DC Comics' Vertigo imprint has delivered some of the most beloved original comics of the past 25 years, though of late the division had lost its direction amidst the shakeups that came with the publisher's West Coast relocation. Starting in 2018, a new editorial team and a new wave of Vertigo creators are working to reignite the fire of comics' home for sophisticated suspense and sci-fi.
To celebrate the new direction, the Vertigo staff assembled on stage at Comic-Con International 2018 in San Diego. Taking the mic was Executive Editor Mark Doyle who said "We have a lot of stuff to talk about today," Doyle started. "We're going to break things into different sections...and I wanted to start out with the Sandman universe."
The return of Neil Gaiman's signature creation begins on August 8 with The Sandman Universe #1, which will feature the creator and a whole team of artists working to set up their own spinoffs, four total. Dominike "Domo" Stanton – the artist of House of Whispers with Nalo Hopkinson – took the stage to introduce some of the characters including the human leads from the waking world. "We follow these characters and get a sense of how they interact with each other...there's a younger sister, and [she's] trying to cope with the fact that her older sister is gay. We're playing with these characters' lives and getting to know them."
"This is a shared universe," Doyle said, noting that any book could be read on its own but that the entire line will work together. He added that one of the strengths of the original Sandman was how the world of Dream would impact normal human lives, and that idea will stay strong in these new launches. "If you're a fan of Sandman, this is going to be incredibly rewarding because this picks up right where it left off...this is the sequel to Sandman. And this first issue is the primer that sets everything up." He stressed that the line is full of ongoing series and that plans are being made now for their longterm viability.
Hopkinson then took the mic to explain House of Whispers in detail, particular the family at its heart. One sister in the group slips into a mysterious coma and "Once I decided to set the story in New Orleans, primarily in the French Quarter...that began to give me the flavor of the world they were living in," the writer said. The titular House of Whispers has its own cast of godlike beings who will take the story deeper and weirder.
Doyle shifted focus to the new launches arriving this year including launch title Border Town from Eric M. Esquiviel and artist Ramon Villalobos. "I have a Vertigo tattoo from The Invisibles, so Vertigo means a lot to me," said writer Exquivivel. This series focuses on a town on the border between Mexico and America but also our world and the world beyond. "It's a town that's very racially tense, which is true of the town I grew up in, and a lot of the supernatural weirdness is blamed on immigrants."
Villalobos said it was like "Invisibles meets Dawson's Creek," but Esquiviel called it "If Stranger Things was on Telemundo." As for the political implications of the story, the writer said, "It's not a political statement to say that Mexicans exist." He stressed that he focused the story on kids because he's written all ages comics for years only to hear from local children that they wanted more comics starring kids like them.
Ben Blacker and Mirka Andolfo’s Hex Wives was up next, and the writer said his inspiration came when he saw an old rerun of Betwitched and realized how insane it was that a story focused on how a mystically powered woman spent her time serving an ad man. He added, "This series explores the terrible things men do to women...sometimes without even realizing it." Blacker praised his artist and his all-woman team of editors for helping keep him honest and make the book truly empathetic.
"To get to write an ensemble of strong characters that bounces between soap opera and supernatural and the themes we're dealing with is great," he said. "There's a scene coming up that is perhaps the weirdest and least sexiest sex scene ever and [Mika] was like 'Let's go!'" The artist agreed that "sexy, strange and weird" is what they want to work into the series.
Blacker also praised Doyle for knowing what a Vertigo book should be at a core level and pushing that tone onto the creative teams. "I do feel like this is a line where if you like one book, you're definitely going to want to read all of them. They're different stories, but they all share something," the editor said. Blacker noted that he wants to write this series for 100 issues, so he hopes people show up to experience the start.
Politcal drama, crime fiction and American race relations collide in American Carnage by Bryan Hill and Leandro Fernandez. The writer called the story "The feel-bad book of the summer." He was inspired to write the story after the tragic shooting at a church in South Carolina, and Hill reached out to white supremacist groups to understand the better. "Convince me why you should exist" was his demand, and as he met people from the movements, he began to see things he never thought existed – particular orgainized crime. "There's something universally human about it," he said, noting that when the editors asked if had a book in him, his response was, "I have one, but it's not going to be pretty."
"Everyone has a different Vertigo, and my Vertigo was 100 Bullets and Scalped," Hill said. "I love Sandman, sure, but I would read what Brian Azzarello was doing, and I'd think 'How did this get out there?'" So telling a top notch crime story became his primary focus. "This isn't a political story so much as a story about how people use politics to reach their own ends." He compared the series to Michael Mann movies and Garth Ennis comics, and it's set in California – a blue state few readers would expect this kind of underbelly to exist in.
Goddess Mode from writer Zoë Quinn and artist Robbi Rodriguez was next, and Doyle called it "Totally a Vertigo book but also not at all a Vertigo book." Quinn said the story was inspired by her frustrations of being an activist in the tech world meeting her interest in the tropes of the magical girl genre that dealt with the trauma of fighting an unknowable, unstoppable force. So the story is one of a grown-up magical girl group who are fighting back against the power dynamics of a world where technology has not made our lives easier but instead been used to keep those at the bottom of society's structures down. "It has a subversive element of hope and truth to it where a giant part is how we have to take care of each other," she said.
Rodriguez said he's been hoping to draw a magical girl comic for years, and taking Quinn's ideas and throwing them against giant kaiju monsters was a dream come true.
Next, Rob Sheridan and Barnaby Bagenda's High Level – a classic hero tale set against he backdrop of a failed American empire. "Stories like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars about characters who live on the outskirts of the world and then by chance or fate get pulled into the heart of a giant conflict...this has always resonated with me," said Pace.
Finally, Mark Russell and Richard Pace's Second Coming was described by Doyle as "the craziest book we have to talk about." Russell said the story was of a superhero called "Sunman...definitely not Superman. And the story is that he shares a two-bedroom apartment with Jesus Christ." He wanted to tell a story about superheroes and how the idea of them is that they punch their way to peace, but Jesus is about healing people. "It's about finding better alternatives to the endless cycle of violence that has guided the world for several hundred years."