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If you read Apex Magazine (and if you’re here you really should be doing that), you might have noticed that it has a weird aesthetic. From the surreal covers to the odd and haunting fiction, it’s safe to say that we’re one of the weirder markets. Editor-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas even talked about it on a recent Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

So where does that aesthetic come from? Who is the biggest influence on our weird editorial tastes?

The answer is Karen Berger.

SandmanIn case you don’t know, Karen Berger is one of the most important and influential editors in the history of comic books. Karen was responsible for the rise of dark fantasy comics at DC during the 80s to 90s. She was instrumental in bringing Alan Moore to Swamp Thing, edited Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and drove a revolution towards more complex, rich storytelling in the comics medium through her other editorial choices as the eventual Executive Editor of DC’s Vertigo Comics (titles like Doom Patrol, Hellblazer, 100 Bullets, Preacher, and Fables).

My first experience with one of these comics was The Sandman issue #20 by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran. I was a teen, and it was my first comic that departed from the superhero tropes. It dealt with broken people, hard choices, and an appearance from a warm goth Death. I am still haunted by the image of Elemental Girl’s false face sliding off into her pasta as she tries to have a normal dinner with an old friend. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but I needed to read more. In the next few years, I devoured as many of these titles as I could. Surrealistic, vivid, and often unsettling, DC/Vertigo Comics were a constant for me in the 80s and 90s with moments such as Animal Man meeting his true creators, the terrifying and unsettling Doom Patrol villains, John Constantine bullshitting his way past the worst demons in Hellblazer or his issue of the fabulous Books of Magic miniseries, and the parade of unusual myths and lost history in The Sandman.

When Lynne and I got together as a couple, I got to enjoy watching her experience these stories for the first time. They resonated deeply with her as well, and were formative as she began reading SF/F, seeking similar stories to the ones she had ripped through in the comics medium.   If you currently write dark fantasy and grew up in the late 80s and 90s, these amazing comics were almost certainly part of your life, and very likely one of your first exposures to the weird. You can feel the weird influences of Karen Berger’s editorial choices in many of the works by our Apex Magazine writers and artists. Vertigo’s weird storytelling style continues to inspire, influence, and resonate with the editorial team at Apex Magazine.

As is right and proper.

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