As recently as last week (By the time I write this) Vertigo Comics is no more, DC Comics (What you would call the dad company of Vertigo) just shut them down. Now I know what you're thinking, “Oh no, now I can't read most of these new Vertigo comics! They're canceling that new Sandman extended universe comic!”
As told by Jim Lee on Twitter, a lot of the titles that sell will just be moved to DC's newer mature readers brand called 'DC Black Label'. Vertigo comics isn't really dead, it's just changing to another brand. Happens all the time, a comic would all of a sudden go from one company to another due to creative differences or because the company is going out of business & the series creator still has the creator rights. That's what happened with Jim Starlin's 'Dreadstar', it began life on 'Marvel Epic' and midway it switched to 'First Comics'. Then there are those titles that just jump from one company to another to another & to another. 'Tank Girl' was once a Vertigo title, then that went to another company & I think at one point it was syndcated under 'Heavy Metal'.
I still find this change sad because I kinda see this as DC Comics wanting a much more closer view of the Vertigo titles, especially the ones that were once part of the DC Universe. Originally a few titles began publication under the very little spoken brand which was called the 'Mature Readers' line, that was when classic titles were given darker & (let's be honest) well needed reboots or the characters were put in a more realistic adult setting. This is what happened to Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Kid Eternity, Green Arrow during Mike Grell's era & plenty of more I can't think of at the moment.
The reason Vertigo was established in 1993 was because Karen Burger was just knocking it out of the park bringing in all this new talent to DC like Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Moore (Watchmen), Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum), Garth Ennis (Preacher) & she knew most of these comics couldn't survive under their temp brand of the 'DC Mature Readers' line. While the Mature Readers line was like the prototypical Vertigo line, they still had to follow DC guidelines & perform contractual obligations like at least adding in cameos to other DCU characters. That's why in 'Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes' you had Morpheus interacting with Martian Manhunter & the JLA. I forget if Neil Gaimain liked including the JLA into that story or if he did it begrudgingly. I know he loved writing Constantine, had to pull strings in order to write for 'Hellblazer' when he did that.
Going back to what I said about DC wanting a closer view on Vertigo, I feel moving the titles to DC's Black Label is more a straight up power move on their part, just like what DC did with Watchmen. It all began with 'Before Watchmen', DC wanted Watchmen sequel stories, Alan Moore straight up said “No, there will never be no more Watchmen. The story began & ended with that series I did in the 80's!” So they made 'Before Watchmen' to make new prequel stories that lack any tension because we know most of the main cast will be alright or dead! To squeeze more cash out of that franchise they decided to make Watchmen as part of the DCU, which doesn't work! I see DC doing this to add some of the original Vertigo characters into DCU, like any of the endless family from Sandman or any of the Fables characters. 'Death' made a cameo in 'Action Comics, like that one where she visits Lex Luthor as he's 'dead' (What do you expect? No one that popular dies in comics). Constantine & Swamp Thing went back to being part of the DCU during that whole 'New 52' bullshit that happened. I've been told the reboot Constantine comic was like the TV show, except he interacted with the DC superheroes & Swamp Thing went back to fighting aliens & DC villains, just like the 70's comics that didn't sell for shit. The reason why Moore & Stephen were let loose in making the comic as mature & popular was because DC had no faith in the title back in the early 80's. So much so that DC Comics didn't even advertise the new change in direction, the fame came due to word of mouth from comic readers. It's DC trying to get a grip on characters who have been more prosperous under Vertigo than they would have been if they still had control over the title.
Despite what I just theorized, I can't think of any of the current vertigo titles (Aside from Sandman characters) who they drool in envy to add to DC's comic universe. While I haven't read any new Vertigo comics (or any newer comic books), there haven't been any new Vertigo comics that have really made the headlines.....Positive headlines pertaining to the comic book title, not the creators. Well, a while back there was 'American Vampire', never read an issue but that's one I've been told nothing but good things about. Still, I can't seen any of those characters interacting with Batman or Booster Gold. For all I know DC's Black Label will be a creator friendly (rolls eyes) sector of DC Comics & treat the characters the same way Vertigo treated their properties. We'll wait & see.
