By Nancy Powell

Founding Vertigo editor Karen Berger’s return to comics has generated considerable buzz since ComicPro’s announcement in February, and Berger did not disappoint with the debut of five titles from her new line of creator-owned comics and graphic novels at the inaugural Berger Books panel Friday afternoon.

Joining Berger on the panel to discuss their forthcoming works were independent comics writer and Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award winning novelist Mat Johnson (Incognegro), former Marvel comics editor Ann Nocenti (creator of Marvel characters Typhoid Mary, Blackheart, Longshot, Mojo, and Spiral), and legendary Vertigo graphics designer and current art director of Berger Books, Richard Bruning.

Berger dove directly into the imprint’s lineup with the January 31 release of Hungry Ghosts, a four-issue anthology series written by Get Jiro creators Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose with cover art by Paul Pope and art by Alberto Ponticelli. Hungry Ghosts is about a ramen chef in Japan who refuses to give food to a homeless man and suffers the consequences. The book was inspired by a classic game that Samurai played in Edo-period Japan called 100 Candles. The slideshow provided a sneak-peak of the title’s black-and-white inks, which will be colorized in its final format.

Next on the agenda was a demo of the artwork for The Seeds, a character sketch about alienation and love by writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja. The Seeds is a human-alien love story and eco-thriller that explores themes of gender, race and interspecies relationships. The Seeds represents the first creator-owned series for both Nocenti and Aja.

Mat Johnson proceeded to discuss a reboot of the former Vertigo title, Incognegro. The book was based on the story of a Walter White, a reporter turned undercover detective who investigates hate crimes instigated by whites against blacks. The reboot will act as a prequel to the original series, which will feature an art deco cover inspired by the art of Aaron Douglas. Johnson discussed the autobiographical underpinnings behind the story in which a mixed-race man passes for white.

Berger reserved her greatest enthusiasm for Mata Hari, a book heavily researched by former Scottish parliament speech writer Emma Beeby, with art by Ariela Kristantina. Beeby wrote the book in the format of a fictional diary excerpt. Mata Hari will be released sometime in February.

The last title introduced was Dave Gibbon’s reboot of The Originals. Gibbons brought the original series to Berger at Vertigo in 2002. Gibbons was excited to get the rights back for the book, which “more or less wrote itself,” and offered it to Berger to publish. Gibbons discussed the difficulties in writing and creating his own comics and demonstrated his approach to writing by showing audience members a sample hand-drawn mind map of ideas.

Richard Bruning talked about the writer-centric approach he takes in order to make the stories more cohesive and more immersive to readers. Bruning gushed about the artistic freedoms with Dark Horse, but fell short of revealing new projects coming his way. Berger did reveal her goal of completing eight projects each year and that she had signed deals on three additional projects slated for release in late 2018.

Finally, a Q&A session with panel participants generated interesting discussion on the differences between a Vertigo book and a Berger book. “It needs to have an edge and be contemporary, genre-fiction with relevance to social and political aspects in the world that we live in today,” responded Berger.

Gibbons summed it up best by reiterating that Berger Books would be a curated collection, just as Vertigo was a curated collection, and that the common thread would be Karen herself.

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