Robot 6

Is it myopic to support Vertigo?

blindmiceIn the recent New York Times profile of former Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger, Dave Itzkoff writes that DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio “said it would be ‘myopic’ to believe ‘that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.’” It’s a weird way to structure the quote, but assuming Itzkoff is accurately capturing what DiDio meant, that’s a controversial stance for DC to take.

But he kind of has a point. Heidi MacDonald rightly notes that Vertigo books make up roughly one-third of DC’s list of essential graphic novels, but if we’re just going by sales, Vertigo’s slice of DC’s pie does look pretty small. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, just 6 percent of DC’s graphic novels in April’s Top 100 were Vertigo titles. The percentage was a lot higher in March (15 percent), but only 7 percent in February. The number of Vertigo titles in the Top 100 has been pretty consistent in the past three months: two or three. What made the difference in March was that DC had less Top 100 titles overall. Of course, that only covers a short amount of time and only includes direct market sales, but if we look at a list of what DC considered its top-selling graphic novels as of last autumn, only about 13 percent of those are from Vertigo. None of that is super-scientific, but it paints a pretty good picture of how much Vertigo contributes to DC in terms of sales.

The question is whether this suggests that DiDio is right about the short-sightedness of continuing to support Vertigo. As many commenters have pointed out, Image Comics has been getting a lot of attention lately for books that once might have been considered good fits for Vertigo. But it’s a very long jump between that observation and suggesting that Image’s current roster ever would have been considered for Vertigo.

I’m not even talking about whether Vertigo would have published them. I’m talking about the creators’ choices in where to submit. I’ve heard from creators who’ve published at both companies and the consensus has traditionally been that Vertigo brings prestige with its logo, but creators pay for that by giving up some control and profits. These days, Image is well on its way to being the new Vertigo, and it’s telling that when Brian K. Vaughan wants to launch a comic and doesn’t need Vertigo’s brand to help him sell it, he goes to Image.

If DC dropped Vertigo tomorrow, I doubt anyone believes that books like Fables or The Unwritten would have any trouble finding new homes. I like Vertigo very much and I have a lot of confidence that the people still working there are very capable of producing great comics that I want to read. I’m not saying that I want Vertigo to go away, but it does seem possible that the market for creator-owned comics has changed enough that, as an imprint of DC, Vertigo’s time of doing what it did so well for so many years may be over — whether DC thinks its myopic to support it or not.

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24 Comments

What’s truly myopic is focusing on short-term gains with a lot of flash and style-over-substance (ie. mega-crossovers, line-wide reboots, shock value by killing off established characters, grim-n-gritty badassery for no good reason for characters that usually don’t fit that) rather than establishing perennial classic sellers that may not sell well right away, but will sell well consistently for many years. Dan Didio does not seem to know what the word “myopic” means.

Didio………you dumb such & such

Mr. Smith got it right. A lot of Vertigo titles can be reprinted and resold over and over. They don’t get old. Sandman, Y, American Vampire, Fables, The Unwritten. All of these can be enjoyed by new generations of readers. How many of the current New 52 runs will keep selling 10 years from now?

Worth noting that a huge chunk of the Vertigo “graphic novels” (mostly collections) were originally issued in preiodical form under DC proper as well: most of Sandman, all Alan Moore ‘Vertigo’ work, the characters recently returned to the DCU…as far as proper longterm Vertigo successes, we’re really just talking Y, 100 Bullets and Fables at this point.

Apart from the work produced at Vertigo, what about its function as a talent recruiter? Scott Snyder, writer of Batman and Superman Unchained, came up through Vertigo. As did New 52 superstar Jeff Lemire. Would Azzarello be writing Wonder Woman (or, in the past, Jim Lee’s Superman run) without having produced 100 Bullets first?

People talk about books & stories that are essentially made for trades, & in that regard, Vertigo serves that purpose, & ONLY that purpose. But DC’s job is to sell MONTHLY comics, first & foremost. And in no way is Vertigo built for that.

I love how all the armchair publishers only speak from the POV of what THEY want, & nothing else. Total fanboyism at its best/worst.

Ryan 'Halite' King

June 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

So, Sandman being a continuously selling trade for my entire life, isn’t worth as much as Hawk and Dove vol 1? Is that going to be selling well 30 years from now?

The Vertigo titles may not be a large percentage of their current sales, but Vertigo titles aren’t a significant portion of their current output. On the other hand, they tend to sell well over a longer period of time (and for most probably end up selling more!).

DiDio! You’re portfolio needs to hedge short term and long term gains, gamble some on Vertigo titles that might strike successes over a longer period, and find you new talent! If you hadn’t given Snyder the Vertigo titles would he be on Batman right now?!

I just want more of a focus on quality and not on quantity. Maybe if there were not 10 X-books and 11 books each for GL, Supes, and Batman, titles like Dial H, Red-She Hulk, etc wouldn’t get cancelled so quickly.

Vertigo serves a different market, and it does it better by going for long term investment. It also, arguably helped create the future readers of the present day Image titles. Its also a lot friendlier to women readers. And with the exception of Batman, more of their books will be in print over the long term than anything DC has put out over the last 10 years.

