Monday, October 22, 2007

Eight Reasons Why Vertigo Comics Aren't Selling As Well As They Used To

I realize there are debates as to the particulars: "floppy" issues versus trade sales, a changing reading demographic, marketing concerns, formidable new competitors, etc. But in the end I think it comes down to these eight reasons.

You need to capture -- no, seize -- the imagination. Without doing that, none of the other factors are going to make a big enough difference.

"Scalped" may be a great book. I want to read the trades at some point. But what is so unique about "Scalped" at Vertigo that it couldn't be published at Wildstorm or Image?

See those eight properties? I could never picture them being handled quite the same way anywhere else. They had the "Vertigo" brand firmly stamped upon them. And that brand is about quality, uniqueness, edge...and maybe even an element of the iconic.

I mean, APE Entertainment puts out quality books like "Bizarre New World" and "Sullen Grey" that would look right at home in the Vertigo line. They put out books that look like what would happen if developing comics was more of dynamic brainstorm and less like an 18-month "refining process." S**t, if you miss "Sandman" and the like, go pick up "Sullen Grey."

For all I know, a company like APE could quietly be becoming the next Vertigo. Or there could be a few companies like that. Plus Image. And then what becomes of the Vertigo cachet? It becomes one in a line of comparable choices rather than an industry leader.

And then you have Zuda, DC's online venture. You know all that excitement over edgy new talent that Vertigo enjoyed 10, 15 years ago? That might be what Zuda is involved with right now! And then what is Vertigo's cachet? It is five steps away from being Paradox Press at this point.

Let's not forget Minx. Hell, I think Minx is more Top Shelf than teen manga. But it has legs (if you will excuse the pun). With Minx around, what happens to Vertigo's cachet? With CMX around, what happens to Vertigo's cachet?

And Grant Morrison is doing is Superman. Again -- what happens to Vertigo's cachet?

And Christ -- I got this giveaway Marvel MAX catalog the other day where it looks like they're really beefing up the whole line and making it more edgy and "alternative." So you'll have those books on the market as well -- many of them with a built-in character recognition.

As I said before, the critically-acclaimed "Scalped" might be a great book. But in order for Vertigo to regain its market lead in "adult" comics it needs iconic books like "Sandman," "Preacher," et al. It needs *stars*. And it needs new talent.

Or maybe it should try its hand at original graphic novels along the lines of what Top Shelf & Fantagraphics Press -- and Image! -- put out. Maybe their "goth" and "Brit" period is over. Maybe they should be printing books like Tom Neely's Ignatz-winning "The Blot" and First Second's "Laika."

At any rate, this is (or should be) a time for reevaluation, redefinition, and expansion for Vertigo. If I was in their shoes I'd:

1) Keep going to the "Indie" cons like MoCCA Fest and SPX and aggressively pursue new talent.

2) Go more Top Shelf/Fantagraphics/Oni/First Second and less Wildstorm


3) Either make a purposeful effort to restart the old properties that gave them such recognition -- Sandman, etc. -- or take some other DCU characters and Vertigoize them.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


  1. I love my Vertigo titles, granted I read them in trade but:

    Fables (amazing)
    Y The Last Man (amazing)
    DMZ (really good and edgy)
    Scalped (fucking awesome)

    There's four examples of titles that I absolutely LOVE. I am sure there are more that I don't even read.

  2. I applaud you for advocating for diversity from one of the core populist lines of a mainstream comic book publisher, the likes of which you might find in the actual real world of publishing and fiction . . . and companies like First Second and Top Shelf and Oni and others make great use of.

    Now that I think about it, though, there's plenty of good stuff out there without Vertigo rising to the occasions. Oh, well.

  3. Vertigo is putting out some of my favorite titles right now: American Virgin is too good for me to wait for the trade, and I love The Exterminators, Scalped, Fables, and 100 Bullets.

    I will agree with you that (with the exception of Fables), none of these books really have that Vertigo & proto-Vertigo magic like the titles you mentioned. Most of them would work just as well at Oni, IDW, or AIT (Hell, I thought DMZ WAS a Planet Lar book at first).

    You know, in an alternate universe, I'll bet that Fallen Angel was launched under the Vertigo imprint and is one of their top sellers.

  4. Vertigo is already doing a number of OGNs (God Save the Queen, The Quitter, Sentences, Cairo, Incognegro others I am sure I am forgetting).

    I agree that Vertigo does not have as much of a brand identity as they once did when they were "Weird Dark Fantasy Books from the Corner of the DCU", but I also think that is sort of a dead-end; while I loved a lot of the Milligan/Morrison/Ennis stuff from that period, a lot of Vertigo's better/more successful projects of the past ten years -- Transmetropolitan, 100 Bullets, Y the Last Man, DMZ, all of Morrison's post-Invisibles projects -- really don't fit into that "dark fantasy" category in the slightest.

    DC should and has reengineered Vertigo to be the place for "populist 'mature' comics", which is good because it's a viable brand name; every time they've tried to put "populist 'mature' comics" under a different name (Paradox, Helix, etc.) it's failed pretty miserably and the few books that survived got rolled back into Vertigo.