In order to understand how Vertigo has completely molded my tastes, I must take you back to 2008. I was transitioning from tween to teen & I struggled to find my identity, thinking it would just come overnight. I was discovering music at that time, I began my foray into the internet around this time & that is also the year I read my first Vertigo comic, The Sandman. Specifically I checked out the 'A Game of You' arc from the library & that was the first comic which completely shocked me so much I had to put down the book, take a breather, then went right back into reading. Before that moment no other comic book did that to me, nor was anywhere close to recapturing that reaction of shock & amazement. To paraphrase Norman Lear on Sandman (Yes, the same man who brought us 'Good Times' and 'All In The Family'): “The Sandman is a comic for intellectuals.” and that comment couldn't have been any more right. Now I'm not saying you have to be an intelligent egghead to enjoy this comic, but the world & lawlessness Neil Gaiman had created has never been done in the comic book field before...or after. This comic had scholars, college students & even well known intellectuals actually going to the comic book shops in order to keep up with whatever was going on with The Endless. If you pick up any of those floppy issues & check out the mail-in forum pages you'll not only read comments & praises from comic book nerds, but read some insightful stuff from college professors & scholars that provide some great commentary. The only way I can describe it is it's like reading a transcript from a criterion collection commentary. This comic book got non-comic book readers to read comics, name me another comic book that did that on a grand scale. In a convention panel Neil even talked of a time back during the comic's height where a huge fat man eagerly came up to him & gladly shook his hand. That kind gesture led him this guy to say (Paraphrasing here) “Mr. Gaiman, I must thank you for your comic. You comic is the reason now we got chicks coming into the store!” Lear was not the only high profile celebrity who had some positive commentary to spread on the book, you even have writers like Clive Barker and especially well known cynic Harlan Ellison who gave some praise for the comic. Ellison, if you aren't in the know, is a very hard writer to please & he loves to give out lawsuits. You even had someone like Tori Amos writing an introduction to 'Death: A High Cost of Living'.
Yup, that was Tori Amos hawking boring 1980's grown up cereal.
The change from the Mature readers line to Vertigo began in 1993 & I must say that first year in business was a very formative & magical time in comic books. You don't really have to take a time travel machine in order to understand how DC Vertigo was a major contender for best comic company. T'was a dark time for comic books in the early 90's, the speculator boom was well underway & wouldn't die out till the mid 90's. Every other superhero comic either had gimmick covers, useless reboots, inclusions of new characters that don't make sense, making classic characters all 'eXtreme!' & edgy (That time The Hulk had guns for no reason), pointless character deaths who would eventually come back in a few months (Death of Superman), constant crossover events that were done just to drum up unnecessary hype & so people can spend money on other character titles. Then there were the constant publications of new titles because the industry was so hungry for new #1's.
To be honest, 'Ultraverse' was a pretty cool brand. Not saying it's original, but some of the approaches to those characters were unique like 'Black Mantra'
Back to Vertigo, their company didn't dabble in movie tie-ins, that doesn't come until later on. The first ever comic published under the Vertigo brand (Excluding series continuing from the Mature Readers line) would be 'Death: The High Cost of Living', then afterwards they published 'Enigma', the second & grittier incarnation of Sandman with 'Sandman Mystery Theater', a one shot comic titled 'Mercy' which was a very trippy & poetic comic that I highly recommend by J.M DeMatteis. Then we get 'Sebasian O' by Grant Morrison. Only read one issue I found at the flea market (It may or may not be autographed by Grant himself. I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't. Cost me a dollar & there were plenty other copies that were 'signed' by him). I gotta say, Sebastian is pimpin' as fuck! O.G pretty boy mothafucka! There is a moment in that first issue where he returns home from prison & waiting in his manor are two nude ladies ready to bathe & dress him. I'd be lying if I said that's not the life I want to live! 'Scarab' and 'Skin Graft' were two other titles I haven't read, then there's Ted McKeever's 'The Extremist' that debuted after his run on 'Transmetropol' for Marvel Epic. That's another company that would also be competition for Vertigo, but Marvel Comics eventually ran them to the ground. If you find all the issues from that launch year, you will see they all had this similar format of covers, sometimes a lot of them would use the same artist (If it's photographed, it may as well be done by Dave McKean), but in these books they all shared different artists with very different artstyles. This was considered breaking ground in the 90's since companies like Marvel & DC wanted all their comics to have a recognizable style despite different creative teams. While this was done 'pre-Vertigo' & continued on during the Vertigo era, Karen