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Y: The Last Party – Full Report

by  in Comic News Comment
Y: The Last Party – Full Report

SPOILER WARNING: The following contains some spoilers of the conclusion of "Y: The Last Man."

All photos by CBR Staff Photographer Pinguino Kolb

Five years ago, rising stars Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra set out on an odyssey: the production of a graphic novel entitled “Y: The Last Man,” serialized in monthly comics published by Vertigo. Earlier this month, that years-long enterprise finally came to a close with the publication of “Y: The Last Man” #60. To celebrate the end of that journey, MySpace Comic Books and Los Angeles retailer Meltdown Comics conceived of the aptly named Y: The Last Party, a gala event held at Meltdown last Saturday. Sponsored by not only Vertigo but also Dark Horse, Image Comics and Top Cow Productions, the purpose of the party was two-fold: first, to celebrate the enormous achievement of “Y” creators Vaughan and Guerra; and second, to raise money for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The party was attended by such comics luminaries as Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, and featured a keynote speech by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator and noted “Y: The Last Man” fan Joss Whedon. CBR News was in attendance to bring you a full report.

“Y: The Last Man” writer Brian K. Vaughan

MySpace Comic Books’ Sam Humphries introduced the guests of honor, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, before turning the microphone over to Vertigo editor Will Dennis, who served as editor on “Y” since issue #15. Dennis read a beaming statement from original “Y” editor Heidi MacDonald and admitted that his own personal editorial edict when taking on the project was, “Don’t fuck this up.” In service of that goal, Dennis phoned his frequent collaborator Brian Azzarello (“100 Bullets”), whose words of advice were short and to the point: “Great book. Yorick needs some pussy. Don’t fuck it up.” Dennis then powered through an extensive list of oft overlooked, behind-the-scenes players who helped make “Y” what it was, and proceeded to thank the fans, too, for their role in the book’s enormous success. “We really consider you a breed apart from a typical fan, and we appreciate that you try challenging material, and you try stuff that’s not for everyone else,” Dennis said. “We exist for you, and we exist because of you.”

Keynote speaker and “Y: The Last Man” fan Joss Whedon

Next, Humphries introduced the night’s keynote speaker, Joss Whedon, who had earlier been presented with an original page from “Y” in appreciation of his unrelenting support for the book. The writer pledged that his speech would bear as little resemblance to “The Chris Farley Show” as possible. Whedon elected to begin his remembrance of “Y: The Last Man” with the final issue, saying, “As I was finishing the last issue, and telling my wife that I had something in my eye, I got to the last page and saw the picture; saw the image, and I saw the title, and while I was actually crying, I laughed and I was like, ‘Brian, you fuck,’ The last title, the last word, for me, is the epitaph for the book — possibly the human race– and for the character. And I know he had it for 60 issues. He had a character named Yorick, and never said ‘alas.’ That shows a level of thinking and structure and reserve and patience I just don’t have.” Whedon felt this was indicative to Vaughan’s approach to the entire book: “Like the Cylons, he has a plan.”

Whedon then related an anecdote about how he first came to know the guest of honor. While signing at Comic-Con International in San Diego some years back, a friend of Vaughan’s presented Whedon with a “Y: The Last Man” trade paperback. “My friend Brian wrote this book, and he wants you to have it,” the fan said to Whedon.

Joss Whedon praises Vaughan and Guerra

Upon returning to his home after the convention, the “Y” trade, along with the lion’s share of his new convention acquisitions, became engulfed in what Whedon described as a “sea of shit.” It wasn’t until wading through that sea some months later that Whedon came upon the trade once again and sat down to read it cover to cover. Vaughan’s business card had been tucked carefully inside the book, and Whedon wasted no time in contacting the then-fledgling writer. “Approximately thirty seconds after finishing the entire trade, I then e-mail the person on the card to tell him that he’s my new best friend, whether he likes it or not,” Whedon said. “He resisted at first. They all do.”

