The Western comic book industry has been suffering lean times the past few years and while there are many contributing factors, one of the biggest has been publishers ignoring their readers. In the day of global connectivity and social media, activists with little influence among customers can make their voices drown out the wants and needs of actual clients. Large corporations appear to cower in fear of bloggers with a cause and often times acquiesce to activist demands when there was no actual consumer outcry. Customer loyalty and enthusiasm is the lifeblood of any successful industry, and the comic book industry has been hemorrhaging both for far too long.
Many comic industry insiders and fans were ecstatic when Comics Alliance Editor-in-Chief (EIC) Andrew Wheeler announced the website would be shuttering its doors starting 1 April 2017. Little did some know, it was too-little-too-late. Alums from the website, dedicated to changing the comic book industry, had already infiltrated many influential positions throughout the industry. The seeds of destruction, which would eventually ravage DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, were already planted.
Comics Alliance was held in poor regard among comic book readers but garnered respect and sway within the comic industry. The site received multiple Eisner Award nominations and even a victory, despite a reputation being an entire day behind big news and breaking virtually no significant stories themselves. The site took a hard anti-consumer stance when it came to far left progressivism and identity politics. Many publishers, led by Marvel Comics, bent the knee to Comics Alliance’s calls for industry change and sales have been on a steady decline ever since.
One of Comics Alliance’s favorite targets was Gamergate. The online backlash against breaches of journalistic integrity of video game news after indie game developer Zoe Quinn’s alleged affairs with a number of men working in the industry. The site was known for trolling members of gamergate via their website and disabling the comments section, a tactic taken directly from Anita Sarkesian’s playbook.
One black eye on the site were revelations of Comics Alliance blogger and future Marvel X-Men writer Chris Sims cyber harassment of writer and former DC editor Valerie D’Orazio. Upon learning of Sims new gig at Marvel, D’Orazio came forward with the truth of his 3 year online harassment campaign against her. She even claimed Sims’ cyberbullying from 2007 to 2010 left her diagnosed with PTSD, suffering anxiety attacks, self-medicating and having suicidal thoughts. Being of the right ideological persuasion, and a member of the inner-circle, little action was taken against Sims and he kept his Comics Alliance and Marvel Comics gigs.
This lesson would come back to haunt the future leader of Vertigo Comics, Andy Khouri, as his time there has been mired by even bigger scandals. During Khouri’s time as Comics Alliance EIC, calling DC Comics out on their perceived missteps (such as over-sexualization of Catwoman, Starfire and Harley Quinn, restoration of Barbara Gordon’s walking eliminating DC’s only disabled hero of consequence and the cancellation of Batwoman’s gay marriage by editorial) was a staple of their coverage. Corporate shaming is a tactic used by the far left to cause a call to action to address non-existent or trivial issues and formally address them. Normally, by hiring the very critics who called them out to oversee and fix the problems. In January 2015, Khouri stepped down as EIC of Comics Alliance, and less than 3 months later he was hired as a DC Comics Editor.
This was seen by Comics Alliance and their supporters as DC Comics acknowledging the validity of Comics Alliance’s criticism.
Vertigo Comics Legacy
In the early 90’s DC Comics editor Karen Berger had a reputation for leading unique comic series in stark contrast to most standard superhero stories of the day. The Sandman, Saga of the Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Shade, the Changing Man were bold experiments that gave rise to new character and revitalized classic ones. Berger’s leadership developed a stunning amount of now legendary talents like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, to name but a few. DC Comics asked Berger to create her own imprint of mind altering, against-the-grain adult fare her creators had become known for.
In January 1993, the four aforementioned series along with Doom Patrol and Animal Man were relabeled Vertigo Comics and the imprint was launched with two mini-series. Vertigo Comics was in stark contrast to the rest of the comic landscape that featured Superman being punched to death and larger-than-life creators like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. Vertigo writers were just as influenced by prose as superhero legends and Vertigo artists paid homage to Jack Kirby and Manet.
Vertigo was an instant hit with teenagers but loved by adult readers as well. Vertigo was an eclectic mix of genres like horror, crime, fantasy, sci-fi and political drama, created by the most innovative young minds in the industry. Eventually, Vertigo focused more on creator-owned properties and became a proving ground for new and emerging creators.
Vertigo Comics’ success was eventually its own demise as other publishers, most notably McFarlane and Liefeld’s Image, borrowed from Vertigo’s style. Stealing the identity that made it unique to readers. The imprint slowly withered away until Karen Berger, the visionary that launched it, departed in 2013. Collections of classic Vertigo material thrive on the current market but newer Vertigo titles struggled to find audience. After Berger’s exit the flow of new Vertigo series slowed to a trickle and the imprint essentially laid dormant.
