Most of the discussion over the elimination of Shelly Bond’s position as head of the Vertigo line has centered on the lack of profit and hits for the imprint in recent years. But you can’t say that DC didn’t try. Two years ago Vertigo launched a big marketing campaign for the “Defy” line, and they made no secret of how much they spent on it: a cool $250,000. As I wrote then:
The books spotlighted for the campaign are FBP, Coffin Hill, Brother Lono, Trillum, The Wake, and Hinterkind. According to ad copy, there will be a $250,000 marketing campaign including ads in the LA Times (Hero Complex), IGN, NY Times.com, Huffington Post The Onion/AV Club, Facebook (Hello Brett Schenker), Goodreads and Romantic Times.
DC had previously spent big to advertise the New 52 on targeted cable TV outlets, and Vertigo books have been advertised during like-minded TV shows, like Doctor Who, and in upscale magazines, like The New Yorker.
The ads feature the vertigo “Defy” catchphrase, and represent a pretty big investment in the brand. We keep hearing that “Vertigo ain’t going anywhere.” With their strong backlist, no wonder.
The campaign kicked off with the front cover of Publishers Weekly, as shown above, and there were definitely ads for Sandman: Overture on various TV shows; not quite Defy but part of the same campaign I believe.
So did they get their money’s worth?
Looking at this line-up of books, it’s hard to see a title that had much traction except for The Wake, by Scott Snyder and Sean Gordon Murphy, an A-list creative team with a pretty good yarn to tell. Even Brother Lono, the follow-up to the much loved 100 Bullets seemingly fell by the wayside. I haven’t read all of them, so I can’t speak to the content.
It’s hard to tell what went wrong with the Defy line; I think a general malaise at DC during this time as the move to the west and staff attrition (and lack of morale) couldn’t have helped. To DC’s credit, they still stood behind the Vertigo line with last summer’s new push for 12 new titles, including The Sherriff of Babylon, Twilight Children, The Clean Room and other books that have gotten a strong cult following, at least online. Sales have still been pretty low however, and at some point change or the illusion of change had to be made.
Vertigo is truly one of the greatest publishing names in the history of comics. But to newer readers, it may have a very different reputation. They weren’t there when Morrison, Gaiman, Milligan and Ennis rewrote American comics. To them its just a bunch of horrorish/SFish books like you can get anywhere and done by more established names at Image. Associating a millennial idol like Gerard Way with a reboot gives it a kick that the existing team couldn’t do alone. That’s a harsh truth but sometimes this is a harsh business.