"Brian K. Vaughan is a racist piece of shit!"
The Vertigo panel at the New York City Comic Con was maybe thirty seconds in, with Vertigo Senior Vice President Karen Berger beginning to introduce Brian Wood's upcoming series "Northlander," when things got a little crazy.
Well, a lot crazy.
Someone in the first row, not five feet away, apparently had a wee bit of an issue with Vaughan's depiction of Asians in his work, and wanted to make it known. Loudly. The epithets continued until some of Vertigo's more intimidating editors and another con goer eighty-sixed the man, who left the room with fist raised in defiance, shouting "Asian Power!"
Vaughan, understandably, looked shocked, then quipped "Well, at least he's reading the books."
The panel was crowded with Berger and Vaughn joined by Vertigo Group Editor Shelly Bond, editors Will Dennis and Jonathan Vankin, as well as Brian Azzarello, Brian Wood, Andy Diggle, Jock, Percy Carey, Jason Aaron, Douglas Rushkoff, Rick Veitch, Cameron Stewart and Becky Cloonan, with Dean Haspiel putting in a special guest appearance from the audience.
After the impromptu political demonstrations were out of the way, Berger, who was running the presentation, got down to the business of the panel: running down the Vertigo projects for the next year, a year that included few several new original graphic novels and series in addition to the old standards.
- "Northlanders," an ongoing Viking series written by "DMZ" writer Brian Wood, who spoke briefly about the project, citing a childhood love of Vikings as the inspiration and grownup observations about the parallels between the current world situation and the era the Vikings lived through. Wood did extensive research for the project, which debuts late this year, going through the sagas and even traveling to Iceland.
- "God Save The Queen," a two issue series by Mike Carey about punk faeries living in England, featuring Titania, a major figure in "Sandman" as well as the "Books of Magic." The series will debut in April.
- "Silverfish," an original graphic novel by Stray Bullets creator David Lapham, will come out in July. The book is a hitchcockian noir about four teenagers in a sleepy town who have to contend with a psychopath.
- "UnMen" takes up where the nineties miniseries "American Freak" left off, with the Swamp Thing villains the UnMen living in a small city of their own.
- "Sentences," an original graphic autobiography by Percey Carey, better know as MC Grimm. Carey was modest about his life, saying that writing about it wasn't 'boring'.
Berger responded that he's lived "A hell of a life."
"Now," joked Carey " Now that I've worked with Vertigo, life is beautiful."
- "The Alcoholic," a semi autobiographical GN written by Jonathan Ames and illustrated by Dean Haspiel, who was pressed by Berger into getting up onto the stage to talk about the book.
"This is perfect for him," said Dino, referring to Ames "The Alcoholic" as "one of the best autobiographical memoirs to date."
- "Faker," by writer Mike Carey and artist Jock, who took the mic to describe the series as being about four students who party hard, only to wake up and find that there are five of them. This seems normal to them, but the rest of the world disagrees. Jock promised sex, drugs and melting people although he was "not allowed to draw front bums."
- "Cairo," an original graphic novel that Berger compared to movies like "Babel" or "Crash" or a Robert Altman film, where a number of separate characters and plotlines weave together to tell a larger more complex tale.
- "Army@love," a new monthly series by comics legend Rick Veitch, who described it as taking place five years in the future where a unwinnable war has led the army "rebrand the way using modern marketing techniques." Karen Berger described the book as "'Desperate Housewives' meets 'MASH' meets 'Six Feet Under' five years in the future".
After that, Berger opened up the floor for questions. Dean Haspiel hopped right in with a question for Percy Carey, but Berger headed him off, explaining that the panel was being podcast, so he'd need to go over to the microphone for his question.
"That's what you get for being pushy," joked Berger.
Haspiel asked Percy if he'd be putting out a new CD to with his book.
"Yes sir!" said Carey, who also gave a shout out to the artist on "Sentences," who was also in the audience, and told the rest of the crowd that he'd be giving out free CDs after the panel.
Another audience member asked how people reading "Y the Last Man" in trades could avoid spoilers about the series finale.
"Don't turn on your computer?" suggested Vaughan.
A "100 Bullets" fan asked Brian Azzarello whether series character Isabelle "Dizzy" Cordova would die in issue #100, slated to be the series' last issue.
"No, issue #95. Asshole," said Azzarello, joking. Probably.
Another fan asked the panel what they thought Vertigo should do to increase their sales numbers, which Douglas Rushkoff fielded by suggesting that Vertigo readers should have more kids.
"If Vertigo readers don't get laid enough, we won't sell,' Rushkoff explained.
When asked how exactly he and artist Eduardo Risso, speaking two different languages and living on two separate continents, managed to worked together so well, Azzarello admitted "I have no clue." He shrugged. "We're just simpatico."
One audience member was curious if the controversy that Vertigo books sometimes engender was stifling or gratifying. Creatively.
Douglas Rushkoff told a story about how the American Jewish Congress, a well known and mainstream Jewish organization, had branded him an anti semite Jew, a title he shared with people such as noted playwright Tony Kushner. "Good self loathing jews" Rushkoff joked. He found the experience to actually be freeing, because it showed him that "they really are as fucked up as I thought they were" and he could write without worrying that he was simply being paranoid.
Brian Azzarello took over, explaining his trepidations going into "Loveless," his western series from Vertigo.
"I was a little concerned about the level of the language," he said, since the language was from a time when racist language was simply the run of the mill.
"I was being a little chicken shit," he said until Will [Dennis, series editor] told him to stop.
Azzarello was also asked if he had any other projects with "100 Bullets" collaborator Risso.
"Let us finish '100 Bullets' first," Azzarello said.
"I was just pressuring him on that last night," Berger put in.
"We might be sick of each other by then," said Azzarello.
Cameron Stewart talked a bit about his experiences traveling in Vietnam to do research for "The Other Side."
"I needed some shred of personal experience to match Jason Aaron's," he said, and mentioned that the sort of incident that occurred at the beginning of the panel was exactly the sort of thing he was hoping to avoid by making the three week trip. "The Other Side" will be available as a collected edition in May, and will include supplemental material from Stewart's trip, including a travelogue and pictures.
Andy Diggle spoke briefly about his upcoming run as the new regular writer for "Hellblazer," Vertigo's longest running title.
"It's pretty terrifying for me. John Constantine was the character that got me into American comics in the first place," said Diggle. Constantine remains one of Diggle's favorite characters, and his run begins next month with art by Leo Manco and covers by Lee Bermejo.
He also mentioned that while he wasn't officially involved with the movie adaptation, he's been talking with the screenwriter and he's very pleased with the way the characters and storylines are being handled.
He wouldn't be opposed to doing another "Losers" miniseries, with the remaining "Losers" trying to resolve some of the loose ends from the original series.
A fan asked whether or not John Constantine was still in the DCU continuity.
"I don't know what the official answer is," said Diggle, "But as far as I'm concerned, John Constantine doesn't live in a world with Superman."
The last question asked was since Vertigo has always been concerned with envelope pushing, would they be making any kind of effort to push the envelope in terms of the format of the comics they were putting out.
Karen Berger was simple, and summed up the Vertigo approach in one sentence.
"They are always new things to do," she said, "and we are always ready to do new things."
And with that the panel, with no sign of any more political protests in sight.