Berger (Who was a full time editor at Vertigo once the company began) gave a chance to new artists such as Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcom Jones III (Before his oddly coincidental death in 1996. I say this because he died the same year 'The Sandman' ended its original run), Jill Thompson & many others. These were all artists who (Not trying to sound pretentious here) would have their creativity hindered would they have been published under Marvel or even Image Comics at the time. This was the time when everyone was emulating everyone else. You can't sit there & read any 90's Marc Silverstri comic & not see Rob Liefeld. Aside from Marvel, around this time Image was being sold as true independents & real comic book rebels due to their creator owned marketing. Looking back, they were a joke in those early years. They claimed they were independent, but all these guys like Liefeld, Lee, Choi, McFarlane, all those guys who formed Image weren't taking risks everyone thought they would take. Aside from the few titles they published (The Maxx, Bone, A Distant Soil) that were very original, imaginative and well written, everything they published was nothing but a copy of other Marvel & DC characters, except more angrier & cynical & not as well written. This was the era of the artist who thought they can be a writer. Let's be real here, while a few comics were a fluke in balancing story, character & art (Gen 13), all of them were in perfect imbalance. A company like Vertigo came out at the right time, a time when there was a divide in the comics community. You obviously had the speculators who were buying 'Youngblood #1' not because of the story or characters, but because it had #1 on that cover & by the year 2001 it will be worth millions! Don't forget you also had the folks who never read a comic before, but now that you had these non-superhero comics like Punisher & Hitman, comics are cool now because they no longer have those stupid people in very revealing homoerotic spandex tights! Then you get the mix of audiences here that Vertigo perfectly targeted, the indie-comix scene, the folks who wanted more out of the medium after growing tired of reading superhero comics & the young Gen-X'ers who would of never opened a comic, but after seeing these wickedly awesome covers or hearing how cool some of these stories/characters are, they gave a vertigo book a chance & were hungry for more. They got a finger on a pulse when they published their first print ad which stated 'Ideas in motion'.
So going back to Vertigo's second renaissance here, 'Y: The Last Man was a breath of fresh air & that continued to push the brand above all others. The plot goes: the world's men are dead & dying and as you already can tell the women run the world now, except one man is the survivor, he's being hunted down for one reason or another, y'all get the jist. It takes a less campy, 80's B-movie view on the subject & makes it (to an extent) realistic. I only read the first issue & a trade that takes place mid-series. Now that was a comic that got both the praise from the literate comic crowd & was also heavily criticized because of the story.
“How dare Vertigo publish a story where men are dead, women rule the earth & there is a last man on earth! Hurr burr gurr!”
At that point Vertigo started flossin their Eisner Awards & nominations on the covers of their books. During that first renaissance 'Sandman' was awarded many awards including Nebula awards & Saturn Awards, but if you buy any of those floppys or trades no such claims were shown. Either that was a change in marketing or the audience wasn't really that easily lured with awards nominations as a selling point.
Then we get to the recent era where Fables is still running, so was 'The Unwritten'. This is when Sandman Overture was announced & that got me & a bunch of fans hyped up. Now I should mention after Sandman's end in 1996 we had the spinoff comics that were written by other writers & artists, then we got a prose anthology novel done by a bunch of established authors called 'Sandman: Book of Dreams'. All of that was edited & supervised by Neil Gaiman, he didn't write any new stories for that. The few times he came back to write new Sandman stories was with graphic novels (I am using that term correctly!) like 'Sandman: Endless Nights', there was a prose book he did called 'Sandman: The Dream Hunters' which has Morpheus in feudal Japan with art by Final Fantasy artist Yokoshita Amano. Aside from that, in 2013 we got the 'Official' first story of The Sandman with Overture. All throughout the days leading up to the release Gaiman was on Twitter & in online adverts for the book saying this is the first story in the Sandman continuity. This is the beginning of the story, it takes place before the arc 'Preludes & Nocturnes'. I was hyped as hell to read these issues & was adamant that I would grab every issue as it hit the shelves, but for some reason Neil decided it would be a great idea to have the issues published just as he finished writing them. At the same frame of time he was on a nationwide tour where he was doing live readings of 'The Graveyard Book'. I don't have the proof on display, so don't take what I say as fact, but I have a nagging feeling that Gaiman didn't plan on writing a new Sandman story. I feel Vertigo came to him, asking for a new Sandman content as a warning or else they would make a Sandman story without him. As stated before, don't take it as fact. I'll wait till the tell-all book comes out.
