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In 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.