Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shelly Bond Was Always Going To Fail

The story is Vertigo Comics' Executive Editor Shelly Bond got reorganized out of her position yesterday. Rumor has it her head needed to roll because Vertigo's sales were bad. We don't know for sure. No one has yet spoken on the record.

What goes unremarked on is that Shelly Bond's job, the head of DC Comics' premiere indie imprint was in danger the instant she stepped into the role.

To understand what went wrong, we have to understand what changed, and who Ms. Bond followed. Ms. Bond followed Karen Berger, the long running editor in chief of Vertigo Comics. Ms. Berger stepped away and down in 2012 after a career that introduced Garth Ennis (Preacher), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Peter Milligan (Enigma, Shade), Alan Moore (Oh, Come The Fuck On) and Grant Morrison (Invisibles) to the American mainstream. And that's only the 90s. In the 2000s, Vertigo published early major works from Jason Aaron (The Other Side, Scalped), Ed Brubaker (Scene Of The Crime, Deadenders), Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Cliff Chiang (Beware the Creeper), Jeff Lemire (Essex County), Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Scott Snyder (American Vampire), G. WIllow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man).

How did this happen? Contracts and trust.

The Vertigo contract was structured such that creators kept most of the rights associated with their comic, but Warner Brothers had a first look at any adaptation of the material.

Before Karen Berger stepped into Vertigo, she'd worked for DC for 10 years under the impresario Paul Levitz. Industry gossip tells us Levitz made a deal with Warner Brothers that went to the tune of "as long as we're profitable, you don't tell me how to run my company" and Warner allegedly accepted. Vertigo was given, fittingly, room to fall. Most of Vertigo's perennial sellers did badly in single issues, but made the money back on the collections.

Both changed. Levitz left or was pushed out and the contract was allegedly looked at by a Warner Brothers executive who said "why don't we have these rights" in the early 2010s.

There were two other things that happened which murdered Vertigo and they both start with an i.

The internet is the most obvious, and it decimated much of the physical book market, which is not coincidentally where most people went to spend money on Vertigo titles.

Image in the 2000s was a publishing house that was not terribly exciting. It had The Walking Dead and a roll of the dice. It was "creator owned," but in a world where Vertigo's deal was still the place to go if you wanted an editor and a marketing department talking about your comic, Image wasn't terribly attractive. The major creator owned success stories outside of Vertigo didn't often break 10,000 single issues sold a month.

Image's Eric Stephenson was slowly making deals with people to make Image a player, but it wouldn't pay off in 2000s. It would pay off around 2012, with Brian K. Vaughan's Saga.

And bolstered by the runaway success of Saga, Image turned out more and more and more and more comics, some incredible, some bad, but most okay or mediocre. This caused a second Image bubble.

Now what does this have to go with Shelly Bond?

Ms. Bond steps into the head of Vertigo in 2012, a time when
1) the internet makes pirating things you're kind of interested in easy
2) physical bookstores are sinking
3) Image will ascend to the premiere creator owned comics company
4) Vertigo's m.o., long runs allowed to fail in singles buoyed by strong trade sales will no longer be tolerated by the parent company
5) Bond's ability to manage her house is constrained even more by whim and fiat
6) her predecessor is arguably the most important American mainstream comic book editor in 30 years
7) perception of Vertigo is at an all time low

Ms. Bond's four years at Vertigo, like her tastes or not, were spent keeping a Wile E. Coyote sized anvil afloat.

Shelly Bond was always going to fail.

p.s. Birds in my ear tell me Ms. Bond was a shit boss and difficult to work with.
p.p.s. The sad epilogue is that DC's most widely known harasser, Eddie Berganza, still has a job. Mr. Berganza runs the Superman office.

This is looser than usual and without links, because, well, I'll be talking about this at length for a podcast and I could keep it all in my head for juuuuuuuuuuust long enough to type it out. I'd normally source this stuff, but a couple minutes on a browser and you'll find what I write corroborated. I want it out of my head and into the wild. Song is Murder By Death's I Came Around. I admittedly haven't cared for Ms. Bond's output at Vertigo, but the more I think about the circumstances she had to deal with, the more I had to acknowledge the trying times she faced. Get some sleep, 'mam, you're finally off the clock.
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