Whedon contends the strength of the book lies not only in its “ridiculously good premise,” but also in the way the creators defied expectations. “I read the first issue, and saw it was very beautiful and very frightening and very extraordinary, and thought, ‘My God. It opens up an entire world of porn,'” Whedon said. His response to issue #2, which featured a supermodel driving a dump truck full of dead bodies, was decidedly different: “Okay,” Whedon had thought, “I don’t think he’s going to go exactly where I’m thinking.”

“Y: The Last Man” editor Will Ennis discusses the book

It was at this point that Whedon first took notice of the artwork of “Y” co-creator Pia Guerra. “Pia draws what I like to refer to as people,” Whedon said. “The beauty and the clarity and the humanness of the art is matched only by Brian’s ability to occasionally shut up and let it just happen.”

An outspoken feminist, Whedon explained he’d spent years of his childhood searching for comic book heroines who were more than just stereotypes, and that one of the things he finds so extraordinary about “Y” is that it has helped to usher in an era of storytelling in which gender stereotypes are no longer an issue. “It’s not about any kind of stereotype,” Whedon said. “It’s not about riffing on what we’ve done in comics before. People are all incredibly flawed. There is no hope for any of us. Except maybe there’s a little bit, and maybe we can be free, and the fact that [Vaughan and Guerra] brought that to us is to me an extraordinary gift. [‘Y: The Last Man’] is in fact a term I almost never use, a graphic novel, and it’s one that I’m extremely grateful that we have.”

MySpace Comic Books’ Sam Humphries auctions original artwork from “Y: The Last Man” to benefit the CBLDF

Vaughan then took the microphone to tout the CBLDF. “If you’ve read ‘Y,’ you know that I’m a writer who likes to have bare boobies and severed heads, and I like to use the word ‘douche’ over and over again,” Vaughan said. Comic books aren’t just for children anymore, the writer stressed, but the rest of the world is still coming to terms with this idea. “There are still libraries that aren’t allowed to carry books like ‘Y: The Last Man,’ and retailers who aren’t just getting sued, but who are getting arrested, for giving books for adults, not to children, but to other adults. I hate the fact that we need a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, but we do, so that terrible books like ‘Y: The Last Man’ can be read. So thank you to everyone who supports Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, you are decidedly not douches.”

Top Cow Productions president Matt Hawkins won the art auction with a bid of $2,000

Ticket sales for Y: The Last Party raised $8,000 for the CBLDF. Over the course of the evening, Humphries auctioned off an original page of artwork from the series to Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins, who narrowly outbid BOOM! Studios’ Mark Waid with a final bid of $2,000. Later, a specially made “Y: The Last Man” straightjacket sold to Eric Lieb of Fox Atomic Comics for $1,300, bringing the night’s grand total to $11,300. In addition, the CBLDF will be holding eBay auctions of original “Y” themed artwork.

Humphries then opened up the floor to questions from the crowd. One fan asked about Agent 355’s real name. “I think we give a lot of answers, but there’s some things that should be left unanswered,” Vaughan said. “Scary coming from someone working on ‘Lost,’ but some questions should not be answered.”

Guerra and Vaughan award a limited edition “Y: The Last Man” straightjacket to Fox Atomic Comics’ Eric Lieb for $1,300

Humphries asked Vaughan and Guerra about the arc “Safeword,” the story they’ve said finally solidified their collaboration. The pair explained that Guerra is prone to coming up with brilliant story ideas while lying in bed, and her epiphany regarding Yorick’s “Safeword” antagonist came as no exception. “Yorick’s a master of escape,” Guerra said. “So he should go up against a master of bondage.” Guerra was pleasantly surprised when her late-night email to Vaughan garnered not just an issue, but an entire story arc. “It was great. I felt like, ‘Wow, this is a collaboration here, this is really cool.'”

Another fan asked if the creators had a favorite actor to play Yorick in the in-development movie adaptation of the series. “The way that Pia interpreted Yorick, that will forever be Yorick,” Vaughan said. “So I kind of don’t care.” Guerra, too, was noncommittal, but admitted that she had always been kind of partial to Vaughan’s one-time suggestion, Topher Grace.

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, Grant Morrison

“Whenever I think of the movie, I just hope it’s good,” Guerra continued. She said there would be a certain novelty to have a DVD in her collection based on a book she’d worked on.