Now I know what you're thinking...................I didn't staple her papers but I did run errands. Interpret that however you will. Now this one is nitpicky on my part, by this point I started seeing the company publish less stories featuring colorful & oddball original characters. I started seeing more serious stories & straight faced characters & not as much original weird goofy, imaginative original content. I'm sure there were a few between the late 2000's till today, it's just the weird oddball comics were pushed to the side. Remember what I said about Dark Horse ignoring original content in favor of their movie licensed comics? Vertigo then decided to publish a comic based on 'Django Unchained' which was so out of left field for that company. While I can't say that this is a terrible idea, I will say turning 'Fury Road' into a prequel comic was a terrible execution from what I heard. The comic basically answers questions that were better off imagined like how Immortan Joe got his brides. I don't know if the company made more comics based on movies, but that got me to worrying that Vertigo would turn into Dark Horse, but looks like they knew when to start & when to stop.
Also this is when I started seeing less of that dangerous & controversial factor of the characters they published. Even to this day if you read a comic like 'Preacher' or any of the early 90's Vertigo characters, you could easily see they are the bad boys of comics, they were tipping the line & pushing the buttons of the right people. 'Arseface' is a character that still remains risque & that just tickles my fancy. If you guys don't mind me answering my own question, I think the reason why Vertigo doesn't invest in trying to stand out the same way they did is due to the CCA. At around 06 or 07 the Comics Code Authority (thankfully) dissapeared, just vanished without any final words or news coverage. Once they were gone there was no need for the other companies to restrain themselves. It was like there was a sigh of relief for all these comic artists & writers, but I felt they didn't take advantage of the situation as best they could. We could have had a renaissance that could not happen when the CCA was around. Not saying we could have had another Vertigo type imprint for superhero stories (Well, we had Marvel MAX. But their selling point was just gore & tiddies), but what happened after CCA's death was pretty moronic in my opinion. That's when we started getting the darker, so called 'EDGY' comics where it was all done for shock value rather than telling a mature story. Yeah, having The Incedible Hulk raise an inbred family in post apocalyptic MCU was the beez kneez! Then again most of that was the result of 2000's, post 9/11 cynicism. So when every comic out on the shelves is just as bloody, violent & sexual as the Vertigo titles were, they were now seen as part of the flock rather than being the stand out company it was. To paraphrase Roger Corman when Star Wars & Jaws started breaking records, “The big boys finally caught up.”
I still felt that the change in the comic book industry should of made them even more riskier & controversial. Instead I felt the company's output was restrained, as if they said “Everyone's doing blood & tiddies now, it's not cool anymore.” Now that I think about it I believe by that time they ditched the 'DC Comics Vertigo' label & were now just called 'Vertigo', despite the barely visible connection to DC.
