Karen Berger Leaves DC Comics

karenbergerThis is momentous – and momentously bad – news for DC Comics: Karen Berger, the editorial genius responsible for nurturing the talents and stories that became the Vertigo imprint, has stepped down from DC. Her tremendous influence will be missed.

If you love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or Jamie Delano‘s Hellblazer, or Grant Morrison‘s Preacher, or titles like Y – The Last Man, Fables and so many more, you owe thanks to Karen Berger. It was Berger who put Alan Moore on the struggling Swamp Thing title and let him completely revamp the character; she guided his growth from British wunderkind to comics phenomenon on the title that made his bones in the USA. And, along the way, she midwifed the rebirth of the horror comic in America. Swamp Thing became a phenomenon, and so did Moore, paving the way for Watchmen and more.

Berger made a talent-scouting trip to the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s, and comics would never be the same. Berger thought the U.K. creators had an “edgier” perspective, and was responsible for assigning American comics work to Gaiman, Morrison, Moore and Peter Milligan. Their work on the horror and science-fiction titles Animal Man, Shade, the Changing Man, The Sandman, Hellblazer, The Saga of the Swamp Thing and the miniseries Black Orchid kicked in the door for modern comics and the British talent invasion to follow.

blackorchidBerger was shepherding her own little stable of titles – the Bergerverse – when the idea came along in 1993 to group them all together and form a separate imprint, Vertigo, with the mission to “do something different in comics and help the medium ‘grow up,'” as Berger put it. Sophisticated is often a misused word, but I believe it applied to Vertigo comics, because they required some thought and a sense of maturity to appreciate. Berger was there at the beginning (and I was there, buying the comics).

But nowadays, it seems, folks don’t want unique and ordinary. Vertigo has been losing its cachet over the past few years as DC appeared to devote fewer and fewer resources to it, and allowed it to wither on the vine. In 2010, Vertigo became the domain strictly of creator-owned comics, and all the DC-based characters were returned to the mainstream DCU (including everything from Swamp Thing to House of Mystery.)

Berger is staying on through March, in order to help with the transition, but it is nonetheless a terrible blow to DC. It’s sad to see her leave her editorial home after so many decades, but I wish Karen the best of luck in the future, and look forward to reading the new comics she develops.

Here is DC’s press release, issued this afternoon:

Karen Berger, Executive Editor & Senior Vice President of DC Entertainment’s Vertigo brand, has announced she is stepping down from her post after nearly 20 years at the helm of the award-winning literary imprint. She will remain on through March 2013 where she will be assisting in the transition to a new leadership team which includes veteran staffers whom she has mentored over the years.

Karen is responsible for shepherding critically-acclaimed and best-selling publishing titles including perennial favorites: THE SANDMAN, HELLBLAZER, V FOR VENDETTA. FABLES, PREACHER, THE INVISIBLES, 100 BULLETS, Y – THE LAST MAN and AMERICAN VAMPIRE. Vertigo has published nearly 300 new literary properties during the last 20 years. Berger notes she is ready for a professional change and is looking forward to pursuing exciting new opportunities.

“I’ve been incredibly proud to have provided a home where writers and artists could create progressive and provocative stories that broadened the scope of comics, attracting a new and diverse readership to graphic storytelling,” said Berger. “I’d like to thank all the many immensely talented creators who have helped make Vertigo into a daring and distinctive imprint and I’m grateful to everyone at DC Entertainment and the retail community for their support and commitment to Vertigo all these years. It’s been quite an honor.”

DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson stated, “We are extremely grateful for Karen’s commitment and dedication to Vertigo, its books and its incredibly talented team of staff and creators. In Vertigo she leaves a legacy to which we remain committed and on which we intend to build for the future. She will always be a deeply valued and respected member of the DC family.”

DC Entertainment is planning a celebration next year – to help salute Karen, her 33 years with the company and her many accomplishments, befitting her legendary status within DCE and across the publishing and comics industries.

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