Mike Gold: In Honor Of Talent
Too many people in the comics racket get the tribute they deserve long after they leave the medium – if, indeed, at all. So I’m going to try to write one while the subject is still in her editorial seat; possibly before she even decides if she wants to actually leave the medium.
As you probably read – presumably right here at ComicMix – Karen Berger will be leaving her position as Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of DC Entertainment’s Vertigo line this coming spring. As Glenn noted in his news story, Karen will have been at the company for a third of a century (no, that photo on Glenn’s story is recent) and will have run Vertigo for 20 years. Vertigo, which she fostered, molded, and kept alive in the face of challenge and competition, all without adequate support from the guy who ran their marketing department at the time
Most certainly, Karen did not do this alone. She had a very talented staff, a staff she acquired and in many cases taught. She gathered an exceptionally gifted list of talent, and some of them would take a bullet for her. A couple people who otherwise spit on the ground every time DC Comics was mentioned would climb an active volcano for her.
In the process, Karen added greatly to the landscape of American comics and boldly took DC Comics into new directions. Unless you’ve been there, you cannot truly understand what a courageous and complicated undertaking that is. At the time DC was a corporation that was part of a larger corporation that was part of a Fortune 500 company. More recently DC has been part of a major motion picture studio that was part of a much larger Fortune 500 company. It’s the same company, only a lot bigger.
Like most astonishingly huge corporations, Time Warner’s omnipresent product is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation. Oh, sure, from time to time they’ll hire a few outside-the-box thinkers, particularly when they need a creative kick in the ass. But those of us who earn our livings outside of that box know all too well there’s a point when the corporation grows weary of being kicked in the ass. It flies in the face of their corporate culture. Or, as Mel Brooks famously said in Blazing Saddles, a Warner Bros movie, “Gentlemen! We’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs here!”
Karen survived all that. Not just because she was great at her job, although that probably helped at times. She survived it because of her force of will, by doing what’s right by the talent she employed both creatively and in business to the best of her ability, and tilting at that windmill of bureaucracy with an energy that would drain Miguel de Cervantes.
Loyalty doesn’t come out of a box. You have to earn it.
In the process, Karen moved a huge chunk of DC Comics into areas the stodgy company had never considered. For decades there was a DC look that was impregnable. It worked, but like all creative endeavors eventually it showed its age. Karen planted the seeds of Vertigo years before the Vertigo imprint itself was established and now, in some of the more worthy New 52 titles, you can see the impact of her labors on the DC Universe. I don’t know if she realized her work was an act of subterfuge at the time, but some of us certainly did.
For this, Karen Berger deserves to go down in American comics history as one of the medium’s most innovative forces. Karen, as a co-worker you were amazing to be around. I can hardly wait to see what you do next.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil