Howdy, folks, Cormorant here!
You guys heard of this Brian K. Vaughan character? Comic book writer type? You should have by now, ‘cause this is definitely his year. He’s still hard at work on his break-out Vertigo comic, the post-apocalyptic Y: THE LAST MAN, but Vaughan’s not the kind of guy to be pigeonholed. He’s shown a decidedly non-Vertigo understanding of superheroes in projects like ULTIMATE X-MEN, MYSTIQUE, and even the R-rated supervillain book, THE HOOD. He also gave Marvel its smartest, funnest book of 2003 with RUNAWAYS, equal parts Harry Potter youth adventure and Marvel Universe road trip.
Last week he upped the ante once again with EX MACHINA, a ballsy mixture of sci-fi, superheroes and indie politics. When the opportunity presented itself to conduct an e-mail interview with him about that and more, you’re damn right we jumped at it! Vaughan was generous to a fault as he answered, in his words, the “ten billion goddamn questions” we sent him. He discussed series old and new, gave me the evil eye when I brought up "writing for the trade", waxed metaphorical about sex with Barbara Bush, and challenged me to a game of CRIMSON SKIES.
We start with some warm-up questions and move quickly to the New and Exciting...
GENERAL QUESTIONS:Cormorant: Our resident conspiracy theorist, Sleazy G, has a burning question for you:
"Three bald guys, all named Brian, all from Ohio, all writing for the two largest publishers in comics – Azzarello, Bendis, Vaughan. What are your thoughts on the theory you share a pair of parents who couldn't think of a different name, and why did they put you all up for adoption?"
Brian Vaughan: You know, I'm the one who started spreading that particular factoid, about Bendis, Azz and me all being bald Brian's from Cleveland, just to get my name mentioned in the same sentence as two much-better writers, and it's worked like a goddamn charm. Next up, I'm going to grow a big, disgusting beard, just so people will start talking about Alan Moore and me in the same breath.
I think you're going to need about a decade to work up a mane of that level.
With projects ranging from the edgy and unique Y: THE LAST MAN to more commercial ventures like ULTIMATE X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN/DOC OCK: NEGATIVE EXPOSURE, you've seen the industry from a variety of vantages. Which side of the fence are you most drawn to?
Make Mine Good Comics, as Garth Ennis once said. I don't care about companies, genres, formats, characters, creator-owned vs. work-for-hire, whatever. If a good editor will let me tell my story with the right artist, I'm happy.
What kind of comics (if any) did you grow up reading? What kinds of prose?
I was born in 1976, so I grew up reading SPIDEY, BATMAN, HULK, SUPERMAN, stuff like that, but graduated pretty quickly to the more mature books that were popping up back then like WATCHMEN and HELLBLAZER.
For prose, George Orwell was probably my favorite writer growing up, 1984 and ANIMAL FARM. Other books I dig, uh… CATCH 22, DAY OF THE LOCUST, FERMATA, AMERICAN TABLOID, KAVALIER AND CLAY. I dunno, I've always read a lot. I guess I'm trying to pick books that will make me sound smart and interesting, but I did love reading Stephen King and ENDER'S GAME and the same stuff we all read.
We hear you're getting married. First – congrats! Second – are you gonna go soft on us now? Will we still be seeing the darker stuff in your work like Yorick's nightmares about maggots nesting in his testicles?
Nah, my girlfriend's a playwright, and her stuff is much darker and sicker than mine. I won't go soft until we start having babies, which always ruins everything.
Hard not to admire such a realistic perspective.
God, I hope my mom isn't reading this.
I heard you spent some time in New York as an auxiliary cop to get some experience outside the generally closeted world of the writer. Did you ever have to get all "Vic Mackey" and beat the crap out of anyone?
No, auxiliary police officers are more like Ronnie, that bearded Strike Team cop on THE SHIELD who never gets to do anything. In the short time I volunteered, I just hid in the background like a little girl while real cops did all the hard stuff.
Any other standout life experiences that have helped make you a better writer?
Well, I always talk about how I used to work at an insane asylum and stuff, which is true, but to be honest, I just make crap up more than anything else. The life experiences that really help a writer are the stuff that we all go through, getting dumped, losing a relative, whatever.
You've got a rep for kick-ass cliffhangers. Do they come easy or with much gnashing of teeth? Ever feel constrained that cliffhangers are such part and parcel of serial entertainment, and therefore part and parcel of nearly all comics?
Thanks. I think good cliffhangers are easy to write, actually. Doing one every 22 pages is simple. It's TV shows like BUFFY and ANGEL that usually have an incredible cliffhanger every commercial break that amaze me.
Ah, a helpful segue there! Word on the street is that you're a Joss Whedon fan and that he's a RUNAWAYS fan. Cool! But I've got to know: were you a FIREFLY supporter or one of those fair weather fans who gave it the brush off? Any interest in the movie?
I think FIREFLY is the best thing Joss ever did. Not only am I interested in the movie, I'm such a geek for that show, I'll probably be waiting in line overnight in a homemade browncoat costume. Come throw eggs.
