Karen Berger has left Vertigo. If you don’t know who that is you should probably learn. She has been the Editor-in-Chief of Vertigo since its inception in 1993. She’s not just leaving the company, she’s apparently leaving the industry in general, desiring a “professional change.” Karen Berger has been a legend in her field for the past twenty years, helping to usher in titles like Sandman, Hellblazer, V for Vendetta, Fables, Preacher, The Invisibles, 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, American Vampire and many many others. It’s hard to think how the comic book imprint will function without her guiding it.
Perhaps that’s just what DC Comics wants, though. Recently, Vertigo has been on shaky grounds. A few years back DC changed their contract language, essentially taking away royalties if a creator’s comic doesn’t sell well. That sounds fair, but the company now holds their standards as high as 50,000 units sold, which Vertigo books never reach. Meaning all creators, even if their title is successful will miss out on royalties that they once were entitled to. This seems to be stemming from an idea that Vertigo isn’t really the moneymaker it used to be and DC has been left footing the bill for underperforming titles more than they prefer.
While Vertigo still pays their writers the most in the creator-owned community, their previous contract changes have caused popular Vertigo creators to move their work to other comic book publishers. DC now owns 50% of the media property rights for all their Vertigo titles and, understandably, people don’t like that.
DC Comics has also moved over most of the original Vertigo properties that were taken from DC in the first place. That’s why characters like Swamp Thing, John Constantine, Animal Man, Black Orchid and Madame Xanadu are now displayed prominently in the DCU. Though it was previously stated that Constantine’s presence in the DCU would have no affect on Hellblazer, that has recently changed, as the long running title will be ending with issue #300 in order to make room for a Constantine title as part of the New 52.
It is also notable that there has been a dearth in overall Vertigo titles since the contract change. DMZ, Scalped, Northlanders, House of Mystery, Sweet Tooth, Madame Xanadu, iZombie, Unknown Soldier, Air, Jack of Fables, Greek Street and Dominique Laveau, Voodoo Child have all ended since 2010 for various reasons. However, Vertigo has not entirely replaced those titles, with only American Vampire (which is taking a near-year long hiatus), Saucer County and Fairest coming in during that timespan. The Vertigo sub-imprint Crime, started in 2009, was shut down as of 2011 as well. To their credit Vertigo has published a large amount of original graphic novels since 2010, but creator owned OGNs hardly bring the same amount of business. The company has previously announced new titles by Jeff Lemire (Trillium), Scott Snyder (The Wake) and Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez (Collider), the latter of which was said to be out in the fall of 2012 and has yet to be solicited. There’s also a planned Sandman prequel by Neil Gaiman coming up. That’s pretty much it.
There’s a thought that these changes were made to Vertigo to prevent creators from coming to DC with their creator-owned properties, making a bunch of money off of them and heading over to Marvel to write their superheroes. It’s possible that DC Comics is deciding to scale back Vertigo in order to diminish expenses on underselling books and keep “their” writers happy at Vertigo. Now Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are welcome to join the exclusive Club Vertigo. Everyone else get out.
The strategy makes some sense, but at the same time it feels like DC is shooting themselves in the foot. Instead of giving writers incentives to stay at DC they’re punishing creators because of the nature of the business and the current state of the economy. Fables will now be the imprint’s longest running title, followed by The Unwritten. These two could be the last holdouts of a Vertigo gone by. When they end, what will Vertigo be like?
To seemingly ease the tension over the future of Vertigo, the anthology title Time Warp was announced after Karen Berger’s departure. Almost nothing is known about the title except that it involves a laundry list of creators: Damon Lindelof, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham, Dan Abnett, Peter Milligan, Ray Fawkes, Simon Spurrier, Gail Simone, Rafael Albuquerque, Tom Fowler. New titles coming in is good, so perhaps more titles will be on the way.
There seems to be no direct evidence to back this up, but I feel that the sudden departure of Berger, along with the recent goings on can’t be a coincidence. Berger had seen a diminish in some control over the imprint, mostly dealing with financial concerns, since 2010, and her dedication to titles like Hellblazer could mean that she was against the cancellation of the book. Perhaps she was forced out, or maybe she simply had enough and has become disillusioned with the comic book industry in general. Or maybe she just felt like a change. We’ll probably know more eventually.
I don’t think DC would outright shut down Vertigo, simply because of the power that name still has in the industry and among readers, but a change is coming. I think DC is pulling Vertigo closer to the vest in order to have better control over its finances and rebrand the imprint for its own reasons. I could see them making Vertigo much more like Marvel’s Icon imprint, which publishes a smaller amount of titles from their elite creators in order to make every Vertigo title “matter.” I still wouldn’t be surprised if they shut the whole thing down tomorrow, though.