The Sunsetting Of DC Vertigo

From this press release:

DC announced today that beginning in 2020, all of its publishing content will be organized and marketed under the DC brand, creating three age-specific labels – DC Kids, DC and DC Black Label – that would absorb all of its existing imprints and focus DC’s publishing content around characters and stories that evolve and mature along with the awareness and sensibilities of DC’s readers. As a result of this new labeling strategy, DC will sunset the Vertigo publishing imprint at the end of the year.

This is a saddening thing. I was never really a “Vertigo writer” – TRANSMETROPOLITAN was brought into Vertigo after the sunsetting of the DC Helix line it was actually created for and published by, and I only did a handful of issues of HELLBLAZER before I had to leave, I never really “fit” there the way Garth and Grant and everyone else did, never for a moment felt like I was in that club – but I’ve always believed that DC Vertigo was central to the health of the American medium. Its creation made the medium a better place, and its sunset will make the medium poorer. Companies like Vault Comics have stepped into the breach, to be sure — their line is very much an early-Vertigo ideal. But: a giant media company putting relatively serious resources into serious work that the company would not own but simply believed should be published? That was a major statement about original creator-owned cross-genre/non-genre narrative art and its importance. Something of importance sailed away at sunset tonight, and I suspect we may not see it again. Good night, you crooked old house of mystery and secrets. I’ll miss you.

WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE, Emily Carroll

I’ve followed Emily Carroll’s work since her webcomics days, and I was delighted to learn of this book, published by the magnificent Koyama Press.

She does things with the page that are partway between webcomic, manga and children’s picture book (it’s not for children).  Anyone working in comics should be looking at this.  

When you learned to do comics on the scroll, you look at the solid page in very different ways, I guess. There’s something completely brave and fresh about how she cracks out of standard ideas about panelling and progression, and being unafraid to look at picture-book narrative constructs to serve a story that is not for children without ever once being twee or cute. There’s an immense energy and a sense that she gives no fucks for your rules.

I mean, I must have scribbled down ten pages of notes after my first read. It distills enough ideas about comics to coalesce about five different ways forward.

WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE (UK) (US)

Comics Train: 5

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series comics train

I do still have a little bucket list. Like, I’d like to try and do a monthly black and white book. I miss the prevalence of black and white comics. They mostly went away in the comics-shop market, and I think that’s sad. And weird, given that one of the most popular monthly comics in the world, THE WALKING DEAD, is black and white.

I’d do 24-page black-and-white guts — that’s three signatures — 20 pages of comics and space for endpapers and design elements. Wrapped in a cover of a thicker stock. Which would be printed in colour, but I’d have the colour limited in some way. Limited palette, or monochrome art with colour design elements.

I know nobody who would draw or buy that sort of thing. Which is why it will stay on the bucket list until I die. But it’s one of the things I like to think about.

Everything got very samey, didn’t it?

Apropos of nothing, except perhaps that it’s not “samey,” I happened to read a comic called DEAD KINGS, and the writer is Steve Orlando and he’s stretching and giving a sense of what he can really do, and the artist is Matthew Dow Smith and god damn did that guy get good.

Ian MacEwan

Comics artist Ian MacEwan has just loaded his portfolio into Dropbox for public access and damn that guy’s got good. If he’s not on your list of people to work with at this point, then I don’t even know what you’re doing. Go and look.

Emil Ferris

God damn.

From MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS, just an amazing act of artistic courage in visual narrative. What a wonderful book.

BRITISH ICE

I just came across this book on Top Shelf’s catalogue, and it’s not out until 2020, so this is very much a note to myself aside from anything else, but I also wanted to save this superb cover. Owen D Pomery is the creator, whose background is in architecture (not unusual in comics – see also Dave Gibbons of WATCHMEN fame) and who operates an attractive website.

Comics Train: 4

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series comics train

Pausing here to do something entirely speculative.

One of my very first books was black and white, 48 pages (I think!) with a heavy stock cover. I remember being sad at the time that it was being saddle-stitched (by which we mean just a few staples in the middle) rather than perfect-bound (the binding that provides the book its flat spine, which means you can shelve it and see the title printed on the spine).

48 pages, for me, is the lower end of the “graphic novella” length. I say “for me” because this stuff is all entirely personal and arbitrary, I’m sure. But when I’ve done 48-page works with a level of control, I’ve had them perfect-bound and called them graphic novellas. CRECY, AETHERIC MECHANICS, FRANKENSTEIN’S WOMB. I’ll get back to this.

There is, I think, a weird space just under that. Forty black and white saddle-stitched pages wrapped in a heavy stock cover. The saddle-stitching says it’s not a permanent shelf-life item. It’s a chapter, a periodical instalment. It’s not a novella. Bit it’s big. And black-and-white means you can probably sell it for the local equivalent of five American dollars.

I have a particular way I would do this. I daydream about it. I mean, I’ll never actually do it. But, as a hobby, I put the occasional note into a document that is becoming, basically, a thing I’m writing entirely for myself, which will never see print.

