Vertigo, Verti-gone: Part 1.

Vertigo logoIt’s been a rough few days for DC to put it mildly! The removal of Shelly Bond from Vertigo has led to an unexpected discussion of DC’s continued employment of Eddie Berganza—who has been named as an individual tied to multiple incidents of sexual harassment. Of course, the question voiced by many is why would DC dismiss Bond only to keep Berganza employed? Sales of Superman comics have been lackluster and, as a longtime employee, Berganza’s salary is likely comparable to Bond’s. Considerable expenditures and negative PR do not seem to be worth the monthly production of a comic that sells roughly 36,000 copies. Especially when said comic stars the world’s most iconic superhero. Many have said that Berganza should not be dismissed for previous behavior that he has already been reprimanded for and adjusted accordingly. I would be inclined to agree. I would also be inclined to remove an individual who made popular female creators feel uncomfortable enough to avoid books such as Supergirl and Wonder Woman due to his involvement. I would be inclined to remove an individual who had been handed two of comics’ greatest characters and could not produce sales even remotely comparable to the third. I would be inclined to remove an individual who could be replaced by one equally efficient for a fraction of the price.

So, given that Vertigo’s sales figures have been disastrous, would I have let go of Bond as well? No. The decline of Vertigo is not the fault of poor editing or unskilled creators. It is the result of unappealing contracts, the inability to acknowledge Vertigo’s new role in the marketplace, and a nonsensical marketing strategy. Bond, a phenomenal editor bolstered by an equally talented team, was made captain of a sinking ship and later blamed for its taking on of more water.

What I cannot stress enough is that Vertigo is no longer seen as avant-garde. It is no longer seen as a place where the industry’s most notorious it-boys and ingénues produce critically acclaimed work that shocks the senses. That place would be Image. Image built its brand on Vertigo’s broken back, laying a solid foundation with fair contracts, rousing speeches, and fashionable fêtes. Vertigo cannot reclaim that status. Unlike many comic companies that have built brands around characters, Image has built its new brand around people. Robert Kirkman, Eric Stephenson, David Brothers, Brandon Graham, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Fiona Staples, etc. It would take an exorbitant sum to woo those people away. They are heavily invested in the health of Image. Vertigo could build a brand around the notable men and women of the smaller independent companies, but what can they offer a woman such as C. Spike Trotman that she doesn’t already enjoy? Nothing.

Vertigo can continue to struggle against the obvious and settle into a role as a lesser Image where interesting concepts are strangled by piss-poor contracts and a tarnished brand. Or it can fully embrace its role as an established imprint where the industry bad boys of the ’90s can relive glory days by returning to the concepts that made them famous. Vertigo could be the comics industry’s version of an exclusive Las Vegas casino—a place to drop considerable dollars on the legends of one’s youth. Headliners only. Some may blanch at the truth, that Vertigo is now a place where the middle-aged and Anglophilic can buy expensive Preacher omnibuses and Sandman OGNs, but guess what? I promise you that their money is just as crisp and fresh as the dollars spent by millennials on Sex Criminals trades. Vertigo should fully embrace its retro brand and tend to its evergreen IPs. And to do so you need an editor with years in the game, one with all the good ol’ boys in her Rolodex, one who can rifle through comics and spot the one project from ’96 that everyone forgot about that’s going to be the next Netflix hit. You need a Shelly Bond.

And right now? DC doesn’t have one.

Next up: Why Young Animal should have been Yung Animal (Swavey clearly isn’t keeping up with it), how the complete absence of young black employees is a massive oversight to any imprint interested in the establishment of an edgy alluring brand, and the importance of an A-Team to a company consumed with gunning for the industry king.