I was shell-shocked at yesterday's news that Vertigo chief Karen Berger was leaving her position, after 30-some odd years at DC Comics. All good things must come to an end, but the news was a bitter punctuation mark on a year that's seen DC take financial liberties with the work of a protesting Alan Moore, the man inadvertently responsible for Vertigo, as well as cancel the imprint's longest-running title, Hellblazer, to fully shift that "for mature readers" character over to the superhero-friendly DC Universe.
I don't know if this was Berger's way of saying, "Enough is enough," but something seems to be going on behind closed doors over there. Some of the creatives, most vocally Rob Liefeld, have complained about the shifting nature of DC editorial, and if these rumors are to be believed, that more New52 books are rotating writers of their books against their will, then there's more to this story than meets the eye. Berger's Vertigo brand was not involved with the New52, of course, but there's a perception that all energies are being expended to promote the new superhero line, leaving Vertigo as DC's afterthought.
Vertigo's impact on comics is massive, and the brand could definitely use a push (like the DCU got with New52 or like Marvel's doing with Marvel NOW). We're seeing a lot of creators take Vertigo-like titles to companies like Image instead. If DC is serious about keeping Vertigo around, post-Berger, they may need to re-examine their agreements with creators and open up their gates as the destination place to bring comic pitches for adults. Strengthen the line, and the readers will come (and it's not what they have now is bad - it's just there are fewer big books). Vertigo has Neil Gaiman reviving Sandman in 2013 (for a mini-series), but how great would it be if they could say, "Hey, you liked Sandman? Well, we've got a bunch of monthly books that might be right up your alley."
I think of Vertigo books as the ones that attract people that don't consider themselves comic fans. Sandman is the big one, but there are others too, like V for Vendetta, Preacher, Y the Last Man, DMZ, 100 Bullets, and Fables. I can relate my love of comics to someone who has read a Vertigo book and enjoyed it; they can understand the storytelling potential in sequential art. I think of Vertigo as the entry point for a lot of current female comic fans as well (through high-profile, easily-accesible books that didn't feature male power fantasies at their core). These fans are driving a lot of the online conversation right now, as they try to change the "boys club" way of thinking that's soured well past its expiration date. I think of Vertigo books as the ones that muscled into legit bookstores, forever changing the way comics are sold (and read), and turning the mainstream perception that comics are for kids.
We have a lot to thank Karen Berger for.