Across The Universe 5 – It’s An East Coast/West Coast/On The Ledge Kind Of Thing

On the middle Wednesday of every month, regular Biff Bam Pop! contributor, JP Fallavollita, shares his musings on comic books, comic book art, comic book collecting and the overall comic book universe. That gives him a lot to talk about but don’t hold it against him if he speaks with a DC Comics slant. That’s just how he rolls (with the capes and the masks).

It’s been a hot topic of conversation for the past year and, amid swirls of speculation, DC Comics (nay, DC Entertainment) finally gave word yesterday that they were moving their long occupied, storied New York office to the bright lights of the west coast. Sort of. They’re still keeping some office space in the big apple.

In a nutshell, all digital and multi-media businesses will shuffle off to the land of sun-kissed skin while the comic book business side of things will remain in the city that never sleeps. Many thought that the whole enterprise would move but the reasoning behind this thinking is fairly simple: there is more money to be made by parent company Warner Brothers (also located in California), utilizing the various DC Comics properties in film, television and video games than there is in selling periodicals like monthly comic books. Why not, then, bring those properties closer to Hollywood? Comic books themselves can stay behind, nestled in the bosom that is the publishing world.

For a comic book collector like me, this news is really not that big of a deal. Although I find it interesting that New York City is both fictional Metropolis and Gotham City and even though I find the thought of DC Comics moving to Los Angeles somewhat sacrilegious given this time honoured truth, in the aftermath of this news, the comics I collect will still get published and I’ll still be stopping by my local comic shop on a Wednesday afternoon to purchase them. In terms of industry, this is huge. Staff will have to be relocated, some will get laid off and others will be hired. I know it’s only comics but it sounds a lot like adult life to me. Still, this could be good for fans that are hopeful to see animated projects starring their favourite super heroes as well as more Nolan-esque films or television programming like Smallville based on those same characters.

Amidst the news yesterday, another relevant point of interest was that DC Entertainment was cancelling their online comic initiative, called Zuda Comics, as well as their Wildstorm comic book imprint, folding them directly into DC Comics proper. Last year DC ended its Minx line of comics – comics geared to a female audience. The lone survivor, of course, is Vertigo Comics, DC’s mature imprint, an imprint I grew up with and keep close to my heart.

Last summer, I wrote a piece on Vertigo, stating that it was undergoing a sort of resurrection after falling into mediocrity. That article can be found here and, in hindsight, proves quite interesting as it quite probably illustrates the role Vertigo will play for DC Comics going forward – a role summarized in yesterday’s big news release.

First, let me quickly illustrate where Vertigo came from: Vertigo and the characters published under that banner, came from DC Comics itself. The adult-oriented comic book imprint starred the more obscure characters in DC’s stable – the strange ones that no one really wanted anything to do with and because of this abandonment, were the ripest vehicles for telling new kinds of stories by gifted writers and artists. Swamp Thing can be classified as the godfather of the Vertigo universe, the first to make the leap from mainstream DC to strange and literary Vertigo. John Constantine soon followed and then came the The Sandman. All of these characters still had interaction with the DC superheroes until Vertigo editorial cut them off. The Doom Patrol followed along with Animal Man and Shade the Changing Man – all characters first ensconced in the mainstream publisher. And then Vertigo grew with creator-owned series like Preacher and The Invisibles. This is the defining action that is probably most important to the Vertigo of tomorrow.

Over the last few years, mainstream DC has reclaimed those characters that had made the first jump to “mature reader” status. Ongoing, monthly series of DC-proper owned characters have ended and few have taken their place. Today only Madame Xanadu, John Constantine: Hellblazer and House of Mystery hail from those mainstream origins and the former’s last issue will be published later this year. There are promises that many of these characters will find their place under the DC Comics publishing banner if they haven’t done so already but that leaves Vertigo, going forward, as DC Entertainment’s de facto publishing arm for creator-owned concepts, be they graphic novels or periodicals. A decided shift in the company’s publishing landscape.

Really, the signs of evolution were there all along – a slow but inevitable change. It can be argued that more copies of Doom Patrol will be sold under the DC banner than they would under a Vertigo banner. Comics, in terms of sales volume, will always remain a mainstream game. Those collectors at the store (not necessarily me) want capes, tights and super powers under a symbol, like the DC bullet, that they recognize and understand. Vertigo had that, albeit in the form of a niche audience.

This leads me to speculate that John Constantine, beloved Hellblazer that he is, the longest running monthly series in Vertigo history, will soon make the move to DC proper, fighting strange evil alongside Batman and Superman. Weird, I know, but the title would probably sell more than the 10,000 copies per month it does now and it would open the character to a whole new mainstream audience – which is exactly what DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers want.

The Vertigo Comics of 2011 and beyond will be the backdrop to showcase creator-owned, literary ideas and artwork that lies off of the mainstream radar. It will be a place for creators like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Dean Haspiel, Sarah Glidden and Peter Bagge to unveil their talents to a larger audience – and a place for DC Comics proper to scoop these writers and artists up, much like their previously mentioned fictional creations, and bring them onto more mainstream titles.

And, of course, there’s always tinsel town, waiting, watching, developing…

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