Brian K. Vaughan is one of the comic book industry's true superstars, and was the subject of a solo spotlight panel at Image Comics' Image Expo event Thursday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The panel was a late addition to the show, as the time slot was originally dedicated to a similar panel featuring Robert Kirkman, who announced Wednesday that he was unable to attend the show. Vaughan already made news at the show, with word that he and his "The Private Eye" collaborator Marcos Martin were working on a "Walking Dead" story for the Panel Syndicate -- and that "The Private Eye" was coming to print at Image.
Image Comics Brand Manager and panel moderator David Brothers started the session with "We Stand On Guard," the recently debuted series written by Vaughan and drawn by Steve Skroce. "It's pretty incredible," Vaughan said of working with Skroce. "He's a guy I've been a fan of since 'Youngblood.'"
Moving to Fiona Staples, his artistic collaborator on "Saga," Vaughan said he had some apprehension at first about what impact her drawing an arc of "Archie" would have on the book's schedule. "I know Fiona is fast and she's talented, but are we going to be able to do this?" Vaughan said not only did it work out, but the "Archie" end result looks amazing. "Fiona can do anything."
"Paper Girls" is on the way, drawn by Cliff Chiang. Vaughan said working with the "insanely talented" Chiang is a "dream come true," as he's been hoping to work with him for years.
Moving to fan questions, an audience member asked about Vaughan's history of writing diverse characters. Vaughan cited recent comments from Shonda Rhimes, saying it's not about diversity but about reflecting the real world.
Brothers asked about Vaughan's collaborator on "The Private Eye," Marcos Martin. "Marcos is the brand behind PanelSyndicate.com," Vaughan said. "He's a dream. He is the one artist I work with, that when I send him a script, he's like -- 'Oh no, I'm not drawing any of this.' Normally that would drive me batty, but he's so good. I love it."
Vaughan said Martin helped spur the idea for them to do a "Walking Dead" story in return for "The Private Eye" coming to print at Image. "I don't think he's ever done a comic in black and white. We're going to do a one-shot 'Walking Dead' story in black and white. Kirkman already approved the story. I didn't think he would. It's an interesting one."
"It's in 'Walking Dead' continuity," Vaughan continued. "I'm going to hide the secret of where the zombies came from somewhere in the script," he joked.
A fan asked about "meta" or fourth wall-breaking aspects in "Saga." Vaughan responded that sometimes people complain about being taken out of the story, but, "I like being taken out of the story sometimes. I'm not looking to escape my life, I'm looking to enrich it."
Discussing cliffhangers, Vaughan said in TV the term "schmuckbait" is used -- like during his time on "Lost," if an episode ended with someone pulling a gun on Jack, it was "schmuckbait," as only schmucks would believe that Jack would die. "The cliffhangers I like are the emotional ones," he said.
Vaughan told a fan he'd like to some day go back to more real world-based material, and that "Paper Girls" "starts that way."
Any news on a "Y the Last Man" film adaptation? "I think the film adaptation is gone, but the hope for a TV series is a possibility," he answered. "But I've said that for 12 years now."
Is it difficult to kill off characters in "Saga"? "I think it's harder for Fiona," he replied. "'What? I just designed this thing!' I said from the start that 'Saga' is a war comic, and there are going to be casualties, and lots of them."
Vaughan said he was inspired by "Optic Nerve" to only accept physical mail for the "Saga" letter column, seeing Adrian Tomine get "way weirder" missives that way. "I am happiest being offline," Vaughan said. "Emails can come in any time of the day, and they're usually angry. While letters -- almost no one waste a stamp to tell you you suck. I go to my PO Box once a week and get a big stack of love. It's my favorite part of the book."
"I'll never go back to 'Y the Last Man' or 'Ex Machina,'" Vaughan told a fan. "Maybe one day my kid will need braces and I'll eat those words."
Vaughan said he used to have friends and family who would read his stuff before publication, but no longer. "You should be allowed to have editors and help for about 10 years, and then you have to leave your friends alone," Vaughan said. "Each artist I like to talk with as much as they like to."
"I love comics," Vaughan told a fan who asked about collaboration. "A novel is too little collaboration, film and TV is too much. Comics is this beautiful sweet spot."
The last question of the panel came from a fan asking about Vaughan looking back at his past work. "It never ends up quite like you want it to be," Vaughan said. "You always wish you could go back. It's never just right. You've got to keep going."