It is (probably) a five hundred page story, that would come out in this format monthly. Which is impossible, because a comics artist would die or take four years to draw the whole thing before release. And it would take a year to write it. Functionally Not A Thing That Can Happen. But, in my head, it does. It’s like my Bela Tarr movie on paper, with significant text elements, sitting in negative space next to panels.

No more than four panels a page. Each page should only take four hours to draw. Every four days an offering should be burned outdoors, on a grey stone.

Every forty hours the artist must stand by the window and listen to the loveless wind howl outside while slowly eating a boiled potato

And if you decide to borrow all this and do it before me? In the words of someone else: whatever the hell is wrong with you is clearly a lot worse than whatever the hell is wrong with me, so good luck and godspeed.

Seriously, though. Given that 20 pages of comics sell for four bucks now, imagine what would happen if a bunch of people went this crazy. That would, at the very least, be fun.

Comics Train: 3

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series comics train

Someone jokingly asked me, a few months back, what I’d do if I were running a comics publishing company.  They meant Marvel or DC. But that’s not me.

This is me:

That is 5.25 inches on one side and about 7.7 inches on the long side.  It contains 96 pages within its perfect-bound card covers, and in this book 94 pages of them are comics.

And it’s black and white.

This is the old Paradox Mystery format, which, to my mind, did everything right.  Except that each book was a three-part serial, released monthly.  And bookstores, the natural audience for these works, do not accommodate monthly serials. Even Stephen King couldn’t make it work.  Each one should have been a 96-page standalone work.

It is otherwise very nearly perfect as a format.  All Andy Helfer had to do was to push back against everyone who wanted serial works, and say, no, these are going to be self-contained books for reading in a single sitting, like Georges Simenon’s MAIGRET books.

But it was not to be.  Though I should note that this line produced A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, which became the film directed by David Cronenberg.

The Paradox books had a roughly unified trade dress, but it needed something just a little more flexible and a little more eyecatching.  It needed Romek Marber, frankly.  I’ve talked many times before about the Marber Grid, the template created in 1961 for Penguin Books. 

I can daydream about setting Rian Hughes to generate his own Hughes Grid, right? And Rian styling them all with his own typefaces?

I could happily have spent much of my life just writing three of these a year. 90-page black and white stories in a comfortable format that makes you want to curl up with them for an hour or two.  I could have had a rack of them like Ingmar Bergman movies by now.

The Paradox Mystery books are, of course, from the mid-Nineties. Before manga exploded in the bookstore market.  What were outliers back then are possibly right in the zone today.  Nobody’s listened to me about this over the last twenty years and nobody will listen to me about it now.  And quite rightly, because I’m entirely mad.

I would only publish three kinds of graphic novels.  Fiction, Documentary and Theory. I would go bankrupt in about eight minutes.  I would love every second.

(Also. yes, I have had that copy of HUNTER’S HEART to hand since 1995. It’s a lost future.)

Comics Train: 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series comics train

I accidentally sort of invented a weird cheap comics format in 2005.

This is just slightly technical. Comics are printed in what are called signatures – eight pages to a signature. Comics have generally been four signatures, 32 pages – either with a cover on a different stock, or, increasingly from the early 2000s, what are called “self-cover” – the cover is on the same stock as the interior signatures.

Comics were getting expensive — there was the beginnings of pressure to go from a standard $2.99 to $3.99 — and also getting less dense. So I came up with something stupid. A three-signature self-cover comic. So the whole thing, including the covers, was 24 pages, all on the same stock. And the story inside was sixteen pages of comics, with backmatter notes to fill out the page count.

(None of this was radical. Previous to, say, the early 1980s, many comics still contained only sixteen or seventeen pages of material. History is there to be learned on and stood upon to reach for something hopefully new.)

I set up many difficult problems for myself on this book, with the additional work involved to make it look not-difficult. The main one was this: each issue would be a self-contained story. A new reader could join the book at any point, not be lost, and get a complete experience out of it.

And it sold for USD $1.99.

Oh, the hate mail I got from retailers.

Until the first issue went to a fifth printing.

And my email instead filled up with shock and pleasure at a comic that wasn’t trying to gouge their pockets.

For various reasons, that project came to an end. My friend and co-creator on that book, Ben Templesmith, went on to bigger and better things, became completely independent and runs his own show through Patreon now. https://www.patreon.com/templesmith

LIke I say, I set myself a whole bunch of things to solve, and this was one: in 1984, Alan Moore did an interview in a fanzine called Arkensword, and the interview is not, to my knowledge, online, but there was a bit in there that hit me so hard that I’ve been quoting it ever since: that you can walk into a conics shop with the change in your pocket and come out with, in Alan’s phrase, “a real slab of culture.”

Most things you want to read are $3.99 now. Laying down a line of books in this format at — well, it’s fifteen years later, so say $2.50 — would be a significant statement.

Image produced, to my memory, three series in this format. The other two gave you Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.

So, you know, don’t tell me the format is bad and evil and cannot add to the culture.

(all notions herein Not Fully Baked)