Big news in the business side of comics: IDW has acquired Top Shelf Productions. Based in Georgia, this relatively small comics label has been responsible for some of the classiest and most high-quality releases in comics in recent memory. Anyone who’s seen their release of Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, for example, can’t help but notice that this label even pays attention to the kind of paper used in the book. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, another Top Shelf production, is similarly upmarket. Top Shelf was responsible for the publication of such books as Essex County and From Hell. In fact, as I type this, I only need to turn my head slightly to the right and look at my bookshelf to find many examples of high-quality Top Shelf titles.
It’s easy to make comics the cheap way – that’s part of their charm. And Top Shelf isn’t the only publisher to pay attention to printing quality, but the consistency with which they produce high-quality products and with which they choose the highest quality creators really sets them apart. Image might publish a lot of the titles I read at the moment, but Top Shelf books are the ones I’d buy as a collector.
Which is why, from an outsider’s perspective, this seems like a slightly incongruous match. IDW is known mostly for high-profile franchise tie-ins, and they’ve obviously done quite well over the past few years, and continue to do so with recent titles like Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever or Star Trek vs Planet of the Apes. Like Top Shelf, IDW has also worked with the best comic talent out there, and while they specialize in a different sort of comic and don’t necessarily present the deluxe product that Top Shelf does consistently, they’re a major player.
What this acquisition means is that Top Shelf will become an IDW imprint. The “glass half full” interpretation of this is that Top Shelf will continue to publish as it does, now protected from the vagaries of business ebb and flow slightly by being part of a larger company. IDW isn’t exactly a lightweight, nor do they produce sloppy products. Far from it: their hardcover of Angel: After the Fall was beautifully done, with a built-in ribbon bookmark. (True story: I very proudly owned that hardcover until I sold it to Charisma Carpenter.) So, this is a very logical match of strengths.
It truly is a rarity in this digital world to find a company like Top Shelf, willing to spend the money and the time to get a physical book right. I hope that their new relationship with IDW will allow them to continue producing quality titles, from some of the greatest, but perhaps not the most bankable, names in the medium.