NYCC: Vertigo Voices - Crime Time

Crime is on the rise at Vertigo, and it's not going to let up anytime soon.

Will Dennis and Jonathan Vankin, senior editors, led the Vertigo Voices: Crime Time panel at New York Comic Con, which starred creators Brian Azzarello ("Joker," "100 Bullets"), Peter Milligan ("Hellblazer"), Christos Gage ("Thunderbolts") and James Romberger.

Centered around themes of crime and noir, Vertigo's new line kicks off with seven original graphic novel that will start hitting stores in the third quarter of 2009. The books' formats will reflect the tone of the line, with each digest-sized, 180-200 page OGN presented in either black-and-white or toned with shades of grey. Furthermore, each cover will feature an illustration by Lee Bermejo to stlyishly tie the line together.

The first book to be announced was Azzarello and Victor Santos' "Filthy Rich," the story of a disgraced former football star who gets hired to act as the bodyguard for a wealthy man's spoiled daughter. Things don't work out well for the book's lead, as the girl-out-of-control proceeds to drag him through the mud. "She's smart and he's dumb," said Azzarello, who promised readers the book would contain "a lot of sex."

Dennis and Vankin were quick to point out the book's cover, their their favorite in the line, because of its bold visual style.

Second up, the panel discussed novelist Ian Rankin's "Dark Entries," story, which puts a supernatural twist on the locked-room mystery tale. With art by Werther Dell'Edera ("Loveless"), the plot follows a private detective who's been hired as a mole for a reality television show set in a haunted mansion. When people start dying, it's up to him to figure out what's going on, as the producer's have lost control of the situation. Rankin had originally pitched the idea as a "Hellblazer" story, but it didn't have time to manifest properly until now.

Christos Gage and Chris Samnee's "Area Ten" came next. It follows a detective who's experienced trepanation, a pseudoscience procedure that removes pieces of a human skull in the name of enhanced thinking. In this story, that means a drill through the forehead and into Broadmann's tenth area of the brain. Gage said the protagonist has "either awakened a new area of perception or is just going mad."

Peter Milligan and James Romberger's "The Bronx Kill" looks at one of New York's rougher neighborhoods through the eyes of a man caught up in a conflict that spans generations. In his search for his missing wife, a young writer exposes deep family secrets and a past he'd rather turn away from, eventually learning the reason for the name, "The Bronx Kill."

Romberger, a New York native, said he approached the story by taking a trip to its setting. "The problem is, if you're going there - day or night - there's nobody around, so when you run into somebody, it's kind of a flip of the coin. If it's bad, it's gonna be bad."

Milligan said he initially hadn't wanted to go to the Bronx so it could continue to be whatever he wanted it to be in his mind. Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately? - Romberger said, "it was pretty much exactly like [Milligan] had imagined it."

Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso are behind "A Sickness in the Family," a story Dennis and Vankin described as "similar to an old E.C. Comic" for its familial horrors. The story exposes a family's dysfunction - a characteristic that ultimately leads to murder.

Both Dennis and Vankin stopped short of comparing "A Sickness in the Family" to Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," but did point out its horror themes and said the book would answer the question, "What is the sickness in the family?"

"The Chill," by Jason Starr and Mick Burlarmity, is a serial killer title that follows the curse of an irresistible beauty from ancient Irish lore that lures men to their dooms. Like Azzarello's book, it promised to contain "quite a bit of sex" along with police procedural and slightly supernatural qualities.

Lastly came the announcement of "Cowboys" by crime novelist Gary Phillips ("Angel Town") and Brian Hurt. "Cowboys" is a reference to "Cowboy Cops," who bend or break rules in the name of self-preservation or fear. Specifically, this story explores how racial tensions are exposed in high stress police situations and "why police shootings happen." The plot itself pits two undercover cops, a white gang leader, and a black record executive against each other with possibly only one making it out of the situation alive.

The New York audience asked questions about crime fiction in the cultural zeitgeist, and whether Vertigo's new line of books was influenced by the success of similarly themed television shows such as "The Wire" and "The Shield." Vankin and Dennis said the line wasn't a response to what was hot, rather good timing in "just one of those perfect storms," whereby certain kinds of stories rise to pop culture prevalence.

A fan asked about the price point for each book. Dennis and Vankin said they were working on it, but assured fans each hardcover would retail for less than $20.

A fan asked what the creative challenges were for the creators who were used to working in larger formats with more room on a page. Given Azzarello's penchant for writing many panels on a single page and Santo's background with much larger European comic pages, Dennis did try to convince the writer to reduce his panels per page. Azzarello said that Dennis "won the argument," but that he did what he wanted to do anyway. Milligan and Romberger actually seemed to like the smaller page size, citing speed and rhythm as two advantages to the smaller format.

With the cancellation of DC Comics' all-ages/girl-geared Minx line earlier this year, one fan asked if the crime line would get enough mass support to succeed where Minx failed. John Cunningham, DC's Vice President of Marketing was in attendance, and assured the panel that Random House was behind the line and the books would be getting "a very aggressive push."

Another fan asked if any of the projects will see sequels. "None were designed with sequels in mind, but we'd love to," said Dennis.

The panel stated that the release calendar isn't finalized, but that "Filthy Rich" and "Dark Entries" will be out in September, with the rest to follow in short order.

Another fan wanted to know if the black-and-white, digest sized format was a kind cost saving measure or an intentional creative decision. Vankin and Dennis said, "It just seemed like a good format" for the books and their intended readers, for the sake of "mood and portability."

Several questions went to Azzarello, who recently turned in his final issue of "100 Bullets." The writer confirmed that he and "100 Bullets" collaborator Eduardo Risso are currently developing a new project. He was quick to draw attention back to the crime books, though, stating how excited he was to work on the new line.

One attendee asked why each of the creators wanted to be a part of the line.

"Cash," said Dennis, adding, "and to get on this panel."

"I'm seriously jazzed about this stuff, so you'd better fucking buy these books," said Azzarello to a laughing crowd.

Dennis ended the panel by thanking the creators and fans, specifically crediting Azzarello's nearly run on "100 Bullets" for giving credence to a line devoted to crime stories by many authors of prominence outside of the comics genre.

"Thank you all for your support over the past ten years," said Azarello, "We wouldn't be here without you."

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