Dollars and Sense: Why Vertigo survived while WildStorm got the Axe

Eminem Slim Shady suit and tie<cue music> Guess who's back, back again…Woodrow's back, tell a fanboy. 

Did you miss me? I missed you over this past month. But the good news is that summer is over, my "real world" life has gone from maniacally busy to just plain insanely busy, and that means I'm back into the iFanboy fold ready to pontificate potent postulates revolving around the business side of the comics world. 



So did anything happen while I was gone? Oh, DC had a reorganization you say? Didn't that happen LAST year? Oh, this is the fallout from that set of changes that put Diane Nelson at the helm, promoted Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and added a few other executives to the senior team? OK, gotcha.  My fellow iFanboy writers have done a great job covering the DC reorganization from multiple angles. 


*** It's Official: DC Entertainment goes bi-coastal

*** DC Entertainment strengthening the DC Brand

*** DC Comics to cut staff by 20?

*** DC Comics to end WildStorm and ZUDA

I'm going to put aside any discussions of layoffs for now, because there appear to be mixed messages as to whether there were layoffs and, if so, the magnitude of the cuts. But what we absolutely know is that DC has decided to discontinue the WildStorm and Zuda imprints.

The official word from co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio:

The changes happening behind the scenes this week are part of a greater campaign to reshape DC Comics and build a company for the future. Our responsibility as Co-Publishers is to find a balance between short term opportunities and long term vision; between our strengths in traditional print formats and the infinite potential beyond print; between our characters’ rich legacies in the past and the bright promise for the future they hold.

