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I always wondered what killed Eclipse Comics

eclipsetotal.jpgWikipedia | Eclipse Comics

Eclipse Comics was an American comic book publisher, one of several influential independent publishers during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1978, it published the first graphic novel for the newly-created comic book specialty store market. It was one of the first to offer royalties and creator ownership of rights, and the first comics company to publish trading cards.... The company was founded as Eclipse Enterprises by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney in 1977.... it expanded operations under editor Cat Yronwode. In 1986, Eclipse lost most of its back-issue stock in a flood. The company ceased operations in 1994, with its intellectual property rights acquired by Todd McFarlane.

bestofmostof.com | Terry & Annie Reissues:
An Interview with Dean Mullaney

Blake: Can you walk us through events - from what happened that closed the doors on Eclipse to this project - that led you back into the comic-book publishing field?

Dean: The irony of all this is that, in this day and age when graphic novels are regularly reviewed in the mainstream press, the reason Eclipse went under was due to my single-minded desire to establish graphic novels in mainstream bookstores. Eclipse had signed a mutually-exclusive contract with HarperCollins to produce graphic novels. The plan was to first introduce titles by authors already known to booksellers -- J.R.R. Tolkien, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Anne McCaffrey... we even had an original by Doris Lessing in the planning stages.

Unfortunately, HarperCollins didn't, in my opinion, really understand what graphic novels were all about. And there were internal conflicts at HC, to which I was never privy, that left Eclipse holding the bag. They had given us an advance to start production, but that money ran out, and we had a full schedule in production. We never received a single royalty statement, let alone check, from HC's sales to bookstores. The cash flow deficit eventually forced us to close up shop.

We were too far ahead of the curve. Now, of course, all the major bookstore chains have graphic novel sections.

And if you don't know, you should look into this cat yronwode person. She's fairly amazing. And if she's got her own version of Eclipse's end other than [not a direct quote] "Dean left me and it went bankrupt," she hasn't put it on her bio page.

Found some more details, and this is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay at the bottom of the page, scroll-scroll:

Web Of Horror, Atlas/Seaboard & Others

RA: What did cause the collapse of Eclipse in 1994?

DM: I’ve never really told anyone why Eclipse folded. It had nothing to do with cat and I getting divorced. First of all, the comics specialty market was in the toilet. Like every other publisher, we were scrambling to sell enough comics to keep things going. We didn’t have the luxury of losing $150 million a year like one of competitors did. We were a small, family-run business. So things were incredibly tight. Eclipse didn’t have bankable continuing monthly series. We often published a wide variety of one-shots, mini-series and graphic novels because we liked them. Comic shops were closing and the remaining shops, for the most part, drastically cut orders on anything not from Marvel or DC.

We saw the comics specialty market alone was not a receptive place for our company’s survival, let alone expansion. My dream, from 1978 when I published Sabre, was to get graphic novels in mainstream bookstores. As the direct market became overcome with greed and milking readers by focusing on comics as investment, multiple covers, etc., I saw the future in the bookstores. We had great success with Ballantine on The Hobbit (75,000 copies in the first half year, not counting the comics shops where we sold 25,000 copies of the collection and over 100,000 each of the three $4.95 issues), and so when the opportunity arose to have a co-publishing deal with one of the world’s largest publishers, I had to go for it. We entered into a co-publishing deal with HarperCollins. Harper published Clive Barker and didn’t want us taking his graphic novels to a competitor. Harper had also bought Unwyn-Hyman, publishers of Tolkien’s work in every country but the US, and again didn’t want a competitor to have the graphic novel. They also realized that we could get the graphic novel rights to books published by other houses and bring them to Harper (this was before graphic novel rights were on the mind of mainstream publishers).

It was an exclusive deal both ways. In the beginning, it was a fantastic relationship. We did all the production and were invited to give presentations at all their sales meetings in the US and UK. They made fantastic floor and counter displays for bookstores. When they released The Hobbit graphic novel, they sold more copies in the UK alone than Ballantine did in all the US! The problems started when we asked for sales figures on the other books (Miracleman, Clive Barker’s titles, Dragonflight, Dean Koontz’s Trapped, etc.). We never—EVER—received a single sales statement. Therefore, no royalty statements. So there I was, paying advances to creators (bigger than the top rates in the field at the time—hey, we were going to be in bookstores, too!), tying up all my capital. And then nothing from Harper. No statements, no money. Meanwhile, creators were naturally asking for THEIR statements and royalitites. I explained the situation, but still never got anything from Harper. It go to the point that I had no cash left to even carry on normal business because we had laid out everything we had for advances.

All that was left to do was sell off every piece of inventory I could get my hands on, pay all the little guys (individual creators and small vendors), and stiff the large ones (printers and freight companies). And declare bankruptcy.

I still have no idea how many copies of our graphic novels Harper sold, or what they did with the money owed us and creators.

But my plans for placing graphic novels in bookstores was still a good one. I just picked the wrong publisher and was about ten years too early. If Eclipse were around now, there’s no doubt that we would be the leading graphic novel publisher in mainstream bookstores.