Rebirth-ing pains.

Cover of Rebirth #1How can one not discuss DC’s Rebirth? It is the topic of conversation at multiple industry tables. At the moment, DC walks a threadbare tightrope from its current shaky status to that of a healthy role as an IP farm for multiple mediums. Perhaps I am optimistic, but I firmly believe DC can make this work. I also believe that this is their last chance to do so without the upheaval of a regime change to ensure the faith of retailers and readers.

However, should there be a regime change? Geoff Johns would not be ousted. Can you think of another creator who is as adept at strip-mining the works of Alan Moore for mass-market appeal? Is there another who could take a half-formed idea buried in the detritus of 30 years of continuity and polish it into a brass (power) ring for retailers to grasp? Morrison perhaps. Waid maybe. But none with the company loyalty and love that Johns has for DC. None so wholeheartedly drenched in Americana and the superheroic as Johns. He is the best man for the job.

Cover of Watchmen #1He has done what some consider the unthinkable, but what any individual who has followed the industry would know to be the inevitable—not only folding Moore’s Watchmen characters within the DC universe but possibly setting them up to be the literary scapegoats for the darker themes and changes that so many have been unhappy with during DC’s recent Flashpoint, New 52, and DC You upheavals. Indie darlings might gasp as DC handles Moore’s work as a music mogul would a dead rapper’s catalog, but company men know that Moore is going to be rightfully dissatisfied no matter what they do. And as my grandmother always said, I’d rather wipe my tears with a linen handkerchief than a wad of tissues. If one is to be lambasted by Moore in the press, it might as well be over something fantastically lucrative for all involved.

That said, the preceding move would be a gift to independent companies such as Image and a damaging blow to Vertigo should measures not be taken to counteract it. What creator would be insane enough to bring his characters to Vertigo given how DC has treated Moore? That is certainly the question I would ask loudly and repeatedly were I Eric Stephenson or Mike Richardson. And I would certainly want to control how that question is answered were I Dan Didio. DC needs an arena where non-superheroic IP can flourish and later be harvested by television and film. And that arena is Vertigo.

Unlike the oft-neglected imprint that is Marvel’s Icon, Vertigo can still be of value and its name carries fond memories and industry recognition. DC will need to put money and effort into Vertigo to keep Rebirth from being its death knell. I would target notable indie creators by offering solid, fair contracts and what Image cannot provide—cash in advance. There is no way a new wave at Vertigo armed with anchors such as Ennis and Morrison but also surprise acquisitions like Sophie Campbell or Nilah Magruder would not be successful. Bringing in independent editors (Karen Berger, Joseph Illidge, Jay Rachel Edidin) to make said creators feel more at home would be an even wiser move.

We simply cannot talk about a rebirth for DC without discussing the elephant in the room. There are still men working at DC who make women feel uncomfortable. Until those men have been removed from the company or have been quarantined in a dead-end department—one that does not affect the career trajectories of these women—the future of DC appears grim. Yes, DC can successfully woo back a decidedly white, male, and aging “Wednesday crowd” with the return of Wally and company. In fact, they should take great pains to do so because those readers are important (though small in number) and dependable. But to try to build a new world for the future without the input of women given female literacy rates and purchasing power? A world that includes female icons such as Wonder Woman and Catwoman? To try to revolutionize an American entertainment company that fields accusations of being dated without the input of African Americans—a group that American youth are almost frighteningly (and exhaustingly, to be honest) obsessed with? One is simply doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. How sad it would be to go to the well for the last time only to water a fresh crop of “Dad’s Comics” destined to drop to 20,000 a month in sales.

Rebirth will keep the home fires burning. From the gorgeous previews released the work appears to be the classic soapy serial longed for since the conclusion of Blackest Night. I like it. Others love it. DC needs to dig in and build on that good will immediately. But it also needs to impress upon new readers and potential audiences that it will keep and nurture the best of the New 52 and DC You as well. How can it accomplish this? Through digital initiatives and a careful reconstruction of its B-list with eyes focused on current and future demographics. Tradition and diversity are not mutually exclusive concepts. Though DC sadly did not cash in on the ‘70s Blaxploitation and Asian martial arts crazes that afforded Marvel the lion’s share of its multicultural mid-tier IPs, characters such as Ms. Marvel show that it is never too late to begin building. Luckily for DC, its animation department has provided it with a phenomenal foundation.

Perhaps it is due to my tendency to root for the underdog, but I hope that DC is able to arrive on the other side of Rebirth successful and stable. I hope it can rid itself of the problems that plague it during the journey. Only time—and a carefully calculated marketing strategy—will tell.


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.


DC vs. Marvel: The Pre-Game Show.

“I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous ‘Crisis’ events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I still firmly believe that DC and Marvel should join forces for a month-long Amalgam event. Both companies should put out a line of one-shots featuring Amalgam characters as well as two four-issue event series to be shipped weekly during the month of April 2016—bridging the gap between Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War in movie theaters. (It’d also be wise to release two movie tie-in one-shots and two related trades to occupy newcomers for a month while die-hards enjoyed the Amalgam event.)

