NBC announced Friday that Constantine is coming to TV this fall.
Based on the wildly popular comic book series “Hellblazer” from DC Comics, seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine (Matt Ryan, “Criminal Minds”) specializes in giving hell… hell. Armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and his wickedly naughty wit, he fights the good fight – or at least he did. With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to leave his do-gooder life behind, but when demons target Liv (Lucy Griffiths, “True Blood”), the daughter of one of Constantine’s oldest friends, he’s reluctantly thrust back into the fray – and he’ll do whatever it takes to save her. Before long, it’s revealed that Liv’s “second sight” – an ability to see the worlds behind our world and predict supernatural occurrences – is a threat to a mysterious new evil that’s rising in the shadows. Now it’s not just Liv who needs protection; the angels are starting to get worried too. So, together, Constantine and Liv must use her power and his skills to travel the country, find the demons that threaten our world and send them back where they belong. After that, who knows… maybe there’s hope for him and his soul after all.
The cast also includes Harold Perrineau and Charles Halford.
Mining history for fictional fodder has been a staple of television program dating back to HBO’s Rome and now series set across the years can be found on prime time and basic cable channels with more on the way. Whereas some like the CW’s new Reign is laughably inaccurate, others do their homework and mine the reality for nuggets to hang characters and stories on. Most audiences are blissfully undereducated about world history so they will swallow events on The Tudors, Borgias, and others without realizing how many liberties have been taken in the name of dramatic license and television realities.
No surprise then that the venerable History Channel would want to get in on the fun and they wisely picked one of the least known and richest cultures to mine for dramatic fare. Last spring they unleashed the nine part Vikings, a Canadian-Irish coproduction developed and written by Michael Hirsrt who proved to have a flair for the past with Showtime’s The Tudors. The Vikings, living in northern Europe, were fearsome warriors and plied the seas, exploring the world long before Western Europe got around to it. Their largely oral history didn’t get recorded until generations later but thanks to modern day archeology, we have grown to develop a much better understanding of their ways.
One of the best Vertigo titles of the last decade was Northlanders, also about Viking culture, so I was primed for this series and was not disappointed. Thanks to MGM and 20th Century Home Entertainment, a handsome box set has been released this week. Set in 793, during the earliest days of their recorded raids, Hirst chose to use the real life Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), who, like John Rhys Myers’ Henry VIII is depicted at a much earlier point in his famous life. Here he is a young warrior, raising a family with his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
He desires to ply the seas further west and works with Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), to develop faster, sturdier longships and then petitions his chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) for petition to make the trip. Despite Haraldson’s refusal, Ragnar, with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), makes the first trip to Northern England, successfully plundering the land and bringing home the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) as part of his booty. King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) is none too pleased and skirmishes between the two cultures begin.
There’s the usual dash of soap opera elements such as Rollo lusting after Lagertha, who is an able Viking shieldmaiden, but it’s also a more somber, brutal series than Hirst has previously produced. The writing and performances are strong and compelling, making this satisfying viewing.
The nine episodes are spread over three Blu-ray discs and you have the option of watching them as they aired on History or in the extended (now with more blood and nudity!) versions that aired in Europe. Visually, both versions are sharp, with excellent color transfer.
The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track means you can hear the wind rush over the waves or the swords cutting into flesh. Trevor Morris’ superb score is never better and enhances the viewing.
The extras contain the needed Season Mode, allowing you to seamlessly zip through the nine episodes and bookmark wherever you stopped watching. There are also commentaries on the first and last episodes, from Hirst and Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays Haraldson’s wife Siggy, on the first, and Winnick and Standen on the second. There are Deleted Scenes that are extended versions of ones that aired in Episodes One and Eight, which means they were likely trimmed for running time reasons Far more interesting is A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law (20:48) where Hirst takes us through what is known about the Viking culture, with input from Dr. Anthony Perron, Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University; Dr. Jochen Burgtorf, Professor of History, University of California, Fullerton; and Justin Pollard. Hirst and his cast appear on Birth of the Vikings (17:09), discussing their characters. Forging the Viking Army: Warfare and Tactics (12:11) tracks how the armies were trained for the vicious battles as sword master Richard Ryan and stunt coordinator Mark Henson discuss their work.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward By H.P. Lovecraft and I.N.J. Culbard 128 pages, SelfMadeHero/Abrams, $19.95
I never could warm up to H.P. Lovecraft’s prose. It was turgid and overly descriptive, so on the one hand, he had a tremendous imagination but put me to sleep as he conjured up the unimaginable horrors. His visual imagination gave birth to the legend of Cthulu which remains all he is remembered for by the mass populace. Still, people turn to his works for inspiration or, in this case, adaptation. INJ Culbard has adapted Lovecraft (1890-1937) before with At the Mountains of Madness and has also done some noteworthy versions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Domestically, he probably best known for his collaboration with Dan Abnett on Vertigo’s imaginative New Deadwardians.
