Vertigo is relaunching with a raft of intriguing new titles. Jaime Hernandez? Sold.
Ask a comics-savvy friend to name some of the best non-superhero comics of the last 25 years and, chances are, they’ll list Vertigo titles. DC’s adult-focused imprint is the home to the likes of Sandman, Preacher, Y: The Last Man and The Invisibles, to name just a few… The imprint has been a home for interesting and thought-provoking comics ever since it began back in 1993. It was a springboard for iconoclastic creators like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Peter Milligan and Garth Ennis, but with the departure of its Executive
Editor Karen Berger in 2013, it seemed to flounder. Even its longrunning flagship title, Hellblazer, came to an end that year with its hero, John Constantine, absorbed into the more kid-friendly New 52.
Now it’s time to turn that around once again. From October, Vertigo will launch 12 new books, four a month, that aim to reinvigorate the line. They’re a mix of ongoing monthlies and miniseries, and Executive Editor Shelly Bond has high hopes. “Vertigo has a long-standing tradition of uniting the most talented creators in the industry,” she says. “That begins with a top-notch editorial staff. I’ve put together a brand new team – with editors coming from diverse publishing backgrounds – to round out Vertigo’s sensibility. The result is a fearless new wave of 12 inventive titles”.
Vertigo has always included a mix of established talent and new creators, and the 12 titles are no exception. Bond sees the appeal of working on a book for Vertigo to be as strong as it always was.
“There was a concerted effort to lure industry legends like Darwyn Cooke over to the dark side,” she says. “He asked if Gilbert Hernandez would consider working with him. After a five-second phone call, you have the seed of The Twilight Children [reviewed on page 120]. Most creators come to Vertigo knowing the sensibility and [assured] that their vision will be brought to life and backed one hundred per cent. They know our history and understand that we’re looking for the stories that keep them up at night.”
Rob Williams is the writer on November’s Unfollow, one of the new monthlies (reviewed on page 121). “It’s an action thriller for the social media era,” he explains.
“The billionaire who invented our story’s version of Facebook has terminal cancer, and he publicly declares that, when he dies, 140 characters from around the world will share his fortune equally. But if one of them dies, 139 will share the money. And if 139 of them were to die... then the remaining one will get all of his money.”
Unfollow isn’t Williams’s first project with the imprint – it picked up his miniseries The Royals:
Masters Of War after DC closed its Wildstorm imprint – but this is the
Vertigo’s always felt lik ethe HBO of comic companies
first new series he’s sold to Vertigo. “It’s a story about finding out who human beings really are behind the facade of technology. How we’re all still part of the food chain.” Is social media changing society for better or worse? “That’s one of the things we’re dealing with. It’s supposed to make us communicate more with the world, but we all sit round the breakfast table looking at our phones rather than each other... So there’s obvious contradictions. The world’s changing. Opening up and closing down. My partner’s always nagging me to ‘put the phone down!’ That’s part of where
Unfollow came from.” Vertigo was the natural home for the series, says Williams. “I think it’s the lack of boundaries and the feeling that you can tell any story. You can go to some ambitious places with that, say some things that may shock. Vertigo has always felt like the HBO of comic companies to me, and that’s still the case here. With
Unfollow we’re telling a story that really has the zeitgeist at heart.
And it looks incredible thanks to the art of Mike Dowling and the colours of Quinton Winter.”
“I think because Vertigo has been around for a few years it’s easy to lose sight of how extraordinary and wonderful a thing it is,” says Peter Milligan, who made his name at Vertigo with books like Enigma and Shade: The Changing Man. “Nothing stays the same, and Vertigo may be going through some changes, but it’s still a place where I feel comfortable and inspired.”
Milligan was one of the British writers who established Vertigo’s distinctive tone and has worked on Vertigo titles on and off ever since, most recently his “Kill Bill meets The Wolf of Wall Street” tale, The
Names. “In an industry that’s often male-dominated, the powerful female presence in Vertigo has also always been one of its strengths,” he says. “With my latest story, New Romancer, the input of some of the younger female editorial staff has been invaluable for what is a story with a young female protagonist.”
New Romancer explores many of the familiar themes that Milligan has made his stock-intrade as a writer. “It’s the story of a young woman who meets the man of her dreams and realises you should be careful what you pray for. New Romancer is a supernatural romance set in and around a struggling dating startup – New Romancer – in Silicon Valley. Our hero, Lexy, is a young and brilliant female coder. Through a mix of weird science – utilizing coding developed by Byron’s genius daughter, Ada Lovelace – and weirder weather, Lexy is united with the British romantic poet Lord Byron. But Byron isn’t quite what she imagined he’d be. Casanova and other demon lovers begin to show up with their own wicked agendas and what could have been a sweet love story spins off into something crazier and more twisted...”
New Romancer is drawn by the relatively new artist Brett Parson. “Brett is hugely talented and I’m sure a star of the future,” says Milligan. “His work on this book is remarkable.”