I don't want to say Vertigo sold out or they stopped being the pinnacle of mature storytelling, those Eisner Awards prove that. I just don't see them making the same impact they did before. It's clear there was no third renaissance ahead of them since most of the comic ads on their comics were mostly for reprints of Sandman, Black Orchid & V for Vandetta. Then there's the recent 'Sandman Universe' spin-off series that recently debuted a few months ago. Neil Gaiman was only producing the new series, but at this point I have to say “Isn't there enough Sandman comics in their bibliography?” I can't confirm that opinion until I actually sit down & read those new comics. OH!! I forgot to mention the controversy with their comic 'Border Town', though sadly this isn't a controversy with the comic itself, but with the creator. So as everyone (Even non-comic book readers) know there has been a lot of fucked up sexual harassment going on in the comics industry (Along with all the other entertainment industries). Sadly Vertigo wasn't spared, Enrique Esquivel was hit with a bunch of allegations from different people & it spanned years. Once this news hit, the other creative folks who worked on the book decided to quit because they were tired of this shit. I haven't read the comic but I would be pissed off if I was enjoying the book & looking forward to the next issue, only to find out it's been canceled due to the writer/creator not keeping his hands to himself. I would of at least published the comic, not credit the original writer & not give him the royalties. OK, that would get me into trouble rather than fix the issue. Because of the controversy last year, Vertigo had to tone down the content on their other titles because they didn't want to bring in more attention than they already got & cause another one of those protests with the housewives of America who are looking to bitch about comics again. Also this happened around the time 'Batman: Damned' debuted & the news was nothing but “Oh mah gawd! Batman's silhouette penis!” Mind you, the people complaining are the same folks who complained that comics today aren't the same as they were in the 60's." That controversy got so ridiculous, there was a (I'm not joking here) 'Penile Rights Group' that was offended because Batman was circumcized! Oh my god, the horror!!!! I swear, one of these days I'm gonna do a Blogbabble on Penis because I feel I need to be controversial, like that time Nina Hagen was on that talk show. So now all future reprints of this Batman comic will omit that panel, but it's everywhere online!
So now we come to today, DC is ditching the Vertigo label entirely & moving all the best selling titles to DC's Black Label. As stated before I know how DC has been working with their properties, they just want the rights to specific characters they feel will give them a profit increase. This is the same company that relaunched the DCU because they didn't want to continue pay the Bob Kane estate. The same thing was done to Seigel & Schuster with Superman, that's why New 52 happened. Then again I might stand corrected & DC Comics will let the once Vertigo titles maintain their creator owned rights & bring about a third renaissance. The new editor in chief would probably take risks & publish something that will be a game changer once it hits print. I don't know, the future seems bright but it also seems dark because of DC's lack of creators rights.
Despite the few faults Vertigo had caused in their later years, I will always see them as the bad boys of comic books. Comics were already the red headed stepchild of literature, Vertigo was the rogue punk rock child literature didn't know existed until they showed up at the front door. They were spontaneous, they were counter culture & they spoke to a crowd that wasn't tired of comics, they were tired of trite comic stories. They were a response to the moronic speculator trend of the early 90's & really had their finger on the pulse. I will always remember the logo as a symbol of quality when strolling through the public library's comics/manga/graphic novels section. Every Friday I would come home carrying comics by the pound & reading through whatever I could find over the week. I spent weekends reading Swamp Thing, The Sandman, Y: The Last Man & because of these books I opened up to more independent, more international comic books that I could find. I don't think I would be into French sci-fi or surrealist art had it not been for the warped view of the future presented by 'Transmetropolitan' & tuned me onto the many artists that contributed to not just that title, but all the other titles of the brand. In all honesty, Vertigo comics was an independent comics company with mainstream backing, a hybrid we rarely see in this day in age. The idea of letting artists do whatever they damn please is a scary image for shareholders & investors. To end this, I say farewell to the comics company that influenced me & my writing. You better believe 'Transmentropolitan' shaped the way I view my already growing view of politics & society. 'The Sandman' not only shaped the way I view story structure & characters, but also re-evaluated the concept the fantasy story. Without Vertigo's existence, BlackTime E-Press would not be. There are plenty of other titles out there that I need to read, especially the titles they published in the past 10 years. I highly recommend you grab some of those early launch titles. You might be able to find a lot of them for cheap, it was the 90's after all. I also highly recommend DC's Mature Readers content they did in the late 80's to early 90's. They have a lot of comics that sadly weren't republished under the Vertigo label like 'Skreemer' by Peter Milligan. An original & sadly underrated Vertigo comic I also highly recommend would be a graphic novel called 'Menz Insana'. It's wacky, it's dark & the art is done by John Bolton. There are a ton of great Vertigo comics that sadly aren't being republished for some reason or another. I highly suggest you go to your comic shop on your free time & search the bins. They're out there & assuming who's selling them, they're affordable.
This is Jebus Black for 'BlackTime E-Press'. Expect more great stuff in the coming weeks.
Also check out a new story done by Irene Stark called 'Os Immortale'.
If you're in the mood for a messed up, gory tale involving a mask shop owner then this is it for you.
Check it out on the submissions panel.
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