Karen Berger on the Vertigo Crime Line

Karen Berger on the Vertigo Crime Line

It's a crime that there are not more crime books in comics. The crime genre has a long history in comics going all the way back to Crime Does Not Pay back in 1942, but in 2009 Vertigo is taking crime comics to a whole new level.

Announced during San Diego Comic-Con this year, the new Vertigo Crime imprint will act as a "subimprint" of the long-running Vertigo line and be composed of black and white hardcover graphic novels. The crime genre has been an integral part of Vertigo Comics since it's early days, counting 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso as well as several works by Criminal writer Ed Brubaker.

But this new imprint Vertigo Crime pulls crime into a sharper focus in both genre and format with the black and white graphic novels. The imprint is launching with two titles in Spring 2008: Brian Azzarello's Filthy Rich and Ian Rankin's Dark Entries.

Ian Rankin is a new name to comics, but not to crime fiction. The Scottish author is best known for his Inspector Rebus novels, and his novel Exit Music was a #1 International Bestseller. Dark Entries is Rankin's inaugural foray into the world of comics, and for that he's teaming with artist Werther Dell'edera and the character of John Constantine. According to the book's editor Will Dennis, Dark Entries will follow "what happens when John Constantine is called in to investigate what went wrong on a reality television show."

Joining Dark Entries in the launch titles for Vertigo Crime is Filthy Rich by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Victor Santos. "Basically, it's a story of a big man who makes even bigger mistakes through his life," Azzarello explained during a panel at San Diego Comicon. "He is hired to be a clandestine bodyguard for a wealthy automobile heiress." Taking place in the early 1960s, the book has an admitted "upbeat vibe" according to Azzarello, and concerns "the celebrity culture of wealth".

Newsarama talked with Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger by phone to find out more.

Newsarama: Thank you for talking with us, Karen. Let's break things open by getting your characterization of the Vertigo Crime line. What is it?

Karen Berger: Smart, edge, sexy, crime noir fiction in graphic novel form.

NRAMA: Vertigo's no stranger to that crime fiction you speak off: Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets immediately comes to mind. With that already working in the Vertigo framework (albeit it as single issues), what was the impetus for starting the Vertigo Crime imprint?

KB: Well, I think that the crime genre has a lot of levels and avenues to it. I think that with Vertigo, we've always used genre fiction as a backdrop to stories about real life. With Vertigo, we've found that crime and thrillers were a big proponent of a lot of our stories. Even if you look at something with more action such as Human Target, it has a big crime element to it. There's more if you look at the Vertigo series objectively.

There's a range of different types of stories t tell under the crime/thriller banner. And the crime genre is really popular in book stores, film and even comic books – although more of a niche market here, we really want to expand it.

We have a lot of comic writers and crime book authors that are contributing to the line as well.

NRAMA: Segueing right into that subject, your two launch titles feature one of each. Brian Azzarello's Filthy Rich and Ian Rankin's Dark Entries. How did these two come together as the launch books?

KB: Well, Ian Rankin is a huge comic book fan. We've been wanting t work with him for awhile. Will [Dennis, Vertigo Editor] in particular reached out to him a year or two ago. What appealed to him was a John Constantine story, and one thing led to another. "Wouldn't this be a great book to launch the crime line?" was brought up, and with Rankin's profile as a best-selling crime writer it was an easy decision. And the story has a very crime-oriented feel for a Constantine book. He's an occult detective, even though people might not think of him that way. He's a natural fit, because that's what he does.

And with Azzarello's book, Filthy Rich is very noir and very much a sort of modern version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Very smart, sultry and it really has the great atmosphere and mood that one equates with noi fiction. And those are our two launch books.

NRAMA: Let's back up a little book and talk about Rankin's book. It's a story featuring long-time Vertigo character John Constantine from Hellblazer. Why'd you decide to bring the Vertigo mainstay into a new imprint here with Vertigo Crime. And while we're on it, will there be other Vertigo characters coming onboard?

KB: Speaking of other characters maybe, but right now all the other books we've bought are all original characters. But Ian's Dark Entries is the exception. Mainly because Ian felt so strongly about doing this John Constantine story.

NRAMA: Transitioning from upcoming Constantine chronicler to someone who's done a stint on Hellblazer himself, let's talk Azzarello's Filthy Rich. He's a long-time writer for the Vertigo imprint, and more specifically of the crime comics that Vertigo has done before there was even this formal line. It's an obvious choice from the outside looking-in, but was it inside?

KB: Pretty much a no-brainer.

NRAMA: [laughs]

KB: Vertigo has a lot of great writers and great stories, and Brian's association with the work he's done for Vertigo is very much in urban crime fiction. So when Vertigo Crime was coming together, we thought "why not go out with our most popular comics writer?"

NRAMA: Hey, you get my seal of approval. Let's take out our binoculars and look to the horizon – what's on the horizon for future Vertigo Crime books? You've mentioned that you've already got several in the pipeline.

KB: We've bought a bunch of material and we'll be announcing a pretty full slate at BoucherCon in Baltimore this October. As I mentioned earlier, there's an array of comics writers and fiction writers in the mix. Some people who're well known and some people who aren't. There's a good mixture of different talent. A majority of material is set in the present time, but there may be one or two period pieces representing.

NRAMA: Such as Azzarello's Filthy Rich, which is set in the early 1960s according to the author.

Could you see any existing titles or backlist books from the main Vertigo line migrating over to this imprint should it be successful?

KB: Possibly… we've definitely talked about it. But we're concentrating on original material right now. History of Violence was originally under the Paradox imprint before it migrated to Vertigo – but a book like that would fall under the Vertigo Crime line possibly. If we re-issued Scene of the Crime, that could be one as well.

A lot of the final decision has to do with the format – these books will be a scaled down page size than those books, which were originally done as full-size comic books.

NRAMA: And the books in the Vertigo Crime line are black & white graphic novels, right?

KB: Yes. Backlist books are still a consideration though.

NRAMA: Speaking of format, what can we expect here in terms of size and heft?

KB: The format is similar to the recent printings of History of Violence and Road To Perdition, but a little bigger. It's a square size. There's going to be no dustjacket – the artwork will be imprinted on the case. And it'll have nice black & white paper stock.

NRAMA: Now who's heading this up editorial-wise, besides yourself?

KB: Will Dennis, Senior Editor at Vertigo. A few others have edited one or two, but Will is overseeing a bulk of the material . He's acting as the coordinating editor.

NRAMA: This is a bit out of left field, but a popular question brought up when this was originally announced at San Diego. With this new imprint focusing exclusively on one genre, what are your thoughts on the prospect of bookstores re-shelving graphic novels by genre instead of media category… that is, crime comics such as Vertigo Crime in the crime section instead of the broad 'graphic novel' category?

KB: It's something we've discussed and depends on the buyers of the store.

NRAMA: Where will the line do best – in the crime section or in the GN section?

KB: We're going to let the salespeople and the buyers help determine the best placement for it. It's a tough one obviously, but people are already reading graphic novels and like the form. The people who are into GNs go to the graphic novel section to look for these books – not crime. But if you're coming into this primarily as a crime reader, then you wouldn't necessarily go to the graphic novel section to look for these books.

A lot depends on the placement in the stores and whatever promotion there might be.

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