Vertigo’s creative figurehead, Senior VP-Executive Editor Karen Berger, returned to Chicago for what she estimated to be her first convention panel there in 15 years on Friday. An eclectic table of writers and artists, both new and established at DC’s imprint, were present at the the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo panel to discuss their titles, including “American Vampire,” “The Green Woman” and “Neil Young’s Greendale,” as well as what lies ahead for “Jack of Fables.”
Berger’s Vertigo editorial presentation covered the deals and chance meetings that made the long-running imprint’s current catalog possible, as well giving details on a persistent, well-known musician who knew he wanted to partner with artist Cliff Chiang for his first venture into comics.
“Neil had seen some samples of art that Karen had sent him, and really took to it in a way that boggles my mind, because he just loved it and wouldn’t let go of the idea of me doing it,” Chiang explained. “Karen had called me up and said, ‘I know you’re probably working on something now, but do you think you might be able to do this?”
Chiang wasn’t available at that point in time, but Young remained interested in working with the artist, so Berger eventually tried recruiting him a second time.
“Six months later, I got another call from Karen,” Chiang recalled. “I’d just started ‘Green Arrow & Black Canary,’ which was going to be an ongoing thing for me, and as much I would’ve liked to, I turned it down again.”
It wasn’t until the third time around that Young intervened personally and interrupted a halftime performance by Tom Petty to plead for Chiang to pick up the project.
“A year and a half later, I’m off ‘Green Arrow/Black Canary’ and it’s Super Bowl Sunday,” the artist said. An email showed up on his computer that read, “I don’t know if this is possible, but is there any way you might be able to do Greendale?”
“It was signed, ‘N.Y.,'” Chiang recalled. “It took me forever just to figure out that the initials N.Y. were Neil’s.”
The message that brought writer and “One Life to Live” actor Michael Easton to work with his “Green Woman” co-author, novelist Peter Straub, meanwhile, came with a small gift.
“One of the books that I read to her was ‘Koko,'” Easton explained. “She passed away in ’94, and I was going through the studio one day and this gentleman passed me by. He was with his daughter, and when I reached in my mailbox that night there was a book there for me.”
The book was a copy of Straub’s novel “Koko” with a message from the author. About a month later, the two of them began swapping ideas that eventually led to their story in “The Green Woman.”
“Michael and I got along really well right from the start,” Straub said.
Another relationship that’s gone well since the beginning has been the one between Vertigo and writer Bill Willingham’s “Fables” books. Willingham promised the attending audience a big shake-up in the near future for his book “Jack of Fables,” which is nearing its 50-issue mark.
“We’re closing in on [‘Jack of Fables’ #50], and [it] is going to be quite the game changer in the most literal way possible,” Willingham said, though he didn’t get much more specific than revealing that the arc would involve Jack Frost, the illegitimate son of Jack Horner and the Frost Queen in the land of Giants.
The rest of the presentation included peeks at Matt Kindt’s original graphic novel “Revolver,” the return of Shade to the pages of “Hellblazer” in issue #’s 267-270 and two biographical projects titled “Cuba My Revolution” and “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.” When showing the images to the assembled crowd, Berger explained that they all fit into her broader vision for Vertigo, which she said remains unchanged even after all these years.
“I think Vertigo has always been about just shaking up the status quo,” she explained, “telling stories that making you really think in a variety of genres.”