Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #24 by Drew Barth
The news broke early on Friday that DC would soon be shuttering its Vertigo imprint after nearly thirty years as the publisher works to consolidate all of its brands under three new banners: DC Kids, DC Comics, and DC Black Label. This news was met with an outpouring of sadness as writers, artists, and fans alike came to mourn what was the starting point for some of the biggest and greatest creators in the medium. Vertigo was, for many people, the exact location where independent and mainstream comics intersected—what could never be found in any mainline work by either of the major publishers would find its home at Vertigo and, as a result, a much wider audience due to DC’s own reach as a publisher.
Vertigo was how I started reading comics.
I’m not alone. Whenever you look up any kind of list about where to start with reading comics, there’s going to be at least one Vertigo series. And that series is typically Neil Gaiman’s Sandman despite the fact that Sandman began before Vertigo existed. And that’s something true of many of the series that are typically associated with Vertigo: Sandman, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Vertigo didn’t exist until 1993, but many of the above series assumed the Vertigo label once they were collected and sold as trade paperbacks.
I bet that a majority of readers of my generation owe much of their early comic obsessions with those collected Vertigo books we’d skim through at the back of a Waldenbooks while the rest of our families were browsing other stores.
Vertigo was the beginning point of many legendary comics careers. Writers like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Peter Milligan were still pillars of the publication that would go on to provide a foundation for others like Warren Ellis, G. Willow Wilson, Paul Pope, Brian K. Vaughn, and even Anthony Bourdain. Vertigo was the idea house that created iconography outside of the superhero genre in a way that hadn’t been seen since the explosion of Underground Comix in the late 1960s and early 70s. For years, Vertigo was where some of the most interesting and refreshing new comics came from, and they were easy to find.
Vertigo was unique, but ownership of that niche wouldn’t last forever. The survivors of the 90s comic boom, like Dark Horse and Image, began to rise back up from the ashes of the implosion. With the success of series like The Walking Deadand Invincible, for example, Image soon found itself with stories with the verve and inventiveness of earlier Vertigo series. Vertigo was still creating fantastic stories. Fables and Y: The Last Man rank among some of Vertigo’s greatest series and the launching of a series of original black-and-white crime graphic novellas showed that Vertigo was still apt to innovate.
But those series ended. And Karen Berger left.
By the time I really started seriously getting into comics around 2009, I knew Vertigo mostly by reputation. Transmetropolitangot me going into the shop I’ve been visiting regularly for a decade, but Vertigo series were still things I’d read in trade paperbacks and not monthly. Since then I’ve watched Vertigo go through re-launches and revitalizations in failed attempts at maintaining its original cool, weird spirit. They still had a few great stories, but other publishers were competing effectively.
Immutable fact: Vertigo is going away. But in Vertigo’s wake are all of the creators that grew up with it and grew up reading Sandman, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, Fables, The Unwritten, Sweet Tooth, and every other series that showed them what great new ideas could come out of comics. In nearly every independent publisher, I see some Vertigo DNA. That wanting to create stories that stick to the readers’ bones like comfort food; stories that light up their eyes with places they’ll never see again; stories that make readers want to go out and make their own comics. One of the most important things Vertigo left us with was that need and drive for innovation—to create something exciting or die trying. Vertigo game us some of the best comics in our lifetimes. Why not continue repay them with our own spirit and creativity in the comics we want to make?
Get excited. Nothing last forever but the great stories we leave behind.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.
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