However, April 2016 is over a year from now and both Marvel and DC appear to be in the midst of renovating at this very moment. Instead of quickly launching from one event to the next, or dragging out Secret Wars and Convergence well past their sell-by dates, perhaps it would be best for DC and Marvel to reorder their houses after Secret Wars and Convergence have wrapped. Then, after firmly establishing the new DC and Marvel universes, a new threat—one that would launch our favorite heroes into Marvel vs. DC—could be introduced.

Post-Convergence Conversations: A quick look at DC’s upcoming titles has me pretty pleased. I’ve often argued that DC was devoid of diversity—race, gender, sexuality, and genre—genre being the most notable issue. While I’ve always believed genre diversity could be best introduced by giving each “house” (Super, Bat, Wonder-Marvel, Aqua, Green, Flash, Power, Teen) its own point of view and style, DC has mixed things up even further by trying for different styles within a particular house. I think it’s a tactic that will work.

Genre diversity aside, I’m elated at the inclusion of minority creators who will be bringing in points of view we haven’t seen in the mainstream for quite a while. More please! And on a personal note I’m glad to see that some of my favorite creators are still in the mix or have snuck in the back door—Connor, Simone, Walker, Corson, Randolph, Cloonan.

Still, all is not completely well. There are still a couple of opportunities that DC has yet to take advantage of and Vertigo is far from healthy—a point I have stressed for a very long while.

First and foremost, I’d bring characters such as John Constantine and Swamp Thing back to Vertigo along with darker Wildstorm characters such as Deathblow and Black Betty. Package them as their own universe—an imprint within an imprint—Vertigo: Heights. The imprint would lean heavy on action and horror, leaving the sci-fi and standard superheroes for the main DC universe. The imprint would also woo “big name” creators such as Ennis and Snyder as well as give creators on the cusp of gaining notoriety a chance to finally solidify their reputation. Vertigo cannot win back its old glory from Image with creator-owned work. That ship has sailed. Even if Vertigo changed its deal to match Image’s, the winds of change have already shifted. What Vertigo can do is champion the beloved characters in its stable while providing creators with something they cannot get elsewhere—financial stability and the attention that comes with working with established IPs. It would be best if Vertigo: Heights stressed characters that could easily be launched as a cable TV projects down the line. The line should be kept rather small too. No more than six titles at a time. I think a strong line-up would be as follows:

  • Constantine: The Hellblazer
  • Section Eight (seeding possibilities of a Hitman cable series)
  • Deathblow (in the vein of Punisher: Max)
  • Lilith (a companion series to Lucifer)

Two slots would remain for miniseries taking place with the Heights universe, such as Swamp Thing, Desire, or Papa Midnight. DC crippled Vertigo in the post-Berger era by pulling characters from Vertigo. And it damaged those characters by altering them to fit within the DC universe. Why? These are not network-friendly characters. They are and will always be HBO, not NBC. Sell them that way.

As for the DC Universe, it seems as though DC is about to correct course and right the ship. But there are still a few ways in which DC could be more competitive with Marvel. Building Power Girl into a brand that complements Harley Quinn and competes with Captain Marvel should be a major objective. And she should be a brand in her own right—not one that cribs from the origin of DC’s most popular Kryptonian. I would roll Harley Quinn/Power Girl directly into a Power Girls ongoing series featuring Karen and Tanya—pairing Amanda Conner with Dani Dixon while keeping Stephane Roux along for the ride. A sales win all around—a beloved creator and character (Captain Marvel), a nod to authenticity and diversity (Ms. Marvel), cross-generational conflict (Icon), and female friendships (Birds of Prey).

Building Vixen should be DC’s next objective. DC has already made inroads with the animated Vixen shorts that will debut soon. But that simply establishes a place for Vixen in the DC television universe. What about comics?

Looking at sales of Storm and Black Widow, I do not believe a Vixen series would sell well should one be launched in the near future. However, I do think placing Vixen in the leadership position of a Justice League International team that borrowed heavily in style from Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch run would do wonders. In fact, perhaps JLI should be repackaged as a revamped Stormwatch. A team featuring Vixen, Fire, Jack Hawksmoor, The Ray, Solstice, and others—given orders by a hardnosed, UN-funded Jackson King—would stand as a tightly controlled bureaucratic counterpart to the Justice League. Special attention should be given to Vixen, but also The Ray (given the dismal number of Asian superheroes to be found in the mainstream). I’d probably go and switch his residence from America to the Philippines too to keep the team from being too American heavy and provide Pacific Islanders with representation. Using the team book as a way to build background stories and establish supporting characters and situations for future television and film projects is crucial.

