As the Direct Market opened up at the beginning of the 1980s, a deluge of new publishers rushed in to ply their wares before this new dedicated comics-dedicated audience. One of the earliest companies in this period was Eclipse, founded by brothers Jan and Dean Mullaney. They had started out as publishers by printing Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy’s graphic novel SABRE and then moved into wider publishing endeavors. Eventually, they’d have an entire line of titles, but at the start of the decade, they focused on a single regular entry: Eclipse Magazine. It was an attempt to help propel the medium forward by giving creators, especially those of the heady 1970s, a place where they could tell more of the kinds of stories they had been doing, removed from some of the necessary censorship and restrictions that the more mainstream publishers maintained.
At the outset, Eclipse didn’t publish a whole lot that looked like super heroes. This would change over time, once it became apparent that the sort of material that was going to sell best in the Direct Market was stuff that at least looked like super hero comics. One of the firm’s first forays into headlining a super heroic character was the Masked Man, who made his debut in ECLIPSE MAGAZINE #7.
The Masked Man was the creation of cartoonist B.C. Boyer. It was clearly influenced by Will Eisner’s The Spirit, in that the title character is simply a man in a mask, with no other costume or powers. These qualities were what made it a reasonable fit for Eclipse at the time. Eisner’s work was held in high regard, and the Masked Man had the veneer of being a super hero strip while actually being something a bit more on teh fringes.
But the Masked Man soon established a signature tone of its own. It was a bit more overly sentimental and emotionally present that the Spirit often was. Eisner could do schmaltz, but Boyer’s series lived in that realm. This first installment is a bit more concerned with fannish things, clowning about super hero origins and the like. But Boyer’s strip soon found its way.
The Masked Man ran in ECLIPSE MAGAZINE for its final two issues, then segued over into its replacement, ECLIPSE MONTHLY–Jan and Dean had learned that Direct Market retailers also preferred that their comic books were the standard regulation size, rather than being magazine format. After that, the series graduated to its own color title as Eclipse attempted to stake out a share of the marketplace. After that ran its course, the book returned a few years later for three more final issues, this time again in black and white.
There was an appealing sweetness and gentleness in The Masked Man that gave it its appeal. It contained all of the trappings of a hard-boiled series but was more interested in making sure the audience left with a smile on its face.