In the 1990s, no comics line was considered more creative, intelligent, and hip than DC’s Vertigo line. Featuring compelling, adult storytelling merged with cutting-edge artwork, these were the must-have books of the time. But where did Vertigo come from; and why do Vertigo comics matter to collectors now?
The key to understanding Vertigo is to know that the comics most often thought of as Vertigo comics existed prior to the brand. In 1983, Len Wein hired British comic book writer Alan Moore to take over one of DC’s poorest selling titles beginning with The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21. It was the start of a run on the series that would last for four years. Artists Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben would turn Swamp Thing into a critical and commercial success.
For collectors, Moore’s first issue has seen a steady rise in value. A 9.8 graded copy currently has an FMV of $240. Shortly thereafter, Karen Berger took over the editorial reins on The Saga of the Swamp Thing.
Berger gave Moore the freedom to explore more adult themes within the series. This freedom led to the creation of one of Vertigo’s most popular characters – John Constantine – in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37.
Constantine proved popular enough to eventually make his way to movies and television series and has become very well known. While his first appearance is by far the most sought-after issue of The Saga of the Swamp Thing, with 9.8 graded sales as high as $3,500 in September, November sales have been in the $1,700 to $1,800 range. This could be a momentary dip or it could be a full correction in the pricing of the title.
I would argue the former. John Constantine has proven to be a successful creation; one that we will likely see in other media soon. In any event, Berger’s success with Moore encouraged her to seek out other British talent. She would use this talent to create more adult-themed horror comics.
Jamie Delano would be the next British writer Berger brought on board and was assigned the book that would feature John Constantine – Hellblazer. The series in many ways became the cornerstone of Vertigo.
Lasting 300 issues, no title had a longer run. Hellblazer was an occult detective series with a particular British flair, unlike anything seen in American comics to that point.
While not as valuable as the first appearance of Constantine, Hellblazer #1, published in January 1988, is considered a key issue for the character, with 9.8 graded copies climbing from the $200 to $250 range a year ago to $500 to $550 now.
This first issue is definitely worth considering for your collection or as an investment.
Heroes as Horror
Berger would soon bring more British talent to DC with Grant Morrison on Animal Man #1, Neil Gaiman on the mini-series that began with Black Orchid #1, and Peter Milligan on Shade, the Changing Man #1. Each of these series took a defunct DC character and relaunched them as horror/fantasy comics.
Of the three, Morrison’s first American work on Animal Man #1 appears to be the one most likely to catch the eye of collectors. 9.8 graded copies have been hovering in the $100 to $130 range for most of this year.
Black Orchid #1, although Gaiman’s first American work, hasn’t quite caught on with collectors, with 9.8 copies selling for roughly $85.
Shade, the Changing Man #1 has received the least attention from collections. There are only 13 9.8 graded copies in the CGC census; the most recent sales range from $59 to $100. Limited data means these values should be taken with a grain of salt, though.
Berger was impressed by Gaiman’s take on Black Orchid and hired him to revisit the character, Sandman. Incorporating horror, mythology, and fantasy, Gaiman created a brand new Sandman. This one instantly appealed to comic readers and brought in legions of new readers. This seminal work was critically lauded and gave Berger the clout to launch the Vertigo brand.
For collectors, Sandman #1 exemplifies everything that would become Vertigo and, with the coming Netflix series and the recent release of the first trailer, prices are skyrocketing. In one year, the going price of a 9.8 graded copy has tripled. A November 7, 2020 sale for $605 would consistently be eclipsed month after month until a June 9, 2021 sale for $1,899. While there has been some slight softening since, the trailer has received excellent buzz. Once a series start date is announced, expect prices to continue to rise.
Hope you enjoyed reading about DC’s horror rebirth with the comics that would become the Vertigo line. Up next, we’ll take a look at the launch of Vertigo and the comics that would be a part of the official line’s next wave of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi comics.