Comics Newsletter

The New DC/Vertigo: “Fighting a War to Tell Stories”

S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

They say you can never go home again.

“They” have clearly never spoken with DC/Vertigo‘s executive editor, Mark Doyle.

“We have some exciting books,” Doyle said at a press conference during San Diego Comic Con…

and it’s an exciting time for Vertigo. We’re hoping we’re going to flip the script a little, and change things, get people excited again… this is the beginning of all of it, the beginning of changing that conversation.

Everything you loved about Vertigo in the ’80s and ’90s is back with an updated sensibility and vision that will knock your socks off and then punch you in the face. The relaunch is a recommitment to telling stories about “things that matter,” stories no other publisher would touch with a fifty foot pole topped with C-4.

That last is a very, very good thing for anyone, and everyone, who is passionate about comics.

Goddess Mode book cover“I’m here,” Goddess Mode (December 2018) author Zoe Quinn declared, “to get confrontational…The more you learn about how messed up stuff is, the more you think ‘there’s nothing I can do.’ What if I’m messy, what if I say the wrong thing…what if I make things worse? This is a space to talk about that struggle.”

“We spent a long time in the beginning,” Doyle explained, “talking about what do we want to do? What do we want to say if we’re going to do this? We might as well publish stuff that’s exciting…I said to the team, ‘We need to go out and find stuff that makes us say, should we be publishing this? This is a little bit scary.’”

High Level book coverHigh Level (February 2019) author Rob Sheridan sees the relaunch as an opportunity to “comment on the here and now, extrapolating on where we’ll end up if we continue on our present course.” Goddess Mode artist Robbie Rodriguez added, “I had to be quiet at my last job. This is a chance to do something else, to be a loudmouth.”

Five of the seven initial books feature powerful, fully-clothed women and even *gasp* a lesbian couple and an appropriately dressed teenager, on their covers, rarities in an industry that has catered to the male gaze since its inception. Quinn said, of crafting the lady-centric stories that inspired the art:

“Why not have a story all about women? How many are all about men and no one comments on it? I feel like there are too many stories where there’s one chick and you have to tell a story explicitly about gender. If there’s one character of a certain group, there’s too much shoved on them. I like messy women.  All of the music and stories I love are about women who are messy and complicated. Riot Grrls. Give me a cast full of Harley Quinns who are dealing with their stuff. Let them have that depth, let them be interesting. Let them deal with that stuff without having to be a model in a medium on top of that.”

American Carnage book coverBryan Hill, author of American Carnage (November 2018) used his book as an opportunity write a story set in the present day because, “it’s the most uncomfortable place to do it,” and to publicize the idea that he, “had to learn how to be safe…if you want to survive in this country as an African American male, you must master the art of being safe.” His main character, Richard King, is an ex–FBI agent, a biracial man who can pass as white, and is sent to infiltrate a white supremacist organization where he finds himself attracted to the power and influence available to those in its ranks. “I want readers to know,” Hill said:

“Richard isn’t a paladin. I don’t even know if he’s a good person! He might be effective at what he does but he’s not being asked to do it because he’s good; he’s being asked to do this because he will. That seemed like a good place to start a narrative.”

He continued:

“I want to diffuse the idea that a just society depends on us stopping hating each other when that’s where we want to go. What I experienced (while researching white supremacist organizations) is that people don’t want to hate you. It’s HARD to continue to hate. When I was in front of someone who had branded themselves a certain way, and there were some scary fuckers, but when they saw they couldn’t make you angry, couldn’t lead you to that place, they would start to talk about being a veteran and not really knowing what to do with themself [sic] after, or everyone lost a job where they’re from…they didn’t know how to take care of their family or someone got hooked on pills and it was searching for a thing. You could see them, in their eyes, when a switch would go off and they would realize, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not hating anymore. I need to hate again.'”

Hill credits Vertigo’s editorial team with both having the foresight to green light a complex, difficult book, and giving him get to a place where he could tell the story he felt needed to be told.

Border Town book coverEric M. Esquivel, author of Border Town (September 2018), the title that will lead the non-Sandman related portion of the relaunch, said he has pitched Latino-centric stories on multiple occasion but has always been asked to take out defining bits or “make it more universal.” Vertigo allowed him to craft a tale “that was six of my pitches in one” and said “cool!” Whereas other publishers have shied away from the potential fall out, Vertigo grabbed Esquivel’s project “about American teenagers.  We have a realistic cast and suddenly the book is political.” And in a time when borders are a divisive topic, to allow Esquivel to declare:

“The cultures we fantasize about to keep us safe aren’t real. We create them to be comfortable, and it’s much more fun to be uncomfortable and to admit ignorance and learn something or engage with the unknown. In our book, Mictlan is the other world, the unknown! There’s a chupacabra on the cover, guys, and they’re friends with it and they hang out with it. It’s like Scooby Doo but Mexican! You’re not half Irish and half Mexican; that’s the world’s shittiest centaur. You’re all Irish and all Mexican and all American and that’s something I want our kids to know.”

Border Town artist Ramon Villalobos added:

Cultural identity is so rich and it’s unexplored territory for comics and a lot of media in general. It’s cool to be working on that.

Second Coming book coverMark Russell, author of Second Coming (March 2019), the tale of Jesus returning to Earth and being horrified by the things that have been done in the name of Christianity, said:

“I think that the biggest assumption is that people are powerless and we need heroes, elites to come save us when really, it’s the things we can do for each other that will save us, where the real power lies.”

Challenging assumptions. Delving into the human psyche. Examining culture in new, and not-so-easy ways. Exposing the ugly bits and upending existing power structures. Reminding us that, beneath it all, every one of us is human and we have a responsibility to one another.

This is the power of the comics.

This is the new DC/Vertigo.

Readers, you will not be disappointed.

Also, Ramon would like you to know you can wear a fanny pack with shorts or socks with sandals.