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Vaughan Moves On

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After rising to stardom with the series  Y: The Last Man in 2002, Brian K. Vaughan has become one of the most respected writers in comics today. His work on that book as well as his political thriller  Ex Machina was awarded the coveted Eisner award in 2005. After Vaughan recently announced that he’d be leaving his sleeper hit,  Runaways, Marvel Comics announced that the book would be taken over by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. His newest release is a hardcover graphic novel called  Pride of Baghdad, based on the story of four lions who escape from the  Baghdad Zoo during the bombings of 2003. Brian took time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for Broken Frontier.

BROKEN FRONTIER: With all the acclaim you’ve received in the last few years, do you ever fear that you’ll be lulled into a false sense of security about your writing?

BRIAN K. VAUGHAN: Wow, never. I just read Joss Whedon’s first Runaways script, and it was so goddamn good, it makes me want to set my stupid Powerbook on fire. As my wife will be happy to tell you, I’m a never-ending font of misery and insecurity about my own abilities as a writer.

BF: There are complaints among the comics community that the industry is momentarily star-struck, or alternately that it remains an insular old boys’ club. Are these real problems?

BKV: Ask Robert Kirkman or Bryan Lee O’Malley or Zeb Wells or any of the dozens of other insanely talented, disturbingly young creators who are doing fantastic work in this medium. It’s only a problem if you’re a writer or artist not willing to do the hard work necessary to make your mark on this medium. 

BF: Should there be more formalized venues for young writers to develop relationships with comics editors, like the now-defunct Marvel Comics Seminar, the Stanhattan Project?

BKV: It would be nice, but honestly, thanks to the internet, aspiring creators have much more direct access to editors, and more importantly, to potential collaborators, than I ever did back in the Stanhattan days. I’ll never deny that I was in the right place at the right time with that writers’ workshop at NYU, but it only got my foot in a door that would take several years, hundreds of pitches, and thousands of pages to finally knock down. There’s a reason that not all of the very talented writers who took that course with me are also making comics today. 

BF: Does it bother you that the  BKV Cabal has a reputation as one of the more liberal-leaning comics message boards?

BKV: I can’t imagine that the Cabal has any reputation whatsoever. We have, like, fourteen active members. It’s a pretty sleepy little secret club, which is cool by me, no matter what wonky politics our fellow posters might have. 

BF: How do you draw the line between storytelling with political intensity and storytelling from a soapbox? Do you have to remind yourself to keep your characters’ politics distinct from your own?

BKV: I have no more interest in imposing my own political beliefs on my characters (or my readers) than I do in trying to convince them that pie is a superior dessert to cake (though it is). All I care about is writing good stories.

BF: Would you mind translating the Arabic transcription from Pride of Baghdad?

BKV: That’s the work of Arabic translator Ihsan Alhammouri, and I believe it’s just the title and credits duplicated in Arabic.

BF: The book is such a change of pace! Did you find it more refreshing or challenging to work without pop culture references, cliffhangers and superpowers?

BKV: Well, I’ve written plenty of stories without superpowers and even a few without dumb pop-culture references, but writing an epic story in a self-contained, non-serialized format for the first time was both challenging and refreshing.

BF: How difficult was it for you to adjust to the pace of an all-in-one graphic novel compared to a multi-issue story arc on Runaways or Ex Machina?

BKV: The learning curve was a little steep, but (Pride of Baghdad artist) Niko Henrichon and I had the gift of time to learn how to do it right. Three years (!), as opposed to the three weeks we’d normally have to produce a single issue.

BF: You’ve said that Pride of Baghdad was partly written in response to your conflicted thoughts about the war in Iraq. Why would you say you were not completely gung ho about the American presence in the Middle East?

BKV: I’d rather not talk about my personal beliefs about the war, actually. I don’t want them to color readers perceptions as they discover the book for the first time, as their interpretations are infinitely more important than my intent.

BF: By using animal protagonists, would you hope to encourage your readers to question their points of view on the toll of violence?

BKV: Well, there’s not a single "moral" to the story that I'm hoping everyone will walk away with. As a matter of fact, I don't care what people think about the book, as long as they find themselves still thinking about it when it's done.

BF: Why do you feel a reader would relate more to the plight of Zill, Noor, Safa and Ali than to real-life refugees of war?

BKV: With fiction, audiences can watch endless horrors inflicted on human beings, even children, but put a dog in danger, and watch people walk out in droves. Similarly, I think it's hard for even the most sympathetic person to truly feel for the civilian victims of foreign wars we see on TV, but strangely, many of us can somehow bridge that emotional gap when it comes to seeing innocent animals suffer. I wanted to write about war from the perspective of non-combatants, and because animals transcend race or creed or nationality, having them be our sole protagonists hopefully allowed us to tell a story that's universally relatable.

BF: Your MySpace page lists Day of the Locust as one of your favorite novels. How did that book color your expectations when you moved to Hollywood?

BKV: Ha, good question. Yeah, between that and Bendis’ Fortune and Glory, I was expecting the worst, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Like any medium, there are good people out here who want to help you make good art, it just takes time and effort to find them (or, more accurately, to create something that will help them find you).

BF: You’ve joked that your Y: The Last Man movie script is a sellout. Especially after graduating from Tisch program for Film and Television, why does this adaptation feel like a compromise?

BKV: Well, I think I’ve joked that screenwriting in general is “selling out,” but I have nothing but naked pride for my Y script. It’s pretty fucking fantastic, if I do say so myself.

BF: How do you expect collaborating with producers and a director will be different from working with (Y: the Last Man co-creator) Pia Guerra?

BKV: There’s only one Pia and hundreds of them? Plus, Pia is a deity.

BF: What happens to the comics industry in the world of Yorick Brown?

BKV: Hm, interesting. I guess we’ve already hinted that manga is alive and well in unmanned Japan, but I think the American comics industry would be struggling (though the medium would be thriving).

BF: Y: The Last Man was conceived as a 60 issue series. Did you ever find in all these years that your characters fought to break away from the original plan?

BKV: Frequently. And every so often, Pia and I would let them go.

BF: What does it feel like to be so near the tail end of the book that arguably brought you to stardom?

BKV: A mixture of relief and crushing depression.

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