-New, All-Different” relaunches? I’d say that’s pretty remarkable.
Brian Salvatore – Truth be told, this is one of my least favorite categories. It is hard to justify celebrating or damning any publisher year to year, simply because of the variety of books they publish, Sure, Image deserves kudos for “Southern Bastards” and “Saga,” but let’s not get too cute here – they published some less than great stuff, too.
Similarly, while I love DC, it is crazy to me that the second best publisher of the year published the Finch’s “Wonder Woman.”
But that said, I think that if you took the best of all of these companies’ work, and just compared the best to the best, this list is, more or less, spot on. Here’s hoping that these companies can keep their momentum going, and the ones that didn’t make the list can be inspired to step up a bit.