Q&A: Karen Berger | Graphic Novels Spotlight 2019

Karen Berger’s career in comics began at DC Comics in 1979, when she was just 21. With a keen eye for cultivating new talent, Berger rose quickly through the company’s ranks and in 1993 helped establish DC’s experimental and hugely successful Vertigo line, editing boundary-busting classics such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, and Moore’s Swamp Thing.

Karen Berger’s career in comics began at DC Comics in 1979, when she was just 21. With a keen eye for cultivating new talent, Berger rose quickly through the company’s ranks and in 1993 helped establish DC’s experimental and hugely successful Vertigo line, editing boundary-busting classics such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, and Moore’s Swamp Thing. Now, Berger is bringing her legendary sensibilities to Dark Horse Comics with the Berger Books imprint. Here, Berger reveals what keeps her coming back to comics.


As one of the few women editors in the industry in the 1980s–90s, what were some of the challenges you faced? How different (or similar) are things now?
I was very lucky in my experiences working with DC Comics. Jenette Kahn was DC’s president and publisher for many years and set the tone.... DC was progressive in terms of the way people were treated, and I never felt I held back because I was a woman. If anything, I was encouraged to take chances, shake things up, and do things differently. In terms of how it’s going today...I do think that publishers and comics in general are responding to the times, making the workplace better for all.

How did you make the transition from DC to Dark Horse, where you created Berger Books in 2018?
I left DC after more than 30 years because the company had changed management, and they were not as into Vertigo anymore. I took some time off before I called Mike Richardson about bringing Berger Books over to Dark Horse.... I decided to get back into comics right after the 2016 election. I wanted to get my hands dirty doing the thing I loved most, which was creating and developing comics with writers and artists. Dark Horse was the only place I could see myself because [it has] always been creator-centric, progressive, and…takes great pride in [its] presentation and quality.... It’s a company with a rich history.

Your work with Vertigo tended toward edgy, dark, gritty storytelling. Do you find these qualities similarly emerging in your choices for Berger Books?
Berger Books is very much my sensibility, as was Vertigo. I’ve always liked stories that were psychologically provoking, that dealt with issues in the real world [that] weren’t necessarily dealt with in comics. Ultimately, there was a literary and novelistic quality to the comics I worked on, and a lot of the writers I’ve worked with helped raise the bar. It was always my goal to diversify the talent pool, as well as create works that appeal to a wider readership, to get more people reading comics who are not your typical white superhero fanboy.

What is your method for acquiring new titles and unique voices?
I seek people out, and I also look at stuff that’s sent to me, but [Berger] is a carefully curated line; I am the only editor. I’m looking to work on stories that move me and say something about society, the good, the bad, the mixed up. I like to be able to get something out of the comics I work on and also to be entertained. What do you hope will be the legacy of Berger Books? The line is still very young.... If anything, [my goal] is to widen the talent pool, reach a wider audience and continue to show the world that you can tell any kind of story in comics. If something is too easy, too comfortable, you’re not working hard enough....

What key titles should we look forward to next from your line? Nebula and Hugo Award–winning author Nnedi Okorafor posits a world in which outer-space aliens have successfully integrated with society and are living side by side with humans [in LaGuardia (Jul.)]. Invisible Kingdom (Nov.) by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward offers a wonderful sf story with beautiful art starring two women—a freighter pilot and a religious, nunlike character—who discover a dangerous church is running the world. She Could Fly (Mar.) by Christopher Cantwell and Martin Morazzo, deals with mental health issues.


This article was originally published in Library Journal's June 2019 issue as part of the Graphic Novels Spotlight, Mass Appeal 

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