Now he tackles The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft’s 51,000 word short novel written in 1927, streamlining the story and bringing the dialogue heavy tale to life. SelfMadeHero has released this in Europe and now it comes to the United States through their relationship with Abrams. Originally a short story expanded to novel length, Lovecraft was said to have disliked the longer version but it gave Culbard plenty to work with. In short, this is a two-person tale, Ward, has become fascinated with his relative, Joseph Curwen, known for his regular visits to local graveyards. Curwen seems ageless and Ward tries to replicate the experiments that prolonged the man’s life and of course, things turn out differently. Now incarcerated, he tells his tale to Doctor Marinus Willet. As a result, Culbard is given a chance to take the reader from the past to the present and back again, as the story unfolds and the horrors are revealed.
The words may be Lovecraft’s but the storytelling and pacing are all the artist’s and he brings a nice variety to the visual narrative. Given how dialogue-laden this is, he mixes things up nicely and takes us on the journey. The heavy black borders on each page along with the somber coloring adds an atmosphere of dread to the proceedings.
This is a story of mistaken identity and Ward’s perception of reality is altered, and Culbard drops much of the descriptive narrative to focus on the images and it’s less effective than hoped for.
Where he falls down is in depicting the monster, brief as it is. Considering this is the debut of Yog-Sothoth to the Cthulu mythos, it should be far more momentous. It just isn’t frightening so after all this build up, you’re left thinking, “Is that it?” He told Comic Book Resources, “Often, his characters aren’t there for you to invest in them; they’re there to guide you through a nightmare because the horror is often so much bigger than the individual. But this is partly why I think Lovecraft’s work lends itself so well to a visual medium like comics, because the minute you draw a face, you’re entering into characterization. Really, to some degree, Lovecraft provides you with a blank slate. The trick is really determining what you show. Quite often, Lovecraft would only really give you a glimpse of the horror, because to see it in its entirety would be too much for the mind to comprehend.” While he’s correct, he didn’t pull this off as successfully as intended.
Still and all, the ambitious adaptation is more successful than not and for fans of Lovecraft’s output, this will be well-received.
“Something Awesome”. Seems an easy thing to ask for from a fellow who can go to any moment in time and space, and allows for lots of interpretation. So Clara asks for that, The Doctor is happy to provide, whisking her off to…
THE RINGS OF AKHATEN
By Neil Cross
Directed by Farren Blackburn
The Doctor takes Clara to Akhaten, a group of worlds inside a series of asteroid belts orbiting a huge star. It’s the time of a ceremony that will supposedly keep the god which created their worlds asleep. Young Merry is elected to sing the history of their civilization, and is naturally skittish about getting it right. It’s made plain as time passes that this is more of a sacrifice than a simply ceremony, forcing The Doctor and Clara to take a hand in saving young Merry, and to keep the very real god from eating the system.
The episode serves two purposes; to serve as a BIG info dump for Clara’s backstory, and to really let The Doctor show off to her. As to that second half, it’s very much a parallel to The End of the World, Rose’s first foray into space. Both feature a bevy of new aliens, including the Face of Boe, and both feature am enlarging sun threatening to engulf them.
The story is solid, and Jenna-Louise Coleman does wonderfully in the common spot of the companion’s first exposure to the rest of the universe, but I thought the direction on Matt was a bit lacking. In comparison to the magnificent bombastic speech he gave in The Pandorica Opens, his monologue to the sentient sun was somewhat lacking. It may have been a decision to make him seem sadder, or tired, weighed down, but it came off weak for me. I’d have much rather seen him almost daring the sun to take it all, as opposed to the more resigned tone he had here.