Anything else? Yes! DC’s “teen scene” needs a major restructuring to lure back fans. The creators on deck are excellent, but another way to show that an overhaul has occurred is through renumbering, costume redesigns, and a change in team lineup. There should be a clearer division between young adults (Grayson, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, Batgirl, Arsenal) and teens. Also, more interaction between the young adults is key given that there is a Titans show on deck and Cyborg will be appearing in movies soon. And even though the characters are appearing in solo books, building them together as a brand is still helpful. Branding the young adults as Outsiders and the teens as Titans would help in reorganizing. Finally, I think repackaging Shazam as Captain Wonder or Captain Thunder and pulling the character slightly under Wonder Woman’s wing isn’t a bad idea. And having a couple of miniseries ready for readers before a movie is released might be a good idea too.

Next up? Marvel musings.


A new spin.

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.


Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.


Vertigo a go-go! Redux!

The birthing process for the new Vertigo has been long and laborious. It is clear given the new projects announced and those resulting in cancellation that the company will soon be reborn as the offspring of Wildstorm and the Vertigo of years past. Hopefully, it will be stronger and more lucrative than its predecessors, while maintaining the qualities that made them great.

I believe a mission statement is beginning to develop under the watchful eye of Hank Kanalz. Vertigo will publish quality work from popular creators featuring established comic properties that do not fall within the realm of the DC universe—Astro City, Fairest, Tom Strong, Sandman. In addition, Vertigo will also provide adaptations of popular, envelope-pushing works from other mediums such as film and television—Django Unchained, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With properties chosen carefully, Vertigo can maintain its unusual “edgy” brand while reaping the benefits of crass commercialism.

For the moment, however, Vertigo has been hit with a wave of bad press. Dismal sales and the loss of Berger and books such as Hellblazer make it appear as if the imprint has lost its way. The imprint desperately requires some positive attention and good will prior to its upcoming releases hitting the stands.

Two words: digital initiative. Take a collection of Vertigo works no longer in print (and likely never to be reprinted) and release the first issue of each series for free for a limited amount of time. Remaining issues could then be sold for a very low price. For example, fans could download the first issue of Millennium Fever for free and purchase the remaining issues at a later date for merely a few bucks. It would allow fans to once again acquaint themselves with Vertigo and reestablish the brand as well.

Minimal effort for what could be a lucrative and popular project? Why not?


Where are you, Keezy?

I cannot be the only individual desperate to know Karen Berger’s next step professionally! Not only is Berger an amazing editor, but more vital to any publisher looking to add to his or her creative arsenal, the woman is a walking Rolodex. Her connections and her ability to develop an easy rapport with some of the industry’s most notoriously eccentric—though talented—personalities, makes her a key asset. The comic industry needs women like Karen Berger.

Unfortunately, Berger does not require the comics industry to thrive professionally. Her knowledge regarding the publishing industry extends far beyond the smaller world of comics publishing. She could easily set up shop with a publisher of trade books. She would be missed, but should she wish to forego the many glass ceilings of comics, it would be understandable. Even as enviable as her position at Vertigo was, she deserved more.

Given Image’s shrewd repositioning as a modern-day Vertigo, one has to question if Berger will move to the independent publisher once the dust has settled regarding her departure from DC. I jokingly stated on Twitter that as Image has become the new Vertigo, now Vertigo must become an avant-garde IDW, selecting edgy licensed properties to develop given the ensuing difficulty it will soon have in obtaining new works. Sans Berger and a creator-friendly outlook, convincing writers that their creations will be safe at Vertigo will require a level of finesse DC may no longer possess. However, DC does possess the strength and financial backing of Time Warner, which may provide it with the funding necessary to simply buy the rights to the trendy IPs it will need to remain competitive.


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.


Cowboy up.

Cowboys

“A supposedly race-motivated nightclub shooting changes the lives of two undercover officers in Cowboys, the newest original graphic novel from mystery and crime writer Gary Phillips and artist Brian Hurtt. Hitting shelves this July as part of the DC Comics’ Vertigo Crime line, Phillips spoke with CBR News about the novel, comparing Cowboys to contemporary cop shows like Fox’s Chicago Code and the work of crime writer Elmore Leonard, saying the story ‘definitely has a contemporary cop drama feel…since it is set in the urban center and much more deals with some issues around race.'”

The only way I could possibly want to read this more is if each graphic novel was personally delivered by Idris Elba. Why did I find out about this book by stumbling across someone’s Tumblr post from months ago? This book drops in two weeks! Why were articles coming out in May and not the week that the book actually drops? DC? Your marketing team is straight garbage. I’m just going to put that out there right now. I’ve been thinking about it ever since that YouTube video dropped, and there will be a later post on it, but I just wanted to get that out of the way now.

Anyway, can someone please send a review copy to Brothers? I don’t do reviews—unless this book is being delivered by Elba. Then we can talk. The book looks great though.

Oh, man. Marvel needs to steal Phillips for a Cage book. Or an ol’ school Luke and Danny team-up issue.