1993-2018: Twenty-Five Years of Vertigo Comics
The Vertigo imprint was born in 1993 under the guidance of DC editor Karen Berger; it initially brought together six ongoing series published by DC Comics, notably Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol and Sandman. Those widely successful series were praised for their original, ambitious storylines that sought to break free from narrative and generic conventions. Most of these comics were scripted by British authors whom DC had recruited following Alan Moore’s success on Swamp Thing and Watchmen, forming the bulk of what was known as the “British Invasion”. From just six ongoing series, Vertigo soon extended its line, establishing itself as a halfway house between the mainstream comics industry and the alternative/independent scene. Vertigo defined its identity as that of a game-changer, championing the progressive ideas put forward by DC’s president Jenette Kahn, who had been instrumental in the reconsideration of creators and in the legitimisation of the comics medium. Vertigo’s most visible commitment was its decision to develop many creator-owned series, whose rights belonged to creators rather than publishers. Beyond its initial success, Vertigo in the 2000s was a home for widely recognised original creations such as Y, the Last Man, Fables or 100 Bullets. The imprint left a lasting mark on the US comics industry; it ushered in the era of star writers, contrasting with the focus on artists that had characterised earlier periods; it pioneered the trade paperback format (TPB, sometimes called “graphic novel”) which played a central role in the medium’s struggle for legitimacy; finally, it destabilized the hegemony of the superhero genre and paved the way for major changes in reader demographics.
However, in recent years, Vertigo’s specific identity has begun to wane as some of its major creators turned to other publishers – for instance, Brian K. Vaughan’s best-selling series Saga is being published by Image Comics, while Garth Ennis took The Boys to Dynamite Entertainment after DC (outside Vertigo) cancelled it. Crucially, in 2013, Karen Berger left the imprint after the 2010 changes that modified creators’ contracts and stripped Vertigo of all its corporate-owned series. The last member of the original Vertigo team, Shelly Bond, was let go in 2016 after she helped Gerard Way set up his new imprint at DC, Young Animal, whose initial four ongoing series included two Vertigo spin-offs, while Vertigo struggled to renew itself.
Twenty-five years after its creation, the label is still standing and has already left a substantial mark. Many of the industry’s top professionals who debuted under Berger and Bond’s stewardship now occupy important positions at other publishers, continuing Vertigo’s legacy. Berger and Bond themselves went on to create their own imprints outside of DC : Berger Books is set to debut in early 2018 with Dark Horse, while Shelly Bond’s Black Crown began publishing under IDW.
During this first French symposium entirely dedicated to Vertigo on the occasion of its twenty-fifth birthday, presenters are invited to tackle these issues from all methodological angles. Suggested areas of investigation include:
- V for Vertigo: The consistency and specificity (or lack thereof) of the Vertigo line as opposed to other publishers and imprints (DC’s own DC universe, its imprints Helix and Wildstorm, and rivals such as Image comics, Avatar Press, Marvel Max…);
- Vertigo Remediated: Vertigo and the contemporary developments of the comics industry towards more transmedial integration (through TV adaptations, video games, etc.);
- Vertigo Vindicates: Vertigo’s legitimizing role and the evolution of the highbrow / lowbrow divide;
- The British Invasion: the importance of British scriptwriters in the comics industry and the depiction of Britishness in the comics and their paratext;
- Vertigo Visions: the importance of Vertigo in the renewal of American production in terms of genre, narrative etc.;
- Editors extraordinaire: the role played by Jenette Kahn, Karen Berger and Shelly Bond;
- L, G, B, T, V: queer and feminist discourses within the imprint.
Proponents wishing to focus on an individual title are invited to elaborate on the significance the title has in Vertigo’s history, how it compares to other comics with the same theme or period, and how it sheds light on the editorial development of the imprint.
The symposium will be held on November 8th and 9th at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme at Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté in Dijon, France. Presentations can be given in French or in English and should not last longer than 30 minutes in order to allow time for questions.
Proposals should be approximately 300 words long, and can be sent in French or in English before April 8th 2018 along with a short biography of the author.
Please send proposals to both members of the organising committee.
Isabelle Licari-Guillaume (Université Bordeaux Montaigne) firstname.lastname@example.org
Siegfried Würtz (Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté) email@example.com
Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Henri Garric, Université de Franche-Comté
Nicolas Labarre, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Irène Langlet, Université de Limoges
Carpenter, Greg. The British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and the Invention of the Modern Comics Book Writer. Sequart Research & Literacy Organization, 2016. Print.
Dony, Christophe. “Reassessing the Mainstream vs. Alternative/Independent Dichotomy or, the Double Awareness of the Vertigo Imprint.” Comics in Dissent: Alternative, Independence. Ed. Tanguy Habrand, Gert Meesters, and Christophe Dony. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège, 2014. Print.
---. “The Rewriting Ethos of the Vertigo Imprint: Critical Perspectives on Memory-Making and Canon Formation in the American Comics Field.” Comicalités (2014): n. pag. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://comicalites.revues.org/1918>.
Gabilliet, Jean-Paul. Des comics et des hommes: histoire culturelle des comic books aux États-Unis. Nantes: Éd. du Temps, 2004. Print.
Licari-Guillaume, Isabelle. ‘Vertigo’s British Invasion’: La revitalisation par les scénaristes britanniques des comic books grand public aux États-Unis (1983-2013). PhD dissertation. Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 2017. Print.
Round, Julia. “‘Is This a Book?’ DC Vertigo and the Redefinition of Comics in the 1990s.” The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts. Ed. Paul Williams and James Lyons. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. 14–30. Print.