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Signing Bone-Us

Vertigo, the DC Comics imprint, used to have an amazing stable of talent.  Ed Brubaker.  Warren Ellis.  Garth Ennis.  They were all part of the creative freedom Vertigo allowed in the wake of Neil Gaiman's Sandman redefining comics.  Vertigo became known for the offbeat, the unusual, the unique.  Not a lot I wanted to read, but lots of people dug it.

Vertigo changed the contracts.  Apparently, there was a new clause giving Vertigo half the media property rights.  This will be important later.  Brubaker, Ellis, Ennis, and others said, "Fuck that!" and took their stuff elsewhere (Avatar, Image, Marvel, etc.).  The new contracts were structured along these lines -- creators got a lower page rate than work for hire (but still higher than anyone else's page rate).  They were paid an advance against monthly royalties, even if the royalties never made it past the advance.  Trade paperback and monthly dividends were separate, one did not affect the other.  Vertigo wound up bringing in new talent like Peter Gross, Brian Wood, Brian Azzarello, Bill Willingham, Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, and Mike Carey, and seeing new series with followings like Madame Xanadu, Air, and Y The Last Man.

That has just changed.  Vertigo is the first to get this, but there's no way this won't spread through all aspects of DC that handle creator owned stuff.  The contracts will now say that, if the monthly book is not making the royalties against the advance, they will take it out of the TPB royalties until DC breaks even.  The watermark?  50K copies sold a month.  I don't recall the last time other than Sandman or the umpteenth repackaging of Watchmen and V For Vendetta to do that.

Karen Berger is the longtime executive editor for Vertigo.  Part of the DC restructuring that saw Jim Lee become co-publisher with Dan DiDio is that Bob Harras has become the Vertigo editor and taken some of Berger's duties away.  This is not surprising.  On Berger's watch, two high profile comic series were passed on to become Vertigo books, Chew and The Walking Dead.  Chew is getting a movie, and The Walking Dead is a much talked about TV show now.  And those are Image books, where the creators keep all rights.  These potential feathers in the cap of Vertigo slipped through their fingers, and I can't imagine the suits at DC and Warner Bros. are happy about that.

Established series have been canceled, much to the chagrin of fans.  Previous books are still covered under the old contracts.  But new books have to fall in line with this.  Comics don't pay well, don't let the rockstars of the genre fool you.  A lot of creators relied on the old set-up to make a living doing the books, and this throws that in jeopardy.  Combine that with general comic sales already down to the lowest levels since the 80's, comic publishers realizing bookstore sales have their own problems, and digital a novelty instead of a viable alternative, and this change was actually a long time coming.  It's sad, but not surprising.

So, how many will still want to try Vertigo instead of heading for Image et al?  I'm not sure how many will.

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