Translation: ZUDA and WildStorm, as currently structured, we not measuring up to the financial benchmarks set forth by our corporate parent. 
After taking the comics scene by storm nearly 20 years ago, the WildStorm Universe titles will end this December. In this soft marketplace, these characters need a break to regroup and redefine what made them once unique and cutting edge. While these will be the final issues published under the WildStorm imprint, it will not be the last we will see of many of these heroes. We, along with Geoff Johns, have a lot of exciting plans for these amazing characters, so stay tuned.
Translation: WildStorm isn't selling well at a time when the direct market, in general, is struggling. And WildStorm somewhere along the way stopped being "unique and cutting edge."
Absolute Planetary 2 picture
It's sadly ironic than in the same year we saw Planetary finished (and two GORGEOUS Absolutes released) and Jim Lee (WildStorm's founder) promoted to co-publisher, we see the doors shut on the imprint. But, this move should not be a surprise to anyone that's paid close attention to the comics market in recent years. ZUDA's financials were closely guarded, but even the most ardent ZUDA supporters never contended it was a money-making enterprise. Starting a fledgling digital initiative — even a well received one — is going to be a cost center in the early years and ZUDA never got out of the early years. But what about WildStorm? Is there a case to be made for maintaining the imprint?
NOTE: Keep in mind that the data I reference, while useful, does not represent 100% of the sales of either the direct market or the book market. And obviously only the publishers (and the creators) really know how many units sell of any given title. So while this data is helpful to paint a conceptual picture, understand that it's subject to the same inaccuracies than any partial data set may be.
Let's look at some numbers from the direct market:
Top-selling WildStorm titles in July 2010 (c/o ICV2)
  • The X-Files/30 Days of Night #1 — 16,109 copies
  • Astro City: Silver Agent — 13,182 copies
  • God of War #3 — 8,220 copies
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #2 — 7,655 copies
  • The Authority (Volume 4) #24 — 7,062 copies
  • The Authority: The Lost Year #11 — 6,123 copies
  • Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #1 — 6,219 copies
  • DV8: Gods and Monsters #4 — 5,918 copies
  • WildCATS: World's End #25 — 5,823 copies
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Ghost #6 — 4,909 copies
On average, the top 10 WildStorm titles sold 8,122 copies in July. That's a disappointing figure under any circumstance and far below what has been the standard cut off range for cancellation at DC proper and Marvel in recent years. Even in a down economy, none of these books averaged more than a handful of copies sold per month, per store. Yet, it's not as though WildStorm has completely revamped its line and simply hasn't found an audience for new IP. Outside of Gail Simone's Welcome to Tranquility, each of those titles were either a) licensed products or b) established brands within the WildStorm universe.
Average WildStorm imprint sales:
07/2005 — 15,134
07/2006 — 12,778 (-15.6%)
07/2007 — 11,234 (-12.1%)
07/2008 —  9,875 (-12.1%)
07/2009 —  8,519 (-13.7%)
07/2010 —  7,054 (-17.2%)
Now astute readers might ask how this compares to Vertigo? Which, from what we understand, will remain intact and status quo.
According to the same data compiled by ICV2:
Average Vertigo imprint sales:
07/2005 — 16,641 
07/2006 — 16,684 (+2.6%)
07/2007 — 12,193 (-26.9%)
07/2008 — 10,821 (-11.3%)
07/2009 — 11,055 (+2.2%)
07/2010 —  9,515 (-13.9%)
A little better, but still not very encouraging. So why then is DC shuttering WildStorm but keeping Vertigo intact? I can only conjecture but here are a few reasons I see behind the decision.
1) Selling a universe versus selling a style
Vertigo is, by and large, an imprint focused on creators telling stories that are largely ill suited (due to genre or focus or creator preference) for the mainstrem DC Universe. While each Vertigo book may not sell that well in the direct market, you get the sense that many readers passionately pick and choose from Vertigo titles. Someone who reads Fables may not read Sweet Tooth. Someone who devours Sweet Tooth is not necessarily interested in The Unwritten. Can you say the same of WildStorm? I don't think so. The WildStorm UNIVERSE is a shared one, where readers have a familiarity with The Authority and Stormwatch and WildCats, etc… Just as very few readers read only one mainstream DC superhero book, very few readers want to read just one or two WildStorm universe books. And to that end, WildStorm was ALREADY established as one of the 52 parts of the multiverse, which means DC can continue to leverage these characters anytime they want, and can even integrate them into the main DC universe if they want to. You're not going to work Sweet Tooth into Freedom Fighters. You're not going to bring Yorrick Brown into Gotham City Sirens. You're not going to see the Justice Society show up to investigate allegations of fraud on the reservation in Scalped.
