Over at The Savage Critic, Abhay Khosla reviews a new series from Vertigo, The Vinyl Underground. I haven’t read this comic, but I feel like I have, and I suspect that’s (a) why I enjoyed reading Abhay’s review and (b) why his reaction was so negative.
And yes, it’s another prong of the ongoing Great Vertigo Symposiblog of 2007 that’s spontaneously arisen in the last month. Like I said over a year ago, writing about American Virgin, “our shelves are filled with overpretentious underexecuted shortlived Vertigo series from the 90s.” At the moment, aside from a few stars (Fables, Y, DMZ, 100 Bullets) the bulk of Vertigo’s output feels like… bulk Vertigo output. As Abhay states (more clearly in the comments to his post than in the original post itself), The Vinyl Underground looks like well-trodden territory for the imprint, and I suspect the irritation comes less from a particular lack of quality in this book than from the sameness that it shares with its siblings, combined with that smug assertion of edginess and originality which is Vertigo’s trademark.* It’s telling that one character claims to be “the only on-line porn star who never goes all the way.” Abhay and Paul O’Brien have already poked fun at the naiveté of this line, but based on the reviews, she’s a lot like the book that contains her: asserting the novelty of a concept which has been done before and wasn’t really that interesting to begin with.
*the smug assertion, that is, not the edginess and originality. [Let the record show that back on The Engine I once suggested that maybe we needed a resurgence of “smirking” comics. Not sure where I stand on this at the moment. But I do like Matt Fraction.]
“Pull back for a double-page spread of… THE KITCHEN!!!”
Guy Major’s color palette, subtly mocked by Abhay, is problematic for me too in the PDF preview. The subtle gradients are certainly miles better than the dark ages of mid-90s Photoshopastrophes, but somehow they end up stiflingly warm and unexciting. Dull? Pale? One of those words. Again, it feels vaguely “Vertigo house style.” I much prefer Major’s coloring in Suburban Glamour, where he rightfully cranks up the pop (the blue in Astrid’s eyes and on Dave’s shirt!) to match McKelvie’s impossibly-charming visual style and carefree high-school setting.
(Is it possible for colors to be described as shiny vs. matte? I feel like that’s the difference here. Vertigo books feel very, very matte. Somehow you can tell even when you’re looking at both of them on a computer screen.)
This ties into a larger question of house style. Every publisher has an identity. Especially in the small world of comics, the taste of an editor does a lot to determine the look and feel of his/her books, from the simple decision of which projects to publish all the way down to details of execution (That’s what fascinated me about the last line of this Minx overview by Valerie D’Orazio). And once established, those patterns become self-fulfilling — Top Cow publishes Top Cow books because that’s what the fans want. And this is all well and good — I like that Oni books feel like Oni books. Top Shelf too. Publishers work hard to develop a public image. But at what point does “reliably consistent aesthetic” slide into “off-puttingly repetitious”?
At the point where a book lacks the unique magic that makes it stand out from the pack, I guess. And that’s not the worst thing in the world. Like I said before, Vertigo was putting out filler material even when Sandman and Preacher were at the height of their powers. Nobody bats a thousand. Thus has it ever been. The Vinyl Underground isn’t a Sign of the End for Vertigo (not that anybody said it was, I guess) — it’s just another book. (Kim Thompson once argued that more “just another book”s is what we need.)
Those covers are pretty sweet, though. Kudos to Vertigo for taking a chance with the layout.
PS. Of course, I’m sitting across from my bookshelf staring at Jonathan Hickman’s sublime The Nightly News, which is more what I was hoping the book would look like based on the cover. I’m with Todd here: IT’S LIKE, WHY DO THEY EVEN FRIKKIN’ MAKE OTHER COMICS?!