Who Were Eclipse Comics

By | Thursday, April 20, 2023 1 comment
I first started reading comics in the late 1970s, but I didn't really get into them until 1983. I got hooked on John Byrne's run on Fantastic Four and that soon expanded to the wider Marvel Universe. (Well, as much as I could afford at any rate!) Within a couple years, I was eagerly trying to coerce my parents to drive me to comic shops and local conventions. Which, to my eternal gratitude, they frequently did.

But in hanging around comic shops, Dad started looking around a bit. He'd never been a big comic fan himself and had little interest in superheroes, but he discovered a number of the independent publishers that were gaining attention at that time. Folks that were putting out everything from Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper to Somerset Holmes and Ms. Tree to Scout and Jon Sable. He started buying many of those comics, and I was able to read a broad swath of these books after I'd gone through the comparatively few books I was getting for myself.

I was quite disappointed to learn Eclipse Comics folded while I was in a somewhat insulated-from-comics bubble of college. I also missed the demise of First Comics and, much to my regret, the death of Jack Kirby! But since I missed the beginnings of Eclipse and it's ending, I figured it's high time I get some background! Who were they?

The company was founded by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney in 1977. Their first book was Don McGregor and Paul Gaulacy's Sabre, which I talked about before. Their next notable success was the anthology magazine Eclipse, which wound up featuring the debuts of several notable characters including Ms. Tree, Coyote, and Masked Man all of which eventually got their own titles. The magazine also featured Trina Robbins' adaptation of Sax Rohmer's Dope. As the publisher expanded, they brought on Cat Yronwode, who helped to get published Miracleman, The Rocketeer, and Zot!

(For the record, Yronwode was in a relationship with Dean Mullaney, but I can't seem to pinpoint when that began relative to when she started working for Eclipse. Did she offer to help the publisher because they were together, or was she hired and thus spent a lot of time with Dean, I don't know offhand. They eventually married in 1987.)

Yronwode also teamed up with Robbins to publish (through Eclipse) the first book detailing the history of women in comics titled Women and the Comics. She also helped get Eclipse into producing a line of non-fiction, non-sports trading cards. Later, in 1988, Eclipse partnered with Viz to publish some of the earlier English translations of manga such as Area 88, Mai, the Psychic Girl, and The Legend of Kamui.

Eclipse, as you might notice, did a lot of pioneering work. So, what happened? How did they not make it through the 1990s?

Basically, it amounted to a confluence of tragedies in the back half of the '80s and early '90s. First, Eclipse lost most of its stock in a flood. New issues were still going out the door, but any revenue from back issues sales ground to a halt immediately. Between this and the flood damage itself, they began accruing debt. This was compounded by the licensing and translation fees for those Japanese comics. When their primary translator moved (with the licenses) over to Dark Horse, he found what he saw as discrepancies in his deal. And when he asked for Eclipse's own figures so he could properly audit them, they sent over two sets -- one set of real figures and one set of false figures they'd been using for their own book keeping! Needless to say, he sued them for the over $100,000 difference!

Mullaney, for his part, claimed there was a deal that went south with HarperCollins. He claimed they were stiffing him, and went on to suggest (though not outright state) that he fixed the books as a means to ensure his creators still got paid, even if it wasn't everything they were technically owed. However, Mullaney also managed to wipe out the Eclipse account and take off with a new lover, largely leaving Yronwode to clean up the mess. They divorced the later that year.

The lawsuit was a pretty open and shut case, and Eclipse was ordered to pay $120,000, on top of whatever money they had already said they'd owed people. Conversely, Mullaney never really had filed any legal claims against HarperCollins, so Eclipse had to formally file for bankruptcy in 1995. Their assets were auctioned off (primarily to Todd McFarlane!) in 1996 for a paltry $25,000.

As seems to be the case with many companies, a love of the medium does not necessarily mean having a business acumen for it. It would seem that, despite having some great ideas for comics, actually executing those ideas in a financially reasonable manner wasn't the strong suit for Mullaney. Had he hired a formal business or accounts manager, the company might still be around today.
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Pj Perez said...

I never knew all that about Eclipse. Wild story!