Comics publishers can be thought of in a number of ways, but one that is somewhat prevalent is "Marvel + DC and then everyone else". The reason for this is that Marvel & DC account for 75% or more of all comics sold to the comics direct market in any given month. That's why Marvel and DC are called the "Big Two".
This "big Two" viewpoint can be expanded somewhat to include the other "Premiere Publishers". This adds in Dark Horse, IDW, and Image and when they're combined with Marvel & DC, they account for 87-90% (or more) of all comics sold to the direct market in any given month. But this is a far cry from the complete story. The other publishers, who are sometimes referred to as being in the "back half of Previews" (which indicates that they are listed in the Diamond Previews catalog after all the Premiere Publishers) put out some top quality books. Dismissing these publishers will only serve to rob a reader of some of the best comics being published. This is also where readers will find the vast majority of comics that stretch beyond super-heroes and licensed properties, but also the comics that tend to not be on the racks in 75%+ of Local Comic Shops if customers do not ask for them in advance. This page will attempt to provide a brief summary of many of the publishers currently putting out comics along with links that will allow you to look into their offerings in greater detail.
Generally the top selling comics publisher, Marvel has been around since 1939 when they started out as Timely Comics. By the 1950s they were generally known as Atlas Comics and finally made the transformation into what we know today as Marvel Comics in 1961 with the advent of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and a host of other very familiar characters. The latest major transformation occurred in 2009 when the Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel for $4.24 billion. A more complete history of Marvel is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Marvel Entertainment @Marvel
Marvel Digital Comics
DC has been fighting it out for the #1 slot with Marvel for decades. They managed to grab the #1 spot for a number of months after re-booting their entire super-hero universe with the "New52" initiative in 2011, and also with the "Rebirth" relaunch in 2016, but Marvel eventually grabbed to top slot back from them both times. DC started life in 1934 as National Publications and created the modern super-hero when they published Action Comics #1 (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) in June 1938. Super-Heroes exist to this day as the predominant genre in comic books. Superman was joined by Batman to become the cornerstones of DC and still exist as 2 of the most immediately recognizable super-heroes in the world. A more complete history of DC is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: DC Comics @DCComics
-and- Vertigo Comics @vertigo_comics
DC Digital Comi
Dark Horse has embraced the vision of being a publisher that creates a great atmosphere for creators since its founding in 1986. They published a great anthology title that brought out many excellent creations, including Concrete & Sin City. Dark Horse has been the primary publisher of Hellboy and Usagi Yojimbo and a number of other excellent creations. They brought superb manga series to the attention of audiences in the United States, and they've brought the comic book adventures of a number of licensed properties to an appreciative fan base, including Aliens, Predator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Wars (though that license will revert to Marvel now that Disney has purchased the Star Wars franchise). A more complete history of Dark Horse is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Dark Horse Comics @DarkHorseComics
Dark Horse Digital Comics
Idea+Design Works, LLC started in 1999 and gained early notoriety when they published the breakthrough horror hit 30 Days of Night. Over the years they've published a number of unique creative visions but are distinguished by the large number of licensed properties they bring to the comics page including Transformers, G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Doctor Who, True Blood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Godzilla. They are also to be commended for bringing back to print many classic newspaper strips as part of their Library of American Comics including Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates & Steve Canyon, Al Capp's Li'l Abner, and Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby. Another format they have pioneered is the "Artist's Edition" which is an oversized book reprinting color scans of comic book original art at their original size. In January 2015 IDW acquired the small publisher Top Shelf Productions, known for small press creator owned books. Top Shelf operates as an imprint of IDW with Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros continuing on as Editor-in-Chief of IDW's Top Shelf Imprint. A more complete history of IDW is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: IDW Publishing @IDWPublishing
-and- IDW Limited @IDWLimited
IDW Digital Comics
Image was founded in 1992 by a group of high-profile creators who had made names for themselves at Marvel Comics and created their own company so they could create and own their characters/series instead of doing work-for-hire on characters owned by the publisher. The original founders were; Eric Larsen (from Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man, he created Savage Dragon at Image), Jim Lee (from Marvel's X-Men, he created WildC.A.T.S. at Image), Rob Liefeld (from Marvel's X-Force, he created Youngblood at Image), Todd McFarlane (from Marvel's Spider-Man, he created Spawn at Image), Whilce Portacio (from Marvel's Uncanny X-Men, he created Wetworks at Image), Marc Silvestri (from Marvel's Uncanny X-Men & Wolverine, he created Cyberforce at Image), Jim Valentino (from Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, he created Shadowhawk at Image).
From its roots, Image was founded on the principle that the publisher wold not own any creator's work, the creator would. Image itself would own the company trademark and logo. The fame (within the comics community) of the founders caused it to have a huge start, selling millions of comics. This tapered off over time as several of the founders found themselves unable to produce comics on a regular basis.
The company had a resurgence in the 2000s as it began to actively seek out and provide publishing services for a very diverse set of creator owned comics. The arrival of Robert Kirkman with his ground-breaking series Walking Dead and Invincible started a renaissance at Image, Kirkman ultimately became a partner at Image in 2008. Today Image is highly respected for the quality & diversity of the comics they publish from some of the top creators in the field. A more complete history of Image is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Image Comics @ImageComics
Image Digital Com
These Publishers have been ranked by name on the Diamond Sales charts at some point in 2016 with at least 1% of the comic book direct sales market share.
