By Brandon Pascall
Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, reunited to celebrate the monumental Y the Last Man on Thursday at New York Comic Con. The panel started with the excited yells from fans cheering on the creators and celebrating NYCC.
The panel officially began with a question from MacDonald asking the pair if they had any idea on how big the impact the book would be, and Vaughan and Guerra both said they didn’t believe that the book would be a success. They believed it would be canceled after six issues and gain a cult following.
Y the Last Man was Guerra’s first official comic book series, and Vaughan — who had been working in the industry for a few years — remembers seeing the fax of the first page with Yorick hanging upside down and knew that this would be the best thing he had ever worked on at the time. Vaughan then talked about the range of emotions Yorick showed thanks to Guerra’s amazing artwork and how she was able to convey emotions in characters that we rarely see in other comic books.
MacDonald switched things up and talked about her and Vaughan’s first book for Vertigo, which was Swamp Thing. He joked about how after the series was canceled, he had to wrap up two years’ worth of plot in the final page of the book with a montage of panels showing what the future would hold for the character. This led to another pitch about Vaughan’s old babysitter who he fell in love with (when he was a kid), and how he wished a meteor would crash into Earth and leave just him and his babysitter alive. He joked about how he thought about exploring that story, which led into Y the Last Man.
MacDonald talked about the page that sold her on the book/pitch and that was the page(s) that showed the percentage of how many men died in certain industries and how it showed that men controlled and unfortunately still do, some of the most important aspects of our society. (Stock exchange, airplane pilots, religious leaders.)
MacDonald had met Guerra at a Thai food restaurant in San Diego and wanted a female artist on the book. Guerra talked about how other male editors she met stated that she didn’t ”draw like a girl” when she showed her portfolio to them. When MacDonald saw Guerra’s work, she wanted her on the book because of Guerra’s amazing way of conveying expressions — which ties back into Vaughan’s earlier point. Guerra herself said that she wanted to translate the acting of the characters and said she has always loved acting and found she could act on the page.
Vaughan talked about how he poured a lot of himself into Yorick and how they grew up in tandem to become The Last Boy on Earth to The Last Man on Earth and how the women around them made that possible in both the story and Vaughan’s real life.
MacDonald talked about how the book launched the same month as Bill Willingham‘s and Mark Buckingham’s Fables, which was a success from the get-go; Guerra talked about how the first issue had a print run of 17,000 and the cancel rate back then was 15,000. At this time, MacDonald had left Vertigo but saw that the second and third issue had a huge increase in sales and how it sold out; she knew that they were on their way to a hit after that.
MacDonald then turned the panel toward Vaughan’s and Guerra’s approaches to characters.
Vaughan talked about the Safe Word arc, which was his favorite, and gave all the credit to Guerra. He said he was afraid to sexualize the book, but Guerra pushed for it and came up with the idea that since Yorick is the master of escape, his antagonist would be the mistress of bondage. That led into Yorick’s survivor’s guilt and how Yorick wanted to die.
Guerra and Vaughan joked about how they didn’t fill their stereotypical gender roles and how Vaughan liked the characters sitting around and drinking tea, while Guerra liked the action and always asked for motorcycles chases and fight scenes.
MacDonald also talked about the impact of female readers and how back then, people asked if women readers would enjoy the story. She said she knew they would, but now’ a’ days, they wouldn’t have to worry about people reading “outside their gender,” because it happens all the time. MacDonald then talked about how Y the Last Man was a gateway comic for so many people, and asked Vaughan and Guerra why they think that was.
Vaughan again gave the credit to Guerra for the ease of access. Guerra responded with how the layout of the book was in response to — and born out of — the ’90s, and how she analyzed what worked and what didn’t in those classic ’90s books. The answer was: clarity. She was drawing the comic so that if someone new wanted to read without having read one before, they could, and it was a conscious decision for her always. Guerra gave credit to Buffy and said it was a huge influence on the book. She also wanted to make sure it felt like we have been watching these characters for months; to achieve that, she changed their clothes and hair length through each issue/arc to help reaffirm these characters in reality.
The panel then changed the topic to what happened after Y the Last Man. Vaughan recalled how he was hired on for Lost after Damon Lindelof reached out once he read the series. Vaughan said he was lucky to have that opportunity, but he loves how comics can offer so much more control and how comics can plan for something and go through with it, versus dealing with all the variables of TV.
Guerra discussed taking a long break from comics to focus on little projects, as well as to help other artists with their work. After the 2016 election, she became a political cartoonist and has since discovered that she loves doing it; although she didn’t think she could do it full time, when a New Yorker editor called, she gave it a shot. The imagery she uses in her cartoons tells an entire story in a single image, which is very rare for an artist to be able to accomplish. Guerra said it’s a combination of everything that she has learned throughout her career.
Moving along to the upcoming Y the Last Man TV show, Vaughan talked about how there was an A deal where creators got a lump sum of cash for the movie rights (about $5 thousand) and the B deal, where the creators keep the movie/TV rights. At the time, everyone hoped for deal A, and when they found out they got deal B. They all laughed and thought, there goes their shot at the big money.
The show is coming out next year, but Vaughan originally thought the book was going to be a featured film. Now it isn’t just shooting a storyboard, and he is glad for how long it has taken for a screen adaptation to come about because it is now the version that fans deserve. Guerra talked about how she thought it should have always been a TV show and believed that if the movie was made, it would eventually get made into a TV show like Buffy. After The Walking Dead became a hit TV show, Vaughan believed that it showed big entertainment companies that comics were more than just superhero stories.
And with that, Q&A began. Below are some of the more interesting questions that were asked by fans:
Question: Looking back at it now, what do you want to change story-wise in Y the Last Man?
Vaughan: I thought about going back and George Lucasing it up but honestly I wouldn’t change a thing; it was a product of its time. That being said, if it was created today it would probably be more ”woke.”
Guerra: I would want to change so much art-wise, but that’s because I am a perfectionist but that ’artist’ was developing.
Question: What character would come to the Y the Last Man universe?
Vaughan: Lying Cat.
Question: Before Y the Last Man, what would the creators share with friends?
Guerra: The Adventures of Arkwright.
MacDonald: My Friend Dahmer.
Questions then turned to broader topics, including 9/11. The attacks happened on Guerra’s first day and they talked about how they had to change one of the opening scenes of the comic, as well as how the book itself took on a lighter tone because of 9/11.
Following this, the panelists were asked what’s next for them.
Saga is at its halfway point and will go to issue #108; Vaughan said it will return soon. He also said that as long as he has kids, he will keep having ideas and stealing inspiration from them.
Guerra said she will keep trying to piss off Trump, and that she has a sci-fi epic she is working on (the story is complete). Additionally, she has teamed up with her husband and has optioned a few TV series.
To close the panel, MacDonald thanked Steve Bunche, who was in the crowd, along with Goran Sudžuka and José Marzán Jr., who were not.