The meeting room was packed on Sunday afternoon for NYCC's spotlight on writer Brian K. Vaughan. The lauded author of "Y: The Last Man" and "Ex-Machina" was introduced by his Vertigo editor Will Dennis, who immediately turned the floor over to the full house of fans and their questions.
"Where did you get the idea for 'Y: The Last Man'?" was the first question asked, and it was repeated more than once throughout the panel. Vaughan, admitting that he's been asked the question so often that he's stockpiled at least four fake answers to it.
"Like every nerd circa third grade, I used to think that the cute redhead girl who sat across from me would fall in love with me as long as every other dude in the class dropped dead," Vaughan said. "I wanted to subvert that fantasy. I wanted to talk about gender in comics, something beyond 'should Catwoman's boobs be smaller?' 'Should it be Invisible Woman instead of Invisible Girl?' I also went to an all-boys catholic high school. We had a sister school where they would put on plays, but they would need dudes to come over and act in their plays and obviously I wanted to do that. But the feeling of walking through their hallways and being the only guy in their school and just, like, the look of fear on their faces and derision but also excitement because it's a boy but it's also a weird looking nerd boy."
Vaughan then explained that passed the completion of "Y," he's not completely sure what his next new comics project will be. When he pitched "Y" and "Ex-Machina" and "Runaways," he was just coming off of an unsuccessful run on "Swamp Thing," and as such was forced to make his pitches as strong as possible. Now, due to his recent fame, he's confident he could get "any crappy idea" picked up by some publisher somewhere, but that the previous process facilitated such successful and well-conceived titles, he's going to take the time to figure out what he really wants to dedicate that much energy to next. Vaughan did reveal, however, that whatever it is, it'll be creator-owned.
"After 'Doc Strange' wraps up I'd really just like to do nothing but creator-owned from here on out. I love superhero books and I love reading them, but I think I'm better at my own stuff. I'd like to get to the point where it's just creator-owned. It will definitely be at Vertigo, I just have to figure out exactly what it is."
A fan asked Vaughan how it long it generally takes to write a script. Vaughan explained that it's almost always seven days, but that due to his schedule, he rarely spends a full day just writing, and that the weekend is where most of the work gets done. "Even though I've sold out and am working on 'Lost,' I'm still writing as much comics stuff as ever. I just think about my books on 'Lost's' dime, while they're paying me, and do my comics work at night and on the weekends."
Vaughan later added, "The beginning of the week is sort of happy because you're like, 'oh I'm glad to be working on a new book that's doing well.' Wednesday is suicide time. 'Holy shit this doesn't work at all I've lost it I don't know what I'm doing.' Then the revisions begin."
"Lost" questions were of course asked, but Vaughan was naturally unable to answer any. He did remark that the process of TV writing forces a writer to vocalize ideas in the writers' room that may sound brilliant to him, but will often inspire abuse and ridicule from the fellow writers.
Prompted by a fan's question, Vaughan detailed the origins of his award-winning "Pride of Baghdad." "I wanted to do a graphic novel. People were always saying 'Vaughan's the cliffhanger guy!'" Vaughan pitched a few ideas to Will Dennis and "Pride" was the one the editor responded to. "I was thinking about talking animals because I'd always wanted to do a talking animals book. I wanted to write about Iraq. He thought it sounded cool."
Marvel Comics' "Runaways", written by Brian Vaughan
Vaughan and Dennis detailed "Pride's" three-year production, explaining that it was worth it to them to take the time to make the book as perfect as possible. Vaughan relished the schedule, saying, "It's a slow process. I love Marvel, but if you pitch something to Marvel it's already late by the time you've pitched it."
The graphic novel format also offered Vaughan a revision tool that his ongoing series cannot. "If there's something we saw on page 100 and we wanted to go back and tweak something on page 2, we could, which is impossible on something like 'Y.' If I have a great idea for issue #8, I can't go back and plant that gun in a drawer in issue #1. I like monthly comics and I'd like to do more, but the graphic novel is fantastic. I'm eager to do more."
