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Chapter One: “Is this a book?” DC Vertigo and the redefinition of comics in the 1990s.

Round, J., 2010. Chapter One: “Is this a book?” DC Vertigo and the redefinition of comics in the 1990s. In: Williams, P. and Lyons, J., eds. Contemporary American Comics: Creators and their Contexts. University of Mississippi Press, 14-30.

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Not only comics publishing but also perceptions of it have changed radically during this century and the comic book has become a graphic novel; invoking notions of permanence, literariness and artistry. This chapter will examine the changes that brought about this redefinition in the 1990s, specifically with regard to the role of DC Vertigo and the rise of the trade paperback. Building on the popularity of British creators in the 1980s and the success of titles such as Hellblazer and Animal Man, DC launched their Vertigo imprint in 1993, with Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman as their flagship title. Having the somewhat paradoxical aim of uniting unique creative voices under one imprint, the majority of Vertigo titles (which feature original characters) are creator-owned and the Vertigo stable is comprised mainly of British authors, many of whom were recruited while writing for 2000AD in the 1980s. Vertigo puts out more trade paperbacks than any other imprint and their great success in marketing the trade paperback form in many senses paved the way for other publishers to repackage their material in similar form. After summarising the position of comics at the close of the 1980s (British invasion, emergent star writers, direct distribution) this chapter proceeds to discuss the emergence of the trade paperback in the 1990s and its role in redefining comics. Relevant industry factors will include: • technical advances – digitising and reproduction has led to higher production values; but also perhaps a homogeneity of style; • employment changes – everything has been brought in-house; • marketing changes (star writer) – uses romantic ideology to assign an author function; • maxi-series versus ongoing serialisation – new permanence of product; writing for a multi-issue story-arc. Outside factors will also be discussed, including: • emergent IP law – this has given more control to the creator; but freezes shared symbols and limits development; • mechanical reproduction – comic book as product; multiple forms; • fan culture – mid 1990s speculators market crash; neglect of child market; • social context/cultural expectations – celebrity culture responsible for the emergence of star writers; youth culture and resisting definition as children’s literature; • new media – trade paperbacks mirror DVD releases (including extras); • bookstore distribution – challenge to direct marketing of 1980s; brings comics closer to ‘proper’ books; reliant upon author function. These changes in comics’ production and consumption, together with the critical attention now afforded them, have brought the contemporary comic book closer to the notion of the literary text.

Item Type:Book Section
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:19409
Deposited By: Dr Julia Round
Deposited On:24 Feb 2012 15:13
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 13:42

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