Archie Comics began it's life as MLJ Magazines in 1939 and introduced their signature character, Archie Andrews, who would become the face of the company, in Pep Comics #22 in 1941. Over the years many comics readers started out on Archie Comics at a young age before moving on to other comics. Their presence to this day on newsstands and in supermarkets make them far more accessible to young readers than comics that must be purchased at a comics specialty shop. Archie is unfairly discounted in the statistics for top-selling comics since their newsstand circulation is not counted in the Diamond top 300 statistics that count comics distributed to the comics direct market. Over the years Archie has dabbled in super-heroes, their very earliest comics featured super-heroes like The Shield. In the 1960s their Mighty & Red Circle imprints brought comics like The Fly, Jaguar, Steel Sterling, The Comet, and the reappearance of The Shield. These characters were at one point licensed by DC but never gained traction with the DC audience. They have had recent success with the Archie Horror line including Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, as well as modern reboots of the main characters. A more complete history of Archie is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Archie Comics @archiecomics
BOOM! was founded in 2005 and has brought many action, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and super-hero to their fans over the years. They've had a number of original series as well as series related to HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and licensed series for Cliver Barker's Hellraiser, the Planet of the Apes movies, 28 Days Later, Michael Moorcock's Elric, Eureka, Farscape, and an unabridged comics adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. BOOM! publishes all ages books under their kaBOOM! imprint including comics based on Charles Schulz's Peanuts, Adventure Time, The Regular Show, as well as original content. In 2013 BOOM! started the BOOM! Box label for their more avant-garde comics, as well as buying and absorbing the small publisher Archaia, which is famous for publishing the series Mouse Guard and now operates as an imprint of BOOM!. A more complete history of BOOM! is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: BOOM! Studios @boomstudios
Dynamite was founded in 2005 and primarily publishes comic series based on TV shows and movies (Army of Darkness, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator, Robocop, Xena), licensed characters and characters from literary fiction (Green Hornet, The Shadow, The Spider, Vampirella, Red Sonja, John Carter, Sherlock Holmes, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, Tarzan). Dynamite picked up Garth Ennis' series The Boys after it was dropped by DC/Wildstorm in 2007 and has published a number of other series in conjunction with Ennis in the years since. A more complete history of Dynamite is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Dynamite Ent. @DynamiteComics
Titan publishes comics in the UK and the United States, with licensed titles based on TV shows, movies, and video games, as well as original series and revivals of classic British comics. In 2016 they started a line of "Hard Case Crime" comics in cooperation with the book publisher of the same name. A more complete history of Titan is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: Titan Comics @ComicsTitan
The current Valiant re-started in 2007 when they acquired the assets of the original Valiant Comics (with the exception of Magnus, Solar, and Turok which reverted to Random House). The new comics began coming out in 2012 with the relaunch of XO Manowar, soon joined by Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong and Shadowman. A more complete history of Valiant is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: ValiantComics @ValiantComics
Viz was founded in 1986 to bring Japanese manga to American audiences in conjunction with the now defunct Eclipse Comics, publishing manga in American left-to-right comics formats. Moving away from Eclipse the continued to publish in American comics format under the Viz Select Comics banner until moving to the "graphic album" format presenting the translated manga in the right-to-left format that we now associate with English translations of manga. A more complete history of Viz is available on Wikipedia.
Twitter: VIZ Media @VIZMedia
Here are some publishers that have been acquired by larger publishers in recent years and have been absorbed into the operations of the larger company. They often operate as an imprint within that larger publisher, but are listed here since they may be a publisher people are familiar with and wonder what happened to them. Their comics are still active, just as part of another business entity.
Acquired by BOOM! Studios in 2013.
Archaia was founded by comic creator Mark Smylie when his publisher, Sirius Entertainment, wanted to publish the 3rd series of Smylie's Artesia in black&white. Over the years, Archaia published a number of critically acclaimed series, including Mouse Guard, as well as publishing English translations of highly regarded European series like Okko and The Killer.
Acquired by Aspen MLT in 2015.
Big Dog was founded in 2009 by Tom Hutchison and Stephen Smirl. They published a small stable of comics including: Penny for Your Soul (a struggle between the forces of heaven against a Las Vegas backdrop), Critter (a novice super-hero that brings a light-hearted fun back to super-hero stories), and Legend of Oz: The Wicked West (a mash-up of Oz and westerns).
Acquired by IDW Publishing in 2015.
Top Shelf was founded in 1997 and specializes in alternative small-press style independent comics. They are associated with a number of highly regarded creators, including Jeffrey Brown, Eddie Campbell, Jeff Lemire, James Kochalka, Alan Moore, Alex Robinson, Craig Thompson, and others.
Twitter: Chris Staros @chrisstaros (Top Shelf Editor-in-Chief)
There are quite a few other publishers that put out top quality comics on a regular basis. While they don't enjoy the same market share as the larger publishers, they put out comics that win awards and top many fan's "favorite comics" lists. Being small is not bad, but these publishers are often overlooked by local comic shop owners when they are placing their monthly comics order, most shop owners order what the "know" will sell (which is a self-fulfilling prophecy since if their customers don't know a comic exists and have never seen it they certainly won't buy it).
There are so many publishers that come and go, we're not necessarily going to list them all, but we'll try our best to have the ones that have been around a long time and those who put out comics we read and review.
Keeping an eye on ComicSpectrum reviews can alert you to comics that you might enjoy.