Gee, I want to say you might be in safe company in revealing that at Ain't-It-Cool-News...
But speaking of Hollywoodland, you went to film school but ended up in comics. A step up or a step down?
Hm… I'd say it's a lateral move. Not a word of my writing has ever been changed by another person's hands, and I don't think many screenwriters can say that. I know some people would argue that there's more fame and fortune to be found in Hollywood, and not that that bullshit matters, but a lot of my fellow NYU graduates who've "made it" as first-time directors or writers are still toiling in relative obscurity for scale wages. I make enough money to afford cable, and they spelled my name right in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, so I feel pretty lucky, you know?
But I'd be lying if I said I didn't still want to make movies someday. If you've read all of William Goldman's books, you start thinking that everyone in Hollywood is an untalented jerk, but David Goyer and Jeff Vintar [the producer and screenwriter of the upcoming Y:THE LAST MAN flick] are both incredibly smart, creative people who've been really nice to Pia Guerra and me, so I'm a little less apprehensive about getting back into filmmaking. Eventually.
What kind of movies would you have been making if you'd stayed with the medium? Snooty art house flicks or buddy action/comedies about escape artists and their monkey sidekicks?
Well, "smart genre" is probably my first love… good horror, neo-noir, post-modern westerns, you know? I just wrote a treatment for what that I think could be the best sci-fi TV show of our generation, so if Steven Spielberg is trolling here on his lunch break, drop me a line.
I'm pretty sure he's a regular in our TalkBacks under the name "Jerk_Benedict." Watch that e-mailbox closely, my man.
I'm repped by Shapiro-Lichtman, Mr. Benedict! We'll be waiting by the phone!
Hey – quick quiz! Name some comic book writers you like! No mentioning Bendis or Millar 'cause they're your ULTIMATE pals and it'd just be too incestuous.
Well, I really do love Bendis and Millar, but if they're off the list…
I think Garth Ennis, at least on a technical level, is probably the best writer working today. He makes it look so easy, he probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves, but I think some of his War Stories stuff is like the best-written comics of the last thirty years.
Alan Moore, of course. I have a creepy framed picture of him in my room, which is as close as our house comes to having any religious iconography in it. I also really like Peter Milligan. Warren Ellis' creator-owned stuff is great. Stan Sakai. Stan Lee. Seth, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, those guys. Joe Sacco is too good for words. Robert Kirkman definitely deserves to be the next big thing.
Ooh, I have to ask, then: didja get Seth's VERNACULAR DRAWINGS sketchbook? Beautiful work, and it even smells like an old book, which is somehow perfect for his aesthetic.
Yeah, Vernacular was so radiant, staring at it made my eyes hurt. In a good way.
But enough about the wordsmiths. Quick, name some comic book artists you like (but haven't worked with)!
Who I haven't worked with? Well, I did an eight-page Batman story with Marcos Martin and a short Swamp Thing story with Cliff Chiang, but I'd really like to work with them again on longer stuff. Same goes for Paul Pope. Frank Quitely is a favorite. Eduardo Risso is the best storyteller in comics. Darwyn Cooke. Dave Gibbons. Katsuhiro Otomo. Tony Moore was doing incredible stuff on The Walking Dead. John Cassaday, naturally. Is Mazzuchelli available?
Alright, how about some non-comic book artists for a bit of diversity?
Non-comic artists? Jesus… I like uh, Magritte and… I don't know. Escher? I'm such an idiot. Oh! There's a guy named Tom Friedman. Not the political columnist. I saw a show of his in Chicago a few years back. Most amazing stuff I've ever seen.
And while we're being artsy, what kind of music does Brian K. Vaughan listen to?
Talking Heads is probably my favorite band. Eels are my favorite band playing today. Pixies, like every other comic writer. P.J. Harvey. Bowie. Safari Attack. Pagoda Red, before they broke up. Dre. You know.
Plug one indie book and one non-indie book you'd like to see more people reading!
Indie? QUEEN AND COUNTRY. Why isn't this a Top Ten book? I know it's a black-and-white procedural about British intelligence… but come on.
Non-indie? NOBLE CAUSES. From Image. Might be my favorite superhero book being written today.
Hey, hey – what's this we hear about a 128-page original graphic novel coming from Vertigo? Spill! We're a world-famous website and mentioning it here will generate tens of thousands of pre-orders for it!
Fair enough. It's called PRIDE: THE LIONS OF BAGHDAD, inspired by a true story about several lions who escaped the Baghdad Zoo during the most recent bombings. An ANIMAL FARM for the Iraq War… but not. No cliffhangers, no dumb pop culture references, no cinematic high-concept, I wanted to try something completely unlike anything I've ever done before, something that could only be done as a graphic novel. The great Niko Henrichon is drawing. Look for it in 2005.
Holy shit! I was ready to be totally stonewalled on that question and suddenly you're describing what's got to be one of the most innovative graphic novel concepts the medium's seen to date! What a minute...is this, like, all over Sequential Tart and Comic Book Resources already?
Well, you were the first dudes to ask about it, so you win.
