Saturday, July 28, 2007

San Diego Comic-Con: DC Vertigo Panel

A lot of news is coming out of San Diego this weekend, but I wanted to comment for a moment about the announcements that came from the DC/Vertigo panel yesterday. (Newsarama's coverage can be found here.)

Now, I've been a Vertigo fan from the beginning of the imprint. In fact, I was reading all the regular DC series that transitioned into Vertigo when the imprint was created: Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Sandman, and Hellblazer. And for the first year of its existence, I was reading every Vertigo title. I also credit those four series in particular with transitioning me from an adolescent comic reader into a more mature one--in essence, I kept reading comics because I felt they were growing up with me.

Vertigo, however, seems to go through some awkward transitional phases where its brand identity comes into question, usually around the time when one of its best-selling series comes to its natural end: Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and now Y: The Last Man (with 100 Bullets ending in a little over a year). The Sandman franchise seems to have run its course with Lucifer, and Vertigo seems to be slow-playing its currently successful franchise, Fables, with only one spin-off so far. In recent years, Vertigo has started several new creator-driven series in an apparent effort to fill the gaps left by these ending series, but with mixed success. Most Vertigo series sell fewer than 10,000 copies per month (though book store sales of the trades are supposedly brisk). These recent series also run the gamut of genres: Western, satire, war, science fiction, fantasy, crime, and social commentary. Though there are some excellent, creative series among those low sellers (Crossing Midnight in particular, in my opinion), none have caught on terribly well with regular monthly readers. So far, we have only heard word of Testament's cancellation.

The announcements made in San Diego of new ongoing series from Vertigo appear to be a reaction to the lack of success in these recent creator-owned launches. Other than series that have been previously announced and in the development pipeline for a while--Northlanders and Vinyl Underground, for example--every new Vertigo series is an existing DC property: Madame Xanadu, House of Mystery, The Un-Men, Unknown Soldier. This presents an interesting shift in the editorial direction of Vertigo and a return to the imprint's original brand identity, as a place for properties and concepts that could easily move outside of the superhero genre. I'm curious to see if this marks a larger change in Vertigo, perhaps a return to basics in order to rebuild the brand. I hope, though, that this doesn't mean Vertigo is abandoning creator-owned series (I don't think it is).

I'll be curious to see what the future holds here, though. I've always admired Vertigo for publishing often challenging works by innovative creators that don't fit the conventions of DC's mainstream superhero books. That can happen with creator-owned works and with DC-owned properties.

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