How I Would Fix DC’s Vertigo Line
Back in 1993, there was an imprint from DC comics, designed to push the boundaries of the medium, and to flick a V sign at the CCA that was actually still a thing back then. DC wanted to explore more mature themes in their books, and the only way to do it was to have a different line of magazines that nailed their colors to the mast. With Vertigo creative teams were now allowed to show violence, sex, drug abuse and nearly everything else, in all its “mature content” glory, and readers couldn’t be happier.
Art history student Karen Berger (yes, women in comics is NOT a new idea) was an editor at DC and was very keen to explore new ways of telling stories in comic books, and under the supervision of publisher and President Jenette Khan (yes, President) began to look for the talent that would kick-start the initial run of comics under the banner.
Needless to say, it was a hit, and Vertigo gave us some of the most memorable comic runs of all time. Titles such as Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol switched from DC to Vertigo, and new titles were created such as Sandman Mystery Theater and Preacher.
The fact that these titles are still talked about, reprinted and made into TV shows, confirms the quality of writing, art, coloring, lettering and editorial captaincy that guided these and future titles into the realms of comic book legend.
Today, not so much.
Vertigo comics had a re-launch in 2018 and has pretty much sunk without a trace.
What went wrong?
Well pretty much everything, and I mean everything, but the point here is how to fix it, so without further ado, here’s my opinion on how to re-relaunch Vertigo and save the comic book industry.
- Get the old band back together. Back in the day, Karen Berger headed to the UK and discovered that there were other writers of the same ilk as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. She offered them the Vertigo concept and before you could say “mature content” they were on board. In 2019, we still have the likes of Grant Morrison, writing Green Lantern, and Warren Ellis, on The Wild Storm, so get them to pitch for a new run. Sure, you might not get Alan Moore back, but the talent is still there and ready to go. I would love a new Hellblazer run by Jamie Delano, and I would put money on Pat Mills to have a few great concepts in mind. Imagine a new run of Swamp Thing by Grant Morrison or a new Animal Man by Garth Ennis. Yeah, there would be a lot of haggling involved, but come on, who wouldn’t buy all those titles today? As well as writers, pay the big bucks and get Dave Gibbons, Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely, John Bolton, Philip Bond, and Dave McKean back on board and on books they love. Remember those Sandman covers by McKean and Quitely’s work on Flex Mentallo and All-Star Superman? Well, you could probably have all that again with the right page rates, and they would fly off the shelves.
- Revive fan-favorite titles, and create new ones that will stand the test of time. Get Hellblazer back by Ennis, when the title finished with issue #300, Peter Milligan was on board delivering some pretty good stuff, but The New 52 wanted John Constantine, and it was decided he would now fit in with the world of the JLA. But he didn’t, not really. So give him back to Vertigo with a new launch. Constantine is probably one of the best-known DC characters ever. He has had a movie, a TV show, an animated film and is now in DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. People know him, but his roots are with Vertigo, so get Ennis back and re-launch. That book would fly. Get Swamp Thing back. With a new TV show just starting, get Peter Milligan to have a crack at the title. As far as I know, he’s never done a Swamp Thing run, but I bet he could. Reviving these old Vertigo characters is all you would need to get the ball rolling, before you know it you could have a new Black Orchid series by Howard Chaykin or Matt Wagner on The Phantom Stranger. Then beg Alan Moore to do a new series. Anything would do. Pay him what he wants, give him editorial freedom and see what happens. A new Moore book at DC comics would create a buzz that the comic industry really needs, and despite what you may hear, if the deck was stacked in his favor, I bet he would give it a go.
- Keep the new line concise. Start with 6 titles by major talents and well-worn characters to get things started. Re-brand Vertigo with a new trade dress and base the launch on a return of old characters with classic creative teams. Don’t have any more than 1 variant cover per issue, and keep the cost down. Can you imagine issue #1 of the new Hellblazer comic, written by Garth Ennis with art by Dave McKean for $2.99? That book wouldn’t have time to sit still on a shelf, it would be gone by 9 am on Wednesday morning, and there would be a line of people at the front door of the LCS waiting to get in. Quality sells folks, that’s why they pay the big bucks for Tom Cruise at the movie shows; because Mission: Impossible with Don Johnson just won’t work.
- Don’t crossover the universes. The DC Black Label imprint seems to be going down well so far. It’s early days, but these mature content prestige books seem to have sold ok so far, and that’s a step in the right direction, but keep Vertigo out of The DCU. A world where John Constantine has to mingle with the likes of Booster Gold just doesn’t feel right, so break them away. Let them thrive in a universe devoid of Wonder Woman and Aquaman so we can’t be distracted by the fact that at any time, Superman could fly in and save the day. The DC Universe and Vertigo should never meet.
So there are my two cents on how to make Vertigo work again. Perhaps you have your own ideas for Vertigo relaunches, so feel free to let me know in the comments below. You never know who may be reading.