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.


Vertigo a go-go!

The writing is on the wall in regards to Vertigo. Thankfully, the message written is a positive one. With the promotion of Shelly Bond to executive editor, it appears evident that DC plans to pursue the same avant-garde material it had been known for publishing during the reign of Karen Berger. However, with the promotion of Hank Kanalz—known for his work at Wildstorm, an imprint that dealt heavily with movie and film tie-ins—it is also clear that creating commercial successes is also a key factor. Vertigo will likely become a R&D farm for cult classics, creating comics that in time will mature into a strong backlist of graphic novels to be cherished for decades. The strength of the Vertigo brand will hopefully also improve DC’s reputation in regards to creative freedom. In layman’s terms, Vertigo will be expected to create an army of Watchmen and a legion of Snyders to hold down the fort.

In the future, how can Vertigo cater to demands for commercial success while continuing to create quality material that veers off the beaten path? Perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster of an imprint is in order, merging parts of Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone to create a new imprint that usurps the dominion of all three.

Like Wildstorm, Vertigo should aggressively pursue cult classics in film, television, and video games in order to create tie-in works. It is important to seek works that have made an impact in American culture: the Grand Theft Auto series; Django Unchained, etc. However, I think it is important that the imprint bring something new to the table in order to create a lasting desire for its graphic novels. New stories must be told. For example, the adaptation of Django Unchained was a fabulous idea, but it is odd to me that no editor at Vertigo made an attempt to also produce a graphic novel featuring all-new material set in the Django universe. Imagine an anthology featuring Priest, Hama, Vachss, Hudlin, Miller, etc. With the inclusion of an introduction by Tarantino its status as a backlist tent pole would likely be a given. Why was an editor not assigned the task of sweet-talking Tarantino in order to bring such a work to fruition?

The list of creators I compiled featured individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is an arena in which Vertigo can take its cue from Milestone. Not limited to the narrow selection of mainly white male creators adored by mainstream fans, Vertigo can—like Milestone—reach out to underrepresented groups in the industry and provide them with a voice. Milestone was always labeled as a black imprint providing black books to black readers. While there is nothing wrong with said goal, it is not what Milestone was about. Milestone was multi-ethnic in all forms: creators, characters, and consumer base. Vertigo should be as well. Vertigo should be an imprint that reaches out to groups that mainstream DC has been unable to grasp. Imagine a miniseries penned by Junot Diaz and drawn by Ming Doyle, or a Scandal one-shot written by Shonda Rhimes and drawn by Amanda Conner. I’ve listed popular writers from other fields because I feel that it is the best way to add diversity to the talent pool while maintaining or improving the quality of work submitted. Look at Marvel’s success with Marjorie Liu. Vertigo must replicate it.

Finally, Vertigo must maintain the status quo in regards to the creative freedom offered to its talent. It must find a way to wrest its title back from Image as a place where an artist is provided free rein to share his vision. Perhaps it can also become an arena where a creator is able to maintain some semblance of control over her creation; this will be important if the imprint wishes to foster good will and lure creators away from independent companies.