Updated: Chris Staros responded to my enquiries about Alan Moore with the following:
“I had extensive talks with Alan — as well as our other creators — about the deal, and knowing that I would be his single point of contact for all current and future works to be published under the Top Shelf imprint, he’s okay with everything moving forward as is. For me, being that Alan was the reason I got into comics in the first place — as it was V for Vendetta that gave me the epiphany, and showed me the potential of the medium of comics — to go from one of his greatest fans, to his publisher on From Hell, League, etc., has been the greatest honor of my life. So to continue this relationship, as well as our co-publishing partnership with our great friends at Knockabout in the UK, is something I cherish, and am extremely proud of.”
Well, bam, 2015 is off to a rousing start, with news breaking this morning that San Diego’s IDW has acquired Atlanta/PDX’s Top Shelf, with Top Shelf’s Chris Staros to remain as Editor in Chief, while partner Brett Warnock retires from comics to run a food and nature blog. Top Shelf will remain as a separate line at IDW, while Leigh Walton, Chris Ross and Zac Boone will all stay on at the new imprint.
Top Shelf has a backlist that includes everything from Jeff Lemire’s beloved in Canada Essex Trilogy to some of Jeffrey Brown’s best books to the civil rights juggernaut March to James Kochalka to Jess Fink to….well just about everything. The film The Surrogates was based on the Robert Venditti-written Top Shelf book. Perhaps most famously, they are the main US publisher for new Alan Moore. But more about that below.
Most aspects of the deal—just about everything except the terms—are covered in a very thorough FAQ included in the PR, from the fact that Bill Schanes brokered the deal to Top Shelf’s books being warehoused by Diamond right alongside IDWs.
But here’s The Beat’s own four hours of sleep FAQ:
Is this a good thing?
Hard to see how it isn’t. Top Shelf gets some capital and IDW gets market share that will almost certainly boost it permanently into fourth place on the Diamond charts. It was obvious to observers that Top Shelf had settled down a bit in recent years; their output remains top notch but running a small indie press leads to a lot of wear and tear. Hopefully I’d expect the Top Shelf booth to remain its own thing—if the fez and lights set goes down, I’m protesting.
As long as Staros remains editor in chief, the line should stay the same. Staros and Warnock forged very strong relationships with a lot of indie cartoonists when they were up and coming—and those relationships are part of what IDW bought. That said, some creators were moving their backlist to other publishers—Matt Kindt took all his books to Dark Horse, for example. I’m guessing that were he still at IDW/Top Shelf, the new entity would have been a more attractive offering.
What about Alan Moore?
That said, Top Shelf is the only company besides Avatar that’s been able to work with Alan Moore in the US, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books not to mention the backlist titan From Hell are like printing money. Moore had a reversion clause in his contract—if Top Shelf was sold, he could take his books elsewhere. While Top Shelf would still be an attractive take over without Moore, with Moore it’s still a license to print money, and it’s a certainty that the acquisition had to be vetted with Moore before it went through. Top Shelf, along with Knockabout, Moore’s UK publisher, has been a strong publishing partner for Moore for more than a decade—the handling of Lost Girls being a sterling example.
Interestingly, LoeG’s acquiring editor, Scott Dunbier actually works at IDW now, although my understanding is that the two are no longer close. However, that Ted Adams is able to work with the one person possibly more cranky than Alan Moore, Dave Sim, shows that he has some serious negotiating skills.
All that said, as I’ve pointed out many times, just treating Moore with respect as an author would have stopped all his problems with DC dead in their tracks. Ted Adams is nothing if not a student of history, and as long as Staros stays the Moore whisperer all should be well.
As I post this, neither IDW nor Top Shelf had responded to inquiries about the Moore mater.
What can IDW do for Top Shelf?
IDW already has a bunch of imprints, Yoe Books, Library of American Comics and so on, but despite some strong books, they have never been in the forefront of creator owned series. A lot of Top Shelf books are not giant money makers, but in today’s comics market, selling books by Jeffrey Brown, Alan Moore and John Lewis shouldn’t require decathlon-like exertion. Alan Moore’s DC books are backlist perennials, which shouldn’t From Hell be one too?
Top Shelf is one of the longest running “boutique” indie publishers, and one of the largest, bu in a world of razor thin margins, that still doesn’t men anyone, publisher or creator was rolling in the dough. I predicted we’d see some consolidation in 2015—this isn’t the lineup I was expecting, but it makes 100% sense.
“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.”
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Will Top Shelf retain its own brand identity?
Absolutely. It will remain a distinct imprint within the IDW family of books.
How will IDW Publishing’s new ownership role directly impact Top Shelf?
IDW’s main role will be the support and management of Top Shelf’s infrastructure — production, sales, marketing and promotional initiatives. IDW will also provide additional funding to secure new breakout projects so that Top Shelf can direct their full attention to producing fan-favorite award-winning books.
IDW will use its 15 years of publishing experience to further enhance Top Shelf’s incredible line-up and ensure that the backlist is always available to an expanded retailer and consumer base.
What role will Chris Staros have going forward at Top Shelf?
Chris Staros will join the company as Editor-in-Chief of Top Shelf Productions and will expand his role as one of the most innovative editors, marketers and new talent scouts in the industry. Therefore, Top Shelf’s fans can expect the same independent editorial approach that has yielded first-rate books and garnered industry-wide awards.
What about the rest of The Top Shelf staff?
While Chris’ long-time friend and business partner, Brett Warnock, has decided to retire from the world of comics and explore business opportunities through his newly launched food and nature blog, the rest of the Top Shelf staff will remain in place to continue Top Shelf’s indy-focused operations: Leigh Waltonas Top Shelf’s Publicist & Marketing Director; Chris Ross as Lead Designer & Digital Director; and Zac Boone as Warehouse Manager.
How does this acquisition affect Top Shelf’s independent creators?
Top Shelf publishing agreements will be honored in full, with all creator rights and deal points continuing as they are currently written. IDW will also be able to ensure that Top Shelf’s extensive catalog stays in print, and all creators receive royalties on the solid schedule IDW is known for.
How will this transition affect retailers?
We anticipate a very smooth transition, as both IDW and Top Shelf use Diamond Comic Distributors and Diamond Book Distributors as their exclusive distribution partners for both the comic book specialty market and book market. The entire Top Shelf inventory is already being warehoused by Diamond in the same location as the IDW inventory.
How did the transaction come about?
IDW has been interested in pursuing an acquisition(s) for some time and earlier in 2014 retained industry veteran Bill Schanes (former VP of purchasing for Diamond) as a consultant to thoroughly investigate acquisition opportunities. Top Shelf, as it turned out, was by far the best of these and Bill facilitated the “matchmaking” early on. Once the companies got to know each other better, the rest was, as they say, history.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.