Top Shelf Comics is an independent comics publisher based in Marietta, GA. It began as a company in 1997, but before then, there was an anthology called Top Shelf published by Brett Warnock, one of the partners in this company. It was started in 1995, and soon gained a reputation for good work, garnering Harvey and Ignatz awards. The latter is named after a cartoon mouse in Krazy Kat, a classic comic strip by George Herriman. Chris Staros was the other partner-he represented Eddie Campbell (artist for the famous graphic novel, From Hell). Staros received a Harvey and some Eisner nominations for his periodical, the Staros report which is described as an 'industry resource guide' (I'm not making this up. Look at: http://www.topshelfcomix.com/topshelf/news-history.html )
They became business partners at the 1997 Small Press Expo, a convention for small comics publishers. They published many works, mostly famously Kochalka's Monkey vs Robot, and Eddie Campbell's From Hell. Everything seemed fine. The company had its own niche showcasing works that the Big Two- Marvel and DC- wouldn't touch, from zany alt-comix to naturalistic fiction to historical fantasy. I have only dealt with them post-crash, but my experience was probably pretty typical. I ordered James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries from their site and in a few days, it arrived in an oversized box. Under all the layers of wrapping, I found my comic unharmed and with a little coaster with a caricature of a French waiter and the top shelf logo on it included with it. A nice touch, so why would such a good company crash?
A cynic would say it was because they only published "fine art" comics. It is true, I have never heard of a Top Shelf superhero title. However, the company had financial problems in April 2002, nearly putting it out of business because of a ripple effect from the company's distributor, LPC Group, filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The distributor owed the company $80,000, and although it had recently sent them a check for $20,000, the check bounced, causing widespread problems in the ability of Top Shelf to pay its bills. In desperation, Chris Staros wrote a letter to comics sites telling of the situation and saying that "If 400 to 500 of you can find it in your hearts to each spend around fifty bucks on our core list of books, this would literally pull us through."
In a rather heart warming move, the whole comics community pulled in behind them. The Warren Ellis forum, a hot bed of indy comics lovers, has been credited with helping out as has Neil Gaiman and Crossgen comics. In literally 12 hours, the fate of the company had been turned around with over a thousand orders. I find this pretty amazing, not just the fast response, but the idea that a thousand people pulling together could save an entire company. Maybe there is hope for the comics industry after all
Hopefully, support will not fade. There have been signs of support such as Mars Import, a prominent online comics store, having June as Top Shelf month, which of course meant a sale. In a superhero dominated world, it is always good to be able to get the works of James Kochalka or Renee French's Soap Lady. Hopefully indy comics will prosper along side super heroes someday. Maybe not, but if a thousand people can save a company, maybe just two or three times that number can change an industry? Maybe.