Okay, you're prolific as hell and you seem to handle monthly titles with ease. In a day and age when even the Big Two are riddled with late and AWOL projects, what's your attitude about professionalism in the industry? Are the other guys just wimps or are you hacking it?
Art takes as long as art takes. I'm happiest writing four books a month, but I know that's not for everyone. It takes Adrian Tomine almost a year to finish an issue of Optic Nerve, but I'd be willing to wait a decade for those little masterpieces.
Narcissism time: Alright, as someone who hopes our uncensored reviews are read more by fellow comic readers than by professionals who might be offended or who should probably ignore fan pressures, I'm curious to know whether you read your own reviews – not just from us, but from anyone? If enough fans screamed out, "Get Yorick laid already!", would that influence you?
Writers either read all of their reviews or lie about doing it. I usually lie.
No, I do read reviews here and elsewhere, and while good reviews feel nice and bad reviews make me eat chocolate, they honestly don't influence the way I write at all. I was happy to run SWAMP THING's sales into the ground rather than write that book the way readers were telling me to write it. I wrote all twenty issues of SWAMP THING the same way I've been writing Y, exactly how I planned to write my story when I mapped it out at the beginning.
How do you feel about the internet as a tool for promotion in general? A painful-but-necessary time-waster or a burgeoning medium to be embraced?
I've just gotta ask...what did you think of IDENTITY CRISIS?
Who the fuck is Sue Dibny?
No, Brad Metzler is a great writer and I really enjoyed the first issue. Making the Calculator an "evil Oracle" who gets paid by the question? I wish I had thought of that.
EX MACHINA:Uh-oh – I hear this latest project doesn't feature Wolverine or Spider-Man or Batman! What's the skinny and why would superhero fans want to check this out?
Well, it's a return to monthly comics by one of the industry's best artists, Tony "STARMAN" Harris. Isn't that enough? No…?
Set in our modern-day real world, EX MACHINA tells the story of civil engineer and lifelong DC Comics fan Mitchell Hundred, who becomes America's first living, breathing superhero after a strange accident gives him those proverbial "amazing powers." Eventually tiring of risking his life merely to help maintain the status quo, Mitchell retires from masked crimefighting and runs for Mayor of New York City, winning by a landslide. And that's just the first few pages of Issue #1.
And how 'bout those non-superhero fans? Will your Y: THE LAST MAN fans take to EX MACHINA?
It's WEST WING meets UNBREAKABLE. It's a fast-paced political thriller, an action-packed sci-fi drama for adults, with all of the intelligent sex, horror, humor, violence, and shocking twists that readers of books like Y hopefully know and love.
Hey, I got my hands on a copy since that last question! Here's where I geek out a bit and just have to say...
HOLY FUCK DO YOU KNOW HOW TO WRITE A COLLAR-GRABBING FIRST ISSUE! Gorgeous structure, memorable characters, and an ending that I think will really sell readers on the lead. Tell us about what it takes to write a gangbusters first issue...
Thanks a lot! Neil Gaiman always says that SANDMAN really wasn't the book he wanted it to be until around Issue #8 or so. Well, if SANDMAN had started coming out in today's marketplace, it would have been cancelled at Issue #6. That's an extreme example, but you know what I mean, right? These days, readers and retailers will give you one issue to prove yourself, if that. First issues have to be masterpieces, or you're fucked. I don't know if EX MACHINA #1 is a "masterpiece," but Tony and I sure did work our asses off on it.
You have to give readers EVERYTHING with a first issue, introduce enough situations and subplots to carry you through an entire series, like Pia and I did with Y #1. You have to make readers care about your characters, and you have to let them know that you will never run out of interesting things to do to these characters. And if you want your book to survive, it never hurts to have an element of "water cooler" to your debut. Create something that people can't not talk about, can't not show to their friends.
It also helps when you have a generous publisher like DC/Wildstorm that will support you by giving you an extra-sized first issue, while still charging readers the regular price for it. At their basest, comics are a lot like drugs, so you have to get your customers hooked fast and hard, and giving them a little something extra for free upfront never hurts.
Beyond all that mercenary garbage, create a book that you care about. Create something that you would want to read, something that you can't read now, something that you would want to spend that $2.95 on even more than the issue of ULTIMATE X-MEN you were gonna buy (or hopefully, in addition to ULTIMATE X-MEN).
Still, all that said, I actually think next month's EX MACHINA #2 is slightly better than #1, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.
The mixture characterization, sci-fi premise, and politics puts me in the mind of Paul Chadwick's series, CONCRETE. An influence?
Absolutely, I begged Paul to do the "Comedy & Tragedy" arc of Y because he's probably my biggest influence. I've been stealing from him for years, and EX MACHINA is no exception. If you haven't read any CONCRETE, you don't really love comics. What genius stuff…
Can you tell us where the book's politics will lie?
All over the place. I read that some people thought the first issue had a "liberal" slant to it, but I'm pretty sure their opinions will change when they read Issue #2. Mayor Hundred is a moderate independent, surrounded by liberals and conservatives. I'm interested in writing a book that promotes discourse, not a preachy polemic that shoves my own stupid politics down readers' throats.
