The First Official "Comic Book" Company
Started in 1934, DC Comics is now the second-largest comic book publisher and entertainment conglomerate in America. However, it was not always named "DC Comics," nor was there a singular company that started it all. As a matter of fact, three companies combined to hold that distinction: National Allied Publishing, Detective Comics, Inc., and All-American Comics. Initially, the three corporations produced comic book anthologies which featured animals, adventure and mystery/detective comics.
This triumvirate ushered in the very first non-anthology comic book series, Action Comics. This series was the one that started the Golden Age of Comics, with Superman on the cover in 1938.
© ABC-CLIO, LLC (2013), Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. (Google Books), Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith. pp. 178.
Second Company: Just in the Nick of "Time"
It should be no surprise that the second company is Marvel Comics. Of course, just like DC Comics, Marvel was not its original name. Martin Goodman founded the company Timely Publications in 1939, publishing comic books under the series Timely Comics.
The first published comic book from Timely Comics was in late 1939, with an android Human Torch. (No, it was not a part of the Fantastic Four; they would come much later.) Namor the Sub-Mariner was also an early superhero/villan in the comic series, and they were big hits. And so began the fierce competition between the two major comic book/entertainment behemoths that is still prevalent today.
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Other Comic Book Companies
Smaller Comic Book Publishers – Image, Dark Horse, and IDW
Because of DC and Marvel Comics' success, the other comic book companies share a much smaller section of the comic book/graphic novel market. Of course, since the other companies haven't been around as long, that's to be expected, since they have fewer titles in their repetoire and have to fight for each share they obtain.
The two biggest comic book companies (after DC and Marvel) are Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics. They both alternate between #3 and #4 respectively, on any given month, depending on how well their titles sell. Image is best known for titles like Spawn (Todd McFarlane), Hack/Slash (Tim Seeley, Emily Stone), and The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard). Dark Horse Comics promotes Frank Miller's Sin City (Frank Miller) and a host of other comics based on popular movies (Aliens, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Star Wars titles).
Currently, Image Comics sells more copies than Dark Horse (a little over 4% of all comics sold), but Dark Horse has a greater revenue share (about 5% of the market).
IDW Publishing, the youngest major comic book publisher, is in fifth place, but is trying to gain ground to compete with Image and Dark Horse. With horror titles like 30 Days of Night, IDW now publishes a majority of comics licensed from movie and television franchises, including Star Trek, Doctor Who, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and The A-Team.
The last tenth or so of the comics market is divided between many other publishers, though Dynamite Entertainment and BOOM! Studios approach Image, Dark Horse, and IDW's figures. Even with the other competitors jockeying for position in the market, Marvel and DC's dominance as the top comic book publishers is unlikely to end anytime soon.
© Luke Arnott (2010), The Top Five Comic Book Publishers: Biggest Comics Companies. (Google Article).