The defining event in the rise of independent comics was the mass exodus of top-selling Marvel artists who left in 1992 to create their own company, Image Comics. The early sales success of Image led to a boom in sales of comics but a lot of this boom was due to the comics speculator market, people who were not necessarily comics readers but who were buying comics in large quantities with an eye towards them becoming valuable for later resale at a profit. Unfortunately, as these comics sold in the millions, there was no way for demand to outpace the supply once the speculators were removed from the equation. There just were not that many fans out there. Once the direct market crash occurred as a result of the speculator bubble bursting a lot of indie companies (and comics shops) went out of business.
The publishers that kept on going post-crash learned that ultimately it was the stories and characters that won out over the flash and carnival-like atmosphere of the early years of the rise of the indies.
The key publishers (along with a few of their notable series) that came onto the scene during the period from 1992-2004 were:
Image Comics (1992-present) was founded when Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri, and Jim Valentino all left Marvel Comics to create their own company where they could own their creations instead of doing work for hire for a corporation. Each of the core creators created their own studio within Image with autonomous editorial control (with the exception of Portacio, who withdrew during the early days of Image's formation to deal with an illness in his family).
Malibu Ultraverse (1993-1995) A major change came about when Malibu introduced its Ultraverse line in 1993. This created a new full-color super-hero universe for Malibu with tight continuity between the titles. These titles thrived for 2 short years until Marvel comics bought Malibu and cancelled the majority of the Ultraverse titles. Marvel subsequently tried to integrate Ultraverse characters into the Marvel Universe with no success. The Ultraverse characters were gone.
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