And since you've brought up WEST WING, would you call that a direct influence?
I like WEST WING a lot (well, LIKED), but it's not really a direct influence on EX MACHINA, even though I sometimes name-check it in my oversimplified "it's this meets this" marketing tagline. WEST WING is about national politics, which is incredibly boring compared to the fast-paced sexiness of local politics. Seriously! There's a huge difference between the two, as is hopefully already apparent from our first ish.
The story takes place in your former hometown of Da Big Apple, and I'm sensing a lot of background research involved. A pleasure or a pain?
Such a pleasure. I lived in New York City for the last ten years, but I just reluctantly moved out to California on a Yorick-like cross-country trek to follow my fiancÃ©e to her grad school program. I now live in San Diego, which is, no offense to San Dogs, honestly the worst city on earth, including Kabul and Fallujah.
Ha ha, but seriously, I mean it. No, I'm kidding, San Diego is a lot of fun, but I do miss the hell out of New York, and every issue of EX MACHINA is a chance to revisit it.
Really, San Diego is nice. We have amazing fish tacos. Good radio stations, too!
SPIDER-MAN/DOCTOR OCTOPUS: NEGATIVE EXPOSURE:You got to work on Spider-Man! Intimidating? Exhilarating? Did you pitch this story or were you assigned it to tie into the pending Spidey/Doc Ock movie mania?
Intimidating and exhilarating. It was a story I pitched to editor Axel Alonso, before I knew Marvel was going to supply readers with a, uh… excessively generous amount of pre-movie Doc Ock material.
A classy understatement if ever there was one.
That's me, all class. And maggot-infested testicles.
I picked up a Roger Stern vibe for the mini, but maybe that's just because I imprinted on his Spider-Man stories in the '80s. Any particular inspirations for your take on Spidey?
I think Roger Stern is the biggest influence on everyone writing Spidey today, maybe even bigger than Stan Lee himself. So yeah.
Y'know, I'm inclined to agree – Stern's an underrated great - but somewhere out there in InternetLand, purists are uploading digital pitchforks and torches into angry e-mails addressed to you.
Hey, no disrespect to "The Man" at all. I'm just saying that writers of my generation grew up reading Stern, so he naturally made a huge impression on us. But if you don't appreciate Lee and Ditko, you shouldn't be writing comics.
Sales-wise, NEGATIVE EXPOSURE didn't set the charts on fire – any theories? Do you think it's possible it was too traditional and not "edgy" enough for the adult readers who dominate the industry?
Well, it outsold most of my "hit" books like Y, so I guess sales are relative. Who cares about that box office shit, anyway?
Ah, you know: fans like me. When I read a Spider-Man story that I think is one of the best action/characterization balancing acts for the character since the '80s, I want everyone else to sit up and recognize.
I also enjoyed the photography motif that provided the story's structure – what led you to it?
Thanks. Well, Peter Parker is a teacher in the regular Spidey books, and an intern in the Ultimate universe. I always thought that freelance photography was so central to the character, so I really wanted to do a story about stringing. I did a very tiny amount of that for a not-quite major metropolitan magazine called "Northern Ohio Live" back in Cleveland, so I wanted to draw on some of my own experiences, too.
Continuity cop question: Doc Ock mentions wearing shades because of a light sensitivity in NEGATIVE EXPOSURE. That was new to me. Was that an invention of your own or was it established elsewhere?
Are you sure I didn't steal that from somewhere?
Either way, I'll take credit for it. Sorta makes sense, right?
Now I've got a more confrontational question: Is it just me, or was this otherwise fine miniseries maybe an issue too long? Did you pad it for the trade, my friend? You can tell us.
Well, thanks very much for the compliment, but get ready for me to doth protest too much. I have no problem with anyone saying that anything I write is boring or slow in places or whatever, but this "padding" and "writing for the trade" shit that's become the new "jumped the shark" dumb catchphrase of comics criticism is both insulting and hugely ignorant of the way comics are made.
My Spidey mini was five issues long because that's how long I thought it would take to tell my story. Period. A lot of minis (and arcs of Y, for example) are five issues long, not because that's a good size for the trades, but because it represents 110 pages of story, about the length of a good screenplay. Obviously, comics and film scripts aren't 100% analogous, but I do think it's a pretty solid length for letting a self-contained three-act structure unfold naturally.
Still, when I came up with the storyline for my Sinister arc in ULTIMATE X-MEN, I knew it would take exactly four issues to tell. My first RUNAWAYS arc took six. "Safeword" in Y took three. At no point did I ever think about a future collection in terms of length, nor did my editors encourage me to. That shit's for the trade department to figure out down the line. Seriously, we're not out to steal from you guys by making you buy filler. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of writers edit and edit and edit themselves until they're left with only those individual panels that really, really matter.
