Following the latest update about the long-gestating television adaptation of Y The Last Man over at FX, Kade and Thomas shared a dialog about the now-classic Vertigo comic from Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. They talk about their roots with the comic, its lasting influence, and what forms they would like the hypothetical show to take.
What’s your history with Y The Last Man? How do you like it?
Kade: I read Y the Last Man Volume 1: Unmanned as a teenager and from there sporadically read random issues here and there until finally reading the whole series thanks to a local library my freshman year of college. Before reading the entirety I had re-read my copy of Unmanned at least thrice a year and it, to this day, is one of my favorite comic books. The simple yet complex concept of all male species on the planet except for an amateur escape artist and his pet monkey.
Thomas: I remember Y had a strong reputation by the time I was interested in it, and I was branching into acclaimed comics runs during college and some of postgrad. I blame Preacher for that, since picking up one trade per week of it and sharing it with friends got me into other titles like Transmetropolitan, We3, Punisher MAX, and countless manga. Another mature title backed by excited recommendations, complete with new hardcovers? Hell yeah! It was quite a ride, too. I’m not surprised it’s still kicking as a series people recommend to convert unfamiliar comics readers. I feel like I read the first paperback trade through my local library before committing money, though. Kade and I both endorse reading comics at and through your library!
Kade: Hearing how you went through mature books made me realise that Y The Last Man, and probably Sandman, essentially Vertigo itself, got me into reading more mature comics like the ones you mentioned and one of my favorite series of all time, Fables. Also, I heartily endorse reading comics in a library. That said, Y The Last Man is an awesome catalyst into the mature and thought-advancing side of comic books without deep diving into some grim and gritty stories like Sin City or complete insanity of stuff like The Maxx. Not that superhero books can’t open your mind or help you grow as a person, but these kind of series show you that comics are a medium, not a genre.
Thomas: Amen to that!
[Additional note: shortly after this chat, news broke about DC relabeling several imprints, including Vertigo, to align them as either DC Kids, DC, or DC Black Label. Current Vertigo titles are not being canceled, but Vertigo as an imprint has a history and impact in the comics world that feels slurred when it’s simply brushed aside for the latest see-what-sticks marketing strategy. Moving on…]
Is a TV adaptation going to happen, or what?
Kade: I hope so. I remember reading that first issue thinking this would be the greatest pilot to any TV show ever. Set up a bunch of possible stories and the life of these characters and make you feel like Yorick is no more than a background character and then twist, he’s the main character, all the other men are dead. Also, this would be an awesome chance for a women centric show with some powerful non-stereotypical characters.
Thomas: Kade, I would love to see a pilot episode like that, but otherwise I generally don’t want to see Y as a TV series. It could carry the same premise and characterizations, perhaps, but I don’t think the comic series will translate well to television.
Kade: I understand that, I recently watched Good Omens based on the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and I was really concerned, but was very pleased with the result. A result that was at times different to the source material, but still honored it and kept the same feel as the book in my opinion giving me the sense of a good adaptation. So I don’t think it’s going to be the same, but it can still be good, even great. Look at all the MCU movies, the Winter Soldier comic arc was very different story than the film in some ways, but held true to the soul of the source material and I think they can do the same here.
What do you most hope the show gets right?
Kade: Yorick. I worry they’re gonna write him like a suave cool guy instead of the absolute dork he is. He’s the last man and possibly the least manly man on the planet. Then there’re the monologues, this comic has some of the greatest monologues in comics, period. Yorick’s “I’m Superman” speech. Dr. Mann’s stopping to give a speech of the species that have gone extinct by there being no one to procreate with, as well as a lot more of Vaughan’s monologues, are phenomenal.
Thomas: The shifting cast and settings. Those were always Y’s greatest strength and appeal to me, at least. The premise is about an immediate, planet-wide elimination of a gender. I want to see how that reverberates around the world and gets dealt with in different ways. For television, I could see each season accompanying Yorick & Co. to a different area, kind of like how The Walking Dead sometimes operates. If the show sat still and lingered on the same handful of survivors, I would immediately lose interest.
Kade: Agreed, this is an adventure story as well as a worldwide epidemic. Maybe they could kind of do it like Dany from Game of Thrones: have characters, while trying to regain world order, slowly discover there’s still a man alive. Like Yorick’s girlfriend he’s trying to reach in Australia, Beth, she doesn’t need to know he’s alive until the final season at least.
What would you like to see changed/added for the TV version?
Kade: I honestly think the comic is kinda perfect as is, but I understand that adaptation is necessary because panels and scenes are different. Then again, Brian K. Vaughan did work on TV for a while before coming back to comics with Saga so I think, if he collaborated, this could be even more awesome. I think almost every volume could be a season and they could stretch out and rearrange some story points, but overall it’d be a completely original show with an ever changing cast from season to season.
Thomas: Put together a writer’s room and lineup of directors made up of women. Vaughan’s generally a fun writer, and Pia Guerra’s artwork is amazing at so much nonverbal communication and mood-setting, but there’s also such a thing as burnout. Sometimes you hear about “Bendis dialog” or “King repetition.” Something about Y The Last Man is harder for me to digest after picking up on Vaughan’s writing patterns, like everyone out-sassing one another until Shit Gets Real (see also: Saga). I want more voices to help develop the characters and world even more and build something new.
Kade: Yes! It should have voices heard all around. I see what you mean, that’s why I wait to read the trades of Saga and Paper Girls because I know Vaughn’s voice now. Other amazing creators could give their takes in an episode. I can see the original takes of new stories about women surviving, similar to Bryan Fuller adding one-off god stories in American Gods that weren’t focused on in the book. Look at the second to last page of the first issue, each of those characters could have a compelling episode written or directed by the amazing voices of this golden age of TV we live in.
Why is Y The Last Man important? What about it resonates so much with its fanbase?
Kade: This comic was different. It told an original story in a superhero-centric medium without going into the strange, philosophical, conceptual adventures that made other Vertigo series great. It was a down to earth alternate history comic that broke the mold. Also it has a mostly female character base without being oversexualized, with fully fleshed out characters that honestly made me cry at points. I felt changed by this book, Volume 4: Safeword made me question the worst moments in my life, and every single issue had a way of beating the last. That, and Vaughan literally wrote a book that showed us we live in a male-centric world where, even though men are needed, women can survive on their own. It was a fun adventure book that could also scare the crap out of us and way ahead of its time.
Thomas: Yeah, what Kade said! I think the core cast have strong personalities and compelling goals. The series is built on sustained relationships and not individual shocks. Combine that with a story that feels like you’re consistently dropping in on some cool friends on a road trip that comments on the real world at every turn and presto, you’ve got a hit. I would say those elements are also responsible for Vertigo’s past hits, but really, each bottle of lightning is its own story. There’s also a cute animal mascot in Ampersand.
Kade: Don’t know if you or anyone ever noticed, but Ampersand has been my profile pic for a while, recently switched to Negative Man on twitter, but look at my DYECB profile, should still be that loveable monkey.
Thomas: I noticed it was a monkey!
Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.