  5. I finally finished "Laika" over the weekend. Brilliant book but I couldn't stop crying all the way through. Slow going.

    I think Vertigo ought to re-seize the fantasy market. Nobody does fantasy books as well as they do. Lots of people appreciate fantasy with some maturity and depth. Vertigo seems to have abandoned that in favor of sex and shock value and violence, none of which are terribly mature or deep.

  6. When I think of a big property that built Vertigo and sold tons of issues, I think of Shade the Changing Man. That was a book that sold tons in the monthly format, just like all of the others on the list.

    I can't wait to pick up the second trade of that.

    Either way, maybe DC should switch over to OGNs like Pride of Baghdad, or Sentences. They should avoid old talent like Jason Aarons or Mat Johnson or unknowns like G. Willow Wilson.

    I agree that Vertigo did best when it did goth stuff like Transmet and Invisibles or Brit like Preacher.

    But possibly doing Vertigoization or relaunching old properties is an idea. Why not take Deadman redo him for an adult audience or relaunch Swamp Thing again?

    Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  7. They do have Fables & Y, as others mentioned. Really though, it has kind of become a dumping ground. & ripping of the mojo that made Sandman, or Swamp Thing, a cash cow, isn't a good way to go about getting it back. New mojo is needed! I concur with the plan that says: scout the indies.

  8. "...or take some other DCU characters and Vertigoize them."

    That sounds a lot like Vertigo's future plans, if you look at their upcoming projects. Other than Brian Wood's Northlanders, everything else is a pre-existing DC property: House of Mystery, Madame Xanadu, Unknown Soldier (you could also throw Un-Men in here, but that doesn't seem to be doing too well, either). I'll be interested to see if this does re-invigorate the brand by returning it to its roots.

  9. I agree with John. There's plenty of good stuff out there without the need for Vertigo to do it too. Let DC have the superheroes and let the other publishers fill the mainstream genre 'niches'.

    Thanks for mentioning the Ape books. I agree that the Ape Entertainment books are a fresh, new, exciting alternative to the superhero stuff (although I love that too)... but I'm the publisher so I *would* think that.

    (Shameless plug: the SULLENGREY Volume 1 TPB will be out just in time for you to get it as a gift for yourself or a loved one for Christmas.)

  10. i totally agree with your points. its really kind of sad the state of vertigo these days. when it started i was a young pup and it was so perfectly suited to my beginning teenage years. Shade the changing man was an absolute favorite. it introduced me to a whole new way to look at comics. it introduced me to the weirdness and more adult fare. now its just like a rotting shell. most of the stuff can easily go with another imprint with no real trouble. its no longer edgey and new.

    i have sitting here a whole pitch of a new shade the changing man series. i never presented it and have been waiting till i had some sort of a name for myself. its a much darker book with sick humor. similar to the last series in tone and context but new characters and new situation. a reboot for lack of a better word. someday i hope to be able to get my foot in the door at some point and bring it to full realized product.

    i've always wanted to do some vertigo work. though i might be too much for them. my subject matter is things people don't talk about in the context i do. for example the book i'm working on now. it deals with a girl who gets killed. becomes an otherworldly errand girl. first mission she has to take the soul of a former nazi who unlocked the secrets of eternal youth. he steals children for his experiments and there is some sick shit going on. its very much a reverse peter pan type story where the 'peter' is a sick fuck with a taste for young flesh in any way you can think of. all while the heroine tries to come to grips with dying too early and her shitty job. its kind of like an old school vertigo book.

    you can see some of the art in my gallery (sorry for the plug) at

    i really didn't want to turn this into me shilling shit. sorry about that. i just have a deep love for vertigo and i'm sad to see the state of affairs at this point. they need new blood badly.

    i do like american virgin though...

  11. all while the heroine tries to come to grips with dying too early and her shitty job.

    Ever seen Dead Like Me? Cause that's the plotline.

  12. You know, I've always thought Captain Marvel would make a great Vertigo property. Not in a "lets muddy up the Big Cheese! Lets tarnish the guy!" fashion, but more in a "Superman versus the Weird" way.

  13. So basically what everyone is saying is that Vertigo needs to put out more books like Deadman and Beware the Creeper and the last half dozen failed Swamp Thing relaunches? And otherwise, Vertigo needs to die and let the "indies" like First Second take over? Is that the consensus?

  14. Y the Last Man
    American Virgin

    I think these three represent the same spark you mention above. The Vertigo edge

    other books like Crossing Midnight, Scalped, Exterminators, DMZ, they're still good/great/excellent reads, but they lack that classic effect that will give them longevity and cult status. They're made from the Vertigo mold, but still missing something.

    I think it's a case of getting the old boys back in the fold. Get Milligan and Morrison and Gaiman and Ennis back in the imprint, let them roam free.

    As for the OGNs i think they've been doing a stellar job, with Pride of Baghdad, Sloth, God Save the Queen etc, a very good array of talent and comics

  15. With all do respect, you forgot America's Best. I think if there is one thing the divided peoples of this good earth can rally around it is clearly Alan Moore is the one true god. As America's Best Has put out most of his really grate work it certainly deserves some credit.