Also, we’re once again seeing a story where the companion saves the day when The Doctor’s plans come up lacking. That’s been happening a LOT more with Moffat’s run on the show, and while I enjoy seeing a strong character, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Doctor save everybody on occasion.
THE MONSTER FILES – The sentient sun of Akhaten reminds one of the antagonist in 42, a living sun fighting back after the mining ship accidentally stole her children. This one is clearly more belligerent in its attitude.
The production team went to great lengths to create a wide range of brand new creatures in this episode. We’ve had a couple of big collections of aliens in the new series, like the aforementioned party on Platform One, Dorium’s place in A Good Man Goes to War, and even the bar where Captain Jack met Alonzo. Save for the last one, they’ve gone out of their way to create new aliens, as opposed to grabbing stuff off the rack. One race breathed though some sort of filtration device, somewhat reminiscent of the Hath, the fish-creatures from The Doctor’s Daughter.
GUEST STAR REPORT Neil Cross (writer) Created the series Luther, for which we are all rightly thankful. He also wrote the script for Mama, Guillermo Del Toro’s recent presentation
Farren Blackburn (Director) last worked on Doctor Who when he directed The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, last year’s Christmas Special. He’s had a long career in directing TV, including an episode of Luther and two of the remake of Terry Nation’s Survivors.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
A TALE THAT GROWS IN THE TELLING – There’s been a number of stories in the series that center around a grand festival that serves as a way for an old threat to return. The most memorable are the twin tales Kinda and its sequel Snakedance. The actions of the villain in those stories were more deliberate; here it’s more a case of time being up for the dormancy of the sun.
“I came here a long time a go with my granddaughter” – This is, in fact, the first mention of Susan in the new series. Clara’s double take on the fact that a man this young-looking can have a granddaughter is not followed up upon, but will almost certainly be referred to again.
Also, did anyone else find it odd that they refer to their god as “Grandfather”?
“What’s happening, why is it angry?” – The TARDIS translates foreign and alien languages automatically for those traveling within it. But there’s almost always a scene where a companion is faced with an alien it can’t understand. Now, there’s any number of explanations that could explain such a thing, like they haven’t been on the ship long enough for all languages to process, or some languages are more differnt from English (or too simplistic, such as more animal -like speech like Doreen’s) to be immediately legible. But it all comes down to the fact that a scene where a Companion misunderstands a situation due to not knowing the language, resulting in a comedic moment, is just plain too comedic a moment NOT to do. And any attempt to inject import into it is just plain Looking Too Hard.
“Not money….something valuable” – The big theme of the story is that of experiences and memories having an intrinsic value. For the people of the system, they’re used as currency, a system which I have to admit sounds cooler than it would be in actual use. I can imagine any number of problems with having to part with one’s cherished belongings in order to buy the groceries. In the case of the god at the center of the system, those memories and experiences are its literal bread and butter. Clearly it merely reads those memories as opposed to draining them, as The Doctor isn’t reduced to an empty shell. In the case of Clara’s leaf, it’s absorbed entirely as it doesn’t have any memories itself, but represents potential existence, a life un-led. Need I mention that this is also the chosen food of the Weeping Angels?
“Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax, and Cabbages and Kings” – The Doctor quotes Lewis Carroll, specifically The Walrus and The Carpenter. While his work has never been mentioned in the TV show, it’s been referenced in the other media a few times. The Doctor met the author in an prose adventure called The Shadows of Avalon, and in a fan-made video adventure called Downtime (which features the Great Intelligence, but that’s likely just a coincedence), it’s revealed that he photographed a young Victoria Waterfield. (Those who know a bit about the kind of photography Mr. Dodgson liked to take of young girls may find a moment of thought there)
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT –
CARLOTTA VALDEZ I WILL MAKE YOU HER – It wasn’t until The Doctor said out loud that the reason he was so keen on spending time with Clara is because she “remind[s] me of someone who died” that I realized that The Doctor is in a similar situation to Scottie in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Like in the film, Scottie loses Madeline after she falls from a high place. The Doctor doesn’t fall into a depression over it (that was from the last one) but does become very excited about meeting her again, or at least another close approximation. Clara’s bold statement that she won’t be a “replacement” for the other Clarae shows an independence that Judy never had in the film. And just to keep the pot stirring, Scottie was the target of a con job, and Judy was only pretending not to know him, when in fact (SPOILERS) she had been posing as Madeline to use him as a patsy in her “death”, (END SPOILERS)
“She’s not possible” – But it’s clear that The Doctor is fascinated by Clara, not in the way Scottie was of Judy, but more as trying to figure out how she can appear at three moments of history. It’s more than spatial genetic multiplicity, which is how Gwen Cooper looks so much like Gwyneth from The Unquiet Dead – here it seems much more like it’s the SAME person, with so many “Clarallels”. He follows her through her whole life, from the moment her parents met to the time of her mother’s passing, which serves to reveal the secrets behind both Clara’s book, and the leaf which she called “page one”. The two years she skipped in the progressive numbers on the book were 16 and 23 – 23 was the year the Maitland’s mom died, and she was simply too bust thinking about them to write in the book, and 16 was the year her own mom died. This also serves to explain how she couldn’t bear to leave her friends on their own when their mom died.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – What’s big and hard and full of…OK, it’s a submarine, and there’s a bunch of very nervous Russians trying to stay alive against one The Doctor’s oldest enemies. A return to the Cold War, seven days hence.
Mad Men starts its sixth season this weekend. I won’t be able to see it because I’m out of the country, but my cat sitter has strict instructions to set the DVR, so I expect to be up to speed anon.
I am psyched.
The last season ended in 1967. I’m not sure whether this new season will pick up immediately after the last one left off, or if it will jump forward a year or two. In any case, the late 1960s were a time when any average Tuesday had more drama and conflict and human interest than all of the 1980s combined.
The advertising for this new season, at least as seen in the posters in the subway, hint at some of the challenges we can expect to see. Buttoned-up Don Draper versus a chaotic world.
Which brings me around to comics, and the points I want to make this week. For as long as I can remember (which doesn’t include the late 1960s, by the way, because that’s what the late 1960s were like for me), comics fans have bemoaned the fact that comics don’t advertise. If only comics reached out to people the way books/movies/television do, we’d have a mainstream medium.
I don’t think it would make any difference. Comic companies don’t know how to advertise.
Let’s look at an ad for an upcoming series I anticipate eagerly, the new Constantine, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes and Renato Cuedes. John Constantine is one of my favorite characters.
The ad shows Constantine sitting in a graveyard, slouched against a tombstone with his name on it, smoking a cigarette. There is a vase of red roses at his feet. Zombie hands are reaching for him, and there is a drooling zombie behind him. A skull rises from a grave to his left. There is a logo above his head, and above that is the line, “Playing with magic always comes with a price…”
It’s a terrible ad.
If you didn’t know anything about the character, or the creative team, what would this tell you? It seems to depict a guy who is so lackadaisical about the undead that he can relax with a smoke. Where is the tension? Where is the drama?
What’s in it for me?
The best advertising suggests a benefit for the consumer. It elicits an emotional response (and if you don’t believe me, watch any episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper explains things to the client). Perhaps my dishes will be cleaner, my vacation more glamorous, my beer-drinking nights more fun. Successful advertising for entertainment promises me emotional highs and lows, laughter and/or tears. It promises me that I will experience something I’ve never had before.
Perhaps DC assumes that, since the ad is running in their books, the reader knows who the character is, and what the creative team can do. Perhaps they think this information is enough to motivate someone already familiar with the work.
After all, the Mad Men poster I praised earlier is just a picture of Jon Hamm walking down a city street. In this case, however, the average media consumer knows about the show, and even if that person doesn’t watch it, Jon Hamm is regularly in movies and other television shows, reaching an audience outside the show’s usual demographics. By using a master of advertising illustration from the same era as the show, the ad evokes the time period. The composition implies a tension that is at odds with the soft colors of the background.
My curiosity is piqued. I can’t wait. Anticipation achieved.
The DC ad does none of this. And until our industry learns how advertising works (and, no, this doesn’t count), we don’t deserve nice things.
Pro Se Productions, a Publisher specializing in Heroic Fiction, New Pulp and multiple genres, announces today the licensing of a modern hard boiled PI Character originally appearing in a DC Vertigo mini series and created by one of the leading writers of modern Crime Pulp Fiction.