Vertigo’s audience is not DC’s. Trying to meld the two by taking back all the DC superhero characters that DC had rendered useless and Vertigo drew interest for is ridiculous. Vertigo is a different beast than DC . . . as such it shouldn’t be touched it should be exploited or retooled as necessary. Only Didio would see it as something that drags the company down. His inability to see its potential is his problem not the imprints problem. Though I’d say he doesn’t have much sight when it comes to regular comics either.

I always thought it was stupid that DC took back their Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Why? Why can’t you have a Vertigo version if any creator even wants to do anything with it, and the regular DC version? Why can’t you have a kids Superman book and a regular DC book? Why can’t you have a multiverse? Why can’t you have Elseworlds? Namely because Dan Didio is myopic and can find ways to exploit or use these properties. If he were smart he would at least find creative people who can . . . the point is to sell comics, to grow your audience not to limit their choices which is exactly what the new 52 has done.

Marvel never had any issues with the same characters appearing in both the mainstream books and Marvel Max; it’s very condescending of DC editorial to think that readers would get confused over DCU John Constantine and his Vertigo counterpart. Then again, DC editors in the mid-80s thought that readers would be confused by the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Supermen.

DC needs to keep and maintain Vertigo. Marvel should have the same deal really. Short term, you’ll lose on the monthly end. Long term you might generate a hit or two and encourage new talent into the ranks. Neither company seem to care about the long term and that scares me about where they’ll be 5… 10 years down the road.

ThatTalkingGuy

June 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm

It is the exact opposite of myopic. What is myopic is to focus on the same three or four characters and off-shoots and expect that interest in those properties is going to last forever and ever. While there is always going to be Batman and there is always going to be Superman (and there should be), their popularity is going to ebb and flow. It is silly to put all of your eggs in that basket and not look at other genres and stories that could result in NEW properties to maintain DC’s future.

From my limited experience, I would say that those that follow Vertigo titles are very very loyal. Why does it seem like DC wants to test that loyalty by threatening their fans so much?

Haw, Haw.. oh didio, you rascal you!

If it was “myopic” for DC to try to service a small slice of the comics-buying population with VERTIGO and its
non-capes-&-tights superhero brand—.

What would DiDio term his company’s current attempt to mine every last cent from its REMAINING buyers with
the New DC’s (re)cycling of ‘event’ comics, variants and gimmicky covers… dollar increase on regular titles for the gimmick… and OCD-collectors-abetting decimicalised issue numberings?

“Cataractic” spring easily to mind. Or better yet: “glauCOMIC”.

/New 52 follies

I think that everyone is completely misinterpreting this quote. DiDio said this in a piece that was paying tribute to Karen Berger’s vision – when I read the full article, it seemed clear to me that DiDio was praising her efforts to make comics that were outside of the niche genre of “superhero.” He was saying that if DC only published superhero comics and none of the noir, fantasy, sci-fi, or unclassifiable stuff that Vertigo released, THAT would be “myopic.”

Not that I’m a huge fan of DiDio (his actions clearly don’t always line up with my interpretation of his words), but I think he’s getting flack for the wrong reasons here.

Vertigo is “independent comics” for people too lazy to look past the big two to find them. Image has been putting out better books for about 20 years.

Peter, that’s an interesting read and I agree that the way Itzkoff structured it could be leading to misinterpretation. But the DiDio stuff follows Karen Berger’s quotes that DC is “really more focused on the company-owned characters” and that it and Marvel “are superhero companies owned by movie studios.” Itzkoff then says that DiDio more or less agrees with her assessment and offers some snippets to support that. So while I can accept your reading as a possible one, it’s not the most natural one.

Why doesn’t Vertigo just break off from DC and go independent?

You say that one-third of DC’s list of essential graphic novels were Vertigo, but many of those started as DC comics and later became Vertigo. It used to be something like Preacher had to be Vertigo because you had people’s faces being cut off, now that’s what the Joker does in their mainstream Batman book. The regular books have become so Vertigo in tone that there really isn’t a dividing line anymore.

@Lazlo: Keep your focus. Whatever happens at DC regarding Vertigo has ZERO effect on “Red She-Hulk”–a title published (and now apparently cancelled) by Marvel.

@John: Regarding the quality of Image’s books vs Vertigo’s, that YOUR opinion only. It is most assuredly NOT a fact. If you doubt that, I challenge you to show me a Vertigo book that was worse than “Youngblood” or “Prophet.” Image’s “quality” has only been better over the last few years but it’s still dragged down by a lot of drek that would NEVER have been accepted by Karen Berger.

Stephen Conway

June 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm

John: Warren Ellis and Alan Moore took over StormWatch and Supreme respectively in ’96, so I make that 17 years of Image publishing decent comics.

The thing about Image is they are the fanciest, shiniest self-publisher in the world BUT they have no quality control. If you have the funds to pay for them to print and distribute your book, they’ll take it. The fact that Image have been publishing great books in recent years has nothing to do with any innate quality in the company, it is just a bunch of top quality creatives who have the drive to produce good work, have decided they can get a better deal from Image than DC or Marvel’s creator owned lines.

[Image] have no quality control. If you have the funds to pay for them to print and distribute your book, they’ll take it.

This is absolutely not true.

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