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Remembering Vertigo Comics: 1993-2019

Gone but not forgotten.

A few days ago it was officially confirmed that DC will be re-branding its publishing content to have everything marketed and organized under the DC brand. With this effort comes three new age specific labels absorbing the DC Zoom, DC Ink, and Vertigo imprints. DC stated it will “sunset” the Vertigo imprint at the end of 2019.

Launched in 1993 under the care of editor Karen Berger, Vertigo began with a British invasion of sorts, featuring some of the most talented writers we know and love today, like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, and Peter Milligan, just to name a few. From the minds of these creators spawned some of the most inventive and influential stories of the last three decades. They left a lasting mark on pop culture, and more importantly, comics.

Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta is instantly recognizable to movie fans across the globe, and the Guy Fawkes mask has transcended its story it to become a symbol for anti-establishment protests around the world. For perhaps the first time ever in a major media format, the Christian god was used as the prime antagonist in Garth Ennis’ Preacher. The wildly profane, violent, and sex riddled pages of this tale changed the rules around what a comic book could be, and 20 years later, we’re still reaping the rewards of the huge risk Vertigo took with this book.

In December of 2012, Berger announced that she would be leaving Vertigo the following March. Filling her shoes was Shelly Bond, an editor that had been with the company since 1993. Bond oversaw the imprint for the next four years until her position was eliminated during a restructuring. The imprint passed through several hands until landing with Mark Doyle in 2017, who helping put together a relaunch of the imprint in 2018, with 11 new ongoing titles planned. Sadly, it wasn’t fated to last.

Thus, after a 26-year run of creator-owned titles that pioneered non-superhero comics, Vertigo is being laid to rest. The comic book industry is collectively grieving for the demise of one of its leading innovators that spawned some of the most cherished characters and stories of the last quarter century.

If anything good can be said about the closure of Vertigo, it’s that our community is united in its reflection, reminiscing, and in making sure that Berger and the creators of Vertigo know how thankful we all are for one hell of a ride. So that’s what we’re here to do today. AiPT!‘s team wants to share our grief, memories, nostalgia, and gratitude with you, our community. Most of all, we want everyone to remember that just because Vertigo has been shut down it doesn’t mean its dead. The spirit of Vertigo will continue to live on in the stories and its many, many readers.

— JJ Travers

DC Comics

JJ Travers: Growing up I was your typical ’90s comic book kid. I watched the Batman: The Animated Series after school during the week, X-Men: The Animated Series on Saturday mornings, and I collected a slew of comic books featuring my favorite Marvel and DC heroes. That was my comic book bubble, and for a long time I happily lived in it. That continued until I was 14 years old. I was hanging out at one of my new high school friend’s and he put a copy of Preacher in my hands. At first I almost didn’t believe I was holding a comic book in my hands. I didn’t understand how a comic could have extreme violence, sex, nudity, and more or less everything that’s considered crude and inappropriate. Naturally as a 14-year-old kid who was a giant nerd and heavily into punk, I feel in love instantly.

That was the moment that Vertigo changed comic books forever for me. What I look for in the comic books I read today grew out of my first time reading Preacher. Vertigo opened up a whole new world of comic books for me, and I was able to experience a very different type of storytelling that was far more adult and mature. Books like Preacher, The Sandman, Y: The Last Man, and Transmetropolitan helped transition me out of childhood. But I think the most important thing Vertigo gave me was a new perspective that helped me understand that great storytelling doesn’t just exist at the big publishers, and it’s worth taking the time to try something new.

Rory Wilding: Despite my love of superheroes at an early age, my gateway into comic books was through Vertigo, an imprint that was more mature compared to DC’s main super-heroic imprint. From V for Vendetta to The Losers, these titles prove to me that comics weren’t for children as they can explore themes such as crime and social commentary through sci-fi and horror.

If there is one comic that stands above all the rest, it would have to be Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. In 60 issues, this masterpiece takes a classic sci-fi premise of the last man on Earth and makes it multi-layered exploration of friendship and gender relationships. It is the one Vertigo comic I’ve read more than once, and every time I read that final issue, I’m always on the verge of tears. I’m sad that Vertigo will be discontinued, but I have to say thanks for making me love comics.

DC Comics

Michael Compton: While there’s no shortage of adult readers who still enjoy a good ol’ fashioned Amazing Spider-Man comic, I personally have always appreciated the fact that imprints such as Vertigo catered specifically toward an older-teen/adult readership. Had you started out reading the late Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing as a child under the general DC banner, you could later graduate to the more mature Saga of Swamp Thing penned by Alan Moore. Imprints such as Vertigo were where terms such as “graphic novel” were born.