Angeltown The Nate Hollis Investigations Moonstone 2011
“Pulp is associated with many genres,” Tommy Hancock, Partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se stated. “None, though, probably as much as the Crime/Mystery field, particularly the PI tale. That’s why Pro Se is proud to announce that Nate Hollis, a character created by Gary Phillips for the 2005 Vertigo miniseries ANGELTOWN is now a part of Pro Se’s future prose lineup.”
A noted crime and mystery writer, Gary Phillips is the creative mind behind the Ivan Monk series as well as books featuring Las Vegas’ showgirl-turned- courier, Martha Chaney. Phillips has also contributed to multiple collections, including one of Moonstone’s AVENGER CHRONICLES, and is one of the two driving forces, along with Hancock, behind Pro Se’s upcoming major release BLACK PULP.
“ANGELTOWN,” said Hancock, “introduced the world to Nate Hollis, as hard boiled and two fisted as any detective that came before him. Not only does Nate have all the classic attributes of a Pulp PI, but he’s set squarely in the modern era and is also enhanced by all that comes with that. Pro Se is excited about the future of Nate Hollis, including new anthologies and even novels written by the best authors in New Pulp, including Gary himself.”
Nate Hollis Creator Gary Phillips
Hollis’ creator, Gary Phillips added, “I’m jazzed that Tommy and the fine folks at Pro Se Press have taken on producing the further outings of Nate Hollis and the other characters in his orbit. Tough customers such as shotgun-wielding female bounty hunter Irma Ducett aka Irma Deuce, and Nate’s ex-pro football playing granddad, Obadiah “Clutch” Hollis, current owner of a neighborhood dive frequented by the squares and the strange. Certainly I’m looking forward to seeing how other writers will devise cases for Nate and, of course, I’ll be penning some new stories too. It’s going to be a blast.”
Hancock stated that announcements would be forthcoming concerning publication of the first Nate Hollis book from Pro Se, fully expecting a book to be published in the first half of 2013.
Nate Hollis originally debuted in Angeltown, a five-part miniseries from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, January-May 2005. The strip was then collected and reprinted in hardcover graphic novel form as Angeltown: The Nate Hollis Investigations, with two new prose short stories added, by Moonstone Books in 2011.
But I don’t want to write about that. For one thing, I don’t have any inside knowledge, so I would only be speculating.
Here’s the thing. Comics is such a small world that I know both of these women. I worked with Karen for the better part of a decade, threw the launch party for Vertigo in my apartment when I couldn’t get DC to pay for it, and enjoyed her work a great deal. I don’t know Gail as well, but I’ve met her a few times, I love her writing, admire her work for the Hero Initiative, and think she’s a really classy person.
These are big names in the business. I am not. But comics is still low-profile enough that we are, more or less, peers. Or at least colleagues.
I was reminded of this last week, when I hosted our annual Hanukah party, the first one since my husband died. It was a bittersweet occasion, an event he loved very much. I thought it was an outrage that he wasn’t here for it, but I also thought it was important to continue the tradition. Life goes on, despite my best efforts.
My friends came out to support my son and myself, and that’s what friends do. The guest list isn’t just my friends from comics. It’s my friends from different aspects of my life, including my son and his friends. My apartment isn’t so large that the comics people can avoid the knitters, or the anti-war people can be in a room separate from my high school pals.
One of our guests is an aspiring comics creator whom I introduced to a few pros at New York Comic-Con last year. He happily told me about the other people in the business he’d met since then, and how great each of them had been to him.
This is not to go all rose-colored-glasses on you. There are people in the business I don’t like. There are people in the business who don’t like me. There are people I don’t know, and more of them all the time. There isn’t any one of them I’d be intimidated to talk to.
And there isn’t anybody I wouldn’t defend against the attacks of the broader culture, the sneers of elitists who look down on the medium (fewer every day).
We’re in this together, and we have each other’s back. It reminds me of this lyric:
I met Karen Berger around 20 years ago when Vertigo first became a DC Comics imprint. I was 5… heh. At the time I was doing work for Piranha Press, another DC imprint, which started around the same time as Vertigo.
From her start at DC, Karen was a no nonsense yet kind editor. What that means is if she did not hire you she let you down with the knowledge that you could come back. Soon after Karen began her reign at Vertigo it became clear that you may have been welcomed back but if you sucked going back would just be a waste of everybody’s time especially Karen’s because if you sucked you would never ever work for Vertigo.
