For the past year, Shelly Bond has been working almost nonstop as the newly appointed executive editor of Vertigo, DC Entertainment’s nonsuperhero comics and graphic novel imprint. Bond, who began her Vertigo tenure in 1995 as assistant editor, took over the direction of the imprint following former executive editor Karen Berger’s departure in March 2013.
Berger left DC in the wake a corporate reorganization that also saw the departure of former DC president and publisher Paul Levitz. And there could be more changes ahead, as DC plans to move all of its editorial operations to Los Angeles. Berger had led Vertigo since its launch in 1993, putting together a roster of influential comics writers—including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughan, and Neil Gaiman—and, in many ways, ushering in an era of more diverse graphic novel subject matter that continues today.
Her exit left the industry speculating on the future of Vertigo and on how Bond would fare in her new role. But according to Bond, Vertigo is doing just fine, and she outlined plans to carry on the imprint’s legacy of iconoclastic comics. “It’s been a nonstop thrill ride,” Bond said, reflecting on her first year as executive editor. “What we really wanted to do was defy everybody’s expectations about what we could do with comics. I think the proof, for booksellers, begins right now.”
Last May saw the launch of Vertigo’s “Defy” marketing initiative, promoting comics that defy expectations and depart from the superhero motif. These include Coffin Hill, a new horror series by writer Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, about a teen hero with a curse that goes back to the Salem witch trials; and Federal Bureau of Physics, by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez, a science fiction tale about an agency that investigates unexplained disturbances in the laws of physics. Vertigo has also just released the first two periodical issues of the Sandman: Overture, a newly serialized prequel to Neil Gaiman’s wildly popular Sandman fantasy series—easily the flagship series in the Vertigo catalogue.
Vertigo’s lists now range from 12 to 15 titles per year. “One of the things that I want to continue to push are the unexpected story angles and the damaged characters—situations that are uncomfortable and strange,” Bond said. “I’d like to think we’re going to continue the tradition of creating properties that provoke and inspire.” According to DC executives, Vertigo is promoting its catalogue with a $250,000 marketing plan that’s spread across print and online outlets, with an emphasis on the latter. These days, Bond explained, comics serials are designed to be collected into books, and the initial story arcs of Vertigo’s new serials are being collected into trade paperbacks.
Vertigo publishes both original graphic novels—complete trade books—and traditional serialized comic books. Bond explained that for its current list, Vertigo is speeding up the release of trade paperback collections. When a periodical series’ story arc (usually at least six issues) concludes, Vertigo releases a trade book collection of the serialized issues one month later; one month after that, the next story arc in the continuing series begins.
This spring, the first collected volumes of Oliver and Rodriquez’s Federal Bureau of Physics, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Brother Lono, Jeff Lemire’s Trillium, and Kittredge and Miranda’s Coffin Hill are among the titles Vertigo will release. Along with these collections, look for deluxe hardcover editions of several acclaimed, long-running Vertigo series, such as the latest volume of Brian Wood’s dystopian neo-civil war series, DMZ; the horror series American Vampire, created by Stephen King, with writer Scott Synder and artist Rafael Albuquerque; and Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s New York Times bestseller, Daytripper. No original graphic novels have been announced yet.
“Vertigo readers are trade paperback readers,” Bond said, discussing the plan to quickly produce trade paper collections. “Our periodical sales are decent, but our trade paperback sales are tremendous. We decided that we would like to get ahead of the curve with our audience.”
John Cunningham, v-p of marketing at DC Entertainment, said, “One major goal [of the marketing plan] is to maximize retailer attention to the launch of these new series in trade paperback. While the books have been in the direct market [or comics shop market] for a few months now, they are brand-new series to the book market. We also want to drive consumers to the next issue in the series; hence, the quickness of getting these books to market.”
Vertigo also plans to see what opportunities arise, as its stories are adapted for TV and movies. Hellblazer, the imprint’s occult detective series, and iZombie, its humorous brain-splattered series, created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, are both slated for the small screen; meanwhile Hollywood slowly reveals details about the much-anticipated Sandman film, about which, Bond said, there is little to reveal at the moment.
Projects like these calls for repackaging and rereleasing the comics in book editions, Bond said. She added, “iZombie started off as a monthly comic, and it was collected in four trade paperbacks, so we’re planning on rereleasing one volume of the book collection in the fall, anticipating good things about the TV show. We’re always thinking ahead whenever we learn that there are plans to develop those stories into different media.”