What started as a childhood fantasy about the babysitter became a thoughtful comic about gender and a capuchin monkey.
On Friday at NYCC, the Eisner-Award winning ‘Y The Last Man’ comic had a reunion panel looking back at the series. In attendance, was writer Brian K. Vaughn, artist Pia Guerra, and editor Heidi MacDonald, together again 17 years since the series debuted. Many secrets were revealed about the series’ origins, including how the story about an escape artist turned the last man in the entire world, was close to cancellation.
“One would say it didn’t release more as it had escaped,” said Vaughn during the panel about how close the series was from getting axed after its initial lukewarm reception. The trio revealed that in order to continue the comic needed to sell 50,000 copies at the time but were only able to reach 17,000. A large reason it avoided cancellation, was word of mouth, the internet, and fandom for a post 9/11 comic that surprisingly tackled a lot of gender issues for its time. Especially in regards to the gender gap in labor. With an emphasis on positions of science, engineering, and politics, in a world that was suddenly devoid of all men in those fields, and needed women to fill the roles. Heidi MacDonald took credit for showcasing the statistical discrepancy in issue one, which was a move that served as a great emotional turn for issue one.
The panel then praised Pia’s Guerra’s notable artwork to the series which was critical in the series success. Guerra’s work focused much on character emotions and facial expressions, something she worked on extensively with Brian acting the scenes out, but also keeping cognizant of tone. She revealed that After Y The Last Man, she’d taken time off from comics, though did occasional layout work and consulting. This, however, changed in 2016 after Donald Trump had become president and the world, according to Guerra, had changed. She then became a political cartoonist whose works you can see everywhere, though particularly, The New Yorker. She claimed that years of growing as a comic creator taught her how to narrow the scope all the way down to even single panels of political satire.
Finally, a big part of the story admittedly by the panel, was Yorick, a character Brian admitted to modeling partially after himself, and particularly, his interests with magic at the time. Brian K. Vaughn expressed that writing the comic was a form of self-therapy. One showcased in Yorick’s journey, as in an ironically cathartic moment in the series, the escape artist confronts a bondage mistress who’s actually a secret agent. Their encounter forces him to confront his own suicidal ideations in a powerful moment that very much describes how the male Last Man on Earth fantasy can stem from personal depression, a lack of confidence, and even self-loathing.
“Yorick was a piece of shit but ends in a good place.” Brian K Vaughn
In a funny moment at the very beginning of the panel, Heidi brought up Brian’s inspiration for the series and the author admitted how the idea for the story began a long time ago, as a male fantasy about the babysitter he used to crush on. He admitted that after going to an all boy’s Catholic Highschool, and being an outsider most of his life, he thought would it be like if he was the only man left in the world with his babysitter? Thus, beginning a piece about a male fantasy that turned into a compelling story about gender.
One audience member even joked that possibly this is why the 355 love story happened. As she had basically played babysitter to Yorick throughout the entire series.
Overall, the team was happy got to retain the rights to the story, as it had undergone several possible adaptive iterations, first as a movie and now a TV series meant to release on FX in 2020. Showrunner Eliza Clark was also well received by the trio who believe they’re leaving the story in capable hands for television.
The three also revealed that the story will be modernized and reflective of more modern issues. This includes keeping an ear to gender issues of the time and having a writer’s room that includes writers who are trans.
“I’m glad it took this long to get here as I think this is the version you guys deserve” Brian K Vaughn