Karen Berger and Vertigo changed the Western comic book landscape and now many indie publishers essentially imitate Vertigo Comics style. Adult oriented material is now the norm across the industry and creators like Garth Ennis, J.M. DeMatteis, Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Scott Snyder all launched their careers to some degree on the imprint.
Vertigo Comics Relaunch
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Vertigo, DC announced they were relaunching and rebranding Vertigo in 2018. Former Batman group editor Mark Doyle would head up the imprint, now called DC Vertigo, complete with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe and 7 new comics whose themes were social justice with an expressed intent to be controversial. In hindsight, they pushed far too hard on controversy and completely forgot to create stories people would want to read.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe is comprised of 4 new series building upon Gaiman’s New York Times best-selling series. Gaiman curates the series and the creators are hand selected by the Vertigo legend himself. The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer and Books of Magic were all launched after The Sandman Universe #1, plotted by Gaiman himself, debuted with 83 thousand issues ordered. DC Vertigo was off to a better start than anyone could have expected.
Vertigo Comics Awakens
The seven new titles to champion social justice and create controversy were dubbed “Woke Vertigo” by customers. Despite Mark Doyle being in charge, the new creative lineup and had former Comics Alliance EIC, and now Vertigo editor, Andy Khouri’s fingerprints all over them. Bryan Hill heading up American Carnage, a series about a disgraced biracial former FBI agent made sense, but most of the other choices were inexplicable from a comic publishing perspective. But they all had the right politics and shared Khouri’s progressive agenda.
Eric Esquivel, a comic journalist who published a few indie books with little sales and (like Khouri himself) had displayed minute talent for comic book writing, was given Border Town. The series was billed as “A story of immigrants, an army of monsters inspired by Mexican folklore, and misfit high-schoolers.” He was partnered with Ramon Villalobos who illustrated America, one of the least successful comics Marvel ever published.
Veteran TV writer Ben Blacker headed up Hex Wives, whose tagline was “The women are too powerful. They must be tamed.” The series was about a group of witch housewives who’ve been brainwashed by a conspiracy of men. Blacker had no prior background writing comic books and it showed in the final product.
Former Nine Inch Nails art director Rob Sheridan was pegged to head up the High Level series. Which interestingly, was promoted to include some Abrahamic themes to the story. Sheridan had no writing credits to his name at the time of the announcement. Readers were confused how Sheridan received a choice gig on DC Comics’ iconic imprint, but soon realized after several meltdowns on social media over politics.
The hiring of Zoë Quinn to write Goddess Mode was the most obvious tie to Andy Khouri. Her sex scandal was the catalyst of the gamergate movement that Comics Alliance EIC Khouri targeted with the website so often. Of course, she had no writing credits and had never shown any interest in the industry beforehand. She was paired with Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez. Little did customers know, they were about to meet a whole new side of Robbi.
Within weeks Vertigo fans noticed several of the new talent spewing hate, based on far-left progressivism and identity politics; ideas Comics Alliance championed during Khouri’s time there. High Level writer Rob Sheridan came out the blocks hardest over President Trump’s proposed immigration policies. He attacked Daily Wire host Michael Knowles calling him a “soulless piece of shit”, a “gaslighting dickstain” and called Knowles and Ben Shapiro, who runs The Daily Wire, “little white racist elf boys”. Not to be outdone, Border Town artist Ramon Villalobos re-affirmed he wanted to “put white people in FEMA camps.” After backtracking on the statement, several older, more racist tweets were uncovered including Villalobos calling President Trump a white supremacist. Zoe Quinn got in on the Woke Vertigo action, attacking Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, claiming she wants people to die.
Of course, all of this and much more were direct violations of DC Comics social media policy but no actions were ever taken. If you follow Vertigo Editor Andy Khouri you get the feeling he may have directed this online hate. He is, after all, the DC Comics editor who claimed his readers “realized they’d grown up to become the kind of person their childhood hero punches in the face” on social media. Dan Didio, Jim Lee and Mark Doyle likely regret ever allowing this social media fiasco to occur.
Failure to Launch
Despite the calamity that was #WokeVertigo on Twitter, nobody was certain what effect, if any, it would have on sales. After DC successfully launched their Vertigo revival with The Sandman Universe #1 in August 2018, The Sandman Universe followed up with The Dreaming and The House of Whispers in September. While not the huge success of their predecessor they shipped just north of 37 and 28 thousand copies each, respectable in the current market.
Andy Khouri and #WokeVertigo then chose to launch with Eric Esquivel and Ramon Villalobos’ Border Town, a decision that in hindsight, was very puzzling. Border Town was met with mostly rave reviews from the ‘shill media’ but readers had a far different take on the book. Border Town was billed as “monster story on the US Mexican border”, but focused far more on identity politics and the “Orange Man Bad!” immigration policies. The book was arguably a 22-page manifesto about how racist white people on the border are. The book was filled with racist stereotypes at best, and outright racism at worst. The art wasn’t terrible, but Esquivel’s writing would have been too much for any artist to overcome.