The only people who think that writers "pad" are non-writers, those people who look at a blank page and can't imagine how they're ever going to fill it up with words. Real writers look at a blank page and can't imagine how they're ever going to fit everything they have to say onto it. And if that sounds cruel and unfair, it is, because I'm judging the critics rather than their criticism… which is the same thing you do when you accuse a writer of padding, rather than commenting on the story you thought dragged in parts.
I think you make some reasonable points, and maybe I should've just said, "I thought the middle dragged a bit," BUT...there's a fairly well-established story that Geoff Johns was given an editorial mandate to expand a single issue of his AVENGERS run into two at one point. In and of itself, it's anecdotal, but it came at a time that some fans (myself included) felt Marvel was stretching the serial format to ridiculous lengths in certain titles...even as their trade program kicked into high gear. Can you see how, from a fan's perspective, these events would combine to produce a certain level of cynicism?
I guess, but--and I don't want to speak for Geoff--but I'm fairly certain he tried expanding his story at editorial's suggestion, not because it would make for a better trade (what difference would an extra issue make in a collection?), but because it would give him more room to explore his characters. I'm pretty sure Geoff tried it and liked it, or he never would have done it, nor would any editor be stupid enough to make someone as brilliant as Geoff go against his instincts.
Either way, writers "stretch" their stories for hundreds of reasons, because they want to give the artist more room to shine in an action scene, because they want to slow down and concentrate on examining a hero's reaction to something remarkable, whatever.
Books like PREACHER, THE AUTHORITY, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and obviously tons of manga showed creators and publishers how effective these techniques could be. Yes, some people did use and continue to use them badly, but I assure you that no writer has ever attempted something as drastic as experimenting with her or his style for a reason as stupidly mercenary as "writing for the trade," even if this mini revolution did happen to coincide with one company expanding their collections program.
Okay, here's my real point: Just because a story CAN be told in one issue, does not mean that it SHOULD be told in one issue.
If you disagree, go back to some of my old done-in-one standalone issues of SWAMP THING, with their wall-to-wall captions, ten-panel-pages, and criminally crowded art (my fault, not my terrifically patient collaborators'). Now compare that to a relatively "decompressed" issue of Y. Just because something takes longer to read doesn't mean it's better.
I'd rather have sex with a young Sherilyn Fenn for three minutes than an old Barbara Bush for fifty, you know? And similarly, I'd rather read an issue of PLANETARY than my old KA-ZAR ANNUAL '97, even though the latter would take ten times as long to finish.
That doesn't mean that a story can't be told in one issue. I'm doing a standalone story in Issue #26 of Y. It's just… I don't know. I think my brain just fell out. I'll stop now.
Fair enough. I think something in my head broke during the Sherilyn Fenn/Barbara Bush metaphor.
Y: THE LAST MAN:Though Y's apocalyptic tale has a sci-fi premise, it's otherwise quite grounded in realism. Do you think there's any danger of the more fantastic elements (i.e. The Culper Ring or the interrogation method devised by the Marquis de Sade and Ben Franklin) undermining the central realism of the story?
The Culper Ring is a real espionage organization from the American Revolution! The Marquis de Sade and Benjamin Franklin really did meet! Everything in Y is real, even the fake stuff.
Bastard! Now you're going to make me have to look this stuff up.
Putting aside the socio-political aspects of Y, what's it like to be writing about a world that's taken such a horrific twist? Apocalyptic stories were huge in the '70s and '80s, but with the tapering of the Cold War, seem to've lost their popularity. Are you a fan of a the sub-genre? Do you find the genre elements (mass death/factionalization/return to primitivism) intriguing in and of themselves?
I love writing in this sub-genre, but with very few exceptions, I am extremely poorly versed in post-apocalyptic fiction. I discovered this after the first issue of Y came out, when readers started asking if I had read or seen the six billion other goddamn films, books, short stories, comics, whatever, whose premises are "exactly" like Y's. OMEGA MAN, THE LAST MAN, THE LAST MAN ON PLANET EARTH, A BOY AND HIS DOG, MR. ADAM, and on and on and on. And my answer is almost always, no. Sorry, but hopefully, that's why Y feels so fresh. After all, there are no new ideas, only new executions.
Sorry, did I answer that question? Yes, post-apocalyptic stuff is rad.
DREAMSCAPE fan, m'self.
You've said Yorick is kind of like a "younger and stupider" version of yourself. Obviously this gives the character room to grow, but like it or not, he's the only male representative of the post-apocalypse who's not a monkey. Is he giving our gender a fair shake? Have you had to struggle with notions of him as an "everyman" versus the reality that no one guy could possibly represent an entire gender?
Wow, that's a great question. To be honest, I've never thought about Yorick representing the entire gender. I just try to tell his particular story honestly. Anyway, I've found that there's really no such thing as an "everyman." As a matter of fact, the more specific and unique you make characters, the more people end up identifying with them. It's weird.
You're something of a geek for magic, as paralleled by Yorick. Any favorite professional magicians?
Yorick hates David Blaine, but I sorta like him. I like the lack of sequins and silks and showy performance type crap. The sleeping in a cage suspended over a river shit is dumb, but I like the craft of his stripped-down street magic, you know? Penn and Teller are cool. I'm a big Houdini fan, obviously.