2) Subjective quality
Let me be crystal clear here, I am NOT suggesting that WildStorm books are not high quality publications. In fact, two of my favorite books of the last few years — Ex Machina and Mysterius the Unfathomable — were part of the WildStorm imprint. But in aggregate, I believe it's fair to say that Vertigo books are PERCEIVED to be higher quality. How often do you see a WildStorm book rate in our Pick of the Week statistics? Yet we quite often see Vertigo books rank well. 
3) Evergreen sales
The "Vertigo model" is predicated letting the monthly issues finance the creation of the content (think: breakeven) such that the collected editions can be made available for sale in shops and book stores. We know that many Vertigo titles sell well, and consistently, over time. Superhero books with a few exceptions (e.g., Watchmen, certain Batman classics) do not have that evergreen quality in book stores or comic shops. Whereas there are people buying copies of Y: The Last Man and Fables and Preacher each and every month, superhero titles (WildStorm included) that are part of a broader continuity tend to stall after their initial release. But don't take my word for it, let's reference Brian Hibbs' BookScan data as evidence:
2009 BookScan Data (WildStorm):
  • 6,202 HEROES V1                     
  • 4,253 HEROES V2                     
Six titles, with an average sales of 7,230 units. Meanwhile the top three titles are Alan Moore's incomparable LOEG (now published by Top Shelf). Giving WildStorm's current management credit for those sales is like giving Dan Didio credit for Watchmen's awesome book market sales each year. And then the next three titles are licensed properties. There's not a single WildStorm superhero universe book in the Top 750.
2009 BookScan Data (Vertigo):
  • 35,962 V FOR VENDETTA NEW EDITION          
  • 10,472 FABLES V12 THE DARK AGES      
  • 9,489 SANDMAN V3 DREAM COUNTRY      
  • 8,529 FABLES V11 WAR & PIECES       
  • 7,896 Y THE LAST MAN V2 CYCLES      
  • 7,867 FABLES V2 ANIMAL FARM         
  • 6,821 FABLES V3 STORYBOOK LOVE      
  • 6,464 PREACHER V1 GONE TO TEXAS        
  • 6,142 PETER & MAX                   
  • 6,095 SANDMAN V5 A GAME FOR YOU     
  • 5,445 FABLES V10 THE GOOD PRINCE     
  • 5,260 SANDMAN V7 BRIEF LIVES        
  • 5,072 FABLES V6 HOMELANDS           
  • 5,004 SAGA OF SWAMP THING BK 1      
  • 4,912 SANDMAN ENDLESS NIGHTS        
  • 4,819 SANDMAN V8 WORLDS END         
  • 4,637 FABLES V8 WOLVES              
  • 4,619 FABLES V9 SONS OF EMPIRE      
  • 4,538 SANDMAN V10 THE WAKE          
  • 4,366 PRIDE OF BAGHDAD              
  • 4,220 PREACHER V3 PROUD AMERICAN        
38 titles, with an average sales of 7,306 units. But this time digging deeper paints a brighter picture. Because we see multiple volumes of multiple titles on the list. And nary a licensed book in the bunch. Sandman is still selling after how many years? Fables' first volume is selling as well as its most recent. And we see that year in, year out. So not only are more titles holding their own in book stores, but they're holding their own year after year. Why is that important? Because incremental sales = massive profit. All Vertigo has to do is keep these books in print, and make sure the royalty checks find their way to the creators. Whereas even if something like The Authority or Welcome to Tranquility sneaks into the Top 750 in a given year, that volume is most likely never going to find its way on the list again. There's very little recurring revenue from WildStorm as compared to Vertigo.
But what about Gears of War? Wasn't that the top selling comic book of 2008? Yes, according to Jim Lee, Gears of War #1 was the "top selling" comic book of 2008, pegged at roughtly 500,000 copies. But that really doesn't tell the story because of the unique nature of that title. Gears of War sold paltry numbers in the direct market, but was sold in game stores, and given away as a promotional item with the game in many outlets. So technically the book "sold" well, but only because the video game publisher and retailers ordered copies to help drive sales of the game itself. That's apples and oranges.
At the end of the day, WildStorm will live on in many ways. The amazing stories we've been given over the last 20 years still exist. Ed Brubaker's Sleeper is as good today as it was in 2001, regardless of what imprint the trades get reprinted with. Ex Machina is still a triumph by Brian K. Vaughan and Mysterius the Unfathomable is, and always will be, a magical tale evocative of Jack Davis' very best at EC. You can still read Ellis' Planetary or Alan Moore's WildCats or Ellis & Hitch's AuthorityAnd those characters will live on in the DCU proper. Geoff Johns and his talented team of editors and creators will have the opportunity to tell new, exciting and — hopefully — innovative stories with those characters when the time is right. What's really changing is the end of a separately run unit within the company that long ago lost the comic book readers attention. That's probably just sound business sense.


Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.


  1. To be fair, the average Vertigo sales figure from July, while still low, was 35% higher than Wildstorm’s.  That’s pretty significant.  However, I agree wholeheartedly that trades sales are the key difference.

    Here’s hoping that Wildstorm’s characters and ideals carry on. 

  2. Welcome Back, Woodrow!

  3. No hate for Wildstorm, can’t wait to read Planetary and Ex Machina now that they are complete but there is just something special about Vertigo.

  4. Another great article, thank you!  I really appreciate how you always manage to make interesting and accessible pieces on subjects that typically are presented in ways that confuse and/or bore me.

  5. Thanks everyone, it’s fun to be back, and (randomly) a great week to jump back into the fray. Just extending this math a little more…if a trade can sell 4,000 copies per annum, for say five years (very common for many Vertigo titles), you’re looking at an incremental $400K-$500K in sales for the same work product! DC gets roughly 40% of that net, and so you’re talking about another $160-$200K out of a Vertigo book that has evergreen qualities. You can tolerate VERY low monthly issue sales with that kind of dry powder on the trade side.

  6. @Wood – Where does that 40% figure come from?  I’m planning on using this shake up as an example for my MBA students and would like a source if someone asks.

  7. It’s the rough cut the publisher gets after Diamond and the retailers get their cut. It’s not an ironclad number depending on the retail outlet and the product, but it’s the best "rounding" number to ballpark things.


  8. Thank you.

  9. I love this.

  10. When reading the press releases yesteday, I literally said I can’t to hear Jason’s take on all of it. Once again, you bring a level of understanding to the common man and I thank you for it.

  11. Great analysis, glad to have you back!

  12. wow, fantastic analysis, thanks!

  13. Seriously Jason, I’ve been missing your articles. I love your use of real numbers to give your perspective. Thanks!

  14. Welcome back Wood!

  15. iFanboy was seriously lacking Wood.

  16. Yup.

  17. Actually you are wrong…Sweet Tooth will be crossing over with Freedom Fighters in April.

  18. @JeffLemire Ha! Dude, as long as you promise I can buy one of the pages, I’ll print a retraction.


  19. Great article! I love stats and numbers, so this was a pretty good look at that angle. My intitial thought when hearing the news was "Vertigo is probably saved by sales in book stores of trades." Nice to see you did all the work to back up my theory, as my lazy ass couldn’t be bothered 🙂

  20. i think we all should be worried that corporate translations are the order of the day for the hobby/ interest we love…what if ?- there is a second cull ? and why wouldn’t there be with deflationary economies. I think comics need to be spun as idea factories and training grounds find some way to lessen the constant need for more profit. 

  21. Jason, you are the man! I had assumed that the reasons you lay out were the reasons behind Vertigo remaining open. 

    My only disappointment:  finally seeing that Tom Strong only sells roughly 8,000 copies.  So sad because its such a good property.

  22. What a damn good read..


    Good job! 

  23. Another point is that the really well-regarded Wildstorm books (like Ex Machina & Mysterius) could just as easily have been published under the Vertigo imprint.   In fact, I’m not completely sure why they weren’t.  it seems like most of the non-Wildstorm-Universe titles (with the excpetion of the media tie-ins) that WS has published have been "misplaced Vertigo books".

     The really good stuff (just my opinion) to have come out from WS can easily be published under Vertigo.

  24. Mysterius probably would have gotten the respect (readership) it rightly deserved if it had been published under the Vertigo banner. I think WS carries some baggage which can be detrimental to new and independent projects.

  25. God Damn you Jason, applying logic and business analysis to this topic.  I don’ t want to be rational about this. I want to rant and rave incoherently about DC having it in for WildStorm from the start – facts be damned.

    I’m going back into my hole to reread Brubaker’s Authority run. And some Gen13, too. And maybe Grifter, or WildC.A.T.S. Or 21 Down. 

    But not pre-Ellis Stormwatch. Those books Suck with a capital "S". 

  26. OHSHIT does that mean the price of trades will skyrocket? O_o!!! I didn’t finish The Authority yet!!! -_____-…. I REALLY hope the price of the books don’t increase.

  27. Hopefully this means Vertigo titles get better paper quality now.

  28. as always Wood is the man

    this makes sense, wouldn’t be suprised to see top cow go, but they might have saved it now

    if vertigo had folded i would have quit comics