If you are a Pagan or occult practitioner of a certain age, the word “Vertigo” brings up certain associations. A speciality line of comic books launched by DC Comics in 1993, Vertigo comics focused heavily on mythic, occult, psychedelic, and magical themes, introducing American audiences to rising talents like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Dave McKean. Inspired by the earlier 1980s work of writers like Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, Vertigo created a new niche of “adult” comics that drew many people, myself included, back to reading comic books. I distinctly remember happening upon a write-up of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” in The Monthly Aspectarian of all places, which led me back to a comic book store for the first time in years. For me, and for many of my peers, Vertigo gave a needed dose of youth, experimentation, and anarchic cool to a Pagan/magical subculture that was still trying to adjust to a sudden boom in popularity. A lot of attention is paid The Craft and Charmed as things that brought young people to Paganism in the 1990s, but for a certain segment of Generation X, Vertigo was the pop-culture doorway of choice (they even released a tarot deck).
Now, 20 years later, and after many were questioning if the line’s time was over, DC Comics has announced six new Vertigo titles debuting this Fall, headlined by a new Neil Gaiman-penned Sandman story.
“Superheroes are the lifeblood of the comic book industry and have proved to be a big draw at the box office. But Vertigo, whose slate includes fantasy, horror and speculative fiction outside of the publisher’s mainstream lineup, has had difficulty building an audience and developing new properties. DC is hoping to change Vertigo’s fortune this fall with six new series premiering from October to December. The most anticipated project, “The Sandman: Overture,” a mini-series by Neil Gaiman, will begin on Oct. 30.”
Most importantly for readers here, is that the bulk of the six new titles have mythic, Pagan, and occult themes. Most notably: “Hinterkind,” “Coffin Hill,” and the anthology one-shot “The Witching Hour.”
- HINTERKIND – Decades after “The Blight” all but wiped out the human race, Mother Nature is taking back what’s hers and she’s not alone … all the creatures of myth and legend have returned and they’re not happy. After her grandfather disappears, Prosper Monday must leave the security and seclusion of her Central Park village to venture into the wilds to find him, unaware of how much the world has changed. An epic fantasy adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world, HINTERKIND is written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Francesco Trifogli, and debuts this October.
- COFFIN HILL – When she was 15, Eve Coffin summoned a darkness that had been buried since the Salem Witch Trials. Now Eve’s back to harness the evil that destroyed her friends and is slowly taking over the sleepy town of Coffin Hill. This is a series full of magic, madness and murder via a twisted family of New Englanders. Arriving in stores this October, COFFIN HILL combines the talents of artist Inaki Miranda (FAIREST: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM) with writer Caitlin Kittredge, a young, dark fantasy author whose writing includes the Nocturne City, the Black London, and the Iron Codex series of novels – which include the recently published titles Dark Days and The Mirrored Shard.
- THE WITCHING HOUR – Just in time for Halloween, this anthology-style one-shot collects short stories exploring witchcraft written and drawn by some of the most talented veterans and newcomers in the business – including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Cliff Chiang, Lauren Beukes, Emily Carroll, Matthew Sturges, Shawn McManus, Tula Lotay and many more.
However, what will most likely draw most of us back to the shops (or the comiXology app I suppose) will be “The Sandman: Overture,” written by the now very famous Neil Gaiman, and drawn by the hugely talented J.H. Williams III, who created the amazing art for Alan Moore’s “Promethea.”
“The most peculiar thing for me about returning to ‘Sandman’ is how familiar it all feels,” Mr. Gaiman said. What is new, however, is the level of attention. “When I was writing ‘Sandman’ from 1987 to 1996, I never had the feeling at any point that approximately 50 million people were looking over my shoulder scrutinizing ever word.” (Mr. Gaiman has about two million followers on Twitter.)
For the six-issue “The Sandman: Overture,” Mr. Gaiman has been paired with J.H. Williams III, an illustrator known for his moody imagery and innovative page layouts. “They are the most beautiful pages I have ever seen in periodical comics,” Mr. Gaiman said. “I ask him to do the impossible, and he gives me back more than I asked for.”
This big new push for Vertigo comes at a time when comic book super-heroes are seen by many as blockbuster movie (and television) properties, and the innovation, strangeness, darkness, and fantasy tropes of Vertigo has been pushed to the margins. Often finding homes at smaller publishers who specialize in giving creators more control and ownership (Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent “Saga” being one notable example). However, perhaps with the new rise of adult-oriented fantasy breaking big with HBO cable television shows like “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman-created “American Gods” series, DC Comics realizes that developing and nurturing dark, strange, and mythic fantasy might be good for their bottom line after all.
With this return of fantasy, of mythic beings and occult themes, of The Sandman himself, will it also oversee an influx of new fans? Or is this simply DC catering to a maturing fan-base? Whatever the impetus, I look forward to this new wave of Vertigo comics, and hope they can live up to that line’s past great heights.