Do you have a "showman" personality as a result of your interest in magic or are you the more typical introverted writer personality?
The only showman in comics is Stan Lee. The rest of us are introverted weirdos.
Y has a road trip pace to it, with Yorick meandering from one adventure to the next as an over-arcing plot is slowly unveiled. I love it, but lately I've heard some rumblings that folks want the pace picked up a bit. Do you have an ending in mind for the series, and how far down the line is it? What are the pleasure and pains of road trip stories?
Y is sixty issues, that's it. It'll be over before you know it, kids, and then you'll be crying that it went by too quickly. And yes, I know the last panel of the last page. It's 99% preordained, though I do occasionally take some unexpected side trips, especially when Pia comes up with brilliant ideas.
And there are seriously no pains to the process at all. Writing this story has been the best experience of my life.
Let's talk art. No one can deny Pia Guerra's a talented draftsman (draftswoman?) and storyteller, but do you think it's fair to say her realistic style's not the type of work that gets fans pumped for the art...or is that selling her short? Does Y work best with unobtrusive art that gives the story primacy over flashy visuals?
Pia has this quote that she sometimes ends her emails with, "Style is a result of our failure to achieve perfection." Will Eisner said that. A lot of artists are flashier than Pia, but very few are better. She just hides behind the story and concentrates on making the characters and situations absolutely real. Look at those facial expressions! How can you not get excited about acting like that? Pia is the reason you can give this book to a coworker. She's the reason you can share it with your non-comic-reading boyfriend. Her artwork is so good and so accessible, anyone and everyone can fall right into it.
Would you have any interest in seeing the book interpreted by a stylist like Guy Davis, Cameron Stewart, or Bill Sienkiewicz?
Sure, all three of those guys are geniuses, and next time Pia needs a breather from the monthly grind, I'd be honored to collaborate with any of them. But this book will always belong to Pia, first and foremost.
THE HOOD:Seems like not too many folks tried this book that looked into the world of a lowlife crook who found himself possessed of superpowers, but I thought it was the equal of Bendis's higher-profile ALIAS when I finally gave it a chance (yeah, I hesitated too, figuring it was grim 'n' gritty overkill). Do you think the book got the promotion it deserved?
Thanks! And yeah, it got more promotion than Y, probably. If the book didn't do well financially, I'm the only person who should be blamed. After all, I get most of the credit when a book does well. Creators who complain about their books not getting the promotion they deserved are crybabies. What's an acceptable level promotion in this industry? A house ad? A fucking poster? Really, what difference does that make? DC and Marvel have excellent promotions departments, but they just don't have the money or manpower to do more than the heroic work they're already doing. This marketplace is crowded with a ton of great books. If you want your book to sell, write something that can't be ignored.
How do you feel about doing clearly R-rated books set in the once all-ages Marvel Universe? Any risk of tarnishing the landscape of the regular books? For example, I got a kick when one of the leads in THE HOOD remarked that seemingly goofy villains like Electro scored a lot of pussy, but I wasn't so hep to Electro's trip to a whorehouse in the more mainstream MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN.
I liked Mark's Electro scene! Either way, I'm cool with companies publishing different books for different audiences. If you don't like seeing severed heads and boobies in your superhero comics, buy RUNAWAYS.
I peeked at another interview with you and you said, "...if I had gotten incredible powers when I was a teenager I would have done terrible things with it." Were you a bad seed?
Well… you know, no. Not at all. I like to think I was… but no. I was a geek. Am a geek. Who sometimes does bad things.
Is it as fun to write lowlifes as one would expect, or did it leave you wanting to take a shower?
What is this, Oprah? What kind of lame question is that? Of course it's fun!
RUNAWAYS:RUNAWAYS is ending at issue #18 to return in some new format in the future. Can you give us a bit more on what the new format will be? Given that the success of the trade is part of what ensured its survival, do you think the market could support the series were it to move exclusively to the trade format? Come on, someone's got to be the first to try it!
You know, I would love to be a pioneer on that front, but I just don't think Marvel's ready to take the plunge quite yet. We'll see. At this stage, sounds like RUNAWAYS will be returning for a "second season" in '05 as an ongoing monthly with an all-new mission statement and all-new villains. The kids will NOT be joining the X-Men or becoming the West Coast Avengers or whatever. It will still be RUNAWAYS… with a few small, incredibly cool differences.
A number of folks in our group have been onboard RUNAWAYS from the beginning, but clearly this book has had an uphill struggle. Do you think it hurt the book to be associated with the nebulously-defined Tsunami imprint, which some traditionalist readers dismissed sight-unseen as "manga crap"? Howsabout Marvel's early promises that the Tsunami line would be trade-supported, quite possibly losing potential readership of the book from the "wait for the trade" crowd when they hemmed and hawed over said promise?
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. If RUNAWAYS struggled as an ongoing series, it's because I didn't do enough for it. With those insane Jo Chen covers and Adrian Alphona's art on the interiors, I'm seriously the only weak link in our crew. Anyway, the trades did great, and the series is coming back bigger and better, so no need to dwell on the past.