Were I pressed to pick my all-time favorite graphic novel/comic book series, I’d have to hand to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which showcased the esoteric struggles of Morpheus, one of the seven Endless and proprietor of dreams, as his journey spanned from the English Renaissance and modern-day New York’s Greenwich Village to the very depths of Hell itself. While many prefer the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” my personal favorite issue within said series would have to be issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings.” Therein we’re introduced to Morpheus’ sister, the female embodiment of Death (looking like she’s outfitted for a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover band), as she escorts all walks of life, both young and old, on their preordained journey toward the afterlife. “You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime. No more. No less.”

Christopher Franey: Somewhere in the multiverse there exists a movie called The Fountain starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky.  That world could’ve been ours, there’s a lot of moving parts in making a film leap from page to silver screen. So back in April 2001, Darren started work with Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow to create The Fountain.  Casting had happened, sets were built, and scripts were written, but the film started getting expensive, leading to the movie’s delay before Brad Pitt ultimately walked away. It seemed as if The Fountain had been lost.

DC Comics

Luckily for us, Aronofsky didn’t give up, and he decided to make The Fountain into a comic book.  He had a contract with Warner Bros. and had to take it to DC Comics first. This led to Darren getting in touch with Karen Berger, from Vertigo, and they decided to use the original script to create a graphic novel that was beautifully drawn by Kent Williams. Vertigo saved this project and produced an amazing graphic novel which has some astonishing visuals and deep ruminations about life, death, and time.  I highly recommend both the graphic novel and the movie, along with the soundtrack, as some of the best things you can enjoy in this life. I’m sad that Vertigo is gone, but I’ll always remember them for this amazing story of The Fountain.

Nathaniel Muir: When I first started collecting comics, things were pretty cut and dried. I liked Uncanny X-Men so that is what I collected. As I got a older, I wanted to branch out a little. I was also entering my teenage years so I needed something a little edgier. Enter Vertigo Comics. Titles like Doom Patrol, Sandman, and Swamp Thing gave a 14-year-old living in the extreme grunge era something cool and different. And wouldn’t you know it? The books actually turned out to be good. Really good. It may sound corny, but I will always remember Vertigo as one of the things that walked me out of childhood. They were different and well-written stories that still had a comic book feel to them. I had discovered something that gave the edge teenage me needed, but had themes older me appreciated. I felt cooler and more mature reading them. Years later, I realized the feeling was exaggerated. But not by much.

DC Comics

Nathan Simmons: Vertigo came along for me in my mid-teens, when my interest in the film Constantine (starring the internet’s boyfriend of 2019, Keanu Reeves) came out. I remember my dad liking the flick, but telling me that the books were so much weirder and, most importantly, exceedingly British.

Discovering that John Constantine originally appeared as a supporting character in comics featuring Swamp Thing — a character I had a lot of love for as a kid, thanks to some goofy flicks and TV shows — prompted me to check out Alan Moore’s run on Saga of the Swamp Thing, which eventually led me to Vertigo and Hellblazer. Even as a fan of Swampy’s earlier adventures, I was astounded that such sophisticated storytelling could be brought out of these pulpy characters. Discovering ol’ Constantine (and eventually Morpheus and Lucifer and the whole lot) got me into indie books in a big way. A lot of what I love and look for in comic book storytelling today can be traced back to Vertigo and that long summer when I read Swamp Thing with new eyes.

David Brooke: Growing up, I knew of Sandman and dabbled a bit with the series, but I was always a bit too young for the imprint. I started reading comics in 1992 with Amazing Spider-Man #363 and was heavily into superheroes. It wasn’t until 1999 when Flinch came about that I finally discovered a whole new world of dark horror and fantasy comics. The series cover, in particular, blew me away (see below) and the creators involved were impressive. Not that I knew it at the time, but writers like Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis, and Bill Willingham lent their talents to the anthology style horror series.

DC Comics

Jim Lee and Frank Quitely did the art, so you can imagine how impressive that first issue was! The series lasted 16 issues but was an incredible introduction for me at just the right age to pick up the series. From there the rest is history and I’ve dabbled in horror and twisted comic storytelling ever since. Heck, I’ve loved comic anthologies in general ever since too and that’s thanks to Vertigo.

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