Now that did that mean just because you were a brilliant artist or writer your project would get a green light at Vertigo. Talent was just one of the factors Karen used to chose project. I pitched a project to Vertigo and Karen passed.
Hopefully it was because the project lacked something not because I sucked. Although when I saw Karen after the rejection she pretended to faint. The next time I saw her she pretended to have a heart attack and after that amnesia and so forth and on.
Karen, in my opinion is the last of the great comic book editors. That’s not to say there are not great comic book editors but Karen had a vision that was unique and her books wore that stamp.
Karen leaving Vertigo is one of the dumbest moves DC could allow. If she decided she wanted a change and I ran DC I would have told her to do whatever she wanted but just do it at DC. I like and respect Diane Nelson and I don’t know the particulars of why Karen is leaving so maybe dumb is the wrong word so I’ll say in my opinion it’s dumb to me.
Letting one of the most talented and original voices in the history of comics go is to me is just plain dumb. But for all I know Diane tried to talk Karen into staying but Karen faked a heart attack in the middle of the meeting.
Well, DC’s lost is someone else’s huge gain.
I can’t wait to see where she ends up. The moment I do I’m calling her using a fake name so she won’t have to fake amnesia. J
Thirty years is a long time. A lot can happen. And a funny thing happens as the years pass. You look back and you can see how you ended up where you are today. How the chalk drawings of your life have made a graphic novel starring you. It’s a story made up of page-turners and cliffhangers, of happy endings and endings that leave you nauseous with Vertigo.
Like so many others, I was, frankly, shocked when the news broke that Karen is leaving DC this March. (I believe my words were “Holy shit!”) Is this her decision? Is she being pushed out? I’ll leave that issue to others.
This column is, simply put, a love letter to Karen Berger.
Last week Mike Gold wrote, im-not-so-ho, a brilliant column about Karen and her lasting imprint on the comics field, in which he stated – I’m paraphrasing – that “Karen fostered and molded and taught her staff.” I can attest to that. Though I was never part of her staff per se, if it was not for Karen Berger and her nurturing of whatever talent I may possess as a writer…well, my life would have been very, very different, and I’m sure I would not be here at ComicMix now.
In 1983 I was a single mom, and apart from the joy Alix gave me, I was a very, very unhappy and lost woman. I was lonely. I was, if not in darkness, in a fog as thick as pea soup. I could not put a finger on what was wrong, I only knew that something was lacking. There was an emptiness in my life. It was as if I was standing in the center of a compass, and I didn’t know in what direction I should walk.
Whatever possessed me to sit down that day and write a brief synopsis of what would become Jenesis, the story that got me into DC’s New Talent Showcase? Was it hope? Was it, as my therapist likes to say, a core of steel somewhere buried deep within me that enables me to always pick myself up no matter what, and to and continue to put one foot in front of the other? Was it the hand of God, or the Goddess, or Fate, or Karma, or whatever higher power is out there? Or was it pure chutzpah, born out of a need to do something to change my life? For me, and for Alix? (I tend to think that it was God giving me that hope and core of steel and the chutzpah, but that’s just me. You can decide for yourselves.)
But nobody, despite what they may boast, does it all alone.
The day I came home from my first meeting with Karen was the beginning of the end for me: the end of feeling chained down, the end of feeling mislaid and misplaced, the end of feeling alone. I had met a woman who saw something in me that I had lost the ability to see – my ability to dream. My ability to accomplish.
Karen was not only my editor. She became my friend. I was there as she and Richard fell in love, broke up, got back together, and got married in an absolutely beautiful wedding in brick townhouse in Greenwich Village. She was the first person that I ever told about my agoraphobia – we were sitting in a restaurant on Columbus Avenue.
“I’m having a panic attack,” I said.
“Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but I’m freaking out.”
“That something is going to happen to me and I’ll end up lying on the floor,” I answered.
“And what, do you think I would ignore you, that people would just walk over you getting to their tables?” she asked?
And we laughed.
And though the anxiety attacks continued – I still get them sometimes – I’ve never again let them hold me back.
Comics…and an editor and friend named Karen Berger helped me to learn to believe in myself again.
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.