#WokeVertigo already had a tough road to hoe after the creative teams and series descriptions screamed far-left activist politics and the insane behavior on social media. Border Town didn’t garner near as much interest as the Sandman titles with just over of 15 thousand books shipped. Border Town was supposed to be Woke Vertigo’s best foot forward and set the tone for the new titles with readers. It was soundly rejected and every Woke Vertigo series that followed shipped under 10 thousand books by issues 3. Readers were turned off by the identity politics, ultra-progressive views and outright racism in the book.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and, upon reflection, they probably should have launched with High Level. Writer Rob Sheridan was just as unknown as Eric Esquivel and also very politically left. However, High Level isn’t overtly racist, and with solid editorial, probably would have been a good story. It also featured the very best art in all of the Woke Vertigo books. Would it have made a difference? Probably not, but at least the line would have had a shot to not turn off most of its audience.
So Many Scandals
Andy Khouri intentionally stuffed the creative teams with friends he thought would be controversial and push far left progressivism and identity politics. The problem with filling your comic lineup with hardcore activists is well….they are hardcore activists and tend to have cringy personalities and lack fundamental human skills. Most people could have seen what happened next miles away, the era of Woke Vertigo scandals began.
On 23 August Goddess Mode artist Robbi Rodriguez tweeted a set of uncensored close-up images of a male’s anus to independent comic book artist and YouTuber Ethan Van Sciver. It was truly bizarre as there had been no interaction between the two leading up to the event. The Tweets were likely due to Van Sciver’s association with comicsgate, a consumer movement aimed at removing ideological propaganda from comics, preserving superhero legacies, and insisting on decent behavior by professionals in the comic book industry while interacting with customers.
The irony couldn’t have been deeper.
The tweets were deleted almost immediately and his twitter profile was amended to read “this is a parody account.” Rodriguez deleted every tweet on the account but it was far too late as archives showed the parody description had never appeared during the accounts prior 10 years of existence.
Van Sciver was a long-time DC artist before being blacklisted by the comics industry for supporting Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign. He created several memorable DC characters such as Jessica Cruz and Saint Walker. Ethan expanded the Green Lantern mythos with creations like the Black and Red Lantern Corps as well as the Sinestro Corps. He also collaborated with Geoff Johns on dozens of memorable and highly-profitable projects such as Flash Rebirth and Green Lantern Rebirth. Despite all the characters and money Van Sciver generated for DC Comics, they never publicly addressed the X-rated anus tweets and Rodriguez continued illustrating Goddess Mode. Little did Andy Khouri and crew know, things would soon go from bad to worse.
In mid-December a toy designer accused an unidentified Vertigo comic pro of abusive and harassing behavior, including sexual assault, in a blog post. People quickly connected the dots and identified Border Town writer Eric Esquivel as the unnamed assailant. Esquivel quickly deleted most of his social media with the exception of Twitter, which he would later use to blame white television characters for his abusive behavior.
Fellow Border Town creators Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvilain distanced themselves from Esquivel and exited the series. Villalobos released a public statement via Twitter and mentioned he heard “rumors about Eric and his treatment of women” prior to the accusations. Bonvillain also claimed on Twitter, she heard about “other complaints about Esquivel, including some that were reported to DC Vertigo.” Other creators, in the incestuous comic book industry, later came forward claiming they heard the rumors as well.
Andy Khouri’s history of mishandling scandal at Comics Alliance with Chris Simms had come back to haunt Vertigo in a big way. DC Comics informed retailers the series was cancelled immediately, previous issues were now returnable and issues 5 and 6 never shipped. Woke Vertigo’s final scandal was a drop in the bucket in comparison to the Esquivel fiasco.
DC Vertigo cancelled their series Second Coming just weeks before it was due to launch. The series was to depict a returning Jesus Christ rooming with a modern day superhero, Sun Man. Following a report on Fox News an online petition was started that resulted in the publisher requesting edits to the art and removal of some foul language. Creators Mark Russell and Richard Pace requested DC release the rights to the series so they could move it to another publisher.
And there you have it. Within seven short months #WokeVertigo suffered three serious scandals, and two premature series cancellations. Andy Khouri, the Comics Alliance EIC who used his website to push far left progressivism and identity politics, eventually infiltrating DC Comics, got exactly what he wanted. Woke Vertigo titles ship around six-thousand issues a piece. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe titles have been tainted by association and only ship in the vicinity of thirteen-thousand copies. A cultural touchstone that meant so much to lifelong comic book readers has been irrecoverably harmed but Vertigo Comics is now officially woke and all but dead and gone.