NOTE: Kevin Baker was incorrectly identified in early verions of this story. PW regrets the error.
At their Saturday panel DC's Vertigo imprint announced several new original graphic novels as well as a new push to acquire graphic novels overall. To that end, editors Jonathan Vankin and Joan Hilty are being positioned to concentrate on acquiring graphic novels and the line is throwing out the call to literary agents and creators that the doors are open to a wide variety of material, including memoir, nonfiction and realistic fiction.
|Jeff Lemire's The Nobody|
That variety is reflected in three graphic novels Vertigo announced at the panel: Second Lives by famed alternative cartoonist Peter Bagge; Luna Park by bestelling author Kevin Baker and artist Daniel Zezelj; and The Nobody by Eisner-nominated indie cartoonist Jeff Lemire.
Vankin is a four year veteran at Vertigo, having edited such well received graphic novels as The Alcoholic, The Quitter and Incognegro. Hilty previously worked at Vertigo in the '90s but switched to the DC universe line in 2000. She'll continue to edit a few DCU titles but will concentrate on graphic novels for Vertigo. She previously acquired Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker for the imprint.
According to Vertigo senior v-p and executive editor Karen Berger, the move is a natural for a line that already boasts a strong backlist. "For the last decade we've done about 2-4 original graphic novels a year," Berger told PW Comics Week. "But with the publishing industry at large catching on to how wonderful graphic novels are and the category doing so well, we wanted to ramp up our acquisitions."
Vertigo made its reputation as a home for dark fantasies such as The Sandman and Preacher but its most recent original graphic novel titles have opened up their range of subject matter, Berger continued. "We're really moving out of the traditional genres Vertigo is known for publishing and into the reality based fiction that you might expect from other book publishers."
|Above: Art by Daniel Zezelj for Luna Park|
To wit,Bakeris best known for his historical immigrant fiction including Dreamland, which Berger calls one of her favorite books. In Luna Park he and Zezelj tell the story of two contemporary Coney Island drifters:Alexei Sterniklov, a hitman for the Russian mob, and his girlfriend Marina, a tarot reader/prostitute. The story goes back and forth between the present and the past to explore various aspects of Russian culture.
|Peter Bagge characters from Second Lives.|
Bagge is best known as the creator of Buddy Bradley, whose comic adventures defined the slacker era of Seattle and beyond. Second Lives is a dark comedy about two college roommates who meet ten years later and discover they are not who they thought they were. Berger praised the "goofy storytelling and characters, mixed with great insight into human relationships" that Bagge brings to the tale.
Lemire is the author of the much praised Essex Trilogy from Top Shelf and in The Nobody he returns to his favorite themes of identity and small town life. The tale is loosely inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, and follows an odd stranger with a bandaged face who moves to the tiny, isolated fishing town of Large Mouth. "The story of how he got the bandages is a secret and how he got bandaged up is very much open to interpretation," said Berger, calling Lemire a " new and exciting talent." Both this and Bagge's books were acquired by Vertigo editor Bob Schreck.
With Vertigo looking to greatly expand its original graphic novel offerings in 2009 and beyond, the question arises of whether the traditional comics economic model of publishing periodicals and turning them into collections still applies. Berger points out that it's more a matter of a new economic model joining a proven one. "The periodical model is still viable and valid for what Vertigo does," said Berger. "There are still people who like to read monthly comics and its how we built such a healthy and thriving backlist. So that model is still very profitable for us and we expect it to stay that way. Original graphic novels are a different model for us, but it's one that makes creative and business sense."
Vertigo has several graphic novels in the pipeline that have been announced but not scheduled—including one by Peter Straub and another based on the work of musician Neil Young—that Berger said help demonstrate how the line has built upon its traditional base of subject matter. "We're casting a wider net and publishing a much bigger range of material. We're interested in hearing from creators that we know and love and creators that we don't yet know but will love and people who never thought they would pitch to us," said Berger. "There's so much that can be done with graphic novels and we want to have Jonathan and Joan broadening our reach and introducing new talent."