When I first heard RUNAWAYS was going to be reprinted as an inexpensive, manga-sized trade, I thought that was a good way to capture the youth vote. When I saw it, the price was still right, but it occurred to me that younger manga fans might dismiss it because it's clearly not manga, while Marvel's old schoolers might dismiss it for trying to be manga. A valid concern?
I don't think so. When a fifteen-year-old girl walks into Border's, she's not thinking about whether or not the story she's about to buy fits into her preconceived notions of what manga is or isn't. She just wants something with a cool cover and an interesting description on the back cover. Something that passes the flip test, you know? And the same goes for Marvel old-schoolers, I think.
Anyway, the trade sold like crack, so we must have done something right, no?
How'd you cook up the characters in RUNAWAYS? Analogs of friends from your own childhood?
Hm, Molly is definitely my kid sister, but everyone else is either an amalgam of old friends or completely invented. And Old Lace is based on my pet dinosaur.
Hardest to write character? Easiest?
Good question. Nico is the toughest. Gert is the easiest.
One of the toughest things I've ever seen in comics is writing dialogue for kids that doesn't sound like dialogue written by an adult. How do you deal with this? How do you balance realistic (but potentially boring) dialogue with dramatic (but potentially unrealistic) dialogue?
I don't know. Bendis always says that he goes to the mall to listen to the way kids really talk, but I'm pretty sure he's just a pervert.
I, on the other hand, am an emotionally arrested man-child, so I've found that if I write to the top of my limited intelligence, confused teenagers usually sound authentic.
Geek question: Alex was playing an online superhero roleplaying game in the first issue of RUNAWAYS. Ever delve into 'em yourself?
Nope. AmpersandMonkey will crush you at Crimson Skies though.
The Cloak & Dagger two-parter was a well-received story featuring two characters who're cult heroes at best. What led you to 'em? And are second- or third-string guest-stars more appealing to you than, say, guest-starring Wolverine? Any other third-stringers you'd like to play with in the future?
Cloak and Dagger was editor C.B. Cebulski's excellent suggestion. I do love third-stringers though, and you can expect some doozies when RUNAWAYS returns.
We hear you've mulled over doing more with Cloak & Dagger based on the warm reception they received in RUNAWAYS - is there something you'd like to share with the class?
Nah, I think my schedule is a little too crazy right now. Sorry.
Speaking of guest-stars...without 'em, and without a few of the superhero references, RUNAWAYS could almost pass for a non-Marvel series. Was it conceived as such and retrofitted to incorporate the Marvel Universe? Do you ever wonder whether the concept might be reaching thousands more were it a non-Marvel prose series targeting the HARRY POTTER crowd?
Great question. My agent thinks I'm nuts for just giving RUNAWAYS to Marvel, instead of trying to sell it as a stand-alone pitch to a movie studio or a publishing company or whatever, but Marvel Comics saved my life by giving me work when I was an impoverished college student. I made thousands of dollars writing characters that guys like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created, so I don't mind throwing something back into the pot. As a matter of fact, I hope future newbie writers will write Runaways if and when I ever leave the book.
Let's not speak of such things.
Bring on those submissions, all you disgruntled Epic pitchers! Vaughan's book is up for grabs!
Ha ha, no. Don't. Please.
Related question: when you're doing superhero books, do you like playing up the "shared universe" aspect or do you prefer that the books operate more unto their own setting in the Batman/Gotham tradition?
For the most part, I like my books to be very self-contained, but if there's ever a way to play with the shared universe without alienating that fifteen-year-old girl in Border's, I'll roll the dice.
There's a long and glorious tradition of evil parents and step-parents in storytelling, from age-old fairy tales to JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH. Recent issues of RUNAWAYS have suggested these kids' evil, power-mad, cultist parents might actually have some redeeming qualities, but do you have any concerns about making the adults the "bad guys"?
Concerns? That's the point of the book! It's the point of most Marvel Comics. Your parents are evil.
Which Runaway is the traitor? Oh COME ON!
ULTIMATE X-MEN:Are you a longtime X-Men fan? How's it feel to be working on Marvel's premiere franchise, and would you have any interest in working on a mainline X-Men title?
What's a mainline X-men title? Doesn't ULTIMATE X-MEN outsell most X-books? It's like people who ask if I want to write the "real" X-Men someday. You do know these characters are all make-believe, right?
Seriously, I'm having a blast writing ULTIMATE X-MEN, and there's not another X-book I'd rather be working on. I love that I get to write a book where younger readers and new fans can read about teenage freaks, outcasts and misfits… the kind of characters we identified with when we fell in love with the X-Men as awkward, brooding adolescents. Or am I the only one?
Your arc involves Ultimate incarnations of Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse as well as an updated version of Storm "going punk" from the '80s. Do you think the Ultimate Universe runs the risk of focusing too much on revamping old stories rather than finding its own?
