Friday, June 4, 2010

Losing Altitude - The Scaling Back of Vertigo?


Earlier this week, Bleeding Cool reported that DC has decided to take several properties and characters away from Vertigo, namely those that originated in the DC universe. Characters that fall under that umbrella include Swamp Thing, but also Constantine, Sandman, and a lot more. Taken by itself, this new is a bit revolutionary, although not cause for great alarm, but when coupled with other recent announcements, it could mean a potential scaling down of Vertigo. Hit the jump to see some speculation on my part based on recent news and interviews.



The Corporate Shake-Up


Vertigo has always been Karen Berger's baby
During the restructure of DC comics last year, there was one very big surprise: Karen Berger was not part of the new head office of the DC that is now made up of Diane Nelson, Jim Lee, Dan Didio, and Geoff Johns among others. Berger handled the Vertigo ship since it's inception in 1993, and has been responsible for a plethora of critically acclaimed and commercially successful comics, including several that have been turned into films and other media, not to mention working as a fertile ground for upcoming and hot new creators and being a key factor in introducing comic book collections and graphic novels into the bookstore market. The importance of Vertigo cannot be understated, both commercially and in the advancement of the art form. You would figure that during the establishing period of the new DC corporate organization, Berger would be rewarded for all her hard work. Did Berger get the raw end of the deal during this shake-up? Did that chill the relationships between the editorial offices?

The Direct Market


"I would like to see more focus on the periodicals"

In recent interviews, editors from DC have said that they wanted to concentrate more in the direct market, with the hopes of beating Marvel who is currently the leader in that front. More specifically, as the quote above signals, they want to concentrate on the periodicals. You know what titles have notoriously bad sales in the periodical direct market? Vertigo. Of course, to say that Vertigo titles are not commercially successful would completely remiss, as their titles usually do extremely well outside of the direct market, notably in book stores with their collections. Recently, Vertigo has started releasing original graphic novels, such as Area 10, Noir, and more, with several set for release in the future. Maybe Vertigo will start switching slowly to releasing material in the format, since it's the one preferred by the majority of their readers?

The CMX Effect


Over the course of the last six years, CMX has brought a diverse list of titles to America and we value the books and creators that we helped introduce to a new audience.

Of course, these news come hot on the heels of the closing down of another imprint over at DC, the CMX manga imprint. Much like Vertigo, their titles do not perform well in the direct market (though with the extra baggage of not being able to compete very well with other manga). With the kind of heat that the move earned among the fans, and with aforementioned worth of the Vertigo, it's very unlikely that the imprint would close down. That being said, it is a definite sign of the fact that the company is modifying and altering venues that are not profitable in the short term. Also worth mentioning is the recent change in structure to the way that Zuda works, which has dropped the competition aspect of it.Yet another symptom of the fundamental changes that are going on in DC. Will DC change Vertigo's publishing plans? As an effect of the tough economic situation, could Vertigo be on the receiving end of a cutback in their staff or resources?

The Past


"I think Vertigo has always been about just shaking up the status quo, telling stories that [make] you really think in a variety of genres."

And finally, all the characters that were originally DC's, though published under the Vertigo imprint, are going back to the main universe. During the early days of Vertigo and proto-Vertigo, many characters were originally introduced in DC, or Vertigo made popular reinventions of them, making them fresh or interesting again. Besides the aforementioned characters, this also includes other titles like House of MysteryUnknown Soldier (which recently got a cancellation notice) Madame Xanadu, and if you want to get technical maybe even The Losers, among others. The most troubling one is perhaps Constantine, which is Vertigo's longest running title, with over two hundred issues so far. Removing all of these properties from the Vertigo imprint would be quite a blow, and reduce Vertigo's current output. It would also mean that all of the Vertigo titles left wold be creator owned, so if some kind of adaptation is made out of them, I'm not sure if DC gets any financial gain out of those.

The Future


"There's a flavor, there's a need, there's a tone to those type of stories, and we're going to make sure we keep doing them"
So where would that leave Vertigo? With less established properties to draw from, they will have to concentrate more on new creations. This is not completely a problem, as recent new titles like American Vampire, The Unwritten, Fables and Scalped have proved to be quite popular and critically acclaimed. Of course, completely foregoing the floppy format in the direct market could potentially be a problem, and something very unlikely for an American publisher of this size. Less resources is something that no company wants, and what could probably hit Vertigo the hardest.

Where do you think Vertigo is going to go next? Where do you want it to go? Do you think we'll hear more about the future of Vertigo this weekend t HeroesCon? Let us know what you think in the comments section.


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15 comments:

Jer said...

One thing to keep in mind - Vertigo was what the "Mature Readers" logo basically turned into in the early 90s - if it was for "Mature Readers" it was probably Vertigo. There were a few DCU outliers, but in general a "Vertigo" superhero book was a Mature Readers superhero book. Animal Man. Shade. Swamp Thing. Doom Patrol.

DC no longer makes a distinction between their "mainstream" and "mature readers" titles. They have some "Kid Friendly" titles, but their mainstream titles are now effectively assumed to be "Mature Readers" titles. There's really no branding justification to have those titles be Vertigo titles anymore.

Now I suspect that what's actually going on is a combination of behind the scenes politics lining up against Karen Berger mixed with Geoff Johns really really really wanting to have the DC Universe back to the way it was when he had his own Personal Golden Age of comics in the 1970s. But the fact that DC no longer makes a real distinction between "mainstream" and "mature" titles undermines any argument that there might be for keeping them under the Vertigo umbrella - when an impotent superhero beating up thugs as a substitute for sexual gratification can be the subject of one of your "mainstream" titles, you really don't have a reason for keeping "Swamp Thing" under the Vertigo banner anymore.

Matt Duarte said...

