With New York Comic Con staff asking fans not to leave any seats open, massively popular comics and television writer Brian K. Vaughan drew in a packed crowd on Saturday, October 9th for his “In Conversation with Brian K. Vaughan” panel. There was no moderator and nobody other than Vaughan himself (affectionately known as “BKV” among fans) sat on stage.

Vaughan kicked off the panel by introducing himself and providing a quick rundown of his career up to this point, evoking massive applause at the mention of beloved comics he’s written like Runaways, Y: The Last Man (later providing a hearty thanks to The Beat founder and Editor-in-Chief Heidi MacDonald for acquiring the title during her tenure as a Vertigo editor), Ex Machina, and Paper Girls. He slyly left out Saga, arguably his most popular comic, in this overview, but within 10 minutes, Saga artist and co-creator Fiona Staples was onscreen via livestream to help him announce the long-awaited return of the smash hit sci-fi/fantasy series.

The reveal that Saga #55 would finally see a release on January 26th, 2022, breaking the until-now-indefinite hiatus the Image series had been on since 2018, was easily the juiciest reveal of the panel, and quite possibly NYCC 2021 as a whole. The official panel description on the New York Comic Con website promised a “very special guest,” so perhaps the announcement wasn’t altogether surprising. In preparing our coverage, The Beat managing editor Joe Grunenwald agreed that it would be more surprising if Saga‘s return wasn’t announced for such a heavily-hyped panel, and in chatting with a number of fans on line for the event (including a cosplayer impressively dressed as Izabel, the comic’s pink, disemboweled ghost babysitter), it was clear that the presumed announcement was the main draw.

Yet even after the announcement, the panel remained lively and upbeat. When Staples – who noted that she gave birth to her first child during the hiatus – mentioned that the upcoming 55th issue would be 44 pages (more than twice as long as a typical single issue in 2021), Vaughan joked “that sounds expensive as shit,” noting the current paper shortages and rising comic book prices across the industry. But he reassured the crowd that it would be $2.99, the same price as all Saga issues have been since its 2012 debut, and that “as long as we can afford to keep doing this, we’re going to keep it at $2.99.”

Staples also joked about the mysterious male figure on the newly-revealed cover, calling him “new Marko” in reference to the series’ leading man.

“What happened to the old Marko?” asked a fan.

“No spoilers!” shouted another.

“No spoilers?” Vaughan laughed. “You’ve had three fucking years!”

Much like his comics, Vaughan’s public speaking style mixes snarky humor with moments of heart-on-sleeve sincerity. Staples noted that she’s known the Saga characters longer than she’s known her own children, and Vaughan added that “other than my own family, working with Fiona has been the greatest joy of my life.”

After Staples thanked the fans and signed off, the roughly 45 minutes that made up the rest of the panel were dedicated to audience Q & A. The first fan asked what Vaughan wanted the audience to feel at the end of Paper Girls, another long-running Image comic, in this case drawn by Cliff Chiang. Vaughan said it was one of the “happiest experiences” of his life, and hoped readers would respond to it as a celebration of “young people working together.”

Asked how long he plots stories out in advance, Vaughan stated that the next 54 issues of Saga are already plotted out, and that “we’re at the halfway mark.” Asked if he would ever consider doing a crossover between any of the comics he co-created, Vaughan cheekily remarked that he’d like to see a meeting between fictional pets he co-created, like the dinosaur Old Lace from Runaways, the monkey Ampersand from Y: The Last Man, and Lying Cat from Saga. He jokingly compared a Lying Cat easter egg on The Simpsons to “the birth of my children.”

The Beat‘s own Billy Henehan asked if the next issue of Saga would be “safe” to read on the train or otherwise in public, prompting laughter from readers aware of Saga‘s reputation for extreme violence and wildly explicit depictions of sex and nudity. Vaughan confirmed that issue 55 would indeed be unsuitable for public consumption.

Brian K. Vaughan (right) chats with a fan after the panel. Photo credit: Billy Henehan

A fan who inquired about Vaughan’s television work was reassured that he loves comics more than anything: “they brought me to the dance.” He noted several differences between the experiences of writing comics and movies, and said that TV provides some opportunities comics do not, such as working with musicians.

Not only has Vaughan’s comics output been relatively slow the past few years, but he maintains a limited social media presence, so it was only natural that several questions asked him to look toward the future. On his upcoming work, Vaughan shared that he wasn’t ready to announce any new projects yet, but teased that he was indeed working on something “maybe with an artist I already mentioned earlier today. Stay tuned.”

As for the state of the comics industry as a whole, Vaughan said “$2.99 seems fair to me” and sympathized with fans struggling to afford comics in the midst of inflation, but added that “the medium of comics has never been better… young creators are so much better than us old people.”

Regarding adaptations, Vaughan said that while he enjoys them, he has yet to receive an offer for a Saga adaptation that felt sufficiently “additive,” adding: “The big reason to do an adaptation is the cash. Which is great, but thanks to you guys Fiona and I are doing just fine. Saga will probably remain a comic forever.”

One fan wanted to know which “non-comics” Vaughan enjoyed during the pandemic. Vaughan named Quentin Tarantino‘s novelization of his own film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a prose work he enjoyed, but brought the conversation back to comics by naming Derf Backderf‘s Kent State graphic novel as one of the best in years. “Those prose books are fine, but give me them pictures!”

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