Published Feb 23, 2007Hes one of the "100 people who contributed to the culture, according to USA Today (between Tom Waits and Al Gore). Scientific American praised Ex Machina and so did Utne Reader. Wizard Magazine named him writer of the year, his Iraq war allegory Pride of Baghdad has been hailed by Playboy, The Sunday Telegraph and Slate, and Entertainment Weekly named his Dr. Strange one of the years best comics. Add to the pile universal praise for his ongoing Y: The Last Man and that hes just joined the writing staff of TVs most involved mythology Lost, and Brian K. Vaughn has had quite a year.
Though culturally speaking comics are hot, what defines Vaughn is his capacity to re-envision our world. From Y: The Last Man (protagonist Yorick Brown and his monkey are literally the last males on the planet) to Ex Machina (a machine-manipulating hero saves a World Trade Center tower, then faces more complex challenges when hes elected Mayor of New York) and Pride of Baghdad, where Iraq lions are given freedom theyre not prepared for in a city ill-equipped to deal with them.
Y: The Last Man is the book that first brought Vaughn serious mainstream attention. Though hed been working in comics for years - taking stints, as most comics scribes do, on titles like Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and X-Men - it was his story of Yorick Brown, and a bold, sometimes disquieting capacity to envision post-apocalyptic politics, that showcased his strengths. Following Brown in almost real time, Y is often more about how women deal with the death of 49 percent of the population than about the fate of that lone Y chromosome.
This year, Vaughn will bring Y: The Last Man to a close after issue 60 - an end-date hes long had in mind. But even while he dedicates his time to the series he calls "the book that brought me to the dance, Y embarks upon a possible second life at the movies. Vaughn recently completed two drafts of a Y: The Last Man screenplay for New Line, who are currently looking for a director. "Its a totally new story, he reveals of the film treatment. "It has the same characters and themes, but I felt like I had an obligation to people whove never read Y. Its very nice when people say that Y is a very cinematic read, but really, its a long-form piece of serialised graphic fiction and has very little in common with the movies.
It makes sense that Y: The Last Man - with an accessible premise and real-world political concerns - would be a worthy crossover hit; more challenging is Vaughns other creator-owned, serialised work, Ex Machina. News junkie Vaughn - who lives in California but considers himself a New Yorker - still keeps up with that citys politics, which inform his allegory about a retired hero turned politician. But the story of Mitchell Hundred contains a superpower element that makes it a harder sell to Vaughns newfound, fiction-reading crossover audience. To comics fans, that facet of Ex Machina is irrelevant they flock to Vaughns epic narrative and his sharp political insights. But to outsiders unfamiliar with more fantastical tropes, the fact that the mayor speaks to and controls machines could prove fatal to mainstream attention. Thats not stopping New Line, who have also commissioned an Ex Machina script, adding to Vaughns pile of work.
His way with a political allegory, and his biggest crossover book of the year, was his Iraq war parable Pride of Baghdad. When American bombing frees a pride of lions - one insightfully points out that "freedom cant be given, only earned - the zoo community descends into violence and infighting, an anthropomorphic civil war that eerily presages current events.
All this attention led to Vaughn landing a sweet new gig when he joined the writing staff of Lost, immersing himself again in an intricate mythology, with one difference. "Comics is a very lonely profession, Vaughn relates. "Writing for TV, its very challenging to do something so collaborative when Im so used to working by myself, but Im loving it. And Ive learned more about writing in a month on Lost than I have in the last ten years of writing professionally.
Its common for comics writers to jump into a pre-made history and established characters, but how does a writer like Vaughn find his own voice, in the writers room and in the material? "Its sort of like haiku, in that theres a very rigid format and structure that youre expected to follow, but within that, theres a world of possibilities."