CCI: The Vertigo Encyclopedia

After 15 years, Vertigo, the mature readers imprint of DC Comics, is finally getting organized.

Well, not exactly. As fans of Vertigo's many, many popular titles over the years -- such as "The Sandman," "Preacher," "100 Bullets," and "Y: The Last Man" -- would most agree, the publisher has been doing a very good job of putting out top-notch, award- winning material from some of the most esteemed creators in the field since first launching in 1993. But it will soon be a lot easier to keep your favorite Vertigo series straight, and maybe even discover a few new faves in the process as well.

This September, DK Publishing will release "The Vertigo Encyclopedia," a 240-page compendium and in-depth analysis of the many and varied titles that Vertigo has released throughout its 15 years of publishing. Curious about Alan Moore's acclaimed run on "Swamp Thing?" Interested in finding out more about the breadth of work that Grant Morrison has produced for the publisher over the years? Want the correct spelling for Arseface? Then "The Vertigo Encyclopedia" is the book for you.

Written by Alex Irvine ("Hellstorm: Son of Satan," "Batman: Inferno") and sporting a cover by Dave McKean and a forward by Neil Gaiman, "The Vertigo Encyclopedia" aims to be the ultimate source for those curious about any and all things Vertigo.

At this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, DC Comics and DK Publishing held a panel on Thursday, July 24, discussing the creation of the new book, spotlighting its contents, showing a brief video presentation of the process behind the making of "The Vertigo Encyclopedia," and even raffling off two copies of the massive tome to lucky fans months before anyone else will even have the opportunity to purchase the book.

In attendance on the panel, moderated by DC's Group Editor of Licensed Publishing Steve Korte, was Irvine himself, Vertigo's Executive Editor Karen Berger, and Alastair Dougall, senior editor of DK Publishing. After some technical difficulties, the panel commenced with the world premiere screening of the short documentary "The Making of the Vertigo Encyclopedia."

Korte discussed the creation of the book itself, which he likened to the similar "The DC Comics Encyclopedia" that DK published several years ago, but which he said was "about twice as complicated to produce." Largely because, unlike the DCU proper -- where many characters inhabit, share, and interact within the same fictional space -- the majority of Vertigo titles take place in their own separate, compartmentalized "universes," which required a little more detail and explanation for each title's entry in the book when compared to "The DC Comics Encyclopedia." Also, due to the creator-owned aspect of so many Vertigo titles, entries had to be ran past, and approved, by the creators of the books themselves -- which Dougall admitted slowed things down some.

Because Irvine had to read almost every single title that Vertigo has ever published in order to write about them for the book (which, the author freely admitted, was almost as difficult as it sounds �" not the least bit!), that took some time as well. "Everyday I would get boxes of comics in the mail. Literally feet and feet of the things! Which is a terrible job, and that's why I'm complaining about it," Irvine joked. "Believe me, it's hard to complain when you're sitting around and you have a comic book opened and someone comes up to you and says 'what are you doing'? And you get to say 'working.'"

Both Berger and Dougall praised Irvine for his tireless, exacting work in compiling the may entries in the book, but both also hailed the author's writing as well. "I was really impressed not only by the depth and detail that went into it, but also by [Alex's] writing style," Berger said. "Most encyclopedias are boring to read, but not this one."

"Everything that I wrote about I read," Irvine said.

Irvine and Dougall admitted to being fans of several Vertigo titles before working on the book but far from devotees of the entire line itself, and both said that having to delve so deeply into the world of Vertigo for months on end was an eye-opening (not to mention enriching) experience. "I never appreciated the wealth and variety of Vertigo until I actually had to read most of their titles for the encyclopedia," Dougall said. "I re-discovered many of my old favorites and even discovered a bunch of great new titles [that Vertigo has produced over the years] in the process."

While Irvine said that working on the book also made him see many of his favorite Vertigo series from the past in a different light as well: "One of the things that was really neat to me was coming at a series that I've read before in a casual way with new insights and a new approach to them."

Berger said she enjoyed her experience working on the book because, in many ways, it was a trip down memory lane, "It was a great experience to me to be able to re-live many of the books that I've worked on." The editor also said the book could serve as a great resource for anyone who wanted to learn more about all aspects of the Vertigo universe.

"I think this is the first time that anybody has done something massive on Vertigo as a whole. The fact that you can actually go to this one beautiful coffee table book and see all this art and get a detailed synopsis of all these stories is really going to be a great thing for people to have," Berger said. "People might know that Grant Morrison wrote 'Invisibles' or 'Doom Patrol,' but they might not know that he also wrote things like 'Sebastian O' and 'Kill Your Boyfriend.' These great little one-shots."

And how was it trying to sum up something as outre and original as Morrison's "Doom Patrol" run in a few paragraphs? According to Irvine, not the easiest thing in the world. "I defy anyone in this room to boil "Doom Patrol" down into a 500 word summary," he said. "I will give you a million dollars!"

Berger noted that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's "Watchmen" does not have an entry in the encyclopedia, even though it deals with some extremely "mature themes," because the book is published under the DC Comics banner and not the Vertigo imprint (as, in 1986 and 1987, the publication dates for the original "Watchmen" miniseries, Vertigo was not yet even an imprint).

"A lot of thought went into how much space was given to each entry," Dougall said, noting that titles like "The Sandman" or "Preacher" had multiple page entries, while smaller projects were sometimes only allotted a paragraph or two. "With a project of this kind, you have to sort of blow with the wind a bit."

If a wealth of information about everything Vertigo, not to mention the Dave McKean cover and the Neil Gaiman foreword, aren't enough to entice fans to pick up a copy, Berger felt that the price and quality of product should be the tipping point. "It's really a great value [at $29.99]. I was shocked to discover it was so cheap," Berger said. "I'm actually really, really picky about everything that Vertigo publishes. And I'm very pleased with the way this book came out."

Now discuss this story in CBR's Vertigo forum.

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