The magic of books
It’s not just new series, however. We can also look forward to the
return of a long-running mainstay, Lucifer, which ran under Mike Carey and Peter Gross for over six years. But the new Lucifer series, written by novelist Holly Black, is a different beast from its predecessor, as she emphasises: “I am trying not to contradict what’s come before in any significant way, but obviously this will be a new Lucifer by virtue of the fact that I am a new person writing him. The challenge was to find a new storyline that would still be respectful to the canon.
“I guess the core differences are that if Mike Carey’s Lucifer was about growing up and moving away from home and parental authority, then this Lucifer is about coming back home and being drawn into old conflicts (and repeating old patterns) no matter how much you swore you never would. If Mike Carey was interested in puzzling through the paradox of free will, I am interested in looking at the paradox of evil.”
Black has been working with British artist Lee Garbett on the book, who has worked for DC on Batgirl and on a number of different series for 2000 AD. She is very proud of the results. “He’s amazing. I fully confess that I described some things and then thought ‘no one can really draw this in a comic.’ But he could and he did.”
Black isn’t the only novelist that
Vertigo has attracted for the new slate. Lauren Beukes, the author of The Shining Girls, had form with Vertigo (she wrote an arc for Fables spin-off Fairest) but The Survivors’ Club, co-written with video game journalist Dave Haverson, is altogether more ambitious.
“Survivors’ Club came out of a very simple idea,” say Beukes. “What if the ’80s horror movies were real? And where are those kids today?”
“I was re-watching Child’s Play and wondering what happened to the protagonist after the credits rolled,” adds Haverson. “Because that would scar you for life!”
“The story follows six characters who all survived some horrifying events in 1987,” adds Beukes, “from killer video games to sexy cannibal neighbours. Now Chenzira has brought them all together to confront an old evil that has resurfaced. We’re playing off all the major horror tropes and subverting them, twisting them around in ways you hopefully haven’t seen before. It’s Scooby Doo by way of Junji Ito,” she explains.
“We’re both big horror fans, and working together on this is like creepy playtime,” Haverson told us.
Beukes thought Vertigo was a natural home for the series. “It’s my first original comic series. I wrote a six issue arc of Fairest, which is exactly why I brought this project to Shelly Bond. She’s a very canny – or uncanny! – editor who has an amazing vision for how the story fits together and pushes all of us to do our best work. Vertigo’s the home of some of our favourite foundational comics from Sandman to V For Vendetta, Lucifer and Hellblazer and more recent kickass books like Sweet Tooth, Deadenders, 100% and Unwritten.”
In terms of newer talent, David Baillie, a British writer who has worked on 2000 AD, is also part of the new launches. His series Red Thorn mixes up Scottish
myths with modern culture. “Red Thorn is a story set in modernday Glasgow and mines Scottish mythology and pop culture to find the raw materials for a sexy, bloody story that pushes all of its characters to their limits.
“Isla is our viewpoint character for the first arc. She’s a young American woman with Scottish ancestry, who’s in Glasgow to investigate a dark secret from her family’s past. She also has an unusual ability: when she draws people they sometimes come to life. Throw into the mix the fact she’s started sketching Thorn, an almost permanently furious and nude demi-god who’s been imprisoned beneath the streets of Glasgow for the last sixteen hundred years... It’s my attempt at putting a very modern spin on classic Vertigo territory. And it looks gorgeous – Meghan is probably the best new comic artist in the western world. And the covers by Choong Yoon are absolutely brilliant.”
After a relatively low-key couple of years, Vertigo has very ambitious plans to increase its visibility once again. For Shelly Bond, this move is fully in keeping with the history of DC’s bold imprint.
“Launching 12 new numberone comics in three months is an audacious move, but if you look at our history, look at series like The
Sandman, Fables, Preacher and 100 Bullets, we’re known for going the distance. And believe me, this is only the beginning...”
Above and opening
page: Renowned artist Darwyn Cooke and acclaimed writer Gilbert Hernandez team up to tell a surreal tale of strange happenings in a remote Latin American seaside village in The
Twilight Children. How could it not be great?
Above and below: Lucifer returns, now written by novelist Holly Black and drawn by British artist Lee Garbett. And when we say “returns”, we mean “comes back home”...
Above: So you think the world of social media is dangerous? In Rob Williams and Mike Dowling’s Unfollow, it becomes really cutthroat. No, really... as in literally.
This page: With everything from punk rockers to fire-fighters who may or may not also be arsonists to supernatural romance with Lord Byron, the new Vertigo is as diverse as ever – and as quirky!
Left: Norse mythology? Old hat. In Red Thorn, dark Scottish fables burst violently into the modern world.
Above: You think the horror ends when you’ve survived being possessed or escape a haunted house? Not in
Facing page: With great power comes... no relief from your midlife crisis.
Jacked is a very Vertigo take on super-powers.