Karen Berger might not be a household name, but within the world of comic books, she’s a legend. In 1993, while an editor at DC Comics, she founded the publisher’s famed Vertigo imprint, which published an array of groundbreaking and unusual works, such as The Sandman, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, Lucifer, and iZombie. She left DC and Vertigo in 2013 and, for a time, disappeared from the comics scene. She returned last year with a new gig editing a series called Surgeon X, but now, she’s upping her game by launching an entire line of comics. Welcome to Berger Books.
Published by venerable indie-comics company Dark Horse Comics, Berger Books will debut four new series in 2018: Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain (yes, that Bourdain) and Joel Rose; Incognegro: Renaissance by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece; Mata Hari by Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina; and The Seeds by Ann Nocenti and David Aja. On top of that, the imprint will rerelease Dave Gibbons’s out-of-print Vertigo tale The Originals in an expanded edition.
Berger’s impetus for this new endeavor is a little surprising. “I’d been dabbling in a bunch of different things,” she tells Vulture, “but it was really, honestly, the election and the state of the world that made me really want to get back and create, and to do great stories, and work with great people. I felt like I needed to be more actively useful and productive.”
If there’s a similarity to the books she edited at Vertigo, Berger thinks it’s just because she’s following her gut here like she used to there. “People ask me, ‘How do you sum it up?’ But honestly, it’s not an easy answer,” she says. “There’s no set guidepost. There’s no set bible. There never was at Vertigo. People say, ‘Well, if it’s weird, it must be a Vertigo book.’ Well, not really. Weird is a component, but it’s not the driving force.”
That may be, but some of the projects are undeniably odd. Even deliciously so, as is the case with Hungry Ghosts. It’s a four-issue series in anthology format: Each issue will contain multiple isolated stories. The series will be a riff on the Japanese Edo-period game 100 Candles, in which samurai would try to one-up each other with stories to freak each other out. Here, the tellers won’t be samurai; they’ll be chefs from around the world, and their stories will be united by their focus on food. Bourdain and Rose previously worked together on the Vertigo series Get Jiro! and here, their writing will be accompanied by art from creators such as Vanesa Del Rey, Leo Manco, Alberto Ponticelli, Paul Pope, and Mateus Santolouco. It’s out on January 31, 2018.
Next up will be Johnson and Pleece’s Incognegro: Renaissance, which also has a Vertigo connection: It’s a prequel to the acclaimed 2008 graphic novel Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, which will also get a tenth-anniversary edition from Berger Books on February 6. The day after, Renaissance debuts the first of its five issues, following Incognegro protagonist and cub reporter Zane Pinchback — a black man who can pass as white — as he dives into the nightlife of the Harlem Renaissance. “The series and the characters are great lenses in which to explore race and prejudice in America,” Berger says. “The polarizing times we live in — you’ve got to tell more and more stories about those issues.”
After that, Berger will put out Mata Hari on February 21. Judge Dredd writer Emma Beeby and InSEXts artist Ariela Kristantina are at the helm of this piece of historical fiction about the famed titular spy-dancer and the reality of the myths that surround her. Fastidious research has led to the story, which circles around fictional diary excerpts from Hari — who was executed in 1917 — that attempt to pierce through “the lies of her accusers and the outlandish stories she told about herself,” as the official description goes.
March 28 brings the first issue of The Seeds, which will surely be of interest to comics addicts due to the legendary creative lineup. The writer is former Daredevil and Catwoman scribe Ann Nocenti, and the artist is Hawkeye and Immortal Iron Fist veteran David Aja. The story is set in “an imminent America where fact-based reporting is gasping its last breath” and “flora and fauna have begun to mutate.” In that world is a journalist who comes across a massive story that she, for undisclosed reasons, can’t report on. In lieu of that, she pitches “the biggest myth of her career.” “Ann is a brilliant writer,” Berger says. “And David is an artist’s artist. David doesn’t draw that much, but when he does, it’s like the world stops.”
Last but not least, readers will get The Originals: The Essential Edition, an oversize new edition of the 2004 masterwork from Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. It depicts a strange, “retro-futuristic” city where a gang called the Originals rule the streets and two childhood friends find trouble when they try to join up. The Essential Edition will have 32 pages of previously unreleased development art, process pieces, and other extras, all of them annotated by Gibbons himself.
Berger is excited about the stories and the art, of course, but she’s also stoked about how good the actual, physical product looks. “One of the reasons why I wanted to set up Berger Books at Dark Horse was because they produce beautiful books,” she says. “To me, it’s all about the book at the end of the day. You might choose something in a periodical format, but it’s all about collecting it and having it sit there on the shelf.”
If you hunger for even more, fear not: Berger is far from done. “I plan to have another wave of books later in the year as well,” she says. “It’s not going to be a huge line, because it’s only me editing, which is another reason why I’m excited about doing this: It’s me back to my roots editing comics all the time, which I didn’t get a chance to do hands-on as much as Vertigo grew and grew.” The fact that Berger’s hands are present makes this line one of the more interesting things to look out for in the imminent future of comic books.