Now That's Rich 2 - Stupid Camera I
Welcome one and all. NOW THAT'S RICH has survived its first week and I, your gracious host, have returned for a second consecutive week of banter, nit picking and information that you MUST have at your disposal if you wish to survive. If you value your survival it is imperative then that I suggest to you to check out last week's column as it serves both as introduction to myself and what this column's all about. Now on with the show!
To sum up last week's column (see, I AM a gracious host), I told you of my origins of how I came to be built in Dexter's Secret Laboratory, why free or cheap promotion is a great way to kick-start a new book/storyline/creative team and a bunch of other things that I can't remember. Maybe I should go read the first column * cough hint cough * since my memory seems askew as of late.
I had the weirdest dream a few nights ago. I couldn't sleep and I was tossing and turning, then tossing and turning some more until exhaustion overcame me. I don't know what it was. Probably the pressure from school as the thought of the upcoming exams flashed repeatedly in my brain. I could see the malice on the exam's face. It was giving me the evil eye, staring blankly at me, snickering, all the while edging closer and closer, yelling at me loudly and with no concern for the implosion of my brain (and the mess that some poor bloke has to clean up afterwards, for shame!). FAIL! FAIL DAMN YOUUU! The exams were giving me undeserving stress. I'm glad that's over now. Boy, did I show that exam. Answered every stupid question I did. The exam threw quick left punches and devastating right hooks but it couldn't keep me down. One after the other, in the suave way of the Batman 1960s TV show I cried loudly. POW! WACK! ZOOM! The exam had but the slightest instance to react before it was bruised and bloodied, lying half conscious on the mat. It's funny that life's pressures can make or break you. Anyways, I don't know really what happened until I woke up early the morning of the exam on my floor. I was still sweating and thought that reading something would calm me down. It was one of the weirder dreams I had as of late and gave way to the birth of the notion of the 'Stupid Camera'. But more on that later.
I was wide awake so I cautiously crept along the untidy carpet floor until I reached my desk. I wearily reached up and my hand grasped the first thing it touched. Coincidentally it was a hard cover volume of Sandman that I had borrowed from a friend. I wiped my brow, crept back to the foot of the bed, leaned against it and started reading the last two chapters. Satisfied at the conclusion and relieved that my exam was hours away I took a shower and went back to my room and started typing my review for the volume. The volume itself was great stuff, but my review was oh, how shall I say, not written to the best of my ability. I did get it posted though so if you wanna check it out, that's fine by me. I must warn you though that it was written during a high point of stress, and it may not make much sense. I wouldn't know. I only read it as I wrote. A big writer's mistake. I know I know, but come on! I was under the influence, or so to speak. Anyways, during the time I wrote the review I came to think about the legacy that Sandman had left on the industry as well as its publisher, the DC imprint Vertigo. I knew but the faintest of details on how Vertigo got started, but it had always intrigued me how the concept of a mature readers imprint quickly changed the way comics were being viewed by both the public and the media. And of course the stories that could now be freely introduced by creators through the new Vertigo imprint were some of the best in graphic literature to have ever graced the standard twenty-two page monthly format. So without further delay, the history of Vertigo Comics.
Tracing the history of anything, especially a company I thought would be a daunting task. I considered for several hours before I sat down and actually got to work on this week's column to just include everything that I personally knew on Vertigo's rise of influence in the industry. I started writing down the things I knew and realized that it was much less than could be fit into this week's a column to my satisfaction as well as telling an incomplete story of how the imprint came about. I decided to do some research, and easily enough, the imaginary daunting task that I thought it would be became the most fun research project to date.
For those of you who are familiar with comic book history, you have surely come across the name of Dez Skinn. Dez Skinn was the original creator, editor and publisher of Comics International, which filled the need of a trade magazine for North America and the United Kingdom in the early 1990s. The magazine was an independent guide to English language comics and covered all aspects of the medium from the large corporations to what was then called the underground (independent companies) of the time. Sort of like the Wizard magazine that we have today. What set Comics International apart was that it was contributed to by both British and North American writers and artists and set a precedent for similar magazines to come. Dez Skinn was an experienced writer, editor and comic creator in the late 1970s and during the 1980s created a series of weekly comics anthologies. The most widely known of these in regards to the North American market were Doctor Who Weekly and Warrior Magazine.
