I’ve blogged at length about Vertigo in the past—and its relation to Image’s ascendance to Vertigo’s former position as the reigning leader in publishing avant-garde works from famous writers in the realm of comics. There is no way Vertigo can regain its former glory in the short term. Success begets success and Image has been riding on a wave of positive press and celebrity that sees no signs of cresting. Yes, there were critics who rightfully pointed out the lack of racial and gender diversity in its current crop of superstars, but given that this is an issue that plagues nearly all of Image’s peers, it seems strange to hone in on one company in regards to what is so very clearly an industry-wide problem.
It is a problem that in regards to racial diversity will likely not improve at companies such as Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse—not due to willful bigotry, but the focus on established writers to increase notoriety means that these companies are not interested in discovering new talent, leaving them to a pool that is overwhelmingly white and male. At best, one can hope for an increase in the number of books written by a small number of established female writers. Unlike the dismissal of concerns regarding racial diversity, gender diversity does seem to be a clear focus. The purchasing power of women is phenomenal (as is the number of women who read for pleasure). So while there is irritatingly not a press to increase the number of female creators, there is a clear desire to create an environment where female consumers feel welcome and can purchase books that reflect their interests. I predict Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse will continue to press female-centric ad campaigns, increase the number of books with female leads, and attempt to increase the number of books per month written by the one or two established female authors available to them. DC, for all its negative press, has bucked the trend by smartly leaning on Snyder as a talent scout, slowly increasing not only the number of female writers, but writers of color as well. DC would do well to keep Scott Snyder extraordinarily happy, for he does three jobs for the price of one: writes well-received comics, discovers new talent, and possesses the ability to launch a charm offensive for DC greater than its management or editorial staff. In layman’s terms, he’s a genuinely nice person to be around.
But the focus today is not on DC proper, but the Vertigo imprint. And I feel that as DC has bucked trends, so should Vertigo as well. Where Image and Dark Horse are focused on acquiring superstars, Vertigo should be focused on creating them by locating fledgling talent. The imprint should also lean on the talent pool largely ignored by Image and Dark Horse—female writers and writers of color.
And Vertigo had best work fast, for smaller companies such as BOOM! Studios have done an excellent job crafting a quirky, female-friendly image that is highly appealing. Note that the company was the first to participate in the successful We Are Comics campaign, showcasing the diversity in its staff. A quick rundown of its creators also shows a greater number of women when compared to companies above its weight class.
Where BOOM! woos women, even smaller companies such as Lion Forge and crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter woo writers of color. Those who have been discriminated against previously will turn to areas where those of their group are clearly visible in campaigns and have found success. Why bother approaching an editor who has no interest in you when you can take your project directly to the people? And so Kickstarter swells with projects—some good and some bad—but with a diverse selection of writers not found anywhere else in comics. Everyone is afforded equal access to be considered.
So with companies chipping away at its platform from above and from below, how does Vertigo compete? Surprisingly, by resting on its laurels. Vertigo still has name recognition in many circles even beyond the realm of comics and into the world of prose publishing where so many women are key figures. It should use its reputation to focus on adapting key works by established female prose authors and authors of color. Of course, this route will only remain successful as long as Karen Berger remains inactive. For many she still is Vertigo, and the moment she should decide to set up a comic imprint at a prose publisher (or even worse, a comics publisher), Vertigo maintaining any foothold would become that much more difficult.
However, money helps in overcoming adversity. Should Vertigo have access to a budget larger than its peers, providing a decent paycheck to creators would help the imprint look a great deal more appealing to struggling talent, even if the contracts being offered down the road provide greater freedom or possible long-term gains. Many will willingly accept a work-for-hire situation or endure editorial missteps for additional funds—especially if Vertigo takes great care to ensure said missteps do not occur often.