“I either want it to be really, really good, or really, really bad,” Vaughan said. “I think really, really bad would be kind of awesome.”

CBR’s own Andy Khouri asked about the recurring theme of lions in Vaughan’s work and in “Y” in particular, pointing out references to television documentaries about lions and the cowardly lion from “The Wizard of Oz.” “I only have about three ideas,” Vaughan confessed. “I’ve got one monkey thing, and lions, and then one thing with a jetpack. The next thing is going to be monkeys with jetpacks fighting lions.”

Mark Waid with fellow “Y: The Last Man” fans

When asked about the feminist philosophies in the book, Guerra explained that she was not so much a feminist as an egalitarian. “That’s how I was raised, everyone’s equal, and everyone’s a person,” Guerra said. “I never liked the idea of gender roles. They can be limiting. And that’s how I draw figures, they’re humans first.”

One female fan thanked the creative duo for creating the book that brought her to the comics medium, referring to “Y” as a “gateway drug.” “I feel like I’m the worst writer in the room tonight,” Vaughan admitted. “Grant Morrison is hiding somewhere here, and Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns, and I feel like, if ‘Y’ could be a gateway drug to get to better books like theirs, that’s very nice.”

Zuni entertained guests at Y: The Last Party, but only when given a $1.00 donation

When asked if any of their own work had ever made them cry, Guerra cited a particularly traumatizing scene in issue #60, in the woods with Yorick’s monkey Ampersand. “I was crying when I first read the script, and I cried whenever I was thinking about it in the weeks leading up to it,” Guerra admitted. “It was the worst thing I ever had to draw.”

Interestingly, despite her perfect renderings of Ampersand in “Y,” Guerra had never before seen a monkey in person, but that oversight was remedied at Y: The Last Party, when the planners brought in a living, breathing monkey to help ring in the end of the series. Guerra and her fans were able to interact with the startlingly well-behaved animal, who required a one-dollar donation for photos, dollars she removed from patrons’ hands and stuffed into her jacket pocket.

When asked how close the ending of the series was to Vaughan’s original idea, the writer said the conclusion changed little over the course of the project. Guerra was initially resistant to some aspects of Vaughan’s original ending, but the fact he was ultimately able to bring her around reaffirmed for the writer that he was ending the series on the right note.

MySpace Comic Books’ Sam Humphries, Mark Waid

Joss Whedon was curious to learn the fate of the villain known as Alter. “I thought it would be nice to just once show that the character grows up to just not want to kill the villain, and just that the villain gets what they deserve, which is just to be forgotten about, and to never be mentioned again,” Vaughan said. Guerra firmly agreed. So far as both creators are concerned, after the events chronicled in “Y,” Alter simply faded into obscurity.

Sam Humphries asked the duo how the tragedy of 9/11 affected “Y: The Last Man,” which was in the early stages of production when New York was attacked. Guerra was in fact set to begin work on the book on that fateful September 11th morning. She went to bed on the 10th raring to go, and woke up on the 11th to “the worst day in the world.” Parts of the original story were set to take place in Afghanistan, and it quickly became abundantly clear that those portions of the story would have to be rewritten. “So Brian went back and rewrote it for Jordan, and there were a few other little things that were changed too,” Guerra said.

“Y: The Last Man” creators Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Vaughan said 9/11 actually led him to infuse more humor into “Y.” He and his wife were living in New York at the time, and realized that morbid humor was the only way for them to cope with the tragedy without going “fucking insane.”

Asked to comment about each other, the “Y” creators couldn’t have been more glowing about their partners in crime. “I got in on the ground floor with the next Alan Moore,” Guerra said of “Y’s” scribe. And Vaughan said that after receiving Guerra’s earliest concept sketches, he had thought to himself, “Now I feel like I’m writing a real comic book.”

“We’re sort of Bart and Lisa Simpson, and I’m Lisa a little bit,” Vaughan explained. “Pia likes hardcore graphic sex and action, and I like people sitting around talking about their feelings. The two of us sort of complete each other.”

For more Y: The Last Party, come back tomorrow, when CBR News will publish an extensive photo parade from the event.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Vertigo forum.

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