Even as the dinner hour approached, DC Entertainment's Vertigo Comics Thursday evening at Comic-Con International in San Diego kept fans rooted to their seats in anticipation of new series announcements from the mature readers imprint.Senior VP/Executive Editor Karen Berger hosted a panel including "Sweet Tooth" creator Jeff Lemire, "American Vampire" artist Rafael Albuquerque, "The Unwritten" writer Mike Carey, Mike Allred, the "Fables" team of Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, "Swamp Thing" scribe Scott Snyder, Dustin Nguyen, and Dan Abnett. The big news of the panel would come toward the end, though, as Neil Gaiman appeared via video to reveal he will be writing a new six-issue "Sandman" miniseries to be published in 2013. J.H. Williams III also joined the panel when Berger announced him as the artist for the series.
Berger introduced the panel, noting that Lemire is up for an Eisner Award for his work on "Animal Man" and Carey has been nominated for "The Unwritten."
Snyder began by talking about "American Vampire" and the 1950s-era "Blacklist" story arc. "The two main characters Pearl and Skinner team up to kill the old Dracula style vampires in Hollywood," Snyder said. "This one is the game-changer, the one that brings every major character back together into this car crash, emotionally."
Albuquerque, the artist of the series, said the first arc's covers took their inspiration from advertising, but the tone of "The Blacklist" "is way darker." "I had to change the aesthetic of the cover," he said. "I got reference from Edward Hopper."
Dustin Nguyen, the "American Vampires: Lord of Vampires" artist, said working with Vertigo is very different from his other work in that he'd never inked so much of his own work before. Nguyen also said he and Snyder talked a lot on the phone, to which Snyder added, "I'm like a teenage girl on the phone."
Mike Carey came next, speaking about "The Unwritten." After jumping around a little in Tom Taylor's story line, #41 fills in some of the gaps in his history. "So much of the last few issues are new characters, new themes coming in," Carey said.
Berger spoke briefly about Sean Murphy's "Punk Rock Jesus," as Murphy has not yet appeared for the panel. The editor said that yesterday when the first issue was released, the book was trending above #SDCC on Twitter. She also covered Paul Cornell's "Saucer Country," "Spaceman" by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, and Anthony Bourain's "Get Jiro," which has its own panel on Friday. In the world of the story, "Chefs are the new Mafia," Berger said, and two rival factions are after Jiro.
Next came "Fables," with Willingham noting that the "Cubs in Toyland" arc has shown that "Toyland is not the happiest place on Earth." Berger asked Mark Buckingham—whom she calls "Bucky"—which of the Cubs he "fancies the most," causing the artist to laugh. "This isn't the panel I thought I'd be on!" He said the one he likes best is Ambrose, but he wants to do more with Blossom.
"So you fancy her," Berger joked.
"I don't fancy them! They're nine years old!" Buckingham laughed. "I fancy Rose Red, but I'm married to her so it's ok."
Willingham said the long-awaited "Werewolves of the Heartland" would "ripple through the 'Fables' universe for some time to come."
"Zoo City" author Lauren Beukes will write the second "Fairest" story arc, focusing on Rapunzel, Berger said.
Next up, Abnett spoke about "New Deadwardians." He said he had no intention of writing a zombie or vampire story, but "the word 'Deadwardians' sprung into my head—perhaps I love puns too much." In his alternate history, the British embrace vampirism for the upper classes. "The words 'vampire' and 'zombie' do not appear in the book," Abnett said. "The vampires try to live normal lives, carrying on in society," he added, "but what they've given up is the taste for anything in life."
A slide showing a "Sweet Tooth" triptych cover came next, but Lemire gingerly avoided spoiling anything about the upcoming final arc of the series. Lemire will paint the concluding issue #40 himself. "This will be me fulfilling the story," he said, "and I promise it is not a sad ending." Berger said she is talking with Lemire about his next project.
Allred, in talking about the "iZombie" finale, said, "I remember seeing 'Attack of the 50-foot Woman' as a kid and thinking, 'why isn't she naked?' Well, our 50-foot woman is naked." He said the series has "an amazing slow burn to it," adding he sees it as having a "unique, charming feel."
Sean Murphy, now on stage, talked a bit about "Punk Rock Jesus." The protagonist, a clone of Jesus created for a reality TV show, undertakes "a media war against the powers that be." "I'm glad it's coming out in an election year," he said, adding, "it's got a lot of action in it, too."
After speaking about new editions of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," Berger played a video of Gaiman himself. In it, Gaiman reads from his own scripts, including a scene from Destiny's books about Morpheus' journey, with "a victory of a kind," where he was "tested almost beyond endurance" before being captured by Burgess in "Sandman" #1. But what that journey was remained a mystery. "'Sandman' #1 was published in 1988 ... 2013 seems like a good time to tell that story," Gaiman said. The full video appears at the bottom of this report.
Berger then announced the artist as J.H. Williams III and invited him to the stage.
Williams said he is most interested in Desire and Destiny of the Endless, who will of course have a role to play in the story.
At this point the floor was opened to fan questions.
Asked what defines today's Vertigo, Berger characterized the stories as having "intelligence and edginess," but that the line had diversified from its roots.
Lemire said he pitched "Sweet Tooth" on the same day he and his wife learned they were going to become parents. His son, like the series' protagonist, is also named Gus.
Gaiman's new "Sandman" will run six issues, Berger clarified, and will come out "sometime next year."
Abnett said he'd like to do more "New Deadwardians" beyond the current eight issue mini.
Asked about working with Stephen King, Snyder said King was originally only going to blurb the book but asked about writing an issue. "And I said, if I tell them you want to write an issue, they'll want you to write the first issue, and I won't get to," Snyder said. Snyder added that King emailed him this morning, and Vertigo sends him all the books.
There are no plans for a new "Fables" cover book after the James Jean volume, but Berger seemed keen on the idea. "We're also going to do a 'Back Covers of Fables' book," Willingham joked, "collecting the house ads."
Asked whether Vertigo would do darker takes on DC heroes, Berger said the line has evolved into a place where they are and should be separate. Snyder added, though, that "we're writing [DC books] like they're over here," referring to his work on "Batman" and "Swamp Thing," and Lemire's "Animal Man."