As it was a weekly publication, these two anthologies in particular garnered much attention and a large readership base in its native Britain for the variety of comics stories they offered. The first issue of Doctor Who Weekly was released through a division of the BBC for Marvel Comics and sold 250, 000 copies. This was an astounding amount for a comics magazine at the time and compared to today's standard is still regarded as a milestone achievement. The latter of the two publications, Warrior was indirectly responsible for the creation of Vertigo at DC as it launched the careers of many creators that have become respected in the field including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, David Lloyd, Alan Davis and Steve Dillon. If you have read Moore's and Lloyd's V For Vendetta in trade paperback, you may have noticed how the book is divided up into several, small chapters. This was because each chapter was separately published and originally came out on a monthly basis in Warrior.
What all these British creators had in common was a certain maturity to comic book storytelling that had not been explored in the genre until they had come along. Alan Moore's V For Vendetta and Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison's Animal Man and Doom Patrol are all early examples of this new, unique approach to finding a fresh audience within the comics industry away from the cluttered superhero market. These creators came along at a crucial point in comic book history, which signaled a change of the guard in both comic books and those of the comic collectors. There was still a high demand for super hero comics during the 1980s. The 1980s saw such comic book milestones as Crisis On Infinite Earths at DC and Secret Wars at Marvel. Yet amidst it all lay a developing mature comics market from Britain that was slowly penetrating the American market. Those people who had read comics as kids during the Silver Age of the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s had grown up and were looking for something new, something fresh and in tune to their new adult perspective. They found it in the British magazines. Statistics taken from the 1980s showed that around 30% of all comic readers of the 1980s were twenty years or older. There was a definitive market for these guys. When you go into your shop, look around you and see what age group picks up comics. Is it the kids, or is it the older crowd? I know that at my shop the kids come for the Yu-Gi-Oh cards and the teenagers and older crowd come for the comics. I'd be very interested to hear what you notice in your local shops.
There needed to be a breakthrough in the North American market and DC Comics were the first large company to see that there was potential in mature comics. They had realized the potential that these dozen or so British creators had and went to seek them out. One of the first titles they acquired became one of the most successful titles published at DC in the mid-1980s. This was Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing, which ran from 1984 to 1987 and started a popular following for DC horror as well as providing a start for the controversial Hellblazer. The reason for this controversy was the choice of DC not to comply with the infamous Comics Code Authority and their oftentimes strict regulations regarding content. What followed was Sandman in 1989, which started out obscurely but soon gained a steady following to eventually becoming the most widely read comic in the English language during its 75 issue run.
However, it wasn't until late in 1992, that DC formed their new imprint dubbed Vertigo that mature comics in North America made it into the mainstream market. The existing six titles (Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Shade: The Changing Man) were all put out through the editorial leadership of Karen Berger, who had been editing several of these books previously. So, if it hadn't been for the exposure of British talent, there may have never been a mature market or a mature imprint at all in North America and what would the world of comics have looked like then?
What made Vertigo successful was that they took the idea of mature themed comics seriously. Creators were given the benefit of the doubt and were given full control over their books and the opportunity to explore plots and themes that interested them. And look what's come out from Vertigo in the last ten years. Sandman, Transmetropolitan, Books Of Magic, Preacher. All great, thought provoking and creator controlled books. The reason for their success is simple. They were each given time to grow, find their unique voice and tell us everything they had to say without restriction. Show me anything better than complete creative freedom on a title.
Next week we'll take a look at Vertigo's major competition as well as the decision to create the Ultimate universe at Marvel. And who knows, we might even find out what a Stupid Camera is and what the dream was really about. Other things will surely pop up as well, so stay tuned. Oh, by the way the research paid off don't'cha think?
Have a good week, and I'll see you in two weeks.
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