@Jer: That's a good point about the rating, and lack of difference between the main line and the imprint about the subjects they deal with. That being said, I'd argue that some of the books coming out are just pretending to be mature, though I figure most mature readers would not actually enjoy it the same way they would enjoy a Vertigo book.

Like you said, there's certainly no need to separate them, but at the same time is there really that many people clamoring for a Swamp Thing crossover with the Justice League that it demands such a move?

The Dangster said...

as I recall swamp thing in the DC universe has been a request at many Q&A with Dan Didio. I actually like this news. I like these characters and it's a nice change, I remember they wanted them separate for a while so getting them back in the DCU may also be temporary.

Actually I think this means more creator owned projects which could lead into long running series, so i'm taking this as good news.

Matt Duarte said...

@Dangster: Really? I didn't know that it was a requested item. I'm not opposed to Swamp Thing interacting with the DCU, but the best way to go is a minimalistic approach. If Swamp Thing is constantly getting involved with the JLA or what have you, it takes away some of the strangeness of the character.

Ivan said...

As far as the characters going back to DCU goes, I agree with Jer's reasoning. I don't think it necessarily a problem, and I actually think it opens some great possibilities.

Also, its not like this switch is a new thing. Out of the top of my head, Animal Man, Sandman, Zatanna, Doom Patrol, etc, have either gone back to the DCU for good or switched back and forth between imprints.

forrest said...

I think there still is a large distinction between a mature comic and comics with mature content. A mature comic has more substance and provokes thought more than a comic with mature comic, using violence and drugs as plot.

Mature means grown up, whereas mature content is pretty juvenile. I think the distinction needs to be kept between Vertigo, comics for Mature readers, and DC, comics with mature content.

THE BEATY said...

see here's the problem though. Vertigo has always been the focus on writing imprint with emphisis on the creator. It is a good thing to have from a creators standpoint.

Daryll B. said...

The funny thing about this is that I was just looking at BBC America tonight and saw two great commercials for Vertigo...one for Fables and the other..for Constantine...lol

Casey (One-Shot Crisis) said...

I agree with Forrest about distinguishing between mature readers versus mature content, it can have a lot going for both lines to do so. This whole potential for change with Vertigo made me revisit one of the variant properties they already ‘lost’ back to DC - The Sandman (Wesley Dodds from the Golden Age). Sure he technically existed in the DCU during the Vertigo run.

Wagner's Sandman Mystery Theatre allowed us to see a more true-grit version of the time period, removing our visions of a happy-go-lucky lifestyle seen in the original Adventure Comics run of the character. Hell, the Senate hearings of 1954 probably would have called the Golden Age Sandman as a boon for their argument of comics being on the path to juvenile delinquency as mature content.

Regardless, I think that Vertigo could make something by gaining characters from the DCU for a mature readers format in conjunction with some of the fantastic original work they have of late – in particular Scalped, though I wish for Hellblazer to stay with Vertigo. Regardless, all of this is not possible without their focus on the creator.

jpbl1976 said...

Time Warner owns these characters so they can do whatever they want to them.

That said, "moving" Sandman (Dream of the Endless) to the DCU -- presumably for someone else to write (otherwise, why do it?) -- hardly makes sense unless DC wants to make sure that Neil Gaiman never writes a thing for them again; Gaiman has, after all, said that he would never write another thing for DC were it to less someone else write the Sandman.

Of course, if there's anyone who can get Neil to come off his threat, it's Jim Lee -- Lee, after all, got Alan Moore (not the person most fond of DC, as it were) to honor his commitments to WildStorm/ABC -- but to what end?

DC can put Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee and Ivan Reis on a Sandman title and I still wouldn't read it; I'm pretty sure many of the multitude of Sandman fans feel the same way.

Hellblazer is a bit of an odd duck, though. It wouldn't make any sense for Constantine NOT to "return" to the DCU since he originated in the pages of Swamp Thing.

Notwithstanding, most of the stories that define Constantine's canon are firmly set outside main DCU continuity and are actually more tethered to the real world (witness the recent storyline that touched on British political history) than the DCU, where DC plays fast-and-loose with real world events -- notice that it has its own "President of the United States" and so forth.

Given this, it makes sense to assume that DC will do the smart thing and take a case-to-case approach.

Maybe it will simply be a return to the pre-Infinite Crisis hiving-off of the Vertigo world that was mandated by Didio -- in that sense, the Vertigo characters simply interact with DCU characters on an "as-needed" basis. In my mind, the important thing for them is to ensure that Berger, who has been largely responsible for bringing in the talent that have established the Vertigo brand, is persuaded to remain at DC.

Perhaps the real end game of this will see Marvel, which is now owned by deep-pocketed Disney, make a "Godfather" offer to Karen Berger, with Berger turning Icon (or Epic Comics, for that matter) into Marvel's own Vertigo stable.

Such a move would accomplish two things:

First, it would fill a gap in Marvel's product offerings. Marvel has nothing that remotely competes with Vertigo's offerings, unless you generously include the Stephen King and Orson Scott Card franchises. The Icon line is too disparate to necessarily be considered a Vertigo rival.

Second, establishing its own Vertigo gives Marvel a rich source with which to dominate the collected editions market in the years to come. Currently, it trails DC in this space.

Indeed, Marvel already have the perfect title to launch a new line: Miracleman/Marvelman -- and what better way to kick-start a new Icon/Epic Comics line than to reunite Berger with her protege, Neil Gaiman, and have him write a Miracleman/Marvelman ongoing?

Matt Duarte said...

@jpbl1976: Good points all around, although I don't see Vertigo going anywhere for the time being (at least not until DC pisses them off royally for some reason), but having Berger edit Gaiman on Miracleman would be pretty great.

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