Fans of Brian Vaughan took the opportunity to drill the creator for advice on how to begin working in comics. "No two people have ever broken into comics in the same way," the writer said. "The comics industry is sort of like a big castle that doesn't want you to be in, so you have to find a hole inside the castle, but as soon as you find that hole, they plug it up so no one can get in the same way. It really takes more creativity to break in than it does to come up with the great idea that's going to help you break in."
Vaughan told his own breaking-in story, which was simply a chance meeting with a Marvel editor who was looking for new talent at NYU, where Vaughan was a student. "I wish that opportunity still existed, but in true form that hole has been plugged up," Vaughan said. "The best advice I ever got came from Neil Gaiman, who I met before I broke in. "Get published," Gaiman told Vaughan. "Nothing will make you a better writer faster than knowing complete strangers are reading your terrible writing."
"Marvel and DC are known for being especially difficult to break into," Vaughan continued, explaining that after he'd already been hired to write his first Marvel book at the beginning of his career, he applied for an internship so as to be closer to the company and industry. "I didn't get it. I said, 'I am one of your writers, I've already written a book for you and I'm not even qualified to be an intern!?'"
When asked to describe the pros and cons of working in television as opposed to comics, Vaughan declared, "The biggest problem is I have to wear pants. It's very constraining."
"But I love comics," Vaughan continued. "I'll never leave comics and I'll always be a comics writer who dabbles in TV and not a TV writer who dabbles in comics. Writing comics is very lonely… I really wanted to be with other people in a creative environment and it's been good because you really have to defend your choices… on the spot, nine people, you can't just be like, 'trust me, it's a good idea even though it sounds bad.' You're forced to really articulate your ideas and I'm really bad at that and I wanted to get good at it. TV is helping."vAlso along the lines of extra-comics work, Vaughan announced that he's finished his draft of the "Y: The Last Man," screenplay, but that little else is known about the production other than it is in development at New Line Cinema, as is "Ex-Machina."
One fan asked Vaughan about the fanfiction that his creations have inspired. Vaughan said he loved it, and felt that it wouldn't be fair of him to disapprove of other people writing his characters because he gets paid to write other people's characters. "I hope that fanfiction is never the destination, though… if you love comics you have to give something back by making something new. You're allowed to write fanfic, but you have to write one new thing for every fanfic story. That's all I ask."
"The Runaways" was of course a popular topic at the spotlight, and Vaughan revealed that unlike his other series "Y" or "Ex-Machina," which are heavily plotted ahead of time, "Runaways" is largely improvisational. "I knew how the first six issues ended, but after that…the story really evolved based on how Adrian drew the characters and how much I loved his artwork. The characters sort of gained their voices through his artwork."
"I sort of love that I have all these orphan children that I'm leaving behind at Marvel," remarked Vaughan of his "Runaways" and "The Hood" creations that writers like Brian Bendis and Joss Whedon will be picking up in various titles. "But they're being adopted by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I'll miss my children very much but they're with hot rich people now. They're in good hands."
One fan thought to ask Vaughan about the "failure" of his first series, "Swamp Thing," which Vaughan actually looks back on fondly. "Honestly, 'Swamp Thing' wasn't a horrible experience at all and I'm pretty proud of how it turned out. But I was so young, it was the first ongoing book that I'd ever done. It was nice because while I wasn't doing what I knew I was destined to be doing, I was glad that I got to break Vertigo's toys rather than my own toys and got to learn to write on their dime with their characters. By issue #12 not even my wife was reading it anymore, so it gave me the freedom bo be so experimental. It just felt safe. People weren't even complaining online because they weren't reading it. I think the last six issues of my 'Swamp Thing' run were the beginning of me being an okay writer. Everything I grew in 'Y,' the seeds were planted –no pun intended-- in the final issues of 'Swamp Thing.'"
Vaughan continued, "A lot of people think 'Y' is my first book ever, but I was writing issues of 'Wonder Girl' at DC and 'Ka-Zar Annual' at Marvel, and I wrote each of those books like they were my last. I never hacked anything out. I cringe when people bring me those old books to sign, then I'll start flipping through them and think they're actually okay, then I'll be afraid I peaked like in 1998!"