Reinventing old stories and old characters for an all-new audience is sorta the mission statement of the Ultimate line, so no. And let's face it, even Grant Morrison's brilliant and hugely inventive New X-Men run was basically "revamped" versions of classic X-Men stories (Sentinels, Magneto, Days of Future Past, etc.). If you want 100% new stories and characters, read RUNAWAYS or Y or EX MACHINA.
Roger Ebert once said Hollywood should try remaking bad movies that had a germ of potential rather than good movies. Would it be fair to say this characterizes what you're doing with Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse?
Absolutely! Thank you for seeing that. I mean, how can you write an "ultimate" Dark Phoenix Saga? Claremont already did it! I'd much rather take characters and situations who didn't quite fire on all cylinders when they were first introduced, and do something new and different with them.
You're a Colossus fan from what I hear. Ever since audiences thrilled to his five seconds of screen time in X2, fans have wanted to see him returned to the Marvel Universe proper to kick ass and take names Russky-style. Think you could find a way to make it happen, tough guy?
Sorry, you want to read about Colossus, you have to read our book. Tough break, Whedon.
MYSTIQUE:The high concept of this book was "mutants by way of 007," with Xavier as the analog to M, Forge the analog to Q, and Mystique in the role of Bond. Did you worry about it being too derivative?
No more than Ian Fleming probably worried that 007 was too derivative of the eerily familiar Dick Barton, a dashing, gadget-loving British spy who debuted on the BBC way back in 1946. No new ideas, right?
Listen, Bond was obviously an inspiration for the format of my run on Mystique. Good writers borrow, etc. But I like to think that my take on Mystique was significantly unique. I mean, she's a shapeshifting former terrorist! Either way, new writer Sean McKeever is doing some incredible stuff with the book, and I think we'll see him getting away from my 007 template pretty quickly.
Mystique's a hottie in the book with her "Smurfette in leather pants" visuals. Now I can only presume that as writer of Y: THE LAST MAN, you're sensitive to how women are portrayed in comics, so how'd it feel to be writing a character who overtly plays on the allure of the femme fatale babe? Any exploitative objectification going on here, or is that a stick-up-the-ass concern?
It would be a concern… if Mystique were a woman.
That's all I'm saying.
Dude, you just blew my mind.
Have you ever, as some writers have, fallen in love with one of your own characters?
Wow, good question. Um… no? Maybe. Well, maybe one. A little. I'm not saying who though.
You came up with some pretty great uses for Mystique's powers – any favorites?
Thanks! I liked having her shapeshift all of her vital organs into her lower extremities so she could safely get shot in the chest. That was fun.
Do you think superhero writers should be pushing themselves more to find innovative uses for superpowers that might ostensibly seem straightforward?
Depends on the character. Spider-Man? No. Mutants? Probably. They're all about evolution.
What was it like writing a book that unabashedly embraces about one major action setpiece per issue? Liberating? Constricting?
I can't think of a single comic I've ever written that hasn't had an action scene in it. They're not all motorcycle chases, but they're in there. I'm sure that sounds hacky and formulaic, but I have a hard time divorcing action from visual drama.
Your take on Mystique was enticing, but had her coming across as more hip and snarky than the Mystique I read about in UNCANNY X-MEN in the '80s. That Mystique I remember as cold-blooded and occasionally maternal (at least with Rogue). Do you feel your incarnation fit the character's past?
It's not fair to ask for total consistency in your friends over decades, so you certainly shouldn't demand it from fictional characters. People change. I think my Mystique was fairly true to the original character--an alluring, dangerous, untrustworthy mutant who loved her job and believed in her cause--but you're welcome to disagree.
BIG FINALE!Alright, last question, so let's get crazy: "How do we save the comics industry, Brian?"
It's already been saved. Honestly, when else in history were there ever this many amazing books being published at the same time? When have they ever gotten this much public recognition? Didn't Chris Ware just win the Guardian First Book Prize?
Sure, sales stink compared to twenty years ago, but that's true in movies, music, books, whatever. But who cares about the economics of it all, when the artform has never been better? Good creators can still make a decent living and so can good retailers. Lousy creators and lousy retailers will complain, but this is the Golden Age. Seriously, future generations will look back at early twenty-first century comics with the same awe and jealousy movie fans have looking back at American cinema of the 70s. You can put that in the bank, @$$holes.
Wow, anyone else feel a sudden urge to salute and hum "Stars and Stripes Forever"? I mean, I thought good writers were supposed to be bitter.
Sincerest thanks, Brian. You've been a helluva sport and I imagine you've got some real writing to get back to.
EX MACHINA #1 is in stores now. Vaughan can also be found writing Y: THE LAST MAN, ULTIMATE X-MEN and RUNAWAYS. Those books all have trade collections or will be traded shortly, and don't forget collections of SPIDER-MAN/DOCTOR OCTOPUS: NEGATIVE EXPOSURE, MYSTIQUE and THE HOOD. Also be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more in the future on his pending super-secret Vertigo project, PRIDE: THE LIONS OF BAGHDAD, which we totally scooped all the other comic book websites on.
In your face, Ninth Art!