I had one of those “I feel old” moments at a party the other week when this self professed comic snob started chatting me up. He was way younger than me and I had to confess that as huge of a comic book fan as I am, my tastes don’t honestly go that far outside of super hero bullshit (where I watch way more series, animated shows, and movies these days than I read comics) and the Vertigo classics. Kid had no idea what I was talking about. He was an Image Comics guy.
Anyway, it’s tough to say how much shit like The Invisibles, Shade the Changing Man, and Transmetropolitan have influenced everything I do in a way. Here’s a fun piece Vulture put together to commemorate the occasion and remind me that if I didn’t have to work a day job, I’d probably just get high and read comics all day. (From Vulture):
“Over the past few years, I’ve repeatedly tried to find a juicy story about the founding of Vertigo, the “mature readers” imprint of DC Entertainment. I always fail, and everyone involved should take that as a compliment. By all accounts, the process behind the scenes was dull (in a good way). As the 1990s dawned, DC Comics editor Karen Berger had already built a name for herself, helming a handful of acclaimed series that walked their own weird path, diverging from the standard all-ages superhero fare that the average comics fan was familiar with. The Sandman, The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Hellblazer, Shade, The Changing Man — these were unprecedented experiments that birthed indelible new characters and reinvented old ones. In shepherding those books, Berger fostered the development of some of comics’ most stunning young talents, many of them British: writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison, to name just a handful. So one day, DC’s powers-that-were asked Berger to set up her own imprint where such creators could tell impressionistic, unsettling, explicit, and formally inventive stories. A few months later, Vertigo was launched. No uphill climb, no personality clashes, no desperate searches for funding. That was that.
In other words, perhaps Vertigo was simply an idea whose time had come, and the Weltgeist had no interest in standing in its way. In January of 1993, 25 years ago, those aforementioned six series got the Vertigo label stamped on their covers and two mini-series became the first titles to begin with said label: Enigma and the Sandman spinoff Death: The High Cost of Living. This landmark is being recognized quietly. To DC’s credit, a celebration-slash-relaunch of the imprint is planned for August, but this frozen month saw no parades for Vertigo. That’s somewhat fitting for an experiment that was remarkable for the degree to which it favored contemplation over bombast, conversation over kicking.
It’s essential to remember how unusual such an approach was back in ’93. The previous few years had seen the rise of the blockbuster superhero comic. Marvel was breaking sales records by hawking titles in which oversize forearms held oversize firearms. DC had punched Superman to death and was rewarded with fevered media coverage. Boob-and-blood-obsessed creators like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld had turned into crossover superstars and joined with some like-minded colleagues to form a publisher called Image. Fans were being told that every issue of these kinds of comics were collector’s items, leading to a speculation bubble the likes of which the industry had never seen. It was an era in which the adolescent froth of sex and violence was quite lucrative, and countless consumers had no reason to believe the ride would ever end.
Then, here came Vertigo, walking leisurely in the opposite direction. Though its writers had great respect for pulpy tales of spandex, they’d also spent considerable time reading — horror of horrors — poetry and prose. Their artists paid homage to cape-and-cowl legends like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to be sure; but they were just as interested in Monet and Dalí. You’d occasionally see characters with some of the trappings of the American superhero